Kenny Smith | blog

Monday, December 31, 2007

I've looked like this for three days.

I did more resting, but less sleeping today. Too much football to watch for sleep, but just the right amount for being a coach potato. It is required of us once a year or so, a pilgrimmage to the television. I'll willingingly let the electrons burn into my eyeballs for bowl season which always seems to be entertaining in unexpected ways and a let down for all the games full of hype. The early bowl games are where all the fun will be found, I've decided.

That and somewhere just after Christmas you can feel the desperation oozing out of it. There is football, but it is rapidly coming to a close. We must soak up every available moment, rearranging mundane moments of life so that no snap of an odd WAC/ACC contest goes unobserved. These will be the last huddles for a very long time, we must get plenty to sustain us.

And so I sat on the sofa for much of the day, watching Air Force play California close, before losing their quarterback and their realistic chance at an upset. Fresno State and Georgia Tech was, my argument above to the contrary, fairly boring. Bulldogs will always beat Yellowjackets it seems. Kentucky and depleted Florida State were on after that, with the Wildcats playing a gritty FSU without forty dozen of their top players. Somehow the Seminoles stayed in the game, I didn't care, because the game ran long and Auburn and Clemson were set to kick off.

Auburn had a new offense to greet Cousin Clem, and it looked a bit scary at first, but when things clicked they clicked nicely. Auburn fans had to wait until overtime, but they found a lot of things to dream about until spring and fall practice. They chewed up loads of yards against one of the best defenses in the country and did that with only nine practices under new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and his spread offense.

The 21st Century has come to the Plains, and it will be buttressed by the typical tough running Auburn backs, young kickers and a defense full of beasties. The defense, for their part, offered another incredible performance, shutting down one of the nation's best young quarterbacks and silencing, save for one play, two dynamic running backs.

Auburn wins 23-20, capping an odd season that saw a 1-2 start, three freshmen offensive linemen, some mystifying coaching decisions, a struggling offense and a vicious defense that fed on gorillas for fun. All of this changes for next year: The majority of the challenging games will be at Jordan-Hare, the offensive line will be salty, the offense will have a different personality all together and that defense will poach poachers and make poached eggs of them.

Finishing this season 9-5 is far better than 8-4 and considering what could have been, Auburn will take this and the season previous as two respectable building blocks towards a championship contending future that, despite ourselves, seems a little more within reach.

I also cleaned the house, but will here spare you the laundry, Christmas presents chronicles, the vacuum tales and the hysteria of bathroom cleaning. Instead I'll point you to another honorable mention in the
Outside The Beltway
caption contest.

Besides, its almost time to count down from 10. Happy New Year all, may it be safe and prosperous. May your rewards be measured by more than your pocket (may it bulge with greenbacks).

Tomorrow: New Year's Eve tales and pictures.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Today's highlights are much like yesterday's, and thus, notably brief.

Painfully so, in fact. There was only one game, in the evening which I watched halfway.

Alabama beat Colorado in the Independence Bowl. Consequently, for the third time this century, Tide fans can happily proclaim the return to prominence of their embattled program. Winning where they lost last year would be a step in that direction.

My old friend Matt Caddell finished his Alabama career by collecting 88 yards on five touches and a diving 34-yard touchdown reception. You can see it 2:20 into this clip if you can stand field goals as highlights and the unfortunate selection of Tom Sawyer as bed music.

Caddell's been in Tuscaloosa during five turbulent years. He was recruited by Dennis Franchione, who promptly left for greener pastures at Texas A&M. Mike Price came from Washington State to replace him, but was promptly sent packing for off-the-field transgressions without coaching a game. The University struggled to find a replacement, settling on former quarterback Mike Shula, who showed promise but was fired after four seasons. Shula begat Nick Saban.

Matt Caddell has worked four coaches. He was an elder statesman in the receiving corps as a redshirt freshman. He's toiled in relative obscurity, done his job while being forgotten at times even by the many coaching staffs. Through it all he's conducted himself with a dignity and class.

He's a young man often overlooked in the glitz and scandal of big time football. He and dozens of athletes on every team are the largest portion of what makes the college game so worthwhile. I'm just fortunate enough to know this one, and I'm proud to see him wrap up his time with a solid contribution toward victory.

This is one guy who's carried himself with nothing but honor and the many lessons of a proud family. They played a substantial role in my life as a young man, and so I can guess the satisfaction with which they think of their own son. His accomplishments on the football field might be over, but his true successes are still before him. And I knew him when.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Went to bed late. Slept late. Watched a lot of football. Rinse and repeat for tomorrow.

I watched parts of Wake Forest beating UConn. I struggled, much like the offenses, in making it through the Mississippi State win over Central Florida.

I was glad to see that win for Sylvester Croom and the Bulldogs, they're as deserving as anyone else, but that offense is bad. Good thing they have a brutal, kneecap crushing and opportunistic defense to carry them through. Next year, though, the Bullies won't have eight wins.

Had dinner with Brooke and Stephen. We flipped back and forth between two games, watching Penn State grind out a win over listless Texas A&M. On the other channel was the historic victory in New Jersey, as the Patriots beat the Giants to finish the regular season undefeated. One wonders if they can breeze through the playoffs to win the Super Bowl and finish an unbelievable ride.

One wonders if, next year, the Patriots will uncork champagne when the last of the undefeated teams falls like the 1972 Dolphins have done for decades. One wonders if this will change the theme of the man fine Shula Steakhouses.

One wonders, but not much. It is a mini-vacation after all.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I've been counting down the hours for the last two days until it was time to stop counting down the hours. At some point this afternoon the counting became the most difficult part of the day. I'm not generally a clock watcher, but the week has been holiday-slow, and I've been looking forward to five days of no travel, loads of sleep, no obligations and mostly just football.

So you'll understand if there isn't much here between now and then.

This afternoon started the time off, and sometime after lunch there wasn't much else to do. We stay on hand to monitor everything, but even the crooks, cops, politicians and most of the journalists are off the clock. Soon, I smiled giddily, I'll join my brethren and those we cover. There just wasn't much else to do. All of the Christmas stories have been re-shelved until next year. All of the post-Christmas stories were thinking of that same comfortable resting place they would soon re-claim. We were left with winter safety stories (there are rumors winter is coming) and hoping nothing bad happened to anyone.

And nothing much of note happened in the afternoon, making some point around 1:23 the equilibrium where work and waiting were equidistant. After the office I stopped by the library to return a few CDs.

This local library branch of the big county-wide book loaning system, resides in an old theater. Not a gilded old building of beauty and grace earning a last hurrah, but an old cinema that once held two viewing rooms when two screens was the best you could hope for. The place was famous for soda-sticky floors and the place where you could, once upon a time, enjoy a movie with the Alabama football team on Friday nights before their games at Legion Field.

The theater sits down in a big hall off the main road. This was once a lake or a quarry or something of a similar geographical symmetry. Across the street was a lake they emptied for a mall that is now similarly dry. Here all the big stores have gone away. What was once a Woolworth became a K-Mart which closed long ago. The Shoney's is a Chinese joint, the eyeglasses place is now a check cashing operation. There's a Subway and a Baskin-Robbins, but they are relatively recent additions. The only holdouts seem to be a bank, parked on the corner and above the decline, and a rent-to-own furniture store.

From this you may determine much about this particular side of town. The library doesn't belong here, but it has become a holding pattern for books while the authentic library is renovated in the suburb's downtown. The original library's architecture was inspired by the Greek, the annex growing behind it inspired by the Goiters. And, as the website has side for a good long while, it is COMING SOON!

It is a fine library, as satellite branches go. There are many books, publications, DVDs and CDs to peruse. They are not a babysitting service, the sign out front says, and children must be escorted. Children are not to explore libraries alone, they would say. In fact, perhaps it is best if you leave the home when you come as well.

This rule came along in the theater location. The original library was a block removed from my mother's store. When I spent the day visiting her at work it was usually so I could spend the day in the library. From this my love of random things was likely born. From this my ease of distraction by other books was born. From this my problems in collegiate libraries was definitely born. Why go to the library and study when there are four floors of other books to walk among and thumb through at random?

There was no previous tenant in the old theater before the library. It sat dormant, dark and dusty for years. When I moved back to town and found the old library had moved I was surprised at the new location. Walking in, even today, I still expect the floors to slant downward, just as if you were walking to the front row of creaky movie theater seats. I watched Ghostbusters and Jaws 3-D in that theater. I sat in rooms with the football heroes of children and, possibly, Paul Bryant himself. Now I can read books about ghosts and sharks and bears there. Or check out Ghostbusters on DVD or VHS.

If that were a beautiful old building with glorious decorations it would be a great story. But it is cinder blocks and a rooftop flanked by a long, largely failed strip mall of cinder blocks.

And the neighbors have graffiti, but not gang signs.

One of those strip mall stores is now an auction house. You walk in, take a number, browse the aisles of many random, dusty and dented things and bid. On the whole box, which is usually filled chest high with identical or like items. Today you could take the leading bid on almost any box for three bucks. From such humble beginnings E-bay careers are born.

I didn't bid on anything. Instead I walked next door to the thrift store, which is always amusing, is run under the auspice of a great local ministry with an impactful local cause and occasionally has great deals on things. I did two laps through the place, operating under the theory that my eyes missed the year-ending deal on the first pass. My eyes also missed that deal on the second pass, and so I called it a day. My five days of vacation has begun.

At home I celebrated by making a few graphics and scanning in all of my presidential campaign buttons. Starting in the first full week of the new year they'll start appearing on the site as well. But not next week. Since I'm taking off work I'm taking off from the computer. I'm limiting myself to the occasional Email, jotting a few notes here for posterity and to not cause alarm and a lot of football. It's going to be great.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Slow, quiet days at work continue. Much of the same happening everywhere else. Most everyone seems to be still out of town, clouds are hanging low over the city and I'm just kicking back to relax for a few days.

That's the way the year will end as well. They always sneak up with a restless uncertainty of what is to come. "Oh, 2007. Could be anything, sounds ominous." And then, by the end, we're ready for it to leave. The nice round 2008 seems to hold a lot of promise. There's the leap year, the Olympics, the election, who knows what prophet said what about the year.

It could be exciting. Could be fun. Let's hurry it along. If only to get through Auld Lang Syne. And then, at the very last moment, it creeps in as well. Restless and uncertain. They never change, but we do. We all like that fresh new start, even if it is a manufactured thing.

This guy wants a new start. He made the front page of his local Idaho paper twice in one day. First for a piece of stand alone art where he was decorating a store. Then in a security camera shot where he was seen, allegedly, boosting a wallet at a convenience store.

Copy editors noticed it while doing the layout and called the police. They picked up a copy of the paper the next morning and decided they'd like to meet with the gentleman. Apparently he's been arrested, charged, confessed, made bond and is awaiting trial. Happy new year.

A fantastic front page layout, deserving of an award.

That's about it for today. Tomorrow I start a nice mini-vacation, meaning there won't be much to talk about for the next few days. I'll sneak in an interesting tidbit here or there, just to keep you honest.

Oh, by the way, one of my new year's resolutions has to do with following up on little blog teases like that. Will I be able to follow through? Surf back over to find out.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Spicy chili is even better the next day. That's what I've learned today. Made some yesterday, halving a tailgating recipe when it came to the meat, tomatoes, beans and salsa, but keeping most of the spices in their original proportions.

Let simmer for two hours and get a big glass of something, anything, to drink.

So I had more tonight, and I was rewarded with a nice zesty meal. Not so hot this time, but enough to remind your mouth that it is alive.

I'm very proud of this for inconsequential reasons.
I'm a spice wimp; doesn't take much.
I've never made my own chili, usually eating other's concotion.
I partake occasionally, a few times a year is enough.
I did simple division to make the recipe work.
I did not need to seek a specialist for spice burns.
That was the evening, reheating something I made yesterday.

Worked through the day, drove home, deliberately skipping an exit to see this guy. There are at least two of these on this side of town, the blue car and a lighter color which I've only seen at night. The blinking lights are surely against some law, but what police officer is issuing a citation to a guy with "Happy B-Day Jesus" in his back window?

Sat around the house waiting for a package that was never delivered. I have the sneaking suspicion that UPS doesn't know what it is talking about with regards to this package. And a fine afternoon was wasted on giving them the benefit of the doubt that it is here in town when, I suspect, it is in Wisconsin. The shipper told me it came back to him.

Which is fine. It was supposed to be in New England, but the shipper had a miscommunication, sent it south, realized the error and tried to fix the problem.

The shipper tried to fix the problem by doing what I (years ago) suggested to my senior UPS pilot step-father. The shipper tried to fix the problem using a program UPS now advertises. It did not work, UPS dropped this particular ball. Fortunately it is not fragile.

And thus is one of my three Christmas shipping grievances, all to be aired out at Festivus. One item is on back order, a neat fact no one mentioned until said item was purchased. Another holiday item is still being shipped, which is blamed entirely on my procrastination. But that's a post-Christmas present, so it works out well.

There will be post-Christmas presents for some of the children in my life. As I asked today if one kid is now old enough to distinguish between Christmas and the delayed gift-giving, so as not to confuse, the answer was "You're giving a kid a present. They'll love it."

