Another Busy Weekend

January 31, 2009

HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!!!

This weekend is shaping up to be another busy one. We’ve finally removed the last of the old cabinetry and counters/bars and have begun preparing the walls for the new paint.

I realize the builders of manufactured homes do things to speed up the process to save as much money as possible, but their methods have often led to my madness.

Let me remind everyone – including me – why we chose a manufactured home. $109,000 to remodel the home we were in; over $150,000 to build a home from scratch on our property; $65,000 for a 2,000 square foot manufactured home.

When we bought the home, we paid extra to have sheet rock (dry wall) installed in as many rooms as possible. We didn’t want the less expensive paneling that comes with cheesy looking strips covering up each seam. The manufacturer refused to give us sheet rock in the areas they labeled as ‘wet’ rooms – the kitchen and the two bathrooms.

Part of our plan has been to remove the cheesy strips and fill the gaps with dry wall mud to give us a nice smooth surface. We’ve done that, which required us to sand those areas, which we did last night, which left a blanket of white dust over everything in the house.

Today we’ll paint the walls… except where the new cabinets will go.

We’ll also pick up a helping hand later this morning when our granddaughter Emma comes to spend the night with us. She’s very artisitic and sure to point out every spot we miss.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about the cheesy light fixtures they put in manufactured homes and how much it cost me to look around when we went in to buy cabinets, flooring, and counter-tops.

Of course, I won’t say much. My mind will be on a football game to be played tomorrow afternoon.

HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO!!!!


Too Much Stuff

January 30, 2009

For those of you who do not have blogs of your own, let me tell you that the spammers don’t confine their junk mailings to email addresses. Blogs receive spam in lieu of comments.

Thus far, the number of spam ‘comments’ I’ve received on my blog is minuscule compared to my email account. However, they are a similar nuisance.

A spam message that tried to attach itself as a comment today was one I found most interesting. It was written in Chinese.

I should point out that some of the things wordpress treats as spam are not what I consider totally useless. Unless I know for sure the spam came from a gambling, insurance, or porn site, I investigate by going to the guilty party’s web site and checking out its content. I’ve discovered that there are times I don’t object to the link and I simply let it be to see if it increases the number of hits my blog receives.

Out of curiosity, I linked to the Chinese web site this morning. I was a bit fearful that it might be a trap – a way for someone to infect my computer with a virus – but I foolishly went ahead anyway.

It turns out that it was a web site for a storage facility in Hong Kong. I guess they’re hurting for business and trying to increase their traffic by sending out spam. (On the Internet, there is no easy way to determine the ‘home’ location of a web site. So they linked to whatever sites they could find. At IBM, we called it ‘throwing a bunch of darts at the wall and hoping one or two would stick.)

The factor that interested me the most is that we Americans are not the only people with too much stuff. I have always believed that a nation that makes storage lockers a strong and vibrant industry has too much stuff.

When I was a child, most of the old stuff was stored in the attic… even if the attic was difficult to access. With many of the older homes, attics were reached using permanent stairways. It was not unusual for large families to ‘finish’ their attics to provide additional bedrooms.

That’s when the overflow of stuff began finding its way into garages and cellars. Of course, newer homes turned cellars into basements with rec rooms and home theaters. The stuff had to be moved again.

The industry probably began when a farmer who had retired and no longer worked the land began renting space in his barn. When he discovered how lucrative it was, either he or his offspring began building mini-barns. The idea quickly spread and now we have storage facilities everywhere.

I must admit that I used a storage locker for a few months while I was going through my divorce. My ex-wife wanted me to remove my stuff from ‘her’ home and I had no room for it in the small apartment I was renting.

As soon as the divorce was finalized and I bought a place of my own, I took the stuff out of storage and moved it into my new home.

Since then, I’ve remarried and moved out of my single-wide trailer into a new home we had built on the same property. During that transition, my bride and I, with the help of our adult children, built a two car garage. When they came to take away my single-wide trailer, we moved all of our stuff into the garage. After our new home was built, we moved the stuff out of the garage and into the new home.

So why can’t we park either of our cars in the garage? Too much stuff.

