Friday, December 29, 2006

Another year closes

2006 is nearly history. It brought a lot of good things into Carol’s and my lives, and a few bad things. Since my glass is always ¾ full, I think the good far outweighed the bad.

But I also tend to look forward rather than back, so I’m eagerly anticipating 2007.

The immediate future seems VERY bright for the company I work for. Demand for our product is surging, prices are up high enough that we ought to make record profits, and we’re installing some equipment to increase production and further improve quality. Not a bad mix!

Although I lost my mother in November, the rest of my family is healthy and doing well with families of their own, and with careers and finances. I’m probably closer now to my sister following Mom’s death than I have been for a number of years, and that’s good.

Now, if I could just make some progress on my current book project; and maybe get my golf swing under control...

I hope you have a happy and safe New Years celebration, and that 2007 is filled with good things for you and your family.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

An evening phone call

7:40 p.m. I answered. It was the evening shift leader from my plant with a quandary.

This was the shift that worked on Christmas day. Typically the company will provide a meal for that shift and have it catered and brought in. The idea is to provide a bit of special treatment for the folks who have to work on such a uniquely family holiday. But some shifts prefer to spend the money on raw food and cook it themselves. Sometimes they prefer to do this on a later date after Christmas. And that's fine.

Well, this shift had chosen to order some special cuts of meat from Sam's Club, and sent one of their members by on her way to the plant tonight to pick it up. She had with her a company-provided credit card for payment.

All was okay until she presented the card and it was rejected. She had neither a personal credit card (with enough credit on it), cash, or funds in her checking account to pay for the meat, so she left it at the store with a promise to pick it up the next day. The shift leader assured me that they had managed to eat something, so at least they weren't all hungry.

His concern was that a call to the card-issuer revealed that the card was blocked from purchases at Wal-Mart (and by extension from Sam's Club). We speculated about that, but quickly moved on to the real question: How were they going to get their meat so they could Bar-B-Que it tomorrow night?

It seems that nobody on the shift had an extra $100 in cash, check or credit to be able to stop by tomorrow and pay for the meat. (Afterwards, the company would immediately reimburse them.)

We talked about the problems we have buying small items from vendors with whom we do not maintain an active account. But before much time elapsed, I realized that I lived only a few miles from the Sam's Club in question, that they were still open tonight, and that I had sufficient cash and/or credit to buy the meat, put it on ice overnight, and bring it to the plant tomorrow.

So as I type this, two large ice chests full of meat and ice are in the back of my car in the garage. That way I won't forget to take the meat tomorrow morning. I'll ice it down afresh when I get to the plant (we have ice machines!) and it will be ready for grilling tomorrow evening.

And I'll get reimbursed within a week at worst. No problem.

Tomorrow I'll also try to figure out why our company credit card seems to be blocked at Wal-Mart. THAT should be fun.

But I wonder about the issue of no one having a spare hundred dollars at hand. What would they do in an emergency? Does everone really live that close to the edge, barely making it from paycheck to paycheck? Am I so out of touch with reality that my view of having a slight cushion is totally passe?

These people aren't making minimum wage. All make over $20 per hour, and most make over $25. That's over $54,000 per year, PLUS overtime. We have a LOT of overtime. And many are two-income families, meaning the spouse also brings in a paycheck.

Rainy days happen. Doesn't anyone save for them any more?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Arson? Suicide?

With reference to my last post about my neighbor's house, several readers asked how anyone knew for sure the homeowner's death was a suicide.

And the answer, of course, is that nobody really does know for sure.

Here were the circumstances:

She and a man who was also living in the house were arguing in the driveway outside the garage. In fact, Carol and I saw them there just minutes before the fire. She went into the house, slamming and locking the door.

Minutes later (maybe 10 to 15) the central portion of the house was engulfed in flames. The fire erupted VERY fast and flames were soon shooting through the roof. Later investigation showed that gasoline or a similar accelerant had been poured into the middle of the house. When it ignited, the fire raged into intensity very quickly.

The man who had been arguing with her outside ran into the back yard screaming her name and telling her to "Get out!" She was later found by the firemen lying on a bed in the back bedroom, dead from smoke inhalation or asphyxiation. The assumption was that the doused the central part of the house, ignited the gasoline, went into the bedroom and lay down. There was no sign of any attempt on her part to open a window or exit the house.

In the months prior to the fire she had attempted suicide several times. She had confided to me and Carol that she was clinically depressed and addicted to prescription medications. There is a lot more to her story, but I won't go into that now.

Bottom line: the investigators determined that the fire was clearly deliberately set. Given the timing of the blaze immediately following the argument, her prior medical history, the evidence of gasoline, the lack of evidence of any attempt on her part to escape, all led to the ruling of arson/suicide.

But will we ever know for sure? Not really.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

...and the walls come a-tumblin' down!

Remember the house fire I posted about back in July? You know, the house right across my back fence, that...

No? Well, here's the link to refresh your memory. (There are pictures.)