With that in mind I journeyed to the toy store at the nearby sad and lonely outlets. I bought two Ken dolls for one little girl, both dirt cheap and with different outfits. On the back of one Ken is quoted "I'm all about cargo pants and a great belt."

Ken needs to get a better publicist.

For another child I found an awesome variant of Mr. Potato Head. The little boy might like the toy, but his parents are going to love the box.

Speaking of Christmas I made the annual Waffle House Christmas visit last night. All six booths were taken, though one by people that worked there and another by empty plates. Two spots at the bar were littered with dishes as well. All of this stayed on display my entire time there.

A man sat next to me who worked there. Wanted to work this night, but he had too much overtime. All three waitresses and the second cook tried to encourage him to come on the clock, but some boss lady said no. "But we need you!" they said, while not even pointing to the dirty tables they weren't cleaning.

Alas, he had 52 hours this week and was sitting at Waffle House on Christmas night, his night off, because he wanted to be there.

A large family came in midway through my meal and could find no place to sit. They stood for a long time and finally decided to sit at the dirty tables in the hopes that someone would come by and sweep the mess away.

A plate shattered in the cooking area. My waitress was a cute younger lady who'd come in early and was ready to leave. Her nose was pierced.

A child fired up the jukebox, loaded it with songs from bad female country singers and then walked out the door.

The Christmas tree was a silvery-white model. I thought it might be fiber optic before remembering where I was. It was smaller than both the jukebox and the ATM kiosk standing next to it.

The sandwich was delicious, my waffle will sustain me until next Christmas. I read two chapters of MiG-15 to Freedom. It was much like any night at Waffle House would be. Only a bit more quiet. No one looked sad or desperate or depressed. They were all well-dressed and well-behaved. Everyone was sober. People pull out their finest for a Waffle House Christmas, even if the service is a bit lax.

This kid stood by the cash register for an eternity waiting on no one to notice him. Not sure what he was after, but I think he simply gave up.

There's football on tonight. For a December 26th bowl game it isn't bad. Unless you like defense. I do like defense, neither of these clubs care for it, evidenced by the many, many scores. Nevertheless; it is on and I am hooked.

Come back tomorrow for more riveting talk much like this, only about Thursdays.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

We're wrapping up the special ornament series and returning you to your day, where you should be with family and friends, rather than on your computer. So, without further ado ...

This ornament is from my best and oldest friend Kelly. She also custom makes her store-bought ornaments. This is obviously a Cracker Barrel storefront, given in honor of our meeting place halfway between our respective hometowns. We always meet there, chat and then drive around aimlessly looking for something to eat.

I do enjoy that time on their front porch. Those are special memories and Kelly has commemorated them here with miniature versions of the two of us sitting in our traditional seats to the left. On the bottom she wrote "To help you remember." As if I could ever forget.

If you don't have a custom made ornament on your tree you'll find that the evergreen is lacking, my friends.

You should also have at least one important family hand-me-down ornament, which is the highlight of my tree. This ornament belonged to my grandmother and is something like half of a century old by now. Originally a pin, it has hung on Christmas trees my entire life, always holding a certain fascination in my mind. For the last several years it has held a place of nostalgic joy on my own trees.

The string that hangs down from the Santa Claus moves his hands and feet in the traditional snow angel pattern. The little bell still clinks and tinkles when rattled. It is my prized ornament on a tree full of gifts and warm memories and kind people.

You have to have all that on your tree to find anything of worth under it.

Thanks for visiting. May God bless you throughout your holidays and keep you safe and in the company of those that love you dearly.
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.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

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.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
Luke 2: 7-14

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Eve sunrise, just for you.

I had to work this morning, hence the early show in the sky. Those are landing lights for Santa Claus, I think. The weather here should be good, the children should get many gifts.

Worked through the morning, was done around noon and waited a few minutes for my relief to make it to the office. After that I went to the mall.

I wanted to go laugh at all of the people doing their last minute shopping. I wasn't looking to buy anything unless there were great deals -- which there weren't. I wanted to watch frantic people doing their last-minute shopping, but the parking lot volume almost sent me home. Getting off the freeway was no problem, getting into the big circle around the mall was no problem. Parking was a snap despite a town's worth of people being inside the mall. getting into the parking lots was a challenge.

Mostly there were men there, and couples who've never been to the mall before judging by overheard snippets of conversation. There were no real big deals, I left confident I could buy any of those products online for less money. I watched Santa Claus meet with the last crush of children for the year.

They have him off in a dark, undeveloped corner of the mall now, which is much better than his previous location, but some overhead lighting would have been nice. Apparently the mall was having some electrical problems as that wasn't the only place that looked dim. Someone will hear about that, no doubt.

There were no crying children visiting Santa. You have to think that these are the brave volunteer kids, intrepid youths who are going back for more. Or maybe they were finally able to convince their parents to take them ... something about years of therapy otherwise. At this point, though, at 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve, you want to be around Santa Claus. If only to see where he goes when he leaves his big chair.

Good thing most kids don't understand the intricacies of time zones, or they might figure out the children in Europe weren't getting visited because they had to wait until the last minute to see the old elf and he's still got to get out of this traffic to say nothing of that pizza from Sabarro which has been tempting him all afternoon.

If you like the shots of Santa making kids cry -- and I don't know who you are or why you're here, you grinch -- The Birmingham News has assembled a massive photo gallery for your pleasure.

Turns out the biggest crowds were at the grocery store at 4 p.m. Surprising at first, but it makes a lot of sense. Mostly I'm shocked that mothers everywhere aren't over-prepared much earlier, much like the women in my family. Also, if you're in the grocery store that late on Christmas Eve, don't stop and gawk. Your guests are waiting you to get back and open that cranberry sauce.

I just needed a few things, some milk, cereal and a sandwich to get through tomorrow. Because of the crowd my five item shopping list took about 30 minutes. The deli guy, a very pleasant and helpful sort, had to cut all of the meat and cheese for my sub individually. He was committed to doing it right, and missed all the signals that I hadn't eaten anything in 20 hours. How he didn't hear the stomach growling I'll never understand.

On the way out there was an older gentleman paying for his groceries and playing Jingle Bells on his harmonica. He instantly brought smiles to all of our faces. He was in no hurry to leave, and even the people behind him didn't mind.

You should be careful, I said or they'll hire you out to play all the holidays.

He just smiled, turned toward the door and started playing Here Comes Santa Claus.

Made it home, at my sandwich quickly and fell asleep on the sofa. This furniture is too comfortable; if I get still and there's even the suggestion of darkness I'll lose two hours.

After that I played with the cats a bit. This one is apparently not a fan of downhill skiing snowmen.

This one had a last minute request of Santa.

Together, they are entirely disinterested in this present.

I rearranged a few ornaments on the tree and was rewarded later by hearing a light thump and finding a round ornament on the ground. It was about halfway up the tree, meaning there was a terrific athletic leap to reach it while bypassing lower and less tempting ornaments.

I moved the lower ones up a tier, just to be cautious.

And now I'm getting ready for Santa, or late night television viewing of Christmas specials, which ever comes first.

Hope you get a nice visit from the jolly old guy while visions of sugar plums dance in your head.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

After church this morning we returned to my grandparents' for lunch and presents. There was not the first child among us. I was the youngest person there by 20 years. More banana pudding for me, then.

So we had a sedate afternoon. I received many fine gifts, a big bag full of thoughtful presents I probably don't deserve which threatened to fill the trunk of the car. My grandparents received a very nice digital frame from my mother and uncle.

My family, so painfully hard to shop for, got a few nice gifts from me as well. My mother received her now traditional day of indulgence at her local spa. Rick got a movie, a promise of golf and a great book, In the Cockpit that was so well received by the pilot that I can suggest it for any of the aviation buffs in your life.

Everyone else is tough to shop for, so they received largely ornamental gifts. Coco got some nice treats and then spent some down time on the phone.

I had two more grandparent visits to make and, unfortunately, missed seeing one, but left a present a wishes. Made a quick cemetery visit and then headed off to my last stop of the day.

On the way to those grandparents I saw a sign for one of your more interesting combination businesses. Auto sales and salvage and deer turkey farm. The lack of punctuation separating the deer and turkey didn't bother them. And they had the farm played ahead of the cars, no doubt thinking "Everyone knows about our fine automobiles, but we must tell the world about our animals!"

At the bottom of the sign we learn that if we drive a little we can save a dollar deer. That's what the sign says "Dollar sign, deer head."

We're way out in nowhere, just so you know. This set of grandparents live in a town that people wishing to escape the hustle and bustle of Mayberry might long for. There are two police officers: one day shift, one night shift. My aunt's family owns the only real restaurant, a small little catfish affair. There's the school, the town hall, the convenience store and a business that's been remodeling for years. After that you round a curve and find yourself Tennessee-bound.

My other grandparents, though, are well. We exchanged gifts, caught up on the family gossip, news and dreams while I declined peach cobbler. I showed them a few pictures from my camera, like this sunset and this moon rise, both from near their home, while trying to explain how a digital camera works.

Played my grandfather's newest instrument, a member of the banjo family. I'm not good at all, but it is a stripped down thing intended for those of us who are instrumentally challenged.

Didn't get to see them as long as I would like, but promises were made for next time. I left after 7 p.m., with the full return drive in front of me. Stopped for a quick bite of dinner at a chicken joint and then made good time, getting home just in time to unpack and get ready for bed. A few of us, at least, have to work tomorrow.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

I woke up around 5:30 or 6 and then beat up the offending alarm clock. Around 8 a.m. I made my way from the bed to the shower and the many morning rituals. All of my bags were packed last night, so the task today was basically getting out the door.

Which I did with little trouble, only feeling the need to check twice to insure that the doors were locked and that the 50-ninjas security system was armed.

By 9ish I was at the gas station filling up, and shortly thereafter on the road. I made good time, stopping about three-quarters of the way through the two-hour-plus trip to get one or two very last minute items.

I'm enjoying the idea that Christmas has come early, that the hustle and bustle will soon be over. I've been fortunate this year in that it hasn't been an especially demanding holiday season, but the lights at the end of the tunnel is always a pleasant surprise, especially if they are twinkle lights.

Almost all of my presents are now in hand, except for one which is on back order, another where the shipper can't distinguish between billing and mailing addresses and one final gift to purchase to wrap up the season. By the time you're in your paper- tearing-oh-you-shouldn't-have mode I'll be content to settle in and wait out winter.

Christmas stalked me during most of my drive. Arrived at the grandparents precisely at noon. I haven't eaten since last night, which was a meal so interesting that I've already forgotten what it was. By way of greeting I was given a coffee cup of chicken stew and visited with my grandparents and mother. I played with Coco while Rick was at the lake house sleeping off a long work week and a demanding trip here.

When he made it up we went to the man mall and bought plywood, lumber and zip ties. There was work to be done on the lake house. It feels, then, like a weekend visit rather than Christmas, which is fine. As a child I might think of ways to sneak a Dramamine to make Santa show up faster. (Not really.) Instead we're adding supports to a bed and making a futon more comfortable. The work is easy; we saw and sand and drill and have a good time, finishing up just as the call comes from the grandparents' house to come eat dinner.

So now I'm on a cup of stew for about 24 hours. That vegetable plate was the most delicious meal ever. We considering eating a banana pudding directly from the bowl. My grandmother hasn't made one of those in years, she said, but thought to whip one up for the weekend. Rick and I, perhaps, enjoyed it most of all. She's probably now guilted into making one each time we both visit.

We played Carrom late into the night, thumping the little plastic discs across the plywood game board and into the netted corner pockets with reckless abandon and bruised fingers. That game was a staple of my grandparents' generation. Everyone, it seemed, had a board.

Countless children over the past 30-plus years have delighted in finding it under the bed of their extra room and learning the rules. It never ceases to amaze how a simple game can cause such a happy time. All it costs you is a sore fingertip the next day, but the harmless fun is worth it.

I'm rambling about board games, and not even doing a good job of that just now. There are phone calls to make and other things to write, so we'll just leave it here.

Until tomorrow, then. May your Christmas holiday have such a fine start!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday hit, as Fridays often do, right around lunch time. The air was crisp, the sun was a delightful shade of gold, the day's responsibilities were well in hand. The plan was to be one part responsible and one part selfish for the rest of the day.

It is a great feeling.

I returned to the movie theater today to complete my viewing of Bourne Ultimatum. Yesterday's attempt was interrupted by the absence of power. Electricity is always pesky when you have it the least.

The girl staffing the ticket-tearing station took her job very seriously. No one had told her of the power outage the day before. No one briefed her to expect rain check tickets. Why would they? Who would return the very next day?

I had a bag of terrific stuffed animals in tow, dropping them off in the boxes under the theater's Christmas tree. They are destined for Children's Hospital, where their hearts and mine will all be fuzzy, just like the toys. But not a synthetic blend of fibers stitched together overseas.

In the theater there was a woman of Middle Eastern descent who's phone rang continuously. Apparently no one has mentioned to her that exiting the screening room would be the polite thing to do if the phone must be answered. She had a handful of children with her, which is probably why she stayed. I considered offering the impatient "Ssssh!" as a courtesy for my fellow movie patrons, but we all noticed she was speaking Arabic, was at a spy movie and worried she may be taking notes.