I’d swear it multiplies on its own, but I know better. I’m the worst offender in this household. I firmly believe that as soon as I throw away that old and useless object, I’ll discover I need one of its parts to repair something else.

Speaking of old and useless… that spam I received from the Hong Kong storage facility wasn’t useless afterall. It gave me inspiration to write today’s post.


Wit and Wisdom of Will Rogers

January 29, 2009

My thanks to Bob Jessep for forwarding an email to me. It had the following statements attributed to Will Rogers. While some of it may fall into the category of Yogi Berra quotes (in Yogi’s own words, “half of the things I said I never said”), I think they are all good food for thought regardless of who really said them.

Will Rogers was born in 1879 on a ranch in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma. As a young adult, he was an expert with ropes and lassos and became famous as a philosopher cowboy.

My favorite quote attributed to him is, “A fool and his money are soon elected.”? That goes well with a quote from Mark Twain: “We have the best government money can buy.” Both of these quotes are just as applicable today as they were more than seventy years ago when Will and Mark said them.

Will Rogers died in a 1935 plane crash with Wylie Post. I believe my father had witnessed one or two of Will Rogers’ shows. Dad always spoke highly of the man who never met a man he didn’t like.

Let’s take a look at the quotes that came in that email.

1. Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco. (I tried chewing tobacco once while moving household furniture. Unfortunately, I found myself on the third floor of the house when the homeowner decided to ask me some questions – “Is this a summer job?” and “Are you in college?” were easy; I just shook my head. The trouble came when he asked me what school I attended. I had to swallow the juice in order to say, “Edinboro.” I then ran down the steps and outside before the juice turned my stomach.)

2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day. (I’d take that a step farther and suggest one not kick a fresh cow chip regardless of the outside temperature.)

3. There are 2 theories to arguing with a woman . . . neither works. (No comment.)

4. Never miss a good chance to shut up. (!)

5. Always drink upstream from the herd. (There’s a lot unsaid here; too many people jump on bandwagons instead of thinking for themselves. Just an opinion.)

6. If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. (How many of our real problems are self-inflicted?)

7.  The quickest way to double your money is to fold it and put it back in your pocket. (It amazes me how many people still fall for scams that have been around since long before I was born. The ‘get rich quick’ mentality is a God send to the scam artists.)

8. There are three kinds of men: The ones that learn by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence and find out for themselves. (Have any of us ever touched the newly painted object to see if the paint is really still wet? I think we all learn in all three ways.)

9. Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment. (Amen)

10. If you’re riding’ ahead of the herd, take a look back every now and then to make sure it’s still there. (I think this is a major problem with our elected officials; I don’t think they care whether the herd is there or not… as long as they can get themselves re-elected. This thought sort of fits well with drinking upstream.)

11. Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back. (I’m sure most of us have said or done something that we later regretted.)

12. After eating an entire bull, a mountain lion felt so good he started roaring. He kept it up until a hunter came along and shot him. The moral: When you’re full of bull, keep your mouth shut. (Should I take this personally and quit commenting?)

Will Rogers is also credited with the following statements about growing older.

1. Eventually you will reach a point when you stop lying about your age and start bragging about it.

2. The older we get, the fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

3. Some people try to turn back their odometers. Not me, I want people to know ‘why’ I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.

4. When you are dissatisfied and would like to go back to your youth, think of Algebra.

5. You know you are getting old when everything either dries up or leaks.

6. I don’t know how I got over the hill without getting to the top.

7. One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young.

8. One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.

9. Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable

10. Long ago when men cursed and beat the ground with sticks, it was called witchcraft. Today it’s called golf.

And finally ~ If you don’t learn to laugh at trouble, you won’t have anything to laugh at when you are old.

In truth, Will was around fifty-six years old when he died. He still had a lot to learn about old age!

As for government, Will had more than a few good lines.

“About all I can say for the United States Senate is that it opens with a prayer and closes with an investigation.

“Alexander Hamilton started the U.S. Treasury with nothing, and that was the closest our country has ever been to being even.

“Ancient Rome declined because it had a Senate, now what’s going to happen to us with both a House and a Senate?

“Be thankful we’re not getting all the government we’re paying for.

“Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke.”

