Tuesday, December 30, 2008

MBA Research

A friend of mine recently emailed me, saying that he's doing research for an upcoming assignment for an MBA class. He requested that I send him a paragraph or two telling him my career aspirations for the next five years. This is my response... (Yeah, it's more than a paragraph or two. So what?)

What are my career aspirations for the next five years? In order for you to understand my answer, we need to look back at my history as a working stiff. Funny how I need to look back in order to answer a question about the future, isn’t it?

Earlier this year, I lost my job. This job loss created a lot of stress, and a couple of great opportunities. The stress was a result of wondering how I was going to make ends meet… the mortgage… the car payments… making sure that my children had what they needed. With one pink slip, I was instantly forced to cut expenses and tighten the proverbial belt. Between unemployment benefits and my wife’s salary, we could cover our financial obligations, but with the drastic cut in income, discretionary spending was reduced to zero. I gained something far more though… time and peace of mind.

You see, while I was in the rat race, I made good money, but I gave up opportunities to watch the grass grow, paint and play music, and interact with my family. Don’t get me wrong, I was there for the events that society considers important… school plays, parent-teacher conferences, birthdays and such, but I missed out on many mundane moments. When the kids would call me at work to help them resolve a fight, I was annoyed. When they phoned wanting to know when I’d be home, I was irritated. Didn’t they realize that calling me postponed my departure from work? While I was on the job, my children – my entire family – was a nuisance. They derailed me from the task at hand.

While I was unemployed though, I gained a deeper understanding of what was truly important. I didn’t have a family in order to work; I worked in order to provide for my family. When I was between jobs, I came to the realization that raising my family is my career… my life… what brings me fulfillment. Since losing that well-paying job with all of the benefits, I became employed elsewhere. On an hourly basis, the new job pays better than any of my previous employers. Since it’s part-time work though, I don’t have the benefits of paid vacation, health insurance or a retirement plan. But my wife has all of those perks, so it’s not as important that I have them . What the part-time work does allow for though, is the opportunity for me to take my kids to school when they miss the bus, to be there after school to make sure their homework is done, and to play with them.

When I was entrenched in the rat race, I was always cognizant of the need to balance home and work. I always thought of myself as a good dad, and all of my friends and co-workers agreed. Looking back though, I now understand that the aforementioned balance tipped too far in favor of work. There will be plenty of time for the rat race after the kids have grown. Yeah, I’m sacrificing some future financial security for the sake of time with my family, but it’s a small price to pay. After all, I may not live long enough to enjoy my golden years, but I know for sure that a day will come when the kids have grown up and moved away. I don’t want to look back and wish I was there. With money, you can make up for lost income by working overtime or spending a little less. Time with the family however, is an irreplaceable commodity. (Yes, I know that’s an oxymoron… great turn of phrase, eh?)

This brings us to the main question… my career aspirations for the next five years. You see, I’ve already achieved my career goal of spending more time with my family. Instead of amassing wealth and material gains, I’m spending time. I’m cooking meals, washing clothes, shuttling children, and enjoying a quiet evening in front of the fireplace with my wife. Spending time is far more rewarding than earning a paycheck.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Blogging with MS Office 2007


Today started out being a quiet morning. Outside, the snow is gently falling, with just enough breeze to cause the snow to dance and whirl as it slowly falls to earth. Mrs. Evan and the kids are sleeping in, and calm radiates through my body as I take in the winter scenery. Reading the news brought me somewhat back to reality, and I realized that yet again, I've neglected to send Christmas cards. I really should stop beating myself up over this. I've never been very good about sending Christmas cards. If I suddenly started sending them, I suspect that many of my friends and relatives would wonder if I had contracted a terminal illness.

My next thought was that I'd send out a Christmas newsletter (in electronic format, of course), complete with gaudy flashing Christmas graphics, ugly fonts and unreadable colors. My master plan focused on the ugly graphics, which I downloaded from the internet. Unfortunately, when I actually started composing the newsletter, I quickly found out that they weren't animated when added to MS Word. (Bummer.) Not the type to give up easily, I figured I'd try to embed them into an email… after all, the newsletter was going to be emailed anyway. Same problem… the graphics weren't animating. Once again, I persevered and continued with my quest, and wrote an HTML document… forgetting momentarily that web pages refer to graphics instead of embedding them. That was a stopping point.

During my search though, I discovered that MS Word 2007 has a blogging template. And wouldn't you know it, I happen to have a blog? That brings me to the point of today's post… it's nothing more than an experiment to see how things look when I compose a blog post in MS Word 2007 and post it to blogger.

This is a test link.



Update: I'm not incredibly impressed. My initial post included a graphic before the text, a test of WordArt after the test hyperlink, and a second graphic at the end of the post. None of that stuff ended up on the actual post. Additionally, editing posts is cumbersome. In order to edit this post, I had to supply my username and password three times...once to access the blog as an admin, once to edit this post, and one final time to actually post the edited test. This method of blogging sucks balls. If Microsoft is going to try to make it easy to blog through MS Word, they need to make sure that graphics get uploaded, and they need to make sure I don't have to enter usernames and passwords so often.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Enchiladas al Gringo

Today's recipe can be chalked up under the "accidental discovery" category. Over the weekend, I had a craving for roast, and the older kid wanted shredded pork enchiladas. Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of enchiladas. I don't like the corn tortillas, and I don't particularly care for enchilada sauce. The thing is, those are the very things that make an enchilada what it is. But I'm digressing...

The dinner we had that evening was more accurately called shredded pork soft tacos, and the kid didn't get her enchilada fix. The next day, she was still craving enchiladas, and I was itching to experiment in the kitchen a bit, so I tried something out. The result was a new Evan creation that will definitely be added to my culinary repertoire. It goes as follows...

Ingredients:
Pork Roast
Salsa
Flour
One small onion
One tomato
1/2 Green, Yellow or Red pepper
1 Packet of Taco seasoning
1 Can Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
Milk
Tortillas
Shredded Cheese

Directions:
Put the pork roast into a crock pot and heat on a low heat. The roast must be cooked until the meat is tender enough to shred with a fork. While the meat is still raw, add approximately 1 cup of salsa and a few pinches of flour. Stir together and let the meat cook for a while.

When the roast is approximately halfway through the cooking process, dice the tomato, onion and pepper and toss them into the crock pot. Let things cook for a while. Once the veggies look cooked (at least an hour before the roast is done though) toss in the packet of taco seasoning and stir the broth.

When the roast is tender enough, pull it out of the crock pot and shred it. Reserve the juices from the crock pot. If the roast is dry, you can add some of the juices to the shredded meat.

After shredding the roast, empty the can of mushroom soup into a bowl that's large enough for mixing. Add about 1/4 to 1/3 can of milk to the condensed soup. Add about 1/3 can of the juices from the crock pot to this mix. Stir them all together and microwave the mixture for about 90 seconds. Stir again to work out any lumps from the soup. The mixture should look thick, but still be pourable. Set aside. NOTE: When I was finished, all of the juices were added to either the sauce or the shredded meat.

Roll the shredded pork into tortillas and place into a casserole dish. (I used flour tortillas, but you can use whatever you prefer). Cover the casserole dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 5 to ten minutes. Just long enough to make sure the tortillas and meat are warmed. Remove the casserole dish from the oven. Discard the aluminum foil. Pour the soup mixture over the tortillas and bake for another 10 minutes or so... just long enough for the "sauce" to start bubbling. Add shredded cheese to the top of it all and let it cook for another five minutes or so... just long enough to melt the cheese.

Enjoy.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Latest Toy

I got a new DVD burner recently. I wasn't really looking for one, but I got a deal that was too good to pass up. Burning CDs and DVDs and making home movies is old hat technology. One thing that always bugged me about home-made media though was the amateur appearance of the labels. The choices were to either write on the face of the media, or to stick a label on. Thanks to lightscribe, that's no longer the case.

Lightscribe is a direct disc labeling technology that allows you to burn an image directly onto the top of the CD/DVD. It's a great way to use clip-art and your imagination to come up with a very professional design for your home movie DVDs. Right now it's only black-and-white (rather, black and DVD color), but it's a quantum leap forward from writing on the CD. By the way, lightscribe has been around long enough that it's cheap. You can get a CD/DVD burner with lightscribe technology for less than $30.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Lazy Bastard Kids

The family had a snow day today. Mrs. Evan and I got up to make sure the kids didn't have school, and to decide whether or not we'd go to work. When we found out it was a snow day, we let the kids sleep in.

I went out to see if the roads were passable for us. They were passable, but hazardous enough that staying home was the wiser option. When the kids finally got up, we made them a big breakfast and Mrs. Evan declared the roads clean enough for her to go in to work.

I stayed home and kept the kids entertained, shoveled the driveway and sidewalk, did dishes and other chores. After a couple of hours of playing Rock Band 2, I realized that breakfast wasn't agreeing with me. It ended up coming out of both ends simultaneously. (Thank God I had a trash can in the bathroom!)

Feeling wrung out, a nap was in order. I slept for about 30 minutes while one kid continued playing Rock Band 2 and the other read. I woke up with a still-sore throat, and saw that Mr. Snowplow had been by and filled the end of my driveway with street snow. I asked the kids to shovel that snow.