"Yes, he's really trying to act! And his fighting skills are masked by many quick camera changes! There is also no way that the infidel's body could stand up to this sort of beating! Come to think of it, he shouldn't be this well-built considering he's been on the run from his own devil-government for three years. He is dreamy though. Except when the acting gets in the way."

So that was pretty much the movie. I lingered long enough that I might miss some of the holiday traffic and then cut across the municipal service road to split the community center, fire and police departments, city hall and the library to land at the closest freeway ramp.

It was there, while attempting to remain seasonal, that I took the picture that is now on the front page of the site.

The city puts up a big tree, of course, this one probably 15 or 20 feet tall. There's a fair amount of distance between me and the tree as I sat in the car waiting for the light to change. The photograph creates the imagery of a Christmas memory, a little hazy put with plenty of details to remind you of that was the best Christmas ever, an event to be praised and only bested by the next Christmas.

This might be the reason we grow up: If the holidays were perpetually cumulative we'd explode from joy around 24. In this one, simple way our brains are saving us from ourselves, and from a big cleaning bill when you had to have someone over to do the drapes after the holidays. No one wants that.

So now it is late into the night. I've successfully done everything that needs to be done for my holiday weekend and delayed everything that can wait. Now I'm cleaning off my mp3 recorder and trying to understand the many mysterious features that it has to offer.

For reasons unknown I'm so wide awake my eyeballs would light up the room if I turned off the lights. Normally this isn't a problem, but I hope to get up early tomorrow morning and travel toward a family visit. I'll be working the actual Christmas holiday, so my Christmas is this weekend.

I must wonder two days earlier than most where I am on the naughty/nice list.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Anyone else still working? Everyone seems surprised that a few of us have made appearances at our respective audiences, leading me to think I'm the last guy still punching the clock -- excluding the retail workers of course, who would love to sit in a quiet room just about now.

You think you have it bad, fighting traffic in your retail district for that last minute, thoughtfully selected plasticized product from Malaysia. These poor folks have to do it every day, fighting you to get to the store where they can please you. Except you won't be pleased, embittered as you are by the cold, the credit card bills, the guy that cut you off in traffic (does he work here?) and the lines.

I suspected the lines are bad, and today was my first foray out into the grand holiday mash of commercial abandon. It left me with questions, but more on that in a moment.

First questions first, chronologically speaking. How sad is it that on the way back in from lunch today I finally had the opportunity to learn how to use my windshield wipers? Three months or so with the car now, and this is the first time the rain and I have been introduced. Coming down the big mountain with a curve at the bottom on freshly oiled streets was also an adventure. You think you know how well your car handles, but your test drive so rarely takes place amid the oil and the rain and people who can no longer marvel at rain and get from A to B at the same time.

More of that on the way out of the office. There are still some people working, but they all called it quits at 3:30 this afternoon if the highway was any indication. They were all going to Hoover to shop. That's all we do in Hoover, shop, eat and watch the locals get hysterical about their high school football. They'll be hiring a new coach soon, surely bringing many people the Christmas present they've been so dearly coveting.

I went to the movies this afternoon. I intended to see The Bourne Ultimatum, but the power went out about 15 minutes into it. All the neighboring businesses were lit up, but just as the first dramatic confrontation was set to begin the power blinked, the generators turned on and then shut down. This is the dollar theater after all. There were maybe a dozen people in this movie and we all sat still for a moment or two. I began counting the seconds, anticipating the power to quickly return, but it did not.

Everything was very quiet, very still in the mostly dark. Almost ... too quiet. Finally I stuck my head outside of the theater to make sure that there wasn't a fire or some other unfortunate end headed our way. Everything seemed peaceful, the other patrons were beginning to filter out of their theaters and none of them seemed to be zombies or had one of those fast-acting diseases Hollywood creates. There were no robots or aliens. No governors from the future, coming back to save us from the computers. We were safe.

About two minutes into the darkness the theater started moving, and the staff began handing out refund tickets. There would be no restart of the movie. I considered mock-shouting "I want my $.89 back!" but the good humor rain check was well received.

Outside the world was on fire.

We all just stood in the door for a while and took it in, wondering what to do next. We all came here individually and in small groups to do something other than shop for Christmas presents. What are we supposed to do now? Shop?

Which is precisely what I did. I've now been tasked to buy things for myself from my mother. After admiring the sunset I stopped by the Best Buy which is the closest thing to the theater. I found a gorgeous flat screen television and a laptop that will only cost her about $4,000. She took this news in stride via text message, but you could hear the relief in her response when I told her I was kidding.

I played Guitar Hero and Drum Hero. I played the Wii and the Playstation. I found nothing to purchase and moved on.

There's a bookstore nearby and I had something on hold for a gift. I used some gift cards to pick up a few things for myself as well. I still have plenty of gift cards, which feels like a comforting ace in the hole. I also found a handybook of everything. I did not purchase it, but flipped through it and noted many good tips and instructions. If the modern world ends and I'm one of the few survivors I'll make my way to the book store and grab a copy; it could be useful if we had to return to a pre-industrial society, but isn't exactly necessary this week.

For myself I mentally thanked my grandmother for gift cards and picked up Al McIntosh's Selected Chaff and Daniel Gottlieb's Letters to Sam. The former are selected war-period newspaper columns. The latter are selected letters from a Philadelphia columnist to his grandson.

Can't wait to read them both, but the stack above them is tall.

I stopped by two nearby stores to look for a few gifts, needing some thing for the sibs and two smaller things to wrap up the list. Neither store had neither present, but I did buy armfuls of stuffed animals. At the movie theater they are accepting stuffed animals for Children's Hospital. I missed the Salvation Army deadlines this year, so I overlooked one of my seasonal good causes, but now I can redeem myself. I juggled a large mountain of fur and and polyester through the cash register. The lady asked if I was buying for children or decorating a room. All the girls within earshot swooned when I explained the stuffed animals' future.

Circuit City, next door, is still a dark and uninviting place -- found out why your sales are off guys, you need new lightbulbs. The contrast between Best Buy and Circuit City is obvious. One will continue on, the other will soon be the subject of a nostalgic website.

I will not run that Circuit City site, but will contribute a memory. While shopping about two years ago for a new digital camera the one I wanted to look at was dead. The sales clerk came over to help, disappeared and then came back to report in his best monotone that they didn't have any batteries. In the electronics store. With the battery display over his right shoulder. And that is why I did not buy a camera from that good man. I walked out, mystified, and tonight was the first time I've been back.

After a year of shopping for most things online I've found myself in two of the big electronics stores in one day. Looking at the prices I'm left asking why anyone shops in stores anymore.

I did get a few movies for the sibs. Got a discount movie and a CD book for myself, part of my mother-mandated Christmas.

And then I had dinner at Chick-fil-A, where nothing unusual happened while I read No Kum-Sok's Mig-15 to Freedom. He's giving us a quick overview of recent Korean history and has just enrolled in the Naval Academy when the North Koreans ran over the 38th Parallel, starting the war. He talks about the unit movements a bit, and the planes specifications even more, but in between all that is a colorful and dramatic tale.

At home I stumbled across the news that Dwain Luce of Mobile had died. If you watched Ken Burns' The War you'll recognize the name from that documentary. He graduated from Auburn, then Alabama Polytechnic, in 1938, fought in Italy and Sicily and flew on D-Day. Here's his API mugshot. He was a chemical engineering major, a member of Phi Delta Theta and Scabbard and Blade, the military honor society.

He came home from the war and had such a full life and career as a pillar of the community that the paper of record finally mentioned his war service in the third 'graph.

You might say that they don't make them like that any more. I say give it a decade or two. The young men and women serving now will make their predecessors proud.

Speaking of soldiers, a World War I soldier is the subject of today's Black & White. See it here or start at the beginning.

Tomorrow ... well, who knows about tomorrow. There are things to do. In which order will they take place?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

At home I enjoyed leftover birthday cookies and watched some suggested recording from the TiVo. The EvIl eye, though, put me to sleep mid-way through the recording and I walk up cold, dark and listening to some documentary about a mysterious murder. In those brief moments between awake and aware my imagination was visualizing the narrator's description of the scene. It started out as being a cartoon setting of the old Merry Melodies, but swiftly turned dark as the subject matter started to register with my groggy brain.

I don't recall many dreams, but the reality of that was spooky enough to qualify as a mild nightmare.

So I promptly turned that off, plunging my sleepy eyes into complete darkness, which did nothing to remove the image of dastardly cartoon birds with good punchlines.

After waking up I heated some dinner, flipped through the television and proudly noted that for the first time in more than a year of having the thing the EvIl eye had nothing scheduled to record in the next two weeks. I've won! I've beaten the machine! And it only took a writer's strike, the slow holiday scheduling and more than a few hours to get to zero.

So now I'm stuffed on pork and potatoes. I'm surfing the internet, preparing a few letters and making mental notes for tomorrow's shopping, an experiment for next week and a few thank you notes that must be written.

Despite the near two hour nap, and (hopefully) an early night tonight, it seems that I've gotten a lot done, even if the bulk of it are made up of mental notes.

I had to do something to get that cartoon dream out of my head.

Started a new book today, No Kum-Sok's A MiG-15 to Freedom. It is the memoir of the first North Korean to defect with a MiG during the Korean War.

He's still alive, a retired aeronautical engineer and living in Florida and was recently in Birmingham for a museum presentation of his historic fighter at the Southern Museum of Flight. I picked his book up there, but you can actually read it online.

Kenneth Rowe, as the pilot is known in the U.S. had a co-writer on the book, but the story so far is still looking for its own pace. It is important to remember that this is a memoir and should be read as such. Even still, there's a great deal of Korean history that is virtually unknown to the western world, given the modern media blackout and the historical lack of insight. In that sense Rowe's story is a valuable one.

No Glom update tonight. I slept through the Glomerata preparation period. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Right up until that dream.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy Birthday to me. This annual occurrence having now reached the point where we focus not on the presents, or the annually increase number, but the simple joys.

I'm concentrating very closely on the simple joys, lest the number drag me down.

Most common question I've received today: "Are you working?"

Does that make me the last person to do this? People seemed surprised or, in some cases, upset for me. I could have taken the day off if I'd wished, but I may as well be in the office. There many moments can pass where I think not of the numbers, but of something, anything, else.

I received many phone calls today:
Brandy called early with happy wishes and was one of those people surprised at my having gone to work. She called again later to invite me to a spontaneous dinner, which was nice, but I'd already had dinner.

Kelly called and chatted on her way to work. She also made art. She delivered a terrific birthday present a few weeks ago, which you can see more about below.

Mom sent three text messages, three E-cards and a phone call. Mothers are allowed to do this to excess on birthdays. She also presented me with four cards at last week's impromptu surprise party.

Rick called on his way to the airport and sunny South Dakota. We chatted for a bit about birthdays, holidays, light fixtures and a few other things.

Tony and Carolyn called with birthday wishes, and I replied with happy anniversary wishes. My uncle and aunt were married on the same night I was born, separated by a few hours and 550 miles.

GrandBonnie called and sang to me. That's the only present I'll ever want, forever. That's what makes it official. That's what makes it sweet and enjoyable.
I lost track of all the calls somewhere along the way, but they all sing to me. I make them sing. I love hearing the birthday song. That's a recording GrandBonnie put on my answering machine a few years ago. Each rendition is customized. This year she sang about my gray hairs and the onset of aging skin.

It was actually lyrical.


The Yankee and I took a trip to the DMV, because nothing says birthday like standing to wait for people who aren't happy to see you at all. On balance it was painless. There was no one in the line and things moved quickly and I now have an updated driver's license.

She treated me to a delicious dinner, homemade cookies and a few nice presents. As a whole it has been a near perfect use of a birthday.

Overall the presents include the plaques and portrait mentioned last week, a really great decorative sign for the kitchen, a new wallet, a personalized toiletries bag and two promising books: Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals on Abraham Lincoln's cabinet and David McCullough's The Great Bridge on the making of the Brooklyn Bridge. Both are good authors and I'm eager to start both books. See? Great presents.

Speaking of books and birthdays and Kellys ... I will share a very thoughtful gift from my favorite Kelly. A crafty, artsy and thoughtful person, she made a book of some of my photographs which has impressed everyone who's had the chance to see it.

While you obviously can't see the book from your monitor, I'm linking to some of the photos she put inside. She called it Much Like Life: Photography by Kenny Smith. The title sounds familiar, no? There's no worry of intellectual properties or copyright infringement here, as these photographs are all mine. Selections from the book include:
The cover

Page two

Pages four and five are a day at the Piedmont Dog Park

Page six features my childhood lighthouse

Page seven has a beach scene

Pages eight and nine are from south Florida

Page ten shows my great-grandmother

Page 12 highlights Memorial Day at Gettysburg

On pages 16 and 17 there are street musicians from Washington Square at NYU

There's a lot of Belize on page 18
This book is so handsome, and she's made my pictures look so good (no small feat) that I've requested the same gift each year. Annual volumes Kel!

Two website notes for the day: The newspaper section has been hastily updated, with four more installments from the mid-1960s. See the latest here or start from the beginning.