Anyway, we learned later that:

1. The lady who lived in that house and died in the fire set the fire herself. Intentionally. Yes, it was an arson-suicide. That precluded the insurance from paying anything.
2. The heirs (her two adult children) had little money themselves, so they could not afford to have the house demolished.
3. The lady who lived there did have an estate and a will, but the only official copy was in the house and burned up in the fire. Thus the heirs had no access to THAT money to get the house demolished while the estate was tied up in probate.

Well, today somebody is paying to have the house demolished, because this morning a crew arrived with some heavy equipment and went to work.

Here's one picture I took.

To see some of the other pictures, click HERE.

"Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,
Jericho, Jericho.
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Holiday mood

Today at work (last day before a 4-day weekend!!) we held our office "Chinese Christmas Party."

What? You don't know what that is? I understand they're called different things in different parts of the country. (Don't know WHAT the Chinese call them.) I wrote a post last year listing the "rules" and how they work. Click HERE to read that post. They're a LOT of fun!

This year I wore my Santa hat again and walked into our lunch room with a hearty "Ho, Ho, Ho!" Immediately one of our female employees leaped to her feet, pointed a long finger at me and demanded, "Who you callin' a Ho, boy?! You gonna get slapped if you do that again!"

My face turned the color of my hat. The others loved it. That pretty much set the mood for the gathering.

We feasted on taquitos and cookies, drank coffee and/or orange juice, and had our 45 minutes or so of fun.

What? You don't know what taquitos are?

Pronounced "tacky toes" by some (who d0n't know that the accent is on the second syllable), they are simply a flour tortilla wrapped around your choice of breakfast foods. Popular varieties include bean and bacon, bacon egg and cheese, potato bacon egg and cheese, chorizo and egg, and many more.

No, I'm NOT going to explain chorizo. Look it up.

The feasting and gift-exchange party set the tone for the day. Little work was accomplished, but some did get done amidst all the people going from office to office wishing co-workers a merry Christmas, happy New Year, and so on. Usually as they were leaving early. Making the rest of us feel put upon for staying later.

But it didn't really matter. All of us were in a holiday mood!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


And no, I'm not talking about the car-maker from Bavaria.

I read an article in Golf Digest last month---

What? Did you say I have a 0ne-track mind and it's always on golf? THAT'S NOT TRUE! I occasionally think of subject other than golf. Right now, for example, I'm thinking about eating, because it's almost supper time.

Most of the time I think about sex, because I'm a man. At least, that's what the shrinks would have you believe. But that's off the subject at hand, so back to the article.

The topic was the various betting games that the writer would play on the golf course with his buddies. Now understand, please; I do NOT wager on the golf course. ESPECIALLY about the outcome of the match, or of a hole, or even of a particular shot.

I know better. I don't mind wagering on something at which I have a possibility of winning, but that precludes my golf game.

ANYway, this writer had one "rule" in a particular type of match in which a small wager had been made to heighten the level of concern about the outcome. The rule involved invoking the "B.M.W." penalty.

Here's how it works: Most golfer are perfectionists. Thus they are never completely happy with a given shot they make. Even if the ball flies to the green and goes right into the hole, some will complain that they meant to hit it higher, and with a little draw. The fact that it went in the hole was just good luck, and therefore it wasn't really a very good shot. (If you've ever played around others, you've heard this kind of comment.)

Well, the writer had a rule that if anyone hit a shot and immediately started to complain about how they hit it thin, or it felt funky, or they started it on the wrong line, or WHATEVER, and it turned out to be pretty good (on the green, or close to the hole, or even IN the hole)... Then any of the other competitors could announce loudly, "B.M.W!" and the complainer would have to replay the shot. A do-over! No matter HOW good it had turned out!

They weren't allowed to accept the good result, because they'd proclaimed loudly that it wasn't a good shot. They had to do it over, and see if they could do as well or better.

What? You want to know why they say "B.M.W?" It stands for "Bitch, Moan, and Whine."

He said invoking the rule a few times quickly broke players of the complaining habit.

Now, I LIKE that idea. I'd like to invoke it at my office to certain employees.

Employee: "Man, that fog was terrible this morning, and I got held up by the train at Bloomington. I meant to leave earlier and get here on time..."

Me: "B.M.W!! Get back in your car, drive home, and then commute to work again. We'll see how late you are THEN!"

Or how about this?

Employee: "Damn, the network is slow today. People must be dowloading stuff. My files are taking forever to load and transfer."

Me: "B.M.W!! Go erase those files, recreate them and come back tonight when nobody's on the network and transfer the files THEN!"

After a few B.M.W.s, I'll bet folks around the office would be a lot more chipper! (Or a lot quieter. Both results would be satisfactory, thank you very much.)

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Do I sense some?

In the comments and -- yes -- emails! I think I'm picking up a bit of tongue-in-cheek there.

Do you honestly think this is a laughing matter? Consider this:

Sports injuries happen every day, to multitudes of people. Did you know that sports injuries, often involving the actual sports equipment, are the leading cause of disability among both men and women under the age of 45?