"I'm too busy reading, daddy," replied the younger Evlet.

"My legs are too sore from playing Rock Band, daddy. Will you give me a massage," asked the other?

It's a good thing I'm not sick with something like pneumonia. I can picture it now...

(Wheezing on my deathbed) "Kids, will you get me a drink of water?"

"Not now dad, I'm too busy reading," the younger one would answer.

"My lungs are too sore from breathing, daddy. Will you run a vaporizer for me," the older one would ask?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Have I Mentioned Lately...

... that being a parent can be a real bitch sometimes? You may recall that my older kid is grounded because of poor grades. Well, the kid decided to defy the punishment for two days in a row. As you can imagine, that's caused more than a little hate and discontent in the house of Evan.

Two days ago, she chose not to take the bus straight home from school so she could have a little make-out session with her boyfriend. Forty-five minutes after she was due home, I called her and she informed me that she was getting a ride home from boyfriend. Thirty minutes after that, I called again and she was "still on her way home." Did I mention that school is only ten to fifteen minutes away? For this little escapade, I added four days the grounding punishment.

Yesterday, she got a ride home from youth group... the only activity I didn't take away during her punishment. Not only did she get a ride home, but she got a ride from neighbor girl's boyfriend (neighbor girl is my kid's best friend), and she stayed over at neighbor girl's house for about a half hour. When she came home, she acted as if neighbor girl's mom was the one giving the ride, and as if she had come straight from youth group. The thing is, I SAW what had happened. Oh, BTW, she's not allowed to ride in cars with friends that I've never met! For the second day in a row, she defied my punishment, and then adding insult to injury, lied about it. I grounded her for an additional two weeks and the shit hit the fan.

After the arguing, I started realizing that the additional grounding probably wouldn't have the intended consequences. Instead of learning her lesson, I saw her defying me more. I saw the tumultuous relationship I had with my dad when I was a kid. I saw the end of the special relationship I have with my older daughter, but I was backed into a corner. I had to punish her, the punishment had to be strict, but no good could come from the punishment I had set forth.

I talked to my mom to vent, and I talked to Mrs. Evan for a solution. I finally came up with an answer. She's not grounded for an additional two weeks. Instead of that punishment, she's essentially in isolation until Christmas Day (which is the original month, plus the four days for the boyfriend violation). The isolation means that in addition to being grounded until Christmas, she has also lost computer privileges, phone privileges, and she is forbidden to ride to or from school and youth group with anyone other than the bus or me. This way there are additional consequences, but peace is restored to the family.

This parenting thing can be a real bitch.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Changing the Layout

Being in the Witless Protection Program has required me to shed any remnants of my former identity. Part of the process was ensuring that my old identity was obliterated, and being nondescript in my new life. Now that I'm reasonably satisfied that I've lost my stalker, I am shedding the no-name jeans and t-shirt layout of this blog a bit, and am making it fit my personality a bit better.

I'd love to say it was all me, but in truth Paulius was the catalyst by donating my spiffy new logo. (Thanks again, man!) That inspired me to look at some of the other cool gadgets that can be added to a blog, and wouldn't you know it, I opted for two more that were inspired by Paulius. (Don't worry man, I'm not trying to turn myself into a carbon copy of you. I could never nail the accent.)

In addition to the new logo, I've added my Xbox 360 Gamer Tag and a new visitor map. Speaking of the visitor map, I'd like to mention something. I tried the gadgets that Blogger recommended, but they weren't that good. One, called Visitor Globe, never loaded. The other, called RevolverMaps Lite was okay, but it still loaded slowly, and if you scroll the blog page up and down, the map left artifacts, and the page just looked amateurish. Don't get me wrong, I'm not a pro or anything, but...

Being unsatisfied with either option offered by Blogger, I looked at what Paulius is using... a map from widgets.amung.us. It's got better functionality and loading speed than either of the options offered by Blogger. And -- my favorite benefit -- it's still free.

If you want to change your layout, blogger has added some awesome gadgets, but neither map was worth a damn. Go with the what widgets.amung.us has to offer if you want a map that tracks your visitors.

You CAN Win If You Don't Play

The Iowa State Lottery has a motto: You can't win if you don't play. Well, I'm here to tell you that's not true.

Over the last week or so, while visiting my corner gas station/convenience store, I've noticed that the employees have been wearing a button designed to promote the lottery. The button says something to the effect of "If I don't ask you if you want to buy a lottery ticket, you get a free one." Every day, the clerks dutifully have asked me if I want to buy a lottery ticket, and I have politely declined. In fact, the other day, I asked one of them if she was tired of asking everyone, and she admitted that she was.

I like my little corner store, and I am acquainted with most of the people who work there. So if they had failed to ask me, I certainly wouldn't bust them on it and demand my free lottery ticket. But when I went there today, there was a guy from the lottery handing out scratch tickets. I thought it was pretty cool -- a good way to entice people to play the lottery -- but didn't otherwise think much about it. I got out to the car, scratched the ticket, and couldn't believe it... I had won $17.

I zipped back into the store to claim my winnings, and the dude that handed me the ticket said "Wow! Another winner!" As I pocketed the money, the guy said that he'd given out ten winning tickets today. Today's tale tells me a couple of things...

-The Iowa Lottery must be suffering as a result of the recession. I suspect that as the economy worsens, people are giving up some of their discretionary spending, and the lottery is probably considered discretionary by a lot of people.

-Going with this assumption, the Iowa Lottery is doing what they can to stimulate their sales. When simply asking didn't appear to do the trick, they started doling out free scratch tickets. This could be problematic for the state, because Iowa relies on Lottery income for it's budget. I suspect this means a larger deficit for the state's budget this year.

-You CAN win if you don't play. Hey, I never play the lottery, and I just won a few bucks.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rebates Suck

According to this article at MSN's Money Central, one of the rebate processing companies is filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy. I, for one, am happy to see the failure of anything rebate-related... well, anything except when people fail to get their rebate checks.

In case you haven't yet inferred this, I hate rebates. I despise them. The depth of my anger toward rebates burns with the intensity of a thousand suns. Rebates are nothing more than a scheme designed to get the consumer to pay more up-font based on the premise that they will get some of that money back later on. Screw that! Give me the best price you can up front.

The rebate is nothing more than a scam designed to bilk the consumer for a few more dollars. The producer can semi-legitimately claim that they have the lowest price, all the while knowing that many customers won't bother to fill out the rebate slips. And for the people who do ask for their rebate? Well, the producer still gets to keep their money for a while... when millions of people purchase a product, that's tens of millions of dollars the company gets to keep, which lets them earn interest on our money.

The long and the short of it is that rebates are a scam. They suck. And when I see a rebate, I think "sleazy vendor" and avoid them. The only way I go with a rebate is if I happen to be purchasing that exact product anyway. And if that happens, I'm damned sure processing the rebate. Otherwise, I avoid rebates and the manufacturers who rely on them. I recommend that you do the same.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

The Coolest Gifts

The coolest gifts are the unexpected, thoughtful ones. They don't necessarily require a lot of money or time, but they do come at a time or from a source that you don't expect.

This morning, I received such a gift from Paulius. Gracing my inbox was an email from him, with a picture embedded in the correspondence. Paulius was thoughtful enough to create a logo for my blog. It's the kick-@$$ pic that's now prominently displayed at the top of this site.

Dude, thanks. That was most thoughtful and completely unexpected. I hope your roof-patching job holds up!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Let's Talk Bailout

According to this article on Yahoo, Dick Cheney said "It's Herbert Hoover time" if the government fails to bail out the auto industry. That guy would know... he served in the Hoover administration. (Note to kids everywhere: That's a joke, don't quote me for your next Government paper.)

With that said, I'd like to look at this bailout from a different perspective. Look, we just handed the government a $700 Billion blank check. My understanding is that they can spend this money any way they see fit. Instead of coming to the taxpayers for more money, I say use part of the $700 Billion to help the automakers. Here's why...

Let's start by looking at this in manageable numbers, and by using an analogy. Things were tough at the House of Evan this year. I talked to friends, neighbors and family, and managed to convince them to scrape up $700 to help me out. They lent me this money knowing that doing so would cause them hardship, and that they'd likely never see the money again. I promptly spent $350 of it on bills, but still have $350 in the bank.

Suddenly, the battery in my car died and I found out that it would cost me somewhere between $15 and $25 to buy a battery charger, so I went back to my friends, neighbors and family and asked for more money. Aren't those people justified in questioning my fiscal responsibility? I mean, come on, I've still got $350 left. Why am I coming to them for more money? And since my car is old and unreliable, aren't they understandably curious why I'm sinking another $15 to $25 into that piece of junk? And my answer? Oh, that. I want to save that money for something else.