Also, this is the second in a three-week series of special Christmas ornaments. This ornament was from my Aunt Penny in 1995. We were visiting in Illinois, my senior year in high school and this was a little Christmas gift she gave me. This was the first ornament that was a gift directly to me and it has the little mouse looking over the compass with the unfinished sentence "Across the miles ..." I always liked that, because of the unending promise of the ornament. It can mean anything and some years it means different things.

That was a great trip, right up until the sudden onset of an ear infection that almost prevented my departure flight. I had bad ears as a kid, but hadn't had a problem in years. The doctor looked at me and said my eardrums were so scarred up he was impressed I could hear him. But other than that, great trip.

Next week, on Christmas day, we'll finish the ornament gazing with a special two-for-one extravaganza.

Truly a great day, today. I'm not sure how it can be improved upon, but I'm going to go see about that now. I hope you find that all your next birthday is equally rewarding.

Monday, December 17, 2007

It is possibly thrice colder, if there may be such a thing.

I was all ready to start the week by driving the old car into the ol' office, but when I walked out of the ol' door at the homestead there was new frost glistening on everything.

That car will begin to warm up three-quarters of the way there, I sighed, blowing out great gusts of air fit to make a locomotive proud.

I took the new car, which heats up before I reach the interstate, thank you. And has heated seats. A feature I did not need because the heat was on so pleasant and quickly.

And thus was the start of the day, which begin the ultra quiet rigged for silent running period of time around the holidays where even the bad guys seem to be taking a few days off. Or at least the reporters that cover them. There's a few sports items here, gubernatorial talks there and a funeral for a cop who tragically died in the line of duty, but that's the extent of it. And those will be most of the things that populate the week.

Holidays are slow days in the news business. Desks will be cleaned. Old emails and leftover projects will be returned and completed. Much candy will be eaten.

Newsrooms are cop shops during the holidays, otherwise you could write the traditional stay safe with the space heaters, donate here and traffic nightmare stories with your eyes closed.

But you must keep your eyes open for all of the food that is flowing through the place just now. Stay strong. Resist! Do more push ups! Whatever it takes.

This afternoon I headed out for a hair cut, saw the soul crushing line in the shop and opted for the soul grinding line of the T.J. Maxx next door. Christmas shopping it is then. And finally. Picked up presents for the all the little boys in the extended family. Got two gifts for a soon-to-be newborn in the family. Found a few other small things for people that read this site. Picked up a picture frame that just might match one of the new color schemes perfectly.

Checked out, fully enjoying the soul numbing line that has been streamlined for my satisfaction. They're so proud of the innovation they interrupt the Christmas music at focus group tested intervals to play a recorded message about the new check out procedure. It seems one stands in line and then waits for a machine to call out a number, where you then run to the corresponding sign with your handsome items in tow. You check out, the cashier conducts a conversation around you with a co-worker and then, finally, you are released of this burden.

Which is good, because now you're freed up for the annual Really Difficult People to Shopping.

Every year we all face this same questions: What do you get the person that has everything? What do you get the person with few or no hobbies? What can you possibly purchase for the person with more buying power than you?

Everywhere I tack on one more: Why are we shopping for these people?

No one has developed a satisfactory answer for that one.

The last few years I've convinced the extended family we should shop for others less fortunate. It has worked well, but we've only done this for two or three years, just short of a tradition and I, being distracted, neglected to mention any of this in the run up to this holiday season. So we'll be back to buying for the aforementioned.

Fortunately the extended family now has the also aforementioned three boys and a fetus to shop for, giving them the spotlight and, hopefully, reducing the pressure on people like me who just have no idea beyond Another package of thermal underwear is probably uncalled for, owing to global warming and the last several similar purchases. Still this pressure persists, but not tonight. I've done all that I can do, putting off even the haircut because now it is time to fight the traffic and ultimately make my way to the Pie Dayversary.

Three years, dozens of cohorts and a multi-regional legend. Not bad work for an overriding sweet tooth.

Three years ago I trotted out the "Because Friday is Pie Day" line, with far more success than anyone could imagine. Ward joined The Yankee and I tonight, as guest rather than server. I think I won a bet that he does own clothes beyond just the restaurant uniform.

After dinner and pie, where even more people were invited for the next installment of Pie Day, we all stood outside, shivering in 38-degree weather, singing songs out of helium balloons.

For the evening as a whole, minus the cold, things couldn't be much better.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

It is colder still. This is wintery, and Jack Frost isn't kidding this time. He's digging in to style a while. Not all season long. He'll lose some battles, he'll win some battles. There will be draws. This is the meteorological no man's land of seasonal weather.

The one thing we know for certain is that there will be cold until February or so when he finally gets bored with us. And then he'll come back for a weekend or two in March or April, just for spite. Unwanted and unsavory characters sometimes do that.

For now, though, we still feel new at this winter game. We're invigorated. The leaves are crunching underfoot, the windshields are all crystallized by the morning's early touch of chill. Picasso would have the gray he would ever require simply by pulling it down from the sky.

In a few weeks we'll start idly counting the days on the calendar. We'll get through New Year's, wrap around a few furlongs into January and then begin to wonder with curiosity what Smith Lake Jake will see. We'll start early, hoping to will there to be no shadows that day, no six additional weeks of winter. Spring could start, for all we care, on the second day of February, what with the rodent having cast its annual appearance. We will feel vexed if that extra day of February is a dreary day. The 29th should be enjoyed outdoors, giggling at all the things soon to come.

But that's a few weeks off. I give it mid-January, which would make this winter last about five or six weeks before we fail to see any real use of it. The fragile little sticks in the trees aren't nearly as pretty to gaze at as the blooms, or that wild six day stretch when all the green reappears and it seems so impossible.

OK, maybe three weeks. Four at the most.

Overcast day today, which was fine. I stayed in for most of the day. Straightening a little and washed exactly one load of laundry while being lazy a lot. Enjoyed leftover pasta, ah, comfort food, for lunch. Finished the second and started watching the third movie in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

I watch these about once a year, any more and I fear I'd start to notice too many silly things that would begin to ruin the overall effect. Things are just so warm in this series, except when they are bleak. Even after watching them all in the theater, and watching them once a year since (meaning I've seen the first one six times now?) I'm still amazed anyone made the series. I like that it still seems epic. I love that it takes almost 10 hours to watch the extended versions. I shudder to know they cut stuff out and this is still 10 hours.

I never read the books. I made it about halfway through The Hobbit when I realized I didn't care for Tolkien that much. I didn't finish the book. There aren't many books that I put down early, but I'm not a reader of fantasy in general. I don't watch them much either, but these movies remain so beautiful. Except for the places where they aren't supposed to be beautiful. Like the spider, which is coming up tomorrow.

Had to stop watching tonight to visit the Briarwood and watch my friend Brooke sing in the choir accompanied by the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. They sound beautiful together, and if powerful choirs and beautiful strings is your thing, then here you go.

We sat about six rows back, watching the music conductor (wearing tails) wave his baton. The youth ballet danced, a church with a ballet being one of the sites I've not before witnessed. And the preacher in a tuxedo, also a first.

In my few experiences with the people of that very large church they all seem like very nice and genuine people, but the size is off-putting. There are coded parking lots. There are (at least) three chapels. There is a school on the church's campus. Yes, they have a campus. It is a big and attractive place, but not for me.

Anywhere involving breadcrumbs and a GPS to find the car after services is too large a church. Ultimately, Stephen tells me, the place is organized very well, functioning more like a small town than a big church. That's all well and good, except I prefer the small town church to the church that is a small town.

Most of the services I would attend, for example, have a smaller attendance than the choral symphonic concert tonight. We counted 102 in the choir alone.

I've mentioned this before, but at my grandparent's church, which received their land from my great-grandfather, who was an elder and a song-leader, my uncle is an elder, my grandfather has been a deacon, there are mornings where I'm related to the bulk of the people in the building and everyone wonders what kept you from coming up to visit sooner.

Larger facilities, where people sometimes sit in different sections to change things up and meet new people, just really isn't for me.

Plus the walk out to the car in sub-freezing temperatures took too long tonight. At a small country church I can be to the car in six long strides if truly motivated by the chill.

The concert tonight was excellent. All agreed the performance was noteworthy and were proud they attended. People lingered for a long time afterward to chat with their friends, an important note of the congregation to my way of thinking.

Apropos of nothing, they used the early English spelling of Noel. Nowell seemed out of place in the program, but it is always a beautiful song.

Brooke, Stephen, The Yankee and I stopped off for pizza after the concert. California Pizza Kitchen. It was OK, a little pricey for something only a step above the frozen pizza of the same company. Perhaps I've become a pizza snob, but there it is.

After that, they invited us over to watch the first two episodes of Arrested Development. Stephen wants me to watch this series, and I want him to loan me the DVDs. The first two episodes are good, but he needs to wise up and loan me the discs so we can share in the laughter.

Which is something I hope you've been able to do this weekend. And also do some of my Christmas shopping, since it is obvious I'm struggling here.

Coming up tomorrow, though, there will be presents bought. There will be a day at the office. There will be a ceremonial Pie Day. Perhaps a hair cut. It will be a busy day.

And cold.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It is cold. There was rain and the springlike weather was washed away, replaced with this more fall and wintry mix, most notably characterized by the lack of mercury on the rise in the thermometer. You knew it was coming, but you didn't know it would be like this. Or, at least you hoped it wouldn't, but really you knew better. This all feels decidedly out of place given the weeks and weeks of extra beautiful weather we received.

Because of all this I ventured no farther than my yard during the day. There was, instead, a great deal of Lord of the Rings to watch. Made it through most of the first two movies, dozing off at one point during Fellowship, but watching with close attention much of the making of the movie extras.

I'm ordinarily not interested in those sort of features. They have their place and their audience, but it doesn't intrigue me like it does some people. A visually stirring movie, though, has some interesting tidbits worth seeing in the behind the scenes documentaries. The people involved here were so passionate about the work -- even before it was a movie -- making it a pleasure to see them enjoy their craft.

Which is the amazing thing about these documentaries in general and the Lord of the Rings extras specifically. So many things here are created as computer or camera tricks that it alternately unsettles the movie and makes you appreciate overcoming all of the challenges a movie offers and makes something you'd want to watch. Let alone see again and again.

And sometime fall asleep during a replay.

Ran into a coworker at the grocery store this evening on my one adventure out of the neighborhood. It once was the case that I always saw someone I knew while out on the town, but lately that's the rare exception to the rule. A double take was in order.

What are you doing in the dairy, doughnut, soda section of my grocery store? You don't even live in this part of town.

She had on a baseball hat, also something my mind had to wrap around.

We discussed dinner ideas, and home upgrades. They've been rewiring, making the painting going on here seem inconsequential. All the same, I might have her send the electrician my way. If their power comes back on, he's got my vote.

That's the great thing about electricians; it is a zero sum game. You've done the work properly, or you did it poorly. Everyone knows either way. With that pesky rare chance of burning something down or frying yourself to the wall socket of some near-stranger.

On second thought, that's probably a high-stress industry.

Home for dinner, with more Lord of the Rings, where I dozed off yet again in the Two Towers.

I've just described eight or so hours of distraction, with the final installment of the trilogy slated for tomorrow afternoon. Weekends are great, aren't they?

Hope yours has been just as fun, but more productive.

Friday, December 14, 2007

We are celebrating my birthday a few days early, it seems.

I was surprised this evening at Pie Day. Brian and his wife and daughter returned, as expected, with the local football season completed, but also standing there was my mother, aunt and uncle. I'd been hoodwinked. Bamboozled.

I had a sneaking suspicion. Early this week my mother called and asked about my weekend plans. She asked one too many questions, expressing just a little too much interest by way of casual conversation. I asked sneaky questions and received categorical denials. Earlier today I received a carefully worded response from The Yankee.

"There are no surprise plans for your birth day."

She was trying to play word games with a guy who parses words for pleasure.

She rode to Pie Day with me, and we got stuck behind a nasty traffic accident. A car rolled over on the shoulder. All during the gas-brake-gas-brake of the slowdown she was furiously text-messaging.

So there we were for Pie Day, table for eight. My mother and Taylor next to one another, this being my mother's right since she spoils the child, and they split a piece of pie. I sat next to The Yankee and my uncle, who made the two-hour trip on a whim. I danced through three or four conversations over the course of the evening.

For presents I got two great little Auburn plaques, one which says "This place is protected by Aubie" with an illustration of the padded up mascot looking like a Spartan bodyguard just daring you to blink offensively. The other is an ode to college football.

In between them I got a huge panoramic portrait of Jordan-Hare Stadium that seems to be destined for the entrance hall of my house. It is a photograph from the 2006 Florida-Auburn game, which I watched with my folks in Indiana, so it was an appropriate selection.

And now I have all but one (or, at the most, two) of the handsome Auburn pieces one would ever want before the theme became obnoxious.

I also got several great cards, candles in my pie and the pleasure of dear family and friends to end the week. My friends and family are sneaky. They also didn't make an especially big deal out of the thing, which is even better.

After dinner we sang helium songs in the parking lot until the cold ran us off into our respective cars and home. We pierced the air with childrens songs and Christmas carols and all the while giving Taylor the serious eye while saying "Never do this." She nodded with certainty, unsure of this high-pitched magic, entertained, but certain it wasn't for her.