Didn’t a comedian run for the Senate seat from Minnesota? Personally, I liked their wrestling governor better.


Don’t Blink!

January 28, 2009

I was checking out the History Channel’s “This Day in History” again, and discovered one of those things that most of us never think about.

No sooner had the horseless carriage been invented than men started seeing who’s vehicle would go the fastest. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising. Man had already been having horse races; why not race against their replacements.

I would surmise that the very first machines were challenged by men on horseback, and it probably took a while before the horses began to lose.

According to the History Channel, on January 27, 1899, a Frenchman named Camille Jenatzy managed to drive his battery powered auto at the break-neck speed of 49.932 miles per hour.

(I just noticed I looked at the wrong date again. So be it! This is my post for January 28, 2009. Live with it!)

The first thing I find most interesting about his feat is that the car was battery powered. I wonder if the Energizer bunny had anything to do with it.

The second thing that fascinates me is the timing device used to determine a speed to three decimal positions. That seems extremely precise for 1899.

Whether it was intentional or not, on January 27, 1904, William K. Vanderbilt set a record in an automobile designed by Mors. It was the first major speed record set by an internal-combustion car. His speed of 76.086 miles per hour was achieved in Ablis, France.

All previous records had been set by steam or battery powered cars.

Those speeds seem so slow by today’s standards, but were probably more dangerous. Those early machines weren’t equipped with air bags and seat belts.

I doubt if ‘Fast Willie’ Parker of the Pittsburgh Steelers could outrun Vanderbilt, but he might have given Jenatzy a run for his money.

I had to work the Super Steelers in to my posts somehow. And I won’t promise it won’t happen again.


Me and Kerri

January 27, 2009

The popularity of a recent post I wrote about the Pop Rocks and their rendition of a Pittsburgh Steelers fight song leads me to believe that people enjoy stories about youngsters.

Some of you might recall a young lady who won everyone’s heart during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Her name is Kerri Strug. It’s difficult to believe that she was seventeen or eighteen years old at the time; she looked much younger. In any case, I couldn’t help comparing her career ambitions with my own. So I wrote an article about our similarities.

I’ll blow off the dust and let you take a look at it. Feel free to let me know what you think.

__________________________________________________________

When I grow up, I want to be just like Kerri Strug. Actually, Kerri and I have a lot in common already. She’s a petite female gymnast; I’m a rather large freelance writer. She’s a teenager; I’m a member of AARP. The only difference is that she’s won a Gold Medal; I’m still striving for my first major victory.

Perhaps our differences are more significant than I’m willing to admit. But we do have much in common. Each of us spends hours practicing to perfect our skills. Then we display those skills for a panel of experts. Kerri’s experts are called judges; she performs routines for them. My experts are called editors; I submit articles to them. Each of our “performances” consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end. Everything we present must be executed flawlessly in order to have the most positive impact on the experts.

On the surface, the similarities would appear to end right there. Kerry has been highly successful. I haven’t. However, there is one more similarity that I believe is the most important. We both perform at our best during practice… and somewhat less than our best during the heat of competition. The reason is simple. The pressure of knowing we must perform at our best for judges/editors makes it difficult to do so.

Kerri’s hard work and experience have diminished the disparity between her practice sessions and her “live” performances. I hope to do the same. I’ve studied Kerri, as well as a number of other athletes, to see what I could learn from their successes. One of the things I’ve noted is the use of slogans. “Go for the gold!” has a nice ring to it, but I like the rhyming ones better. “Back the Pack!” is great… if you’re from Green Bay. “Sack the Pack!” works well for those from other cities. The one I like best is “Refuse to lose!” which has been used by a number of professional and amateur teams. The  embarrassing thing about “Refuse to lose!” is that most of the teams that have adopted it lose anyway.

I decided I needed a slogan. I wanted something to remind me to do my best at all times – not just when I’m practicing. After careful consideration, I chose “Expect the Check!”  It’s a phrase that gives me confidence as well as incentive.

As with many things in my life, I couldn’t stop there. I came up with a slogan for each phase of my performance – as well as a few general ones. Hopefully they’ll help me write my best when it counts the most and I can begin to “Stash the Cash!”