Yes, in this case I was the government, and the friends, neighbors and family were the American taxpayers. As a taxpayer, I don't understand why the government is coming to me for more money, when they've still got half of that $700 billion. Bush, in his infinite stupidity, doesn't want to spend that money on the auto industry. Well, part of being in charge is making tough choices and doing stuff that you'd rather not do. Mr. Bush, it's time to do something you'd rather not do... quit asking me for more money, and use part of that $350 Billion that you have left. I, for one, am tired of paying to clean up the mess that you and your fat-cat friends on Wall Street made in the first place. I'm through struggling to make ends meet while you laugh your way to the bank.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sloppy Reporting

According to this AP article, more people in the U.S. are getting away with murder. Color me skeptical, but their numbers don't indicate that more individuals are killing others and not being caught. The raw data says that there are more unsolved murders. This doesn't truly say that more people are getting away with murder, because it's equally possible -- and equally likely --that we have the same number of killers, who are harvesting more victims.

Just an observation about the sloppiness of the article.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Traditions

Sunny's article from yesterday asked about Christmas traditions. At the end of the article, she asked "What are some of your traditions?" Well, it's easier to talk about my family's traditions in my own post, rather than comment on her page, which brings me to today's topic. (BTW, thanks for the idea, Sunny!) There aren't many must-do rituals around here -- even at Christmas -- but the traditions we do have, are steeped in our own personal history.

Our first Christmas tradition actually starts a month or two early, when the first person in the family sees the initial Christmas display in the stores, or when we hear a Christmas commercial on the radio, and we start grumbling that Christmas is coming earlier each year. (By the way, I noticed my first Christmas display a day or two before Halloween this year.) This is nothing against Christmas, but I really love Thanksgiving, which , thanks to our commercialism, is beginning to go the way of Arbor Day or Groundhog Day. I also believe that such a long lead-up to Christmas kind of burns people out on the whole thing.

In relation to this, I also grumble a bit at how many references there are to "The Holidays," instead of calling it what it really is -- Christmas. I tend to keep my eyes and ears open for companies that actually advertise for Christmas, instead of The Holidays, and they usually get my business first.

My first two rituals might make me sound a little humbug about Christmas. That's not the case. I am a little grumpy about the commercialism, but I've been that way since I was in my late teens. I am not, however, grumpy about Christmas in general. Now, on with the real traditions...

-Setting up the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving. Once upon a time, I was a hard-core real tree purchaser, but pragmatics eventually turned me to fake trees. I like the fact that I can put up the fake tree the day after Thanksgiving without worrying about the tree drying out by Christmas. I still miss the pine scent of a real tree, but that's a small price to pay.

-After the tree is up, I pull out the ornaments, and hand them to Mrs. Evan and the kids, who place them on the tree. The kids' mom was (and still is, based on my understanding) incredibly anal about how the tree is decorated, so the kids don't get to help her decorate that tree. I prefer the eclectic look of our tree, which comes from letting the kids decorate as they see fit.

-The kids' argument discussion over who gets to put the star on top of the tree.

-Each year I purchase three new ornaments. One that represents the wife and me, and one for each of my girls. We occasionally purchase more than three, like the year I got my Harley, the wife and kids got me ornaments to commemorate the new addition to the family. We have also been known to buy unpainted ceramic ornaments and paint them ourselves. The point is that our decorations are personalized. We don't have any simple glass balls or anything like that on the tree. When the kids move out, I fully expect them to take at least some of their ornaments with them. The kids' ornaments are more for them than for me.


Mixed nuts. We (primarily me) go through five to ten pounds of nuts between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. This year, we've got even more, because I collected fresh Black Walnuts and Hickory nuts. In conjunction with this tradition, the kids put the shells in the same bowl as the nuts, and I grumble about their laziness.

Packing up the family for a drive around town to look at Christmas lights. The trip usually consists of a thermos of hot chocolate, Christmas carols in the CD player, and the kids sporting pajamas in the back seat. We always drive around aimlessly, because the area of town with the best lights tends to move from year to year.

Christmas shows. My favorites, of course, are the slightly irreverent ones... A Year Without a Santa Claus (I love the Miser brothers) and A Christmas Story. (It says fra-gee-lay. Must be Italian.)

One tradition that actually goes back to my childhood is using candy canes as part of the tree's decorations. I had actually forgotten about that part this year. I didn't know exactly why, but the tree didn't look quite right, until Mrs. Evan brought home the candy canes... then it hit me.

Another tradition from my childhood is opening one gift on Christmas eve. I know how it started... my brothers and I nagged my parents about opening stuff early. My parents compromised and said that we could open one gift early. It became a tradition in my family. This tradition was passed on when my kids became old enough to nag me about opening stuff early. Only the kids open a gift early though.

This is a tradition brought to us by Mrs. Evan... each Christmas eve, we re-enact the birth of Christ, using ceramic figurines. It's a very irreverent re-enactment. For example, the Three Wise Men are called the three wise guys, and Joseph is always grumbling about how Mary cheated on him, and how it better have been with God, because if the kid looks like the plumber, he's outta there. It injects a bit of bawdy humor into the story, but it also serves as a reminder of the birth of Christ.

Pretending that I'm too tired to get up early to open gifts. This is my twisted, sadistic way of teasing the kids, because we don't open gifts until everyone is up. In the end, the kids usually jump in bed and wrestle with me until I relent.

Keeping the tree up until New Year's Day.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

It's Me. No, Really!

According to an article posted on Yahoo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican congresswoman from Florida, hung up on President-elect Barack Obama... not once, but twice.

She didn't really hang up on Obama per se, after all, Obama doesn't have to make his own phone calls anymore. But in each case, someone called her and informed her that the President-elect wanted to speak to her. She thought it was a radio station trying to punk her, and hung up both times.

On the third try, a democratic congressman called her and informed her that Obama was indeed trying to get through. Oops. She informed the President-elect that she thought she was being pranked, and Obama was apparently a good sport about the whole thing. Fortunately for her, Obama seems to have a good sense of humor.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Acceptable Loss

I was reading an internet article today about Bush's presidency, where he said that flawed Iraq intelligence was his biggest regret during his time in office. It's interesting that his biggest regret is something that he can technically pin on others. Silly me, I thought that a regret was personal. That certainly says a lot about our infamous leader. But I'm digressing.

The article also says that 4200 troops have died since we invaded Iraq in 2003. I'm going to take a shit-load of flack for this, but I'm going to call this acceptable loss. Hey, when we went to war five years ago, the overwhelming majority of Americans had swallowed the Kool-Aid that Bush's administration offered. We were somehow convinced that it would be a splendid little war, with a quick victory and little loss of life. We were half right... the loss of life has been quite low indeed.

As I write this, please let me once again reiterate that I was against going in to Iraq from the beginning... though it was primarily for strategic reasons. Opening a second front in a war has never worked historically... and going into Iraq was doing exactly that. My decision was correct, but I admit that I didn't arrive at that decision in the same manner as most objectors.

Anyway, back to my point. When it comes to the use of force, I am a pragmatist. Being a pacifist is great in theory, but in the real world it is an unrealistic view. And since the use of force is a distinct possibility, it stands to reason that there must be a loss of life. At some point, that loss becomes unacceptable, and we take our ball and go home. Up to that point though, the loss of life, while tragic, is a fact of life. That's called acceptable loss. To put this in perspective, the U.S. lost well over 6,000 men on D-Day. 58,000 Americans died during the Vietnam war. I'm not trying to minimize the loss of life in Iraq, I'm simply trying to explain that the loss of life is significantly lower. In fact, I'd say it's an acceptable loss.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankful For

My wife. My rock. My companion. She brings home the bacon, and I fry it up in a pan. And yet I still somehow manage to retain custody of my testicles.

My kids. Life would present fewer challenges if they weren't around, but who needs that.

My dogs. The only creatures on the planet who consistently listen to me, and they're always happy when I get home.

My boss. A small business owner, he seems to genuinely care about his employees and his customers.

A small, intimate group of friends. When I was younger, I had a large but shallow group of friends. This left me with little time to reflect, a crazy social calendar and the sense of never quite knowing who I could trust. I'm glad my circle of friends is smaller, but very tried and true.

Change. Going from my last job to this one was very stressful. I was scared about how we'd make ends meet. It took a little bit of adjustment on my part to become comfortable with my new role as house-husband and part-time worker. It required me to be the dependent instead of the provider. But having made that adjustment, I can certainly say that I am enjoying life more now than I think I ever have.

Monday, November 24, 2008

My Best Friend is Moving

You heard me right, my best friend is moving. I've got mixed feelings about the whole thing. Before I get into the whole "mixed feelings" aspect of this move, I should give you a little history on our friendship. I've known him for almost thirty years. I met him in sixth grade, and we've been friends pretty much ever since. After high school, I joined the Marine Corps and moved away. By the time I was out of the Corps, he had completed college and moved to another part of the state... just as I was moving back to our hometown.

Since we lived only a couple of hours away from each other, we visited often... every couple of months or so, and circumstances brought me to the city where we both live now, which allows us to see each other all the time. Up until today, he lived either a long walk or short drive away. (Being slightly lazy, it was usually a short drive.) We've shared a lot of good times, and seen each other through many not-so-good times.

That pretty much brings us up to speed, so now I'll talk about the mixed feelings. He's not moving across the country... he's moving across town, so it's not like he's really moving away. He's relocating. It's still a short drive to his place, but I certainly can't walk there anymore. This may seem like a little thing, but in my gut it still feels like he's moving farther away.