I'm going to crawl into my bed early tonight, warming my feet on soft sheets and settle in to watch a lot of late-night television before sleeping through part of the morning. Two days of virtual nothingness are ready to confront me, making Friday the usual best night of the week. All the better for the company tonight.

I hope you're off to a similar start to the weekend. To share in my good fortune I'll let you help blow out the candles.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I painted today, but just enough to say that I'd done so. Two bedrooms have been completed. The kitchen is in the test paint process and the bathroom is in "No one is going to like this, better start over" mode.

All things considered it is coming along nicely. It is good to know people that enjoy painting and just want me to stay out of the way. They definitely fall into the Coolest Ever category of things, when you sit down to idly calculate and classify such things. I can do that right now because I'm not painting. That makes me very happy.

Otherwise I've spent the day preparing a few more letters, working on the site, listening to the most random collection of music I could find and laying the groundwork for some actual Christmas shopping. 'Tis the season. Or so I hear.

It has actually cooled off just a bit. Now we're in the 50s and 60s. And there's talk of sub-freezing lows over the weekend. We've busted 32 at least once this season, but we've been so decadent with upper 70s temperatures the last week or so that no one remembers it. But it has rained just a bit, the pressure fronts have shifted, say the meteorologists and we're now experiencing something approaching seasonally appropriate.

So I better start the Christmas shopping. Actually bought one thing online this evening, which is the place I hope to make many of my thoughtful purchases again this year. If you have any ideas, feel free to submit them at the usual E-mail address which can be found by mousing over the pound sign at the bottom of each post.

Dinner at Cracker Barrel tonight, where I'm either finding reasons to not like them or they're creating reasons for me to no longer care. We've discussed in recent weeks the entire gift shop that was made in China. Tonight I noted the toothpicks had the same origin. Are there no trees or toothpick factories between here and China? None?

Tonight the customers discovered the general helplessness of the store manager. He's the only one that can void things from the register, you see, and he couldn't be found. And when he finally was found he was seemingly the only one who didn't know what was happening.

I got a free drink out of it, so all worked out well. There was good humor in the quickly growing line ready to pay and leave. There was no grumbling. We mock-groused, and that got the free drink, but all ended well. Mostly because the waitress was the sweetest old lady you could ever hope to meet and, if she doesn't have grandchildren, I was considering asking her for an application.

On the site: There's a great new black and white for your approval. The picture is nice, but the story behind the subject's discovery is an interesting one. I've undersold on the actual page, but if you've ever searched for the most unlikely of answers online and found your solution, you'll understand the thrill. Check it out or you can start at the beginning.

That's pretty much it for tonight. Time to turn out the Christmas lights and doze off into the sweet taste of Friday morning. That's the plan. After you're up and moving on Friday the rest of your ride into the weekend can only get easier.

Come back tomorrow for lots of barbeque. And Pie Day.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I could not tell you how long, but the TiVo is cleared. Oh there are things on the EvIl eye, but for the first time in a long while, two months at least, everything that's on the machine have been viewed. A great peace has moved over the den and the many components there designed to give me viewing bliss. The pressure, for a time, to view things and delete them has passed. Looking ahead there are only two hours of programming in the next week the machine will record.

And this a positive of the writers' strike. Things have been watched. I'm all caught up on the television and can now fixate on other activities and hobbies. And DVDs. Oh the many stacks of discs that are waiting patiently to watch.

How blissful it is, that these are the dilemmas of life.

Home today I finished Monday night leftovers in the middle of the afternoon. I'd had a big handful of grapes for breakfast and no lunch. At lunchtime a nap was more important than food, so I found a quiet spot and dozed. All was fine, until about 2:30, when the pangs of hunger kicked in and everything sounded delicious. That everything turned out to be a chunk of chicken and pasta.

While eating I finally watched Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Good movie, just makes me miss the series, which is due back in March. And you had that feeling even with familiar characters in largely secondary roles as this was prequelish in tone. The story takes place between seasons two and three, so already we're in the past. And from there we have two separate flashbacks to 10 months previous and back 41 years.

I'm told there are a few more minutes of this episode, only available on DVD of course, as they've figured out their marketing to zealous lemmings who'll buy anything. They're burning up good will on that, mine particularly went out the window when they sold the second season in two chunks. The thing of the movie that I find interesting is that they two on two important plot points in this bridge between seasons two and three, but they are never dealt with in the third season.

One, the hybrids, are discussed at length in the third season, but separate of this movie. Makes sense, given how it shakes out in Razor. The other story arc, the old-style guardians, are never mentioned again. Curious, that. Another thing, an interrupted warning just at the end, is completely overlooked by the crew. The warning makes sense given that you're asked to view the storyline in a non-contiguous fashion, but if you can see everything in respect to the Battlestar universe's timeline that warning ruins a big surprise at the end of the third season.

I am proud that they've returned to one line from the first season as being the most important, and enigmatic, prophecy of the whole series. I caught it in that first episode way back when, and am glad to see that it wasn't a throwaway line. It would have been easy to avoid dealing with the ramifications of "It has happened many times before and will happen many times again," but they've embraced it as a storyline. That's the beauty of the series, on balance it is so well crafted, so well-built that you can't help but see the sum of the parts as a labor of love.

It would have been easier to make intense 40 minute stories, but the creators of the show have generally gone about creating a four-season serial thing of beauty. You can't watch the show without being moved by that. In a sense it is a space opera because it all comes together with such obvious passion, and that's contagious for the viewer.

Also, there are no aliens.

But I do go on at such great length.

There was a quick trip to the grocery store to secure food for the evening: the traditional favorite salmon. Nothing terribly uneventful happened at the grocery store, which is unusual in itself and, as we've come to learn, something of a disappointment.

Just one other thing on the EvIl eye to get through tonight, that being last night's Boston Legal. It isn't surprising how far left they've taken this show as late, but how brazen they've been in getting there. Everything now is a backdrop for bully pulpits. There's no need for courtroom drama or even drama about the lives that work in a law firm. Everything is an issue now, and it has grown tiring quickly.

Particularly when they're wrong. They sued the National Guard for not stopping a flood, but that was an excuse to rail upon the war. Never mind that you can't really sue the National Guard. Government has given itself a certain amount of immunity, just for that very reason. The Guard serves by the order of the governor, so really the lawsuit should have been at his feet for not ordering the Guard out to sandbag against a flood. Same problem: governor's aren't fond of lawsuits. None of this matters: the point was to talk about the Guard serving overseas.

Also it is a lousy excuse. The Massachusetts Guard proudly boasts:
7,800 soldiers and airmen

1,700 full-time employees

6,100 part-time, drilling Guard members
Gov. Deval Patrick says "Currently, more than 1658 members of the Massachusetts National Guard are deployed overseas in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and other areas."

Running the numbers that should be plenty of people to ward off a flood. If that were the job of the Guard. If only someone had told the poor merchant, they argued in the episode, he would have bought flood insurance. Thank goodness it isn't the proprietor's fault, no?

The secondary point, of course, being to let William Shatner make the well-timed wisecrack.

The other courtroom subplot was about students and "You say destruction of school property I say civil disobedience." A kid breaks into the principal's office and shreds a test to demonstrate her distaste for the standardized test model. She gets expelled, but doesn't want to be expelled. Why? Cause American kids are stupid. She learned that while studying abroad. Said she felt like an idiot compared to her peers in England, but she's like, suddenly, OMG this totally powerful advocate now that she's back in the States.

They brought in the National Geographic geography studies, which are sad and telling. (Also, a challenge for the professor types reading this: give your students next semester a not-for-a-grade geography test. No matter your subject. I want to see that data.) And they showed this painful video because, as we know, one person's anecdotal gaffe is a symptom of a dastardly education system.

Also standardized tests are bad, schools are broken, teachers are leaving and No Child Left Behind is ba-a-a-a-a-d.

I won't quibble with any of that, but the manner in which you get to your triumphant speech could be better constructed. And, sadly, no one discussed the role of parents in education. Only the government's supposed plan to endumbinate us all.

There are two running non-court subplots, I care about neither, but can't help but notice all of the talent they have on staff that is being overlooked. I'm surprised at how quickly and vapidly things went far left on this show. And how quickly it got bad. That's more correlation than causation, but the rapidity of both developments is impressive.

But I do go on.

Something else to go on about, the new additions to the Glomerata section are up. These all deal with the entertainment brought to campus for the 1975-76 school year. Some pretty good bands in there. And, indicating how sleepy a town it was, a hurricane fronts the entertainment section. If you've been following along you can jump to the latest here.

Tomorrow there will be more rambling, perhaps an amusing story and a riddle. Or perhaps a pun. Surf on over to find out.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another fine spring day in December. You'd order dozens more of these if you could. You'd do it even though you know something about it is patently wrong. Oh the sun is nice and the breeze is delightful. The temperatures are nice, but we really should be setting record highs.

If nothing else this is getting in the way of the Christmas shopping. Is anyone done? Is anyone even talking about this? We'll blame the weather, the abnormally beautiful days that are solely responsible for slowing the consumer section of our economy.

At least in the southeast, where it is dry, but mild. To the north and midwest it is cold, dreary and possibly wintery.


Had a free lunch today. One of those regular deli places that is close to the office, making me a frequent customer. Every 12 meals you earn a freebie. Every four months or so I earn a lunch on the house.

I sit in the front room, the quiet room, where no one else wants to linger, so usually there's one other table, the television and my reading material. Which I've been catching up on lately. I'm reading two issues of the Smithsonian Magazine at one time, separating the two just enough to keep it all straight.

There was tough old Gen. Matthew Ridgeway in Korea, intent on turning morale, and the war, back around. That's an excerpt from David Halberstam's widely acclaimed The Coldest Winter. There was a harmless little article on the harmless little Chia Pet and an interesting discussion on the pros and follies of various biofuels.

In the December issue there's a neat little story on the search for the Ark of the Covenant. The Ethiopian Christians say they have it, but you have to take their word for it. There's Eisenhower on D-Day, which is always a good tale and polar dinosaurs. This one, like all good dinosaur stories, ends in mystery.

Elsewhere, there's new paint on the walls at home. None on the floors, very little on skin and clothes. If you want jobs done that easily you should subcontract.

I moved furniture, ran the vacuum, moved some more furniture and pulled down wallpaper. Generally got in the way. All in-home projects run smoothly when I'm on the periphery.

Finally finished The War. In the last installment Quentin Aanenson said "There are casualties in war that don't show up as casualties. They are internal casualties."

That was a big portion of the seventh and final episode. The fifth and sixth episodes were often very dark, discussing some of the most dire aspects of the war. This episode discussed the victorious end of the war, coming home and many veterans struggle in the aftermath.

There was a little question and answer segment at the end of the documentary featuring the makers of the film. They discussed chronicling the individual stories which are disappearing so quickly. It is something you could do with the veterans in your life. All you need is a little time, a good audio recorder or video camera. Indiana University has great tips on recording oral histories.

Take advantage of the time, make the effort to do it. There aren't that many days that 60-year-old history can be put off. Also, think of it as cathartic. Many veterans don't like discussing what they saw or did, but some, the filmmakers say, have been waiting decades for the opportunity.

I didn't take that opportunity. My great-grandfather got ill just as I was developing an interest in the period. He died before I knew the questions to ask, and how to ask them. All I knew of that portion of his life was that he'd been in the war and hurt his wrist.

It was at his funeral that I learned he was a conscientious objector. From his preacher I learned that my great-grandfather served as a medic in Europe. It was there that I learned of his decorations, but I may never know the circumstances behind them. I'll never hear stories of the things that made him laugh or the things he missed most about his country home.

I regret that more than a little.

The Christmas ornament feature: This is a three week feature where we'll briefly examine beautiful and important ornaments on the tree. Enjoy it while it lasts. This beautiful ornament is from my dear friend Elisabeth.

Knowing I had scarce few tree decorations she set out to fix the situation a few years ago. Most of them are thematic to North Carolina, where she lives, but some fall under the classic Christmas categories.

I like this one because it is beautiful, has glitter and brings two old favorites together: sand dollars and lighthouses.

I love putting up her ornaments because they serve as a constant reminder of the dear friendship of such a giving person.

One last thing: There is an update to the newspapers section. Here you'll find The Birmingham News' coverage of the Kennedy election and the Bay of Pigs invasion. Start here if you're new to the newspaper section.

That's all for today. Tomorrow there'll be Glomerata photos and I might finally make it to the new Battlestar movie. I'm only two months behind everything, but catching up fast.

Except the Christmas shopping.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Abnormally beautiful day today. Jus' fine indeed. Very Christmaslike.

For lunch I walked around downtown, enjoying the crisp winter air, invigorated by the 77 degrees we were experiencing. It was spring, in December. These might not become the Rockwellian holidays you'd like to see the kids compress into the greatest experience ever, judging all others by the magic of snowfall and sleigh rides. This will be practice for spring. Winter might eventually come and offer an interlude, but we're aiming firmly at Endless Summer territory now.

Ignore the calendar and the only thing out of place are the trees, which are beautiful, except for the denuded, twiggy parts.