My slogans for the basics of my craft are:  “Plant the Slant,”  “Flux the Crux,” and “Seal the Deal.”

Plant the Slant reminds me how important it is to write a clear concise opening. If I want to grab an editor’s attention, I must use an interesting approach to quickly get to the point of my article. In gymnastics terms, this is the mount. Whether Kerri is using a springboard to mount the balance beam or I’m using a bit of humor to introduce my topic, we both have to jump into our routines in an impressive manner. If either of us wobbles during the initial phase, we lose points and lower the expectations of our audience.

Flux the Crux reminds me to massage the message that is the body of my article. Every sentence must stand on its on merit while inviting the reader to move onto the next. The sentences must flow smoothly to form a logical progression. If I use a simile, an analogy, or an anecdote, the words within them (as well as around them) must fit perfectly.

For Kerri, this means combining back-flips, handstands, somersaults, and other moves in a fluid, coordinated fashion. She must be in total control of her movements at all times and cannot hesitate between moves. If she stops for too long, she loses points. If I get bogged down in a sentence, I lose readers.

Writers can also lose points if we fail to complete a move, seem unsteady or disorganized, or move onto something else without a smooth transition. The body of our routines must be carefully choreographed and flawlessly executed.

Most importantly, the body must flow naturally from the opening. The core of the performance must extend from and enhance, the promise of the introduction. The opening sets the expectation level; the body must meet or exceed those expectations.

Seal the Deal has a double meaning for me. First, it reminds me to finish my article with a flourish – making sure to tie up any loose ends and affirming that the flow has continued gracefully throughout the composition. Second, it reminds me that this is my last chance to sell the story. I must persuade the editor to buy my work and, at the same time, leave him or her wanting more.

For Kerri, this is the “dismount.” She knows that a flawless performance can go for naught if she stumbles on her landing. She must end her routine with the same strength and poise as she started it. She must land solidly on both feet to demonstrate, beyond doubt, her skill and control. I must do no less.

While these three slogans keep me mindful of the fundamentals of writing articles, they do nothing to relieve the pressure of trying to impress an editor. I had to come up with something more. Once again I made a connection with athletics. The Nike commercials urge us to “Just do it!” That seemed like a good place to start.

I’ve often read about athletes going into a “zone” where they forget about everything except performing. They let their bodies take over and just go with the flow. It can be best described as almost a Zen state of meditation. They don’t think about what they’re doing, they just do it. Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee’s catcher, described the Zen of hitting by saying, “If I thought about hitting a baseball, I could never do it.”

With these thoughts in mind, I came up with two more slogans: “Ignore the Score,” and “Block the Clock.”

Ignore the Score reminds me to simply write the article without trying to make it perfect. Thinking about whether or not an editor will buy my work gets in the way. I have to push those thoughts aside and simply write. Later, as I polish the work, I can allow myself to consider what an editor might think. But during the initial drafts, I can do much better if I allow myself to simply enjoy putting my thoughts down on paper.

Block the Clock is my way of avoiding what I call the “Charlie Brown Syndrome.” From time to time, Charles Shultz had his main character being asked to do a book report. Inevitably, Charlie Brown opens the book to the last page and says something like, “Two hundred pages! I’ll never be able to read two hundred pages!”

Deadlines can have the same effect on writers. “July 11th! I’ll never be able to complete this assignment by July 11th!” A deadline is just one more distraction that hinders my efforts as a writer. Therefore, I ignore it.

Fortunately, I’m not a procrastinator. I can afford to not think about deadlines… as long as I don’t miss them.

On the other hand, the only deadline Kerri Strug faces is just prior to a routine. Once the judges have acknowledged that it’s her turn to perform, she has a specified time limit to prepare herself mentally. Then, off she goes.

Kerri Strug may be young enough to be my daughter, but I’ve learned a great deal from watching her. The most important lesson is that while hard work and experience can’t be overlooked, they’re not enough. To win a Gold Medal, one must do whatever it takes to eliminate distractions and perform at the highest level possible.

Finally, I recognize I have one advantage over Kerri. My performances don’t depend on the condition of my body. This is extremely fortunate. I doubt editors would be impressed if I had to stuff my 270 pounds into a skimpy unitard.