The house he lived in until today was a little place, built in the 1930's. During the time he lived there, I helped him essentially gut the place and rebuild it in his image. We completely overhauled the basement, going to the point of jack-hammering out the concrete in the basement floor so we could install drainage tile. We've tiled floors, installed Pergo floors, and knocked out virtually every wall at one point or another. A lot of blood and sweat have been spilled in that old house. I'm sorry to see him sell it.

This sorrow isn't mine alone. He was emotionally attached to that house for very good reason. It's a little house, filled with a lot of love. But the fact is, now that he has two kids the family has outgrown the house. He had planned on adding on to the house, but his wife pushed him to move. That's caused a lot of family strife, and they're moving mainly for the sake of the family. I dislike the rationale (because he felt pushed to move) but I agree with the decision.

I'm happy that he found a place his family will like. The location is definitely better for the kids. Lots of back streets for the kids to learn to ride a bike and play. His wife is kind of hung up on keeping up with the Jones', and I think this will bring her a measure of happiness. But agreeing to move was a bitter pill for my friend to swallow. Fortunately, he's looking at the positive aspects of moving.

The move itself is causing me a little pain. I helped them pack the U-Haul yesterday, and my muscles are telling me that I worked harder than I've worked in a long time -- and I'm helping them unpack today. I'm not looking forward to my aching body tomorrow. Additionally, they have a lot more stuff than they realized, so my garage is acting as a temporary overflow. I just got the thing cleared out so that Mrs. Evan and I could get our cars in the garage, and now it's got more crap in it than I've ever had in there. With the weather turning cold outside, I miss getting into a warm car inside of the garage, but it's a minor inconvenience when compared to the help I'm giving my friend. Hopefully, it'll all be cleared out soon. Yeah, I know I'm helping him out, but I want my garage back.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I Hate This Part of Parenting

Disciplining and punishing my kids is my least favorite part of being their dad. I understand that discipline is part of parenting, and I don't shirk this responsibility, but watching my kids suffer is bad enough. Creating that discomfort makes things even worse.

Today, my older daughter was grounded because of her grades. When she entered high school, I told her that I expected all of her grades to be a "C" or better. The session that ended today marks at least the third consecutive term where she's brought home at least one "D."

During this time, I've tried all kinds of shit to encourage better grades. I bribed her by offering a cash incentive for good grades, I took away her cell phone, iPod and computer privileges. I've tried yelling, nagging, offering positive support, and letting her do things her own way. I told her the next thing to go was her social life.

Today, as a result of yet another "D," she's now grounded. She's grounded for the entire next term (but there is a way out). She is required to study for a minimum of two hours, and during the study time there will be no phone privileges. The only exception to this being grounded will be if she wants to attend her church's youth group... and even then, she can only go to youth group if her studying is done.

The early out I mentioned earlier is as follows... if she has all C's or better, she will be conditionally ungrounded after a month. The condition is that she maintains the minimum grade. If any grade falls below a C, she is immediately re-grounded.

Like I said, I really hate meting out punishment, but I hope this gets her to understand how serious I am about the grades. Because if it doesn't, she won't remember what her friends look like by the time she's ungrounded.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I'm Coming Out

No, I'm not saying that I'm gay... but it's a clever little play on words, isn't it? What I am announcing though, is that as of today, my blog is available for public viewing. After many months of procrastinating, moving old blog posts, and changing names (mostly that procrastinating thing), I am now ready to lift the veil of secrecy and allow the world to experience my brilliance.

It's been a long time coming. And now that I can share my wit and wisdom with the world, I can also start to rehash a few of my previously-stated opinions. (That comment was directed toward you, Paulius.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

All Moved In

Let's see, I started this blog how long ago... a little over six months? That sounds about right. While I wrote new posts in this blog, I also moved old entries from my previous blog, which will remain nameless. Today, I finally got the last of the posts from my old blog moved over here. I still need to update a few links and change a few names, but this brings me one step closer to moving back into the public.

To those of you who are part of the private circle, thanks for hanging in there while I get my house in order.

Recession Resistant

Call me a fortunate son. My last job was as an IT specialist at a manufacturing plant. This company never made much of a profit, even under the best of circumstances... that's the rub of working in a commodity-based business. Their biggest profits were all accounting-based profits... when the price of their raw materials went up, their net worth increased accordingly. Well, now the prices are dropping like a rock. And furthermore, their products are heavily tied to the automotive and housing industries, and we all know how these areas are doing. In other words, I got out just in the nick of time.

Now that the recession is really building a head of steam, I'm even more pleased to be out of there. I'm doing semi-freelance IT work for some very recession-resistant businesses -- doctors, dentists and attorneys. I'm making a much better hourly rate than I made before, I'm working fewer hours, and no night/weekend emergencies. Yeah, I still work the occasional evening or weekend, but it's at my convenience, and it's from home.

To make matters better, my wife's job is also recession-resistant.

And have you noticed the gas prices lately? Man, it's absolutely cool! I filled up my truck's tank yesterday at $1.95 per gallon. To put this in perspective, I drove by a gas station this morning that was closed due to the flood, and it had the price being charged just before the flood... $3.85 per gallon! The price has dropped almost two dollars per gallon in five months. With the price falling that far, that fast, other commodities such as food, plastic, rubber and other petroleum-based products should also drop soon. This would definitely help us recover from our current mess.

It's not all pretty though... my 401k has lost about 50% of its peak value in the last 18 months. Oh well... I guess I had to suffer somewhere, right?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Pleased With the Outcome

In case you didn't know, I'm pleased that Obame was elected President. It affirms my belief that Americans have come a long way in the whole race relations thing, it gratifies me that we somehow managed to gain respect global respect in one day, and I am hopeful for what the future holds.

I spent a lot of time watching John Stewart and Stephen Colbert cover the election, and I was greatly amused by the whole show. Colbert struck me with one tongue-in-cheek, amusing, profound question... he asked a black guest "If Obama is elected president, does that mean that racism is over?" We all know that the answer is 'no,' but it was a great question.

I also asked a very close friend of mine, who happens to be black, about his voting. I knew that he'd be voting for Obama -- both because of his race and because of his political inclination -- but my friend surprised me. He said that 60% of his decision was because Obama is black. It just goes to show that I may not pay attention to race (though I am cognizant of it) but minorities still are.

My younger daughter just got home, so I'm going to cut this short and hang out with her.

Monday, November 3, 2008

How Much Does It Matter?

Like it or not, race is a factor in this presidential election. Face it, there will be white people who don't vote for Obama because he's black, and there will be minorities who do vote for him because he's black. I don't agree with either position, but there's nothing I can do to change the facts.

I am curious though, how many people will vote for McCain because he's white, and how many will vote for Obama because he's black. My hope is that one day skin color won't make any difference at all. Unfortunately, I don't think this will happen during my lifetime.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Our Next President?

No, just me in my Halloween Costume

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Blast from the Past

I got an email from an old friend recently. When I say "old friend," I don't mean a friend who is significantly older than me, and I'm not speaking about someone I've known a long time and am still close friends with. No, in this case, I'm talking about a friend who used to be inseparable from me, but time and circumstances have taken us apart. He got a facebook account and emailed me to let me know. Here's my reply... slightly edited to removed names...

Got your Facebook email. Sorry for the slow response. I don’t have a facebook account and don’t plan to get one – for now. There are few reasons for this…

-My 16-year-old daughter has a facebook account. She’s a bit of a slacker at school, but overall she’s a good, responsible kid. As long as she keeps her shit wired, I want to give her some areas that are dad-free. Facebook is one of the areas I chose as a dad-free zone. (Of course, as I say this, understand that I know her username and password, so I can snoop if I need to.)

-I already blog, write in a long-running journal, play Xbox 360 occasionally, play guitar and so forth. I need to make sure that I don’t have so many hobbies that my family suffers, and I know how much time facebook can consume.

-As a computer geek, I already spend too much time on the computer.

-I don’t like the idea that any Tom, Dick or Harry can search for me on Facebook.


That said though, your comment about entering boot camp 22 years ago really hit home and brought back a lot of memories of time we spent together…

-Meeting you as we checked in at NAS Millington. I don’t remember much about the conversation, but I recall sitting in those plastic chairs in the hall, chatting quietly as we waited for our names to be called for check-in.

-Finding out that your platoon, [31xy], and my platoon, [31zz], were arch-rivals in boot camp.

-How we both stood back and laughed to ourselves as our platoon-mates tried to beat the snot out of each other before the Drill Instructors came and broke shit up. That moment told me that we were birds of a feather.

-Hanging around with you and [Name omitted] in Millington.

-Tustin…

-Trying to burn your cammies on that windy, windy night at Balboa beach. If I remember correctly, it was a celebration of your discharge from the suck. But it was so windy that they wouldn’t light, so we tossed them off the end of Balboa pier.

-[You],[Me], and Jennifer squared. [We were both dating girls name Jennifer at the time]

-Beth [Name omitted]. When she worked at the PX, we both thought she was cute. You asked her out. I stole her from you. I got deployed. You stole her back. We understood the whole “bro’s before ho’s” thing. You took one for the team by giving her up. I took one for the team by finding out she had the clap before you stole her back.