(Actually I just made that up. But it COULD be true, if we all let our guards down!)

Yeah, I know, getting whacked by a golf ball sounds funny. And true, nothing serious happened. THIS TIME!!

But next time the ball could hit one of those "sensitive spots" that Karyn mentioned.

And get this: I have read of a man who actually killed himself by swinging a golf club at a ball that was too close to a tree. No, the BALL didn't hit him. The club shaft hit the tree in his follow-through, wrapped around the small trunk, and the club head broke off of the steel shaft with a sharp piece of shaft protruding from the hosel and impaled him in the neck. He bled to death! (I did NOT make that up, btw).

And Kirsten, don't think the cold weather can save you! Think about all the basketball injuries, and skiing, and ice skating, and... Well, you get the picture. You say you show the sports equipment who's boss by your winter quarantine? Well, I say you just give it a rest to gather its strength and make strategy!

So beware, readers everywhere. Another link to the "C" has now revealed itself.

Will it never end?? Will any of us survive?? How long will you continue to doubt!!?

(I think I need to find my "happy pills" and swallow a few.)

Monday, December 18, 2006

A golf-ball consp...? (Oops!)

I almost said wrote it!

If you read yesterday's post, and the comments by my alert readers, mayby something more was going on than simpy golf ineptitude on my part.

Okay, as we all know, the golf ineptitude is a given. Let's get past that, shall we, and focus on what's IMPORTANT here? Thank you.

I've always said it was the inanimate objects that were exacting their revenge on us. And although it often seems that golf balls are NOT inanimate (since they tend to jump out of the way of my fast-approaching clubhead causing me to hit the ground first, or miss-hit them into horrible places... wet places... dark, mysterious places where they are lost forever in a golf ball black hole where there is no flag stick), I am assured by better players (like Carol) that they ARE.

So what is our inescapable conclusion?

Sporting goods and apparati must be part of the "C"!

Consider this your warning. Watch out for those soccer balls and badminton birdies. Be careful around bowling alleys and billiard tables. Don't trust those golf clubs, the baseball bat or the tennis racket in the closet, or attic, or garage!

They're all potentially out to get you. When you least expect it, expect it!

It CAN happen. It happened to me! I have proof! First, there's the nasty bruise on my wrist. And then there's the nasty attack golf ball. It has a smug, self-satisfied smile on it. (Really!)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Freak injury

Over the past 20 months of blogging, I have in numerous posts regaled entertained bored you with tales of my golf game.

Today Carol and I went to our local course anticipating, if nothing else, a pleasant afternoon outdoors in the warm, breezy sunshine. We were indeed enjoying the weather (if not the golf game) up until the 8th hole.

I found my tee shot lying about 150 yards from the green. Trouble was, this hole was a par 3 and the distance from the tee to the green was only 150 yards.

My tee shot had been struck by the toe of the golf club, had slammed into the Plexiglas windshield of a golf cart parked just forward of the teeing area but well off to one side, and had come to rest about two feet from the concrete cart path farther off to the side

Not a good start to the hole.

I surveyed my next shot before addressing the ball. I had to hit it directly over the cart path, but keep it low to stay under some tree limbs. The old "line-drive bullet" was clearly the shot I needed to make.

I addressed the ball slightly back in my stance, closed the clubface to de-loft the shot, and took a mighty swing. My 5-iron contacted the ball cleanly and it fired off the face of the club!

However, I had evidently de-lofted the shot just a tad too much. The ball travelled two feet straight ahead, deflected off the edge of the concrete cart path (which couldn't have been more than a quarter-inch high at that point), and ricocheted up and back. Right into the back of my leading wrist as I continued my forward swing.

Now my wrist was traveling rapidly toward the green, but the ball was travelling MUCH MORE RAPIDLY away from the green when the two made contact. And let me tell you; a golf ball is MUCH harder than the back of my wrist.

Carol missed the rapid-fire action of the ball, but saw my club fall to the ground as I grabbed my wrist with the other hand. The ball meanwhile, proceded sideways about 20 yards and stopped by her feet.

To say that it "stung" would be like saying that hitting your thumb with a hammer "smarted a little."

That was the end of my golf for the afternoon, and tonight I have a nice, round reddish bruise on the back of my swollen forearm.

No, nothing's broken. I don't think anything is even significantly damaged.

Other than what little pride I still maintained on the golf course. That, I fear, is the major casualty of this whole affair.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

All you northerners, take note!

Today we had sunny skies, gentle breezes, and a high of 82. The golf course beckoned, and we followed its siren song.

I'm thinking of you, Kirsten, as I write this. But don't despair; you can make fun of me next summer when YOU'RE enjoying 70s and 80s and we're suffering through 110+. Or when a hurricane is threatening.

Tomorrow's weather should be similar to today's.

Let's just hope the golf is better. I think Carol and I were both feeling the effects of last night's Christmas party.

At MY party, the bar of decency stayed pretty high. Unlike T's party, where it evidently was lowered considerably. Wish I could get a copy of the video of the "naughty nurses" skit. (Hint).