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To get an update on what Kerri has been doing since her Gold Medal award performances in Atlanta, visit her web site.


G’day!

January 26, 2009

January 26 is Australia Day. Let’s all celebrate by hoisting a can of Fosters!

Of course, the folks down under will probably hoist something other than Fosters. The marketing people might want us Americans to believe that Fosters is the Australian word for beer, but a native Australian recently told me that his compatriots don’t think much of the brew; that’s why they export it.

Australia Day isn’t exactly Cinco de Mayo. Instead of celebrating some glorious victory, Australia Day memorializes the day that eleven British ships landed at New South Wales and unloaded their cargo of more than eight hundred convicts. It seems the jails in England were a bit overcrowded in 1788. so they solved the problem by creating a penal colony.

I think many of us have come to believe that all of Australia was settled by British criminals. To think that way, we naturally have to ignore the Aborigines who didn’t think their land needed to be discovered and colonized. They were as silly as the Native Indians of North America.

New South Wales was just one of numerous colonies in Australia and the criminals were not all of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ variety. Many had been imprisoned for minor offenses or unpaid debts. Their confinement in Australia ended with their sentences and a certain amount of labor. As free men, they decided that staying in Australia to seek their fortune was preferable to returning to their homeland.

All of this makes me kick myself harder for passing up the opportunity to travel to Australia when my English friend was living there several years ago. He gave me an open invitation. All I had to do was come up with the airfare. He would’ve provided us with a place to stay and transportation.

He has since returned to the London area and we have taken up his offer… a couple of times. But we’ve yet to make the trip to Australia.

Another country I would love to visit is Germany. I love German food and beer and I’ve always wanted to drink beer and sing in one of their giant beer halls.

And that reminds me of another imported beer – Becks. I used to work with a German named Horst Mullenbrook (the spelling may be a bit off). I once asked him why he didn’t drink Becks when we stopped for a beer after work.

As I recall, he likened the brew to something that comes out of a horse.

It kind of makes me wonder about other imported products.


No end in Sight

January 25, 2009

Yesterday, January 24th, we celebrated Rachel’s birthday.

Rachel at her 12th birthday

Rachel at her 12th birthday party

Rachel is our eldest granddaughter. In reality, her birthday fell on Friday, January 23rd. But to ensure that most of her friends and relatives could attend, her party was held a day late.

One of the attendees, who might’ve been offended had he been a bit older, was Daniel.

Daniel at Rachel's birthday party

Daniel at Rachel's birthday party

Considering the fact that Daniel was born on January 24, 2008, one would think we’d be celebrating his birthday. We did that last Sunday… in anticipation of his upcoming achievement.

That’s our story and we’re sticking to it!

Obviously, things like this will continue to happen. When two cousins have their birthdays that close together – and both sets of parents want to ensure that their child has his or her own special day – their only hope is to have their dates fall on a weekend. Otherwise, one will be early and the other late. With luck, one of them will have his or her party on the proper day.

In the meantime, neither Rachel nor Daniel seem overly concerned.

Last week, at Daniel’s party, a family friend commented that I must be growing very accustomed to attending children’s birthday parties. How right she is!

While Rachel is our eldest granddaughter, we have a grandson who is a bit older. Daniel is currently our youngest grandchild, but that will soon change. My daughter, Jennifer, is expecting a son within the next month or so; Lu’s daughter, Lori, is following close behind with the upcoming delivery of her son.

That will bring the total for my bride and I to thirteen grandchildren.

Years ago we tried to estimate how many grandchildren we’d eventually have. We tried to calculated by figuring we had seven adult children who might have an average of two children apiece. Considering how young the parents of our grandchildren are, we may have grossly underestimated.

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, we get lots of ice cream and cake throughout the year. I guess that’s one of the rewards for having successfully raised your children to adulthood.

Wow! I almost forgot. For her birthday, Rachel wanted my bride and I to take her to see the King Tut exhibit. She got her wish. So, I leave you all with this…

Click here to see Steve Martin perform his King Tut song.

I wasn’t able to embed it. Hope you enjoyed this classic Steve Martin bit.