Here are a few photographs from an hour spent aimlessly pacing.

I've been reading about light graffiti as an impermanent art form. Doesn't mess up the walls, you can make compelling photographs with a little thought and coordination. Seems interesting. Most of them seem to be at night, which is what makes this an accidental display of light graffiti. If you can read kanji that says "The only thing more useless than photographing this wall is looking at the picture."

One of the stores in our neighborhood, an overpriced frou frou antique store has, sadly closed. I noticed that this afternoon while staring into their empty suite. That place had been so cramped with interesting, and expensive items that the barren cement floor is more than a little sad. Fortunately we're surrounded by artistic outfits, like the one across the street you saw here just the other day. They decorate their windows for every theme, and there's now a great deal of Christmas: Trees, ornaments, lights and so on.

There's also a glowing star.

And, yes, those are marshmellows. I'm not sure why. They were closed today or I would have gotten the answer.

A block south there's a little back alley building with a ghost sign. They mustn't have thought highly of their service. That wall faces an alley, across from a sharply sloping hill that falls into a parking lot. Not a highly visible location. That building, though, is built into a World War II era quonset hut which now serves some third or fourth purpose. The designers of that thing in the 1940s could have had no idea that they would go from soldiers to diapers to paper storage (or whatever happens in the curious old building).

Here are those leaves we discussed. And, yes, we're inching beyond gratuitous with those photographs, but I enjoy catching all three phases of the leaf turn. Also there was no way of knowing they'd stay on the trees this long.

Look! Over there! Told you it is spring.

On my way back to the office I wandered into the side of a building that is for lease. I believe the most recent occupant was one of the many local wrought iron dealers. It seems that's a tough business as the emptiness suggests they've moved on. I enjoyed how the light was beaming into the cavernous, and cold, room.

Poor folks, living by a simple dream of cluttering up people's fine homes with high end wrought iron work. Only it did not come to pass. Hopefully they've found other rewarding pursuits to sustain them.

Home after work. Watched a bit of television, dozed off. Woke up to watch a bit more and enjoy a delicious dinner.

Moved furniture -- two end tables, a dresser, chest and a bed. Peeled wallpaper. Peeled off the wallpaper under that wallpaper. Put a few other chores off to tomorrow.

Still no Christmas shopping. Who can think of that when the weather is this beautiful? We're due more tomorrow. There won't be more pictures here, but ramblings on reading, my completion of an epic documentary, newspapers and more.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Slept a fair amount this morning, falling asleep to the late-night Frasier episodes on Lifetime. That's the routine. They air at 11 p.m. during the week, midnight on Sunday morning and not at all on Sunday night. So they make you develop a habit for six days and give you nothing on the seventh day. This wouldn't be so bad if anything of any quality was on television at that hour on Sunday nights, but that's never the case.

Tonight for example ... nada.

It was almost 1 a.m. when I fell asleep last night. Suddenly that seems late. Oh, once upon a time and all that. It begs the question: How do we grow older? A little bit at a time.

So 1 a.m. and I felt triumphant. Today I've moved around well-rested despite my foray into the nightlife. Lunch for four at Panera, The Yankee, Stephen and Brooke. Did a little window shopping after that and then some grocery shopping. I made random people in the grocery story laugh, as is often my goal, with corny jokes and antics. I discovered that the bakery will individually wrap hamburger buns. I only wanted two and had no desire to watch six spoil. When you do the math it was even a better deal to buy two rather than buy the eight. That's Publix, friends, where your shopping is their pleasure.

At home, with the groceries safely stored, exterior illumination was applied to the house. This also required a few moments of siding upkeep. And a ladder and an extension cord. No one was harmed in the attempt to not be shamed by the neighbors' lumens.

I watched football. Some football. My attention was divided between the Patriots-Steelers game, Forrest Gump and Gladiator. This is the most professional football I've caught this year. It seems that New England is very good. Also Forrest is not a smart man, but he knows what love is, and TNT is perhaps in the midst of a Russell Crowe marathon. Cinderella Man is airing later tonight. That's the only thing of any merit running in the aforementioned Frasier timeslot.

Hamburgers from the grill for dinner. While the charcoal was burning I turned the blower onto the deck, manhandling wet leaves with the brute force of air. That never gets old.

Later I wrote a letter to end the day. Another day in which a few things were accomplished with relative ease and, upon reflection, a maximum of relaxation.

I hope your weekend was as restive and productive as mine.

Oh, yes. Christmas shopping. That's the thing I've entirely forgotten to do.

The panic will start Wednesday!

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Something of a busy day. How this happened I'm not certain as busy Saturdays are fundamentally and ideologically opposed around here. Clearly there was hoodwinking involved.

Woke up fairly early, having fallen asleep fairly early. After so many hours in the reclined position various parts of the body send a signal up to the brain: "Nothing is getting done, the kid's sleeping the day away and parts of him are sore from lying here anyway, so wake him up why doncha?" That's always a great way to get up, rolling out of bed with the spine doing its best bubble wrap impersonation.

The Christmas tree received further decorations tonight. All the classics made the list. All the historically important ornaments are now on display, as are the poignant gifts. A few of the tackier decorations were unwrapped, laughed at, and promptly stored away. One musn't part with these, on the off chance there's every a Tacky Christmas Tree theme in your future. It'd be just the luck to decide to make that tree the same year the entire industry went away from kitsch. Big Ornament could ruin you socially if that happened. Hang on to the tackier items just in case.

My first ornament is on the tree. A little mouse holding a giant compass. It was a gift several years ago from some distant family. It always finds a happy home near the top of the tree. The highest ornament I place, however, is a plastic Santa Claus from my grandmother. The thing is older than I am, has a string and a bell hanging down that you can pull on to make the jolly old elf mimic the snow angel dance.

The view from my tree has changed for that Santa Claus and mouse this year. The last several years the ornaments have been hung from a very small Tiny Tim-type tree in another room. Now they're all on a big fir, in a room they've never discovered. Out from their boxes and wrapping paper to find a new view. There are windows, natural light and a world of books. You can almost see it in their expression as they note the differences.

Leftovers from Pie Day for lunch. Got out of the house to pick up the Intrepid, which is now ready to be cranked and driven at great lengths once again.

I had to pick the car up at the mechanic's alternate shop. He has two for reasons that escape me. I'd completed the business part of the transaction yesterday, wondering if the work was completed on the basis of the office manager's comments. This morning I met another guy who was welding something to another car's exhaust. He left to find my car, wedged between two junkers with about 2 1/4 inches space on either side.

I had him pull it out. He was happy to do it, having the habit of moving other people's cars around in narrow spaces. We were both just glad other wrecks hadn't blocked me in. The guy told me the city sometimes dumps its impound overload in my mechanic's lot. Learn something new every day.

Stopped by the Lowe's, which was nearby, to see if I could improve upon this strike plate issue for the storm door. Three employees stood on the same aisle, all none-to-eager to help. Finally one heard me muttering and asked if she could help. I decided to experiment.

Nope. You don't have what I need.

"Oh. OK," she said, the relief evident on her face.

Thanks anyway.

She quickly turned away, proving my point about the helpfulness factor. She made a passing swipe, sort of, but not especially inspired. Didn't feel the need to make sure I'd overlooked the hardware product that would bring such joy and relief to my household. She just took it that I, the guest, knew where everything was, and wasn't, in her place of employee.

Found a few other things the house was asking for: washers, O-rings and outlet plates. Paid and left, still frustrated by my inability to resolve a simple, nagging, three dollar problem.

Stopped by the local paint store for color ideas and wallpaper removal advice. There was a parade going on two blocks up and the guy imagined it must be a Christmas parade. It could have been a parade of elves and pixies and unicorns and the guy might have believed it. The paint store smells of, well, paint. They aren't very good about circulating the air. Maybe that's a marketing ploy. Either way, no paint was sold today. But that's coming soon.

Home, then, to replace two light switch plates and four electrical outlet plates. Now that room has been brought to a uniform agreement of accessories. These are the small little problems that don't offend for a good deal of time. Until they do. And then you can't unscrew the mis-matched plates quickly enough. Now they are all shiny and hopeful.

One of the old outlets was recycled for use upstairs. A washer was also installed in the showerhead to defeat a little leak. A washer was installed in a sink to slow another drip, but the real problem is elsewhere and I can't get to it from here. Either way it was a slow drip and is slowed more by the new O-ring.

Also, I pulled down a little wallpaper. Warm water, scrapper and liquid fabric softener seems to be the key formula. When you get it going just right you can pull it down by the full sheet.

Had a friendly Mexican dinner, followed by a trip to CompUSA. The store is closing soon and I'm on watch for deals. There were no deals to be found tonight, but mental notes were made. One salesman had nothing to do but follow customers around the store, looking a little lost and sad to not be in the conversation. Another salesman talked He caught me with a work shirt on, prompting that startled dance where you quickly wonder why this stranger is stalking you before remembering what you're wearing. He talked about the advertisements and high school sports,'s profoundly extensive coverage we've touched on here recently.

I played an odd golf game. There was a desktop version of a game controller trying desperately to be relevant in a Wii world. It nodded at a golf motion, but only briefly, moving along three axes and producing very short swings. The limitations in my performance must have been mine alone, as the computer-simulated me on virtual links was only a slight drop off from my regular game.

That's most of the day. Somehow. It would feel as if something is missing, but loafing around the house fixing this and that took more time than you might expect from reading the above. Oh, I also changed a light bulb. There. Now the day is nicely rounded.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Ahh, Friday. What can be said that has not already been said?

We'll go with these two:
Life changes every Friday here.
-- Karishma Kapoor

By Friday my brain is full ... It's possible that a four day work week would solve this problem.
-- Owen J. McClain
Karishma Kapoor is a Bollywood actress, where things must be mercurial. Owen J. McClain is a police officer in New York. For some reason his quotes wind up in the oddest places. That's the internet for you. Make the paper a few times, people start jotting down your every word about Tylenol, freckles and sociopaths and you suddenly find yourself in quote generators.

And, Mr. McClain, if you find this page one day: I understand what you mean. Doesn't all apply here, but I can understand.

We're streaming the high school football championships at Earlier this year we secured an exclusive contract with the governing body of high school sports. As far as anyone can tell no one else in the country is doing this. Yet. Once again our folks are on the ground floor.

Look for others to follow along as the data proves there's a great interest and it is relatively inexpensive.

Our sports guys and the production folks have put a lot of effort into this project, it looks very nice and we're all proud they can see the positive returns. The ultimate project is a section of the site becoming the database and clearinghouse for high school athletics. I've only done a very, very small amount of the work, but have heard about a lot. Pretty interesting stuff.

So, if you like cheerleading competitions, high quality football and -- coming soon -- wrestling, basketball and more -- you know where to go.

That's how I ended the work week, brainstorming little grassroots promotional ideas. Picking up my things and spitballing ideas, getting in the car and thinking up a few more. Remembering I forgot my leftovers in the office kitchen. Ah, well. Monday's breakfast.

Then I went to the bank, learning that the ideal time to visit is at 3:56 on the non-payday Friday. They close at 4 p.m., so everyone is happy, laughing and sitting at their teller spot, watching the clock. There is no one in line, so you can get in and out in a hurry. They are very pleasant, even more so than normal when they are a pleasant bunch.

At 3:56 you expect different. Experience has taught you that people aren't so happy to see you bring them extra work just before they knock off for the weekend. Bank people must realize they stop seeing customers at 4 p.m. rather than 5 or 6 and are happy about that. Now they're just concentrating on beating the traffic to the interstate.

Which I did not do, but it moves quickly enough being only 4 p.m. Stop by the mechanic's to check on my car about which no one has called me in ages. The short version of the story is that it slipped through the cracks and my mechanic friend will earn a mock-hard time about it next week.

Stopped by the library to consider Christmas-themed movies. I mentioned Bad Santa, and wanted to check it out, but it was gone. Found a few other things, but put them back.

I opted instead for a few CDs. Checked out, learning I had an overdue fine for a few things I barely remember removing from the library, paid up and decided to listen to my newly loaned CDs on the way home.

I can do that now. And, yes, I've had the new car for a few months but I went a year without a CD player in the old car and every time I realize I can listen to discs again is a pleasant surprise.

Besides, I had Roger Miller. Also checked out Glenn Miller, a Johnny Cash compilation and a Shawn Mullins that I lost in the great Labor Day Car Theft of '06.

Roger Miller, by the way, is the man.

Watched last night's ER, which wasn't bad. They've been hit or miss from what I've caught this season. Seems the promos are the best part. This was the last one of the season because of the writers' strike. Just as well, it is a mid-season episode that felt like a bookend.

Introducing my plan to cope with the writers' strike. I understand they have a legitimate beef, but think the whole thing could be handled better. All the parties involved are driving off their audiences and, with more rifts forming today, it is obvious they're not too concerned.

So, now that almost every show is in reruns, I present to you the Short Term Solution. Wipe off the whole schedule and start anew. But start with the old. Take the best programs from each time slot and run those repeats.

Imagine if you stopped by NBC next Thursday to catch ER and the first episode was on, starring Noah Wyle, Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies and George Clooney. You'd watch that. You'd watch it for weeks. That was great television. It might not do numbers like the original ER, but you could reproduce or better the numbers of the current incarnation.