-Gayle [Name omitted]. You thought she was cute. You asked her out. I stole her from you. That was twice you took one for the team. It took me a long time to realize exactly how fucked up that was. We were a team, and I took advantage of that shit once too often. I don’t know whether or not I ever expressed regret for stealing chicks from you. If not, please consider this my formal apology. I hope you consider this my only transgression.

-The countless weekends in Oceanside with your family… home-cooked meals… hating the fact that we were Jarheads in one of the biggest Marine towns in the country

-Trips to Palomar Mountain… driving a Hyundai up and down the twisty roads, pretending that we were race car drivers. Hitting the observatory just so we could have snowball fights.

-“… E… i… n…i… Encinitas” (One of my personal favorites)

-Driving to (insert town here) to get a newspaper and a Coke. San Francisco was my favorite.

-You and your General Hospital

-Drinking beer in the barracks

-Two words… Ranch House. The Ranch House, by the way, no longer exists.

-Exploring the rocky beaches between Newport Beach and Laguna Beach

-Driving up and down PCH

-Cruising I-5 and I-405 in the Hyundai, with my pink Fisher-Price telephone on the dash, and you writing shit in a spiral notebook. “Show us your tits.” I’m still surprised how often we got chicks to pull over and talk to us with that shit!

-The profound sense of injustice I felt when you were discharged in 1991. I was happy for you, but I knew it was the closing of a chapter in my life. I wondered how I’d go on without my best friend there beside me… hoping that we’d stay in touch like they did in those AT&T commercials, assuming that we would fly or drive, whatever the cost and whatever the distance, at least occasionally, to see other.

-The slow realization that we were drifting apart… the denial… the anger… and finally, the wistful acceptance. It’s been 17 years since we last spoke face to face. I still look back on our time with incredible fondness. I still wonder what you’re up to, and I’m still open to getting together with you in the future. I’ve long since stopped hoping that circumstances would bring us together… a work conference… a cross-country trip… whatever. I get that we’ve gone our separate ways, but I still get the urge to talk to you and I continue to hold out the hope that one day our paths cross again. You were an important chapter in my life. You made my enlistment much happier, and my life much fuller.

[Me]

Monday, October 13, 2008

Is it Possible to Simply Disagree

"Did you take a stupid pill?" These were the first words my brother said to me when he called me last night. Immediately after that he started trying to lecture me out of supporting Obama.

"How can you support him?" I explained that I wanted to support McCain, but McCain talked me out of supporting him by starting the mudslinging instead of sticking to the issues, through his proposal of taxing health care benefits, and through his selection of Sarah Palin, who I think it severely lacking in intellectual prowess. He responded by calling me naive. Apparently he believed that he could insult me into changing my vote. Instead, I told him that I no longer agree with McCain or his policies. I also told him that calling me naive was NOT the way to get me to change my mind.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Call Me Nero

Based on my last couple of posts, you've probably noticed that I'm paying attention to what's going on in the world around me. Bush is finally on his way out, meaning that one way or another things are going to change. Okay, I really don't believe that. I think that Democrats and Republicans are cut from the same cloth... they're just different sides of the same itchy, chafing piece of burlap.

While this happens, the global economy is collapsing before our eyes. Trillions of dollars (a sum of money I really can't put my little brain around) have evaporated... literally disappeared. My own retirement fund has lost 1/3 of its value in the last year. The press is calling this the worst crisis since the Great Depression, and I can't disagree with them.

With all of this happening around me, I have occasionally seen myself start to worry about the future... wondering how I'm going to get through this... how my wife will get through this... how it will impact my kids. I witness Wall Street's nosedive and think that each additional day of declines is another year or two that I'll have to work... a sacrifice I will have to make but can't quantify, because it's in the future. It would be easy to work myself into hysteria.

But I'm not going to do that. I have enough. I have enough for today. I have a wonderful wife, awesome kids, great friends and a kick-ass life. I can plan for tomorrow... for a decade from now, but I can't account for every contingency. And the more I try, the less I can enjoy today.

Besides, the money that's evaporating never really existed anyway. It's not real currency, it's money on paper. This type of currency doesn't really exist until you cash out. Furthermore, it's time to bring things back into perspective. We, as a country, haven't really suffered since WWII. During the Great Depression and WWII, we had to band together and do without in order to survive. Since then, yeah, a few have suffered, but for the most part we've lived a cush life. The baby boomers don't know what it's like to scrimp and save. They're selfish, which is a huge reason that our biggest problems -- such as Social Security -- have been put off and put off.

Now it's time to pay the piper. And I'm ready. That's right. I acknowledge that I haven't suffered. Life's been good to me so far, but I'm smart enough to know that things can't continue this way without the shit hitting the fan. The longer we put things off, the more shit... the bigger the fan... and the bigger the splatter. I say bring it on now. Unlike the Baby Boomers, who are unable or unwilling to deal with crisis, I am ready, willing and able to tackle our problems head-on, so my kids don't have to.

So, while our economy goes up in flames, I'm not going to scream and run in fear; I'm going to say "Pass the marshmallows."

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Still Watching the Train Wreck

I was hanging out at a friend's house last night, helping him do some stuff around the house. I asked him if he was going to watch the Presidential debate. "Nah," he answered, "but we can turn it if you want to watch it." I figured he hadn't planned to see it, and was pleasantly surprised when he offered to change the channel so I could watch.

"I don't think I'm going to vote," he said during the debate. His wife came out and echoed his sentiment. They both believe that nothing will change as long as we have a two-party system of Democrats and Republicans. I can't say that I really disagree with their rationale, but I can't support their decision.

My understanding is that Ron Paul realized that he's not going to win any Presidential elections, but understands he has a vocal minority, so he held a rally and basically said if you don't support either major candidate, you can still vote for none of the above, and with that introduced some of the fringe party candidates. I told my friend and his wife about this, and recommended that they vote for someone else... at least they're making their voices heard. But I'm digressing... I wanted to talk about the debate.

Okay, maybe not... there were no real surprises, except that McCain failed to whallop Obama in what is widely accepted a McCain's favorite forum, and the fact that McCain proposed the buyout program.

Anyway, I walked out of the debate still wanting to support McCain, but even more convinced that Obama is the guy. Regardless of what I think though... please vote. Even if you don't choose one of these two guys, voice your opinion.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Train Wreck

I don't want to watch, but I can't help myself. Yep, it's once again time for me to talk about politics and the economy.

Did anyone out there watch the Vice-Presidential debate? I certainly did. I wanted to see if Palin is as clueless as Tina Fey made her out to be in her SNL skits. The answer? I think Tina Fey went easy on Palin. After the debate, the political pundits -- apparently trying to appear neutral -- said that she held her own against Joe Biden. I can't help but wonder if we watched the same debate. I had three jokes that I had considered turning in to SNL for this week's inevitible skit. One was how Palin kept referring to Alaska as an energy-producing state. If you didn't know that going in to the debate, you sure knew it afterwards. The second joke was how Palin said that she may not answer the questions to the moderator or Biden's liking... 'In fact, I won't answer the question at all if it doesn't discuss Alaska's energy producing prowess.' The third joke was her frequent reference to McCain as a maverick, and how she somehow earned the right to use that term as an accurate description of her own record.

Biden impressed me. He kept his answers short... and they were answers... a stark contrast to the Tina Fey look-alike. I was specifically impressed with Biden's willingness to point his finger at the camera for emphasis. This has historically been a no-no, which is why Bill Clinton always did that annoying thumb-point thing. I also liked Biden's comment that Cheney was trying to re-write the Constitution in order to make himself a member of the Senate. Biden struck me as someone who attempted to answer questions in a forthright manner, backing his statements up with facts as he understood them. (Yes, I know that some things were twisted for partisan gain.) Palin came across as a talking head.

This is horribly disappointing. I've long been a McCain supporter. I long considered him to be a good presidential candidate. After the democratic election, McCain started a mud-slinging campaign, and that made me pause. When he chose Palin as his running-mate I remained neutral about the decision... until she spoke. Now, I just can't see myself voting for McCain. Obama and Biden have impressed me, and McCain has disappointed me.

Let's talk about that economic stimulus package for a little bit... you know, the $700 billion bailout. I'm not sure what to think about the whole thing. Part of me realizes that I'm not the expert, so I should take the word of people who actually have a little authority on the subject. They say we need this, so we need this.

But why now? We've been heading down this road for years... why is it so suddenly such an emergency that the president screamed the sky is falling, and congress acted so swiftly that the measure was passed in two weeks? And for those of you who don't remember, the last time our illustrius leader said that, we ended up invading Iraq.

And why should the fat cats get all of this money? A friend of mine -- who's a hard-core democrat -- summarized things beautifully when he said 'Look, politicians scream about handouts that help poor people pay their rent and put food on their table, but now that the super rich are demanding a handout, it's a done deal.' That's a great point. A couple of days later, I got an email that said 'Hey, instead of bailing out Wall Street with that $700 Billion, why don't you give to the American people?' Another great point. Taking the email at face value, that works out to about $250,000 per adult -- after taxes. If there are two adults in the household, that would be a cool half a mil! Imagine what we could do with that kind of money... pay off our homes... pay off our credit cards, student loans, automobiles... If the government wanted to stimulate the global economy, I can't think of a better way... but no, they gave it to Wall Street. And wouldn't you know it, the street is already saying it's not enough.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sometimes My Ex Still Amazes Me

... and not in a good way. Just when I've adjusted to her stupid shit, she pulls another idiotic stunt, and I'm stunned all over again.

When we split up, we decided that we'd alternate taking care of the kids' birthday parties. On odd years, I would throw the older kid's party and she'd do the younger one's celebration. On even years, we'd switch. I'm still uneasy doing these parties, if only because she's there, but hey, it's not about me... it's about the kids.

Last weekend we threw the younger kid's party. It's the ex's turn to take care of the older one... and it's a biggie, because the big 'un is turning sweet 16. Last month, my daughter and the ex started talking about the sweet 16 party, and my kid was understandably excited about the milestone birthday.

Fast forward to a couple of days ago. My wife and I found out -- from the kid -- that there would be no sweet 16 party. Apparently, the ex is once again strapped for money and she told the kid that there would be no party as a result.

In order to understand the full implications of this, I should recap...

Roughly a year ago, the ex was pulled over for driving a car with an expired registration. During this stop, the cop discovered that she not only had an expired registration, but she stole the registration sticker from another car (but wasn't smart enough to steal another one when that sticker expired), that she had no insurance, that she was driving with a suspended license, and that there was a warrant out for her arrest.

Her car was impounded as a result of this arrest. She was unable to pay to get it out of impound, so it was sold at a police auction, and she got some heavy fines which she also didn't pay.

A month or two later, she was evicted from her apartment for not paying her rent, and she moved in with some friends. The friends live in a teeny little house built in the 1930's and have two kids of their own. The ex lives in a single room and when the kids stay with her, all three of them are in a single room about the size of your average bedroom.

Because of the living arrangements, my wife and I asked to keep the kids more often. After all, when they're with the ex, they're all three stuck in a single small room. When they're here, they've got their own space, they can still catch the bus to school in the mornings, they've got ready access to their friends, and so forth. In a moment of sanity, the ex agreed to our request. This agreement was all under the table, so there was no change in child support. Yes, my wife and I are the full-time parents, the ex is a weekend mom, and I'm still paying child support for this privilege.

So, to sum it up... the ex has no car payment, no car insurance to buy, no gas to buy, less food to buy, and no rent because she's staying with the friends rent-free, and there's no reduction in her income. She should have more money than she know how to spend.

A couple of months back, she got her license back. This is not because she paid off her fines, but because she petitioned the court, and was approved for a repayment plan. She got a car, but it was given to her. She's now paying for gas, but there's still no car payment, and still no rent. She should still be bring in more money than she has to spend.

She's known about our daughter's sweet 16 for -- well, for 16 years! She's had about ten months to squirrel a little bit away each month for the party. Hell, she should have known approximately how much the party would cost when they made the initial plans for the party. But now, less than a month away from her sweet 16, mom has told our daughter that there will be no party. My wife found out about this two days ago. I talked about it to the kid last night.

I told her that I didn't think she should have to give up her sweet 16 because of her mom. I said that I'd take care of it.

Yep... sometimes my ex still amazes me with her stupid shit. But what surprises me more is the fact that I'm still shocked at the stupid shit my ex pulls.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Reevaluating

I had hoped this election would be different. I somehow knew that in the end it would be more of the same by both candidates... distortions, half-truths and mud-slinging... but I hoped things would be different this time. For a while I was right.

Like most people, I despise where we've gone as a country under George W. Bush's watch. Unlike most, I saw early on, so I've been angry for longer than most Americans. I supported McCain in 2000, and when I witnessed the Republican choices for the 2008 election, I said the only way I'd vote Republican was if he was the Republican choice. I got my wish. Sort of.

When McCain became the nominee, I was no longer automatically drawn to the Democrats. After all, McCain seemed honest, honorable and above the mud-slinging that's so common in politics. That's all changed. McCain has fallen to the level of politicking that has consistently disgusted me by telling half-truths.

It seems that Obama is staying above the fray, and that's bringing me to once again re-evaluate my decision. Maybe I'll end up voting for none of the above.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Nothing New

As you may have noticed, I haven't written much lately. This is partly because I've been moving my old stuff to my new site. Not only is this process time-consuming, but it also tends to sap me of ideas. Every time I think about writing something, I remember an old post that I recently moved and can't help but think "Man, I already wrote about that."

In addition to that, I've been more focused on just living and enjoying my life, rather than commenting on my observations. I haven't given up on blogging, I'm just in a writing rut.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Mechanics of a Death Row Appeal

Over the last week or so, I've been reading about this guy on death row who thinks he shouldn't be executed. The headline of his story is that he's too fat to be executed. A little more reading relays that he's a changed man who is remorseful to the point of self-loathing, that he was beaten as a child, and that he was an alcoholic.

On the flip side of the coin, prosecutors say that he's never demonstrated remorse, and attempted to escape death row in 2005 with a homemade ladder of rolled-up magazines and sheets.

My take on the whole deal: Please don't kill me. I'm too fat to die humanely. By the way, I was beaten as a child, and I was an alcoholic.

Man, talk about the last pleadings of a condemned man. He was able to rape and kill two college chicks, but he seems to think that he shouldn't feel a few minutes of discomfort? Look, I'm torn about the whole idea of the death penalty. (That's another story.) But this guy saying spare me because I'm fat enough that I may feel a little pain while i die?!? Sorry, but the whole "humane death" thing isn't really part of my ambivilence. In fact, I think that people condemned to die should die in a manner similar to how they killed their victim(s).

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Ye Old Family O' Nerds

Last weekend was our annual pilgrimage to the Minnesota Renaissance Festival. Four years ago we started the yearly ritual, where we travel for a few hours, stay in a kick-@$$ hotel, spent a little too much money at the RenFest, and slowly accumulate a full-fledged Renaissance costume.

This year I purchased the bracers in this picture, but while we were there, we talked about hitting the Iowa Renaissance Festival next month. With this in mind, I figured it was time to get a vest, but I didn't feel like buying one -- mainly because I'm too cheap. So I made the vest in this picture instead. I was going for a pirate-style look, but the result looks a little more gypsy-like. Either way, I think it's pretty cool. and I'm going to keep expounding on it for a while. As a work in progress, I'm not sure where it will end.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Another Family Adventure

This weekend we went to Chicago for a trip to Six Flags and a shopping trip down the Magnificent Mile. Here are a couple of pics from the trip.



Sunday, July 27, 2008

Yeah, I'm Okay

I know. I haven't posted in a while. I'm a bad, bad person. I haven't written lately because I'm not inspired. It seems like I've already commented on or lampooned the crap that's happening in the world, and I can only repeat myself so many times.

At home, it also seems like the same thing is happening. The sun rises, the sun sets. The seasons change. The kids grow. The love between my wife and me grows. More stuff that I've already discussed or satirized.

I am enjoying my life. During the summer, I go more places and do more things. I don't mind working outside, and life's simple pleasures -- eating wild blackberries, growing fresh tomatoes and walking the dogs -- bring me happiness.

I did recently have a milestone birthday. (I won't say which birthday, and I won't reveal the date.) I got a fry daddy as one of my gifts and tried it out last night. I'm totally inexperienced at fried food. My first stab at a fried coating didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. It was cornmeal based, and I didn't like the flavor. Later on, I tried a second try, making a coating based on Bisquick. That shit was stupendous! The Mrs. and I ate fried mushrooms and boneless fried chicken tenders. Yuuummmmyyyy!!!

I'm going to have to pace myself, so I don't burn us all out on fried food. With that said though...

What's your favorite fried food recipe?

Have you tried those fried apples? I may try that for the kids.

What's your favorite type of coating? Flour based? Cornmeal based? Something else entirely?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Creative Cooking

During the last week or two, I've whipped up a couple of new variations on some of my favorite dishes. I was so pleased with the way they turned out on the plate that I decided to take a couple of snapshots...


The picture above is a variation of Chicken Parmesan. Since the kids are vegetarians, I used one of those vegetarian chicken patties. As an avid carnivore, I was skeptical, but I have to admit that it's not bad. The fake chicken patty is laid on a bed of home made mashed potatoes, and surrounded by Campari tomatoes, cut into quarters. The entire dish was then sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. The kids really liked it, and I was very happy with the presentation.


This second picture is a variation on another staple around the house... spaghetti. This dish contains meat. I don't really have a name for it, but here's how I made it...

I made meatballs -- the first time I've tried cooking meatballs. The meatballs were made by combining 1 pound of ground beef, 1 egg, basil and oregano to taste. I mixed it all up, rolled the meatballs and started browning them on a low heat. After the meatballs were slightly browned on the outside, I marinated them in spaghetti sauce and wine, with the pan covered.