The answer for the classic long-running shows like ER is obvious. But what about the rest of the time slots? Bring back the true classics. Mix and match eras, even. We'd all tune in to watch great episodes of the Cosby Show, Cheers, The Wonder Years, Twin Peaks, Murphy Brown and WKRP in Cincinnati.

Need to find an answer for tired replays of Letterman and Leno? Run classic segments of Carson and Sullivan.

You could do it by genre. Or by the era. Imagine the marketing: Get to know your parents favorite shows. Think of the DVD sales brought on by nostalgia.

And you can thank me in the morning.

Most all of the store's favorite friends were out for Pie Day. Ward was there, and Kathleen and Sarah and Suzy too. There were a few people missing, but we'll all be able to visit again soon.

Brian and his family, who could not be there, managed to text me in the middle of the meal, so he was there in spirit. I had the chicken (sorry you missed out Brian) and it was delicious, but I got full very quickly.

Lots of leftovers mean a good lunch tomorrow.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

In the Christmas spirit yet? Feels too much like early spring. The air is nice and crisp and with each little breeze it just feels like that coolness will soon be ran out of town by the sun.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking. There are some clues that it is Christmas season, but they seem easily ignored. There are lights on the tree at home, candles in the windows and the neighbors are nice and bright. I've studiously avoided the shopping and the traffic, hence the absence of Christmas feeling.

This will catch up with me soon, though, as I'm due to realize any day now that I'm truly behind in the present-buying spree.

So you know what we'll be discussing this weekend, then.

The first image that I saw this morning? The first one I remember, anyway -- frightening how the first hour didn't register -- was getting out of the car at the office. Across the street was this Christmas image.

Meanwhile, the first thing I saw upon leaving the office was the last fight for the warmer seasons. The crape myrtle is fighting a valiant, but failing battle to hang onto the greens.

A beautiful afternoon though, the only thing missing was the hopefulness and eternal optimism of spring. Instead you can feel the sigh of inevitability of autumn.

I've received Emails from two old friends today. These would be the sort of conversations you aren't fortunate enough to have everyday, which is why they warm your heart so much.

One was from an old boss who makes jokes about trying to hire me to Boise. He's a very nice, straight forward and down to earth guy. I'd go work for him again, because he's a great guy, but that's Boise, which I hear is cold. Though it might feel like the Christmas season there by now.

My current boss is another one of those really nice guy bosses, another good guy to work for, so I think I'll stay warm this December. Also it was 47 in Boise today. Just 50 here, but Boise has snow in the forecast in the coming days, we'll have 72 degrees on Saturday.

The other Email was from a friend in high school and college with whom I haven't talked to in years. She found me in a memory box, looked me up and wrote to see if I would remember her. Of course I do, and so we swapped two Emails, catching up on life, marvelling at what has changed and what has not. She has a kid. She calls him Little People. She sent me a link to a video, bemoaning her own evolution into becoming One of Those Parents. She is One of Those Parents, which makes me laugh; the little boy is adorable.

And in those two miniature conversations the day feels a bit brighter, a bit more substantial and satisfying. If things got any better it'd be obnoxious.

Oh, I was also offered a teaching job at UAB for the spring, but unfortunately I can't take the class because it is in the morning. The staff doesn't want to teach an 8 a.m. class and so now the struggle comes in finding qualified adjuncts who aren't doing anything in their professional lives that would allow them to be on campus. If only they'd change the schedules I would agree to it, because I'd love the opportunity, but the details just wouldn't work out.

So, Dear UAB: Get on rearranging that schedule.

Sat down at home thinking I would finally watch the last episode of The War. Got started, dozed off. Woke up quickly, but stumbled into sleep again. Woke up and continued watching -- this was a 150 minute installment, so there was plenty of time to snooze -- and I got down to the last 20 minutes or so when the power went off. Not a brown out, not a fade away, but just a sudden, complete darkness.

So I sat in the dark a bit. After three or four minutes, time certainly passes slower in the dark, I moved upstairs to stretch out under the glow of the window candles. They are battery operated, preserving the true spirit of Christmas. They were purchased for a few bucks each at Ye Olde Box Store a few days ago and, also keeping with the Christmas tradition, batteries were not included. But they glow nicely. There is no concern of fire or smoke staining the ceiling or curtains. The AA batteries will surely last the evenings through the holidays.

I admired the candles before realizing a call to report the power outage was in order. This is the debate we all consider when the power goes out: Should I call? Certainly someone else has already dialed the 1-800 number. Am I a tattle tale? Will this be redundant? What if no one else makes the call? We'll sit in the dark all night, each neighbor cursing the power company, but never thinking of blaming one another for failing to call.

I call the phone company.

One of the joys of living in the Stoic Oaks is that there is a nursing home not far away. The folks there are very nice, but the unexpected perk is that the power company always scrambles to restore the precious electricity. They hustle for this circuit, and we're all appreciative. And spoiled. The power, I knew, would return soon, but in the meantime I had thumbs to twiddle.

Or. Peeking out the window I see it is a clear night. I could go outside, watch the light pollution fade away and then stare up at the little twinkling Christmas lights that are forever on display. This is a good plan. Put on the shoes, slip into a fleece, stuff my hands in my pockets and wander outside. As I walk to the almost exact middle of the property the power returns.

One never thinks of power as making a noise, but things click, beep and settle when it disappears and it clicks, pops and announces itself upon returning. Standing outside I could suddenly see all of the Christmas lights flash to attention. What was dark is now lit, but not by the normal ambient, runoff light of your life, but by the deliberately decorative lights denoting your joy for the season. It earns the incredulous and exaggerated blinks of a small child.

So the power is back. I return to the last episode of The War, learning an interesting TiVo trick. The remote control suddenly does not run things. I call the tech support line, get put on hold by the chipper recorded voice and, in the interim, realize what had happened. As the power went out I stuff all of the important items of my life that were within reach into my pockets. For some reason the remote control was one of those items, along with the flashlight. There's a little switch on the remote, 1 and 2. In my pocket the switch was moved to 2, it prefers to be on 1, upon making the correct the EvIl once again bent to my whims. I'm just glad I figured this out before some poor tech had to help me troubleshoot my oversight.

I also learned that, upon a sudden absence and restoration of power the EvIl eye reverts to starting your program at the beginning, rather than the familiar "Where you left off." In fast forwarding I noticed footage I didn't recognize. Apparently I dozed for longer than I realized. I must start again and watch again.

But not tonight. Tonight there is National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. And, you know, I could sit and tell you all of the things about the movie that I think are so-so, but while I watch it I can't help but laugh. For my money, though, the antithetical Christmas movie of choice is Bad Santa. Fear not: It's a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story will also be viewed this season.

I also found an amazing program on public television tonight. They couched a fundraiser around highlights of the old Johnny Cash television show. Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette were there. You could see a clean-cut Waylon Jennings, Charlie Pride, George Jones and more. I didn't even catch the pop/rock portion of the program, but it didn't matter; this was the music and these were the singers that made up a significant portion of my childhood, and here they all were in performances from 1969 to 1971, looking younger than I've ever seen them.

And near the end of the show was this amazing gem: Johnny singing with the Carter Sisters and the Statler Brothers. When they walked on stage together that night they brought 200 years of accumulated country and gospel music history. I gushed over this for some time. Cash played until near his death, the Carter family would perform for a few more decades and the Statlers finally stopped touring in 2002. That's a lot of music.

In figuring out that math I also learned, to my surprise, that Mother Maybelle Carter developed scratch picking. That brings us to two consecutive days of picking talk on this site. Not bad for a guy that doesn't play the guitar.

One last thing, there's a new Black & White photograph over on that section of the site. It is one of those use your imaginaton pictures. I know some of you will give me your thoughts. I'm looking forward to that.

Thanks for stopping by. Hope you're having a great run up to Friday and the weekend. Make sure you come back tomorrow for more tales of fun, sun and sappiness that's overdone.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Some days get away from you quickly. Sometimes you have an idea how that happens, sometimes it is so sudden as to be startling.

The first clue was walking out of the office to see the sun at a preposterous other-worldly level. The angle felt all wrong, though I was leaving work at the usual early-afternoon time.

The next thing I know I'm dozing off in the semi-darkness. Actually the next thing I knew was a trip to the library, but that's another adventure altogether.

Watched Boston Legal over steak tonight. The steak was a broiled recipe cooked to the perfect consistency. The baked potato was perfect -- fresh, warm, buttered and salted and holding its consistency to allow the delicious steak and potato combination bite.

The television show wasn't bad, but the steak was fairly distracting from what were otherwise recycled and ripped from the headlines plot points.

Denny Crane, you see, was arrested in a courthouse bathroom misunderstanding much like Sen. Larry Craig. Meanwhile Robert Wuhl did a guest appearance as a shock jock fired for being a shock jock. Wuhl had all of about eight lines, wasting his particular bent of comedy, but the larger problem was that the writers exposed themselves as people who shouldn't be writing about First Amendment issues.

For one thing they got the argument wrong, which the over-the-top female-judge-with-an-attitude pointed out. Secondly the debate nudged two more words a little bit closer to the edge of the lexicon, never to be used again. And then Shirley Schmidt, championing the shock jock's cause, said it would be OK to curb language if it were racist or offensive.

That's an odd stance for one of your more liberally bent comedy/dramas on network television.

No understanding of the concepts of free speech.

I think they're basically killed the Denny Crane character now. It seems a contest of who flinches first, writers that have to write things for the man or William Shatner who has to portray the role. One of the best actors on the show was reduced to three lines, and the only conversation really directed his way was about how he didn't say "Hello." Another great actor who's character was not renewed for the season returned for no obvious reason and contributed little.

They've demonstrated the ability to create nice characters, but seem to have a hard time giving them much in the way of purpose. It doesn't bode well for the remainder of the show's life, may it be long and funny.

On the site you'll find the triumphant return of the Glomerata section. Since it has been a while, the Glomerata is the Auburn University yearbook. I collect them -- I have about 65 of the 110 volumes -- and am sharing a few of the photographs here.

We're following the changes that take place on campus and around town over the course of its history, and I'm doing this by comparing the scenes from my freshman book to the would-have-been freshman books of my grandparents and mother had they attended school there. The grandparents' books are done, so you can see some great shots of the early 50s by following the link above. I'm currently working on the parent book, where you can see 1976 Auburn in all of its long hair, plaid wearing glory. Here's the latest.

I also wrote a song tonight. (With apologies to Burl Ives and songwriter Johnny Marks) I rewrote Holly Jolly Christmas to fit the circumstance of an acquaintance of a friend. Instrumental version roll one, sing the alternate lyrics and try to keep a straight face through the whole silly thing.

That song will never appear here. Don't ask. Turns out I can't sing like Burl Ives, which ruins the effect. Also you have to be privy to the baseline joke or the song is a waste of your three minutes. But, considering I put the thing together in about half an hour, it was worth the laughter returned for my investment.

And now the song is stuck in my head. Burl Ives should now apologize to me. I hear the music and then hear a line of his song, alternated by a line of my song. Putting them together makes an even more ridiculous song, which is at least half-rooted in the baby boomer Christmas experience.

So ... anyone get any Christmas shopping done today? I didn't, but I did one thing online yesterday. I'm pacing myself through the rest of the week.

Musical links: Before the rock guitarists were sweep picking, there was Jerry Reed. Remember friends, that's the mid 1970s. Here's a modern take on that breakdown, two guys on one guitar. Pretty neat stuff. And, also, popping up in the Related Video section of the YouTube page is a classic Johnny Cash that is now almost a half-century old.

You wonder what those stagehand cowpokes were thinking. Were they bored? Wishing they could get on to something else? Feeling silly in that hat? Would they one day tell their children about the night they were on stage with the great Johnny Cash?

And that ending. You can barely watch it without wondering how that would be perceived if someone did it today. It'd surely be the talk of the entertainment business the next morning, but how would it go over?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

What cats do.

In the lolcat style that is also titled: Youthful kitteh, happe kitteh, rinkelfree kitteh.

The strike plate still stumps me. I know how it works. I know how to attach it. These are simple things. The problem rests in the issue of size. When mounting the strike plate to the door frame it won't jut out far enough to catch the latch of the storm door.

So it appears that I have a strikeless strike plate.

I also have a light fixture repair project, which found me climbing through the attic this afternoon. I could not find the light box right away, but my third trip up the ladder met with success. The problem is one of support. The box is mounted in a delicate spot and if I continue with plans to hang a ceiling fan there I'll ultimately have a floor fan and a plaster carpet.

So I've been considering the options. I could reinforce the spot, hang a new light box and then connect and hang the ceiling fan. I discovered this afternoon and this evening that this would all happen in a difficult place. The old light fixture may get remounted after all.

But that's for another day. I mention it here only to point out what occupied a few hours of the day. The first time I crawled around up there it was dim, warm and dusty. When I went back up in the evening it was dark, chilly and dusty.

In between my recon trips to the attic there were two loads of laundry, many dishes to wash and a shower -- to rid myself of the accumulated fiberglass which irritates the skin mightily.

I should probably put in some new insulation as well.