Around the outside, you will notice that I made sun-dried tomatoes. These were made as follows...
-Line a cookie sheet with olive oil.
-Halve several tomatoes (I used Roma tomatoes)
-Make a baste of olive oil, white wine, basil, oregano and thyme. Cover the tomatoes with the baste.
-Top the tomatoes with Parmesan or Feta cheese. (I used Feta)
-Cook at 200 to 250 degrees for six to eight hours.

The overall presentation of this dish:

Line a plate with fresh baby spinach. Top the spinach with the pasta. Place meatballs on top of the pasta, and line the plate with the sun-dried tomatoes.

I also topped the dish with a single sun-dried yellow pepper slice. Peppers take less time to sun-dry than tomatoes, so make sure to start them later or finish them sooner.

These dishes may sound time-consuming and difficult, but they REALLY aren't. And in addition to being relatively simple, it's cool to see my family enjoying the artistic presentation.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Suffering Builds Character

I look around my country and I can't help but worry. The dollar is falling at the speed of gravity, gas prices are rising to astronomical levels, our boys are fighting a war I don't support, and all we can do as a society is watch reality TV, continue accruing debt and bickering because that T-Shirt at Bloomingdale's doesn't come in cornflower blue. Every generation is a little softer than the previous, and expects a little more without earning or doing. My own children have a cow when I make them walk a few blocks.


I look back to World War II and the Great Depression -- okay, I look back to the stories of history, not my own memories -- and I see a generation that was willing to do more with less. Here's my point... suffering builds character. We need to experience a little discomfort in order to understand what it's like to go without... in order to appreciate what we have... in order to realize that all of our physical possessions don't bring happiness or success.

Yeah, this is a disjointed ramble.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Moving is a Bitch!

Well, I've been at my new blogging home for a couple of months now. It's recent enough that I remember starting this blog, but far enough in the past that I don't remember exactly how long I've been here. I'm still in the process of moving posts from my old location to this one, and I hit a milestone today... my 2005 entries are completed. When I decided to move my stuff, instead of simply cutting over, I had over 600 blog entries... that's a lot of shit to sift through. Early on, I was reading every entry, making sure that names and faces were obliterated, and making sure that I preserved anything and everything that meant something to me. This quickly became a painstaking process... hell, if I did six per day, that would take me over three months! Since then, I've become less selective, less thorough and less meticulous. I'm not migrating stuff each day. I'm not reading each entry word-for-word, I'm much more willing to ditch an entry as unnecessary, and I'm not as picky about changing each name,. After all, this blog is still private, and those of you who read it all know the names of the key players. I will though, change names and faces before taking this thing public again. It's nice to be done with 2005, but I've still got over 300 entries to browse and edit.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

...At Least in Some of It

A couple of days ago, I said that what I've been witnessing is restoring my faith in humanity... at least some of it. As time passes though, I'm beginning to witness stupid human tricks. There have been a couple of reported cases of looting... primarily bars being relieved of their alcohol supply, and my ex is back to some of her old tricks.

My ex's birthday was not too long ago. On her birthday, she text messaged my younger daughter, saying "Hey, I'm going to come by and we'll go to dinner." The ex did this on my custody night, without asking me first, and to top it off, she ended up flaking out on my daughter. As the pickup time approached, my daughter phoned her mom. Here's a summary of the conversation I heard (my daughter's side).

(In an excited voice) "Hi mommy. When are you coming to get me."

(Long pause) "What you mean we're not going."

(Tears start flowing) "Bye."

Later on, the ex calls again... this time it was to flake out of her custody time the next evening, saying that she had to work. Again, she calls the kid. So my daughter was doubly crushed. Her mom calls with a 'surprise' dinner, and then flakes out on it. The kid is upset, but consoles herself by saying, "hey, that's okay, I'll get to see her tomorrow." Then mom calls up and flakes out on that night, because she had to work.

A few days later, she calls again and says "Hey kid, I'm coming to pick you up." For those of you who are keeping score, you may remember that the ex doesn't have a car, and was evicted from her home about six months ago. She's been staying at a friend's house since then. But I'm digressing...

"Mommy, did you get a car?"

"No, it's a surprise," she replied. As you can imagine, the kid's all worked up. After all, mom's got a surprise for her. The surprise? She showed up with her backup boyfriend and a new hairdo.

I call him backup boyfriend because every time the ex is between boyfriends, they start dating for a little while... just long enough for the younger daughter to become re-attached to him. And he's just enough of a doormat that he continues to let this happen.

Yep... this woman's a peach. She disses my little girl twice, and then announces a surprise... the surprise is arriving with backup boyfriend and a new hairdo. She can't pay rent. She can't afford a car, but she's damned sure going to afford her hair.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Updated Pictures

This is the same photo stream, but I've added over 50 more pictures since originally posting the photo stream. I plan to do a short before-and-after sometime down the road, but for now, you may want to check out the last 50-odd pics on this slideshow.

Check it out...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Restoring My Faith...

The flood waters are quickly receding, and the citizens are rapidly commencing with cleaning up our community. As soon as I found out that people were being allowed back into their own homes, I grabbed my work gloves, jumped on my bicycle, and headed to a friend's parents' house.

That in and of itself is kind of funny. They hadn't seen me for so long, that they didn't recognize me. Even after I sat and talked to them for a bit, they didn't realize who I was until I came out and told them. (They didn't recognize me because of my beard.) Once we got past the "Holy cow, I didn't recognize you," I offered my assistance, which they gratefully accepted.

We started out with me taking pictures of the house for insurance purposes. They bought some disposable cameras, but I offered to take pics with my digital camera and burn the photos to CD for their insurance. We took about 30 shots through the day.

Their house has an unfinished basement (which the family patriarch affectionately calls "the dungeon"), and there was no damage to the first or second floors. So basically they only lost a few appliances there... water heater, washer and dryer, deep freezer...

Their garage didn't fare so well, and they had two cars that were mostly submerged. We spent the next several hours dumping shit on the curb. They profusely thanked me several times during the process, saying that if I hadn't been there, they'd still be looking at the garage wondering where to begin. With my assistance, we cleared out the garage in a few hours.

The highlight of my day was that some of the memorabilia survived the flood. Their wedding photo and his military records were wet, but looked good. There were a lot of photos and old clothes that didn't make it, but most of the pictures were duplicates. Overall, they didn't lose nearly as much as others.

After finishing up there, I drove around some, taking more pictures, which will be posted in a couple of days. I have a few more shots to take. Walking around and observing was beyond words, but I will try to describe it anyway.

One thing that can't be photographed or explained is the smell. The odor is a combination of swamp water and garbage dump. And there's a constant haze of putrid dirt that you can see, smell and taste. My immune system has been working overtime in attempting to keep me healthy.

People are going into their houses as soon as they're allowed, and they all seem to finish the first phase of clean-up the same day. If one family finishes early, they help their neighbors. It's an unspoken agreement. The recipients are thankful, and the helpers are glad to assist.

The streets are cleared of debris (dirt, driftwood and so forth) almost as quickly as the streets are accessible. The trash is being picked up at an incredible rate. Everyone -- EVERYONE -- is working like nothing I've ever seen. Those who have lost their homes are tolerant of photographers, understanding that we're not doing this just out of some sick sense of voyeurism, but it's our way of recording it.

The trash, despite the pace of clean-up, still lines streets, several feet high, as far as you can see on some streets. As I drove around town, I saw semi trailers full of food, water and clothing, trucked in from across the nation. It's humbling and emotional to see the support we've received -- from the nation and from the neighbors.

I'm going to paraphrase something my neighbor heard from a reporter...
Nobody needed to be rescued from the rooftops. Nobody was on TV crying, saying 'The Federal Government needs to bail us out.' Things were calm and orderly. The only signs of anger and disorder were from people who were not allowed into their homes quickly enough. They want to start putting their lives together themselves.

We're willing to accept assistance, but we don't expect it. What I'm witnessing today is restoring my faith in humanity... at least in part of it. It's so changed my perspective, that I will continue offering my assistance to my community for as long as I can. This weekend, I plan to help at that corner store I mentioned in a post the other day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Link to the Pictures

Here's a link to the pictures on Flickr.

...A Drop to Drink

As the river started receding, the city has managed to bring more water purification stations online. We're now at 50% water capacity, and water restrictions are loosening up a bit. We are now allowed to wash clothes and dishes, shower, etc. every other day. Again, it's a small price compared to those who've lost everything.

On Saturday, the day before the restrictions were loosened, the local news media went around to laundromats, shaming customers and business owners who were selfishly using -- wasting -- dozens of gallons of water.

One woman said something along the lines of "I've got three kids I need to take care of." Yeah, these kids need clean clothes.

One laundromat owner said "There was a woman from Palo (the town that was 100% evacuated) who did 21 loads of laundry and she blessed me." Hey, think whatever you need to think, as long as you keep the money rolling in, and you can sleep at night.

Like I said, this is bringing out the best and the worst in people.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Rain Shower

We had another rain storm cell pop up out of nowhere. In Cedar Rapids, it wasn't a major storm... just enough to catch a little rainwater in buckets, and for me to take a rain shower. Yes, I grabbed a bar of soap, stood out in the rain, and took a brief shower. The rain was a little too gentle and brief for a thorough shower. I've still got a little soap film on me, but I feel fresher than I did before my rain shower.