So that was much of the day, removing clutter, storing things, finding more clutter in the previously designated storage areas. Making a second note to have another donate to charity drive in the near future. satisfying in making tiny progress in running things. Take the small victories I always say.

A few new things floating around the site today. First there's a new photo on the main pages of the site. It is very autumnal in theme. There's a new background here, as well, you might have noted. The November photographs are up on the pictures page.

There should be a return to many of the sites regular features this week, including new installments to the newspaper section. I seem back up to speed with most everything, so the fun can continue here. Good timing since we must now all be distracted by traffic, lines and Christmas shopping.

But I'm doing most of that online. About 70 percent of that was online last year and it was painless. This year the internets will get almost all of my Christmas money. It is just too easy. In fact I started tonight. Don't ask; it'd spoil your surprise.

In addition to the regular features we might soon see a few more of those long-promised new distractions on the site. I've been mulling ideas on how to arrange the new sections and the obstacle is really a small question of nomenclature. Such a thing shouldn't cause long delays, but after a while you get tired of rushing headlong into something and later think of a more efficient way to organize things. You just want to get it right the first time.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking with it until I find a better one.

Reaction to a recent YouTube, "My roommate and I were jamming out to Peanuts!"

If you didn't see it the first time it is down below us somewhere, but the Peanuts gang sang Hey Ya in a fun little mashup. It is a potent video. Peanuts and that song, separately, can give you energy and boost your spirits. Put them together and you may as well be on a sugar high.

Someone should do a Ben Folds Five/Peanuts mashup. It'd be extremely entertaining, though it could cause the joy centers of your brain to explode. Most probably it feels something like the warm sense of nostalgia people of a certain age and background will get from this montage.

That must be what it's like. Maybe that's why cats hang out on ironing boards. The occasional dose of catnip cause synapses in the joy center to fritz, sizzle and fry out. Suddenly that squeaky board doesn't seem so bad.

Until the hew-man disturbs your morning nap by sticking flashing cameras in your face.

Monday, December 3, 2007

My first day of errands of the week. There will be fewer chores later in the week, but most of those will be home-based and, thus, with less potential of being marginally amusing.

Truly today's list of errands were fairly minimal. I live a streamlined life, my errands are few. My distractions, however, are many and that gets me through the day.

This afternoon, I was goal-oriented. There were a few merit badges to put on my Boy Scout vest of life. One involved a two-screw construction project for the house. That meant a trip to the hardware store. Not for the screws, but for the piece to which there would soon be a house attached.

So I went to Lowe's. Looking ... looking ... looking. And noticing that the three Lowe's employees -- and they must work several stores at one time this is why you can never find them -- have grown adept at avoiding eye contact.

There was an employee in the general area in which my piece of equipment might reside, but he was a glowering man, staring intently at his computer with Solitaire on a Lowe's background. I let him be, but could not find the piece of metal. Instead I headed for the hometown hardware store, content that I could help bolster the local economy two dollars at a time.

At the local hardware store a woman asked to help me. It turns out she could help, if only I knew the name of the thing I wanted. If only my description of it wasn't so clumsy. We finally found one such example, but it would not resolve my problem. It was too silver and my solution will be black. Also it wasn't the right size. But she tried. And, also, there's a great selection of go karts for the deserving Christmas kids in your life.

No thanks. I had a go kart as a kid. For a day. It was a hand-me-down and it was the fastest thing on earth. At least until my cousin got a four-wheeler, which was faster, and subsequently landed me the go kart.

When it finally became my go kart I drove it down my grandparents' old gravel road. Somehow, in that skein of conversation never meant for children, it was decided that riding in my grandfather's garden would be a better choice. Not sure why. I learned to ride a bike on that road -- did I mention it was gravel? -- and driving something while seated must surely be easier.

To the garden we went, though, me still trying to figure out how to make the thing respond to my demands.

It was winter, my grandfather's garden had been rough tilled making for a very bumpy ride. The go kart, now with a life of its own, aimed at the old 1940s tractor sitting on the corner of the garden. Nothing I could do would steer away from the tractor. At my tender young age the concept of the brake escaped me as quickly as the ability to turn the kart in a different direction.

I headed between the wheels of that rusty old tractor with the concept of violent decapitation looming large. At the last moment the go kart veered, ramming the front wheel of the tractor, hurting my foot in the process.

Later that day "the choke on the go kart gave out." That was according to my grandfather, who could probably fix anything he wanted to, but also had the good sense to know when to leave some things broken. I never rode the thing again. So my go kart days are clearly behind me.

And who put hardware stores and go karts together anyway?

There were no go karts at the next hardware store. There were about four people working, each narrowly avoiding the customer's questioning gaze. By sheer luck I found the part I wanted after about 90 seconds of searching. That's where I learned the name for the thing: strike plate. I bought one for $2.35 from a smiling lady who rang it up on a computer and then gave me an 8 1/2 x 11 receipt, complete with "PAID -- in full" stamp.

All the while I was watching a gentleman in slacks, a long coat, regionally inappropriate hat and dark glasses. I was convinced we were destined all become hardware hostages, and I wanted to get out of the place before the chaos began. That was before he grabbed a shopping cart. Suddenly he was a customer, rather than a potential hoodlum.

A buggy is very disarming. You can stand out without one, but you become quite pedestrian pushing one along. This is why guys can never meet girls in a grocery store, try as they might. Oh it should be the perfect place, lots of ladies, good ratio, ready-made food jokes easily at hand. But consider the man's options: with a buggy he's goofy, walking in to carry out an armful clearly signals a bachelor not worth her time and those little baskets are a neon sign for "No!"

So I have a strike plate. And I have a trip to the post office to drop off important mail that will keep me in the good graces of people who have important graces.

I'd like to say that this post office is in an historic old building, but I think it is short of old, resting now comfortably in "Aged." It'd be wonderful if all post offices were in beautiful old buildings with history and character. It wouldn't be convenient, given how our communities grow, but you might actually enjoy the trip. Downtown post offices then, they could be in such buildings. Here, though, we're in a place next to the projects where the flag is incorrectly hanging from the poll and people have lost the concept of "Exit Only."

In goes the mail, out go I and on to the store for food.

This afternoon, incidentally, I shopped without the cart or the buggy for a frozen pizza dinner. No one notices these things because I chose to go to Ye Old Box Store, where people are shopping, mouths agape, for deep discounts. No one makes eye contact, but everyone comes to a complete stop in the aisle.

I only stopped there because it was on the way from A to B, and I regretted every moment of it, except for the pleasant Salvation Army man standing in the shade ringing his bell. It is early in the month and he's already fighting off a shiver. "Great year to volunteer," he might think to himself, but outwardly he was a chipper trooper.

Also the cashier was on her first day of the job. "They told me this would be the perfect day to do it on my own because it won't be busy." She's in her first week and already has her bosses pegged. That might be a short relationship.

Home to store the groceries, sort the mail and stow the dishes. Also the strike plate, purchased from my third hardware store visit of the afternoon and intended to clasp storm door to door frame, seems ill-suited for the job. I've vowed to try again tomorrow and will hope for inspiration along the way.

Watched The War again tonight. This is the sixth episode, with one remaining. I've fallen in love with the columns of Minnesota reporter Al McIntosh. I realized that last week when viewing the fifth installment, so of course this episode doesn't have a lot of his correspondence.

Actually I finished the program tonight wondering if it was McIntosh or the pitch-perfect reading by Tom Hanks that I enjoyed so much. There's a collection of McIntosh's columns, which I soon plan to own, and they'll be great, but I'm certain I'll need to rent Tom Hanks to stop by the house and read them aloud for me.

Two things stood out in this episode. One is the humor in which the previously mentioned Tom Galloway of Mobile now tells the story of his recapture in Germany.

Galloway was briefly liberated from Camp Hammelburg by a detachment from George Patton's Third Army, but was captured a few days later because he figured that, being Good Friday in a largely Catholic region of Germany, he and two other soldiers could lay low in a nearby barn.

When they entered the barn Galloway found "What must have been the only Protestant family in that part of Germany." He laughed a good "What can you do?" chuckle and then stopped, when noting that that was pretty much the end of his freedom.

There's also the continuing saga of the American prisoners in the Philippines, told mostly through the all too mature diary of a 11-year-old. She recalls how her mother insisted they all have something to wear out of their prison camp when the Allies come, a nice little device to keep the children focused on their rescue.

And then they tell the story of the Americans coming through the gate. There's newsreel footage of these newly freed prisoners, many having lost half their body weight after three years of captivity. The newsreel announcer makes sure to point out that these people are still fit enough to chop their own wood.

Three years of captivity, with people dying daily of starvation. Chopping their own wood to heat field rations. Hard to imagine that happening today, isn't it?

Speaking of Mobile here's a meteorological oddity. (Check that out Brian, you'll like it.)

You can be certain of at least two things that didn't cause that. Illustrations of tall buildings from the 19th Century are one of those things. The discovery of new planets is the other.

That should keep you occupied. I'm calling it an early night.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

It was one of those dual tone days, today. To look outside it looked cold and brutish. The skies alone would warn you to stay indoors. From through the glass the world looked foreboding.

And when you stepped outside there was an unexpected blast of warmth. There was a small chill this morning, but it warmed quickly. From noon through 9 p.m. the temperature was surprising each time you considered it. With all those clouds, with that little breeze it should have been in the 40s, but we threatened the 70s for the bulk of the day.

Tonight it rained. A big, undeniable gust of wind blew threw and behind it were big, cold drops of the wet stuff. Behind the rain there will probably be cold. Tomorrow it could be bright and shiny, but with a chill. That's the way of things this time of year.

Spent the day writing letters, four in all, and trying to fight off the last of a cold. For the past four or five days I've been tittering on the healthy/ill fence. You'd think that you could overcome a little seasonal cough in that time. Or you might think that the lack of success means you're sick. The worst of it is a cough, so I don't really feel sick. Sniffly from time to time, but not truly sick.

And that's fine, provided I can shake it. There's nothing quite like not being able to breathe, and I'd like to win out before that happens. The mornings with this not-quite-cold are pretty rough, but getting up, moving about and starting the day seem a good cure. The first few hours are no fun, and coughing for the half hour after you hit the pillow isn't that enjoyable either.

Otherwise life is peachy. Got through some laundry, vacuumed and approached the dishes about their incessant desire to get dirty. We've been in high level negotiation for sometime, the Corningware and I. It seems that I'm losing in these talks.

I've discovered, to my dismay, that I need to discover a new Italian joint. The nearest place is pretty good, but the menu has been reduced and the prices hiked. Tonight a man named after a lizardo -- though he called himself by a second name -- was authentically Italian, but did not have time for my indecision.

He leaned in to help, telling me about some of the dishes, which amounted to reading the words that were already staring up at me. Literacy won over, and while he went with "If you are very hungry try one of these" I sampled the tortellini, which was cheesy and delicious.

He was a nice guy though. I couldn't hold it against him for long that he mixed up the varieties of tea. Almost spilling lentil soup on a rambunctious kid at the next table was pretty funny, and his desire to not stand over the table all night was fine. But the menu makes me sad. There used to be pages and pages of choices, now there's a single page of entree selections surrounded by appetizers and drink options.

The problem is there aren't a lot of small Italian restaurants around these parts. Finding a place where you could take someone from an Italian family without risking an upturned nose is a small challenge. Olive Garden does not count. Everything else seems a more respectful stab at the genre, though still a chain.

So, if you have options on that front, let me know.

And now, I'll finish the evening with a bit of football, the polishing of the letters and then I'll fall asleep to some movie I've seen dozens of times. Sniper is coming on tonight. So is The Mask, Die Hard and A Beautiful Mind, which I watched last night.

Oh these are the troubles that vex me, in my perfect and calm little life. And this cough, too. We can't forget that. It won't let us forget. The neighbors, they probably remember too.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Yo, yo, yo, yo football.

That's pretty much the day. Slept in to the seemingly sinful 9:30 this morning. Dozed for a few minutes after that.

Watched even the early game today, Central Michigan beat Miami of Ohio 35-10 to win the MAC, and may face Alabama in a bowl game. Caught the ACC championship, where Virginia Tech beat Boston College 30-16 in what felt like a game of blahs given the poor attendance.

During the LSU - Tennessee game I fell asleep in the recliner for the second quarter. Which fits the weekend since I fell asleep on the sofa last night. Woke up in time for the second half, to watch everyone and the trainer get hurt for LSU, but the Tigers still pulled off a 21-14 victory.

Dinner after that, and then a trip to the store for Christmas window candles, where the battery operated kind were chosen. Found the Elvis Christmas disc and the ultimate Peanuts Christmas collection, featuring a collectible tin. Last season I picked up a Bing Crosby Christmas disc and felt then as now that I had every seasonal option necessary, so I left Elvis and Charlie Brown alone.

Speaking of Peanuts ...

Back home, the Big 12 championship was getting underway. Oklahoma won convincingly, or so I assume. Ended up watching more of the Backyard Brawl as Pitt upset West Virginia to really throw the BCS into fits.

During, around and in between all that I've been writing letters. There are more letters to write tomorrow afternoon. Football and writing, that's a good weekend my friends.

Hope yours is going just as well.