The Best and the Worst

My mailman and I were talking yesterday about all of this flooding, and I think he summed it up best. It brings out the best and the worst in people...

Seeing the masses of people volunteering by sandbagging, moving books, giving blood and so on really restores my faith in humanity. I'm still glad that I didn't volunteer for the sandbagging, because the river topped it all, but know this... I will help with the clean-up.

On the other side of the coin... a couple of days ago, a group of us went to the boat slips... boat houses, "garages" for house boats, and so forth. It's a neat little area. Rather, it was a neat little area. You see, the boat houses (in many cases, were) connected to a concrete peninsula with iron rods. This allowed the slips to float, but also kept them firmly in place. As the water rose, the boats couldn't freely rise with the water because of the iron rods. They tilted at precarious angles, which allowed the flotation to pop out from under the structures, causing them to tilt further... repeat ad nauseum.

Many of the boat houses finally broke free and floated downstream. There are about a dozen boats and boat houses that have collected in front of a bridge downstream. But I'm digressing, big time. I was talking about the worst of people...

It just so happened that we were in the right place at the right time, and we saw a boat house break free and begin it's trip downstream. And there was a boat tied to each side of it. My younger daughter said "That's funny." Of course she meant funny-strange, not funny-ha-ha.

This woman standing next to us said "You think that's funny!?! Maybe you need to go somewhere else!"

"Lay off her, she's a kid," I demanded.

"Some of us have property out there," she bitched.

What I thought... what I wanted to say... was "Oh yeah, well most of us aren't rich enough to have property out here, so pardon my lack of sympathy." What I actually said was "Leave her alone. She's a kid." Apparently my increased sternness worked, because she shut her yap.

There was another woman close by, who handled the impending loss of property with a different attitude. She was talking with her husband about her boat house, and the neighbors. She talked with me a bit, displaying none of the sour attitude of the bitch from earlier.

As we left, our neighbor (who was on this trek with us) said that she knew the bitch, and that yes, she was like that all the time. The neighbor said "I felt like saying there are people that have lost their homes, and you're crying about this?"

We've lost all but one of our water treatment plants in town, so we're only supposed to use water for drinking. No clothes washing, no showers, and so forth. When this was announced, there was a small rush of people going out to buy paper plates, sterile wipes and bottled water. The overwhelming sentiment was that everyone wanted to do their small part to help.

But people have differing definitions of "sacrifice." My daughter was pissed when I told her that she could wash her hair every other day... but then again, she's a teenager. And I can't in good faith completely ban everyone from showers for two weeks. I figure a two to three minute shower every three days or so will be good... and we'll save the water in the tub for use flushing our toilets.

And then again, one of this daughter's friends overheard a conversation between her mom and a friend...

The mom: "... took a quick shower this morning."

The mom's friend: "You shouldn't do that! We're on water restriction! We could lose all of our water! But I took one too."

Like I said, the best and the worst.

I'm catching up, but there's more story to come... and don't forget the photos.

Friday, June 13, 2008

We're Okay, but My City is Trashed

This is like nothing I've ever imagined or experienced. If you've watched the news at all in the last few days, you know that Cedar Rapids, Iowa has been hit hard by flooding. Cedar Rapids is where I live. When I moved my blog, I originally decided to erase my name, my wife and kids' names, and where I live, because I don't want this new blog tied to me in the future. I'm going to keep my family's names out of it, but the flooding has caused me to go ahead and disclose my location.

When the flood was predicted, there was murmuring that we might match the flood levels we saw in 1993... the worst year in memory and the second worst year on record. Knowing that it would be bad, the city took as many precautionary measures as we could... sandbagging, precautionary newscasts, voluntary evacuations, and so forth.

On Wednesday, I toured the downtown area, watching with interest as the water rose to levels I've never seen before, and I wasn't the only one. I knew enough to walk, because traffic was already snarled due to re-routing. I took pictures and observed the low-lying areas that were already accumulating water. As a casual observer, I noticed a strange duality... the people working to save their businesses, and the throngs of onlookers who seemed to carry on in an almost carnival-like atmosphere.

I went to some of the low-lying residential areas and took pictures of the water rising on homes... everyone else was interested in the city... I wanted to see the neighborhoods.

When we woke up the next day, the enormity of the situation struck home. We collectively saw the news reports, showing all of the downtown bridges covered in water. It was beyond our imagination, and the entire city went silent, saying "Oh shit!" It's like watching a friend fall down... you laugh at first over the friend being a klutz, but your whole attitude changed once you realize that he's seriously hurt... it's that feeling, on a colossal level.

The homes I took pictures of the day before, swimming in a few inches of water, were completely submerged by the next morning. Each person in my house knows at least one person who has lost their home to the flood.

On Wednesday, while I was doing my sightseeing, I stopped at my corner gas station. It's a locally-owned business, and I know many of the employees and other patrons. They had just finished sandbagging the place.

"Do you really think the water is going to get this high," I distinctly remember asking?

"I hope not," one of the newer employees responded. "I live next door," he continued, as he packed up the store's belongings. "We'll be closing at 6:00 PM tonight, and the store will be empty until the flood's passed."

When I woke up the next morning, the flood water had gone six blocks past my corner store. I can't get close enough to verify with my own eyes, but I'm pretty sure that water is up to the roof on that store.

Even after realizing just how bad the flooding has become, I needed to see it firsthand, in order to put things in perspective... I saw stop signs blocks away from the river... actually, I saw where they should have been.

I want to say this again... I'm okay. My family's okay. We're 100% dry, we've got electricity, and we've got drinking water. No showers for the next few days, but that's a small price to pay compared to others. As the water drops, I will be volunteering with the clean-up efforts, and as promised yesterday, I will post pictures. The thing is, the pictures don't come close to doing justice to what I'm witnessing.

This story isn't finished. More to follow...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

We're Okay

Yeah, we're in the flooding areas. In fact, it looks like this is going to be the 500 year flood. But we're all in an area high enough that we're not directly impacted... other than all of the re-routed traffic. My friends and extended family are all okay too. I've been out taking some pics and will post them in a few days.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Random Notes

Several months ago, a classmate of my younger daughter was diagnosed with bone cancer. I didn't know him very well, but my wife is acquainted with him, and my daughter loves him to death. She was understandably upset over the boy's life and death struggle. After the usual therapy, the boy was given the choice of saving the leg or amputation. The upside to saving the leg was that he'd have two legs to walk on. The downside was that the leg would be so weak that he'd be unable to run and play the way a boy of his age should be able to. The kid chose amputation... just above the knee. The surgery was a couple of months ago, and he seems to have come through with flying colors. In fact, his friends and family seem to be more traumatized by the amputation than the kid was.

After the amputation, people found out that it would cost about $70,000 for a prosthetic leg that would allow him to play like a normal kid. Friends, family and the school system rallied around the lad, holding a benefit for him at the school yesterday. Hundreds of people showed up. Food, merchandise and time was donated... the benefit was like nothing I've ever seen, and it actually chokes me up a bit when I think about how much support this young man received. The school's gymnasium was loaded with items donated for a silent auction, including a football autographed by the Green Bay Packers, an authentic jersey autographed by Joe Namath, "date night" packages sponsored by local restaurants, bowling alleys, movie theaters and so forth, massages donated by local licensed massage therapists, bicycles, and more. There was a small carnival, with one of the teachers volunteering for the dunk tank, a band... it was incredible. I don't know for sure how much was raised, but I'm willing to bet that it was well over $10,000.

Toward the end of the benefit, the guest of honor spoke briefly. He said "I could thank you guys all night long. You rock." He never lost his composure, and was smiling during the whole event... especially when he dunked the aforementioned teacher. The same teacher played guitar with the boy's younger brother, bringing rounds of applause from everyone within earshot. I still choke up a bit when I think of the outpouring of love this young man so rightfully received, and I hope that it helps him turn into the fine adult I foresee him becoming.

During the benefit, I ran into a guy I used to work with at my last job. He said that he noticed I was no longer there and asked about the circumstances surrounding my departure. We didn't get into details, but I acknowledged that I left under less-than-ideal conditions. He responded with something that really made me smile. "It seems that all of the good people are pushed out." I liked the guy, and his comment more than adequately told that he liked me and respected my character. Since he's a union steward at the company, I will extrapolate and allow myself to believe that the other union folks felt similar. That means more to me than the respect of the co-workers in the office.


On a completely unrelated note, I purchased a new monitor a few days ago. Ditching my colossal old 19" Sony Trinitron CRT, I bought a 22" widescreen LCD, made by HANNspree. I was a bit hesitant at first, but I saw the device at Best Buy, and when I saw that it had HDMI outputs (which would work perfectly with my Dell laptop) I figured I'd give it a whirl. I'm happy with the purchase... especially when I watch DVDs on my laptop. I recommend it.

Speaking of the laptop... Sunny, you asked me to give you a follow-up, and let you know if I still like it after I've had it for a while. I am. It's a great bang for the buck, much faster than my old PC, and Vista is far more stable than I expected it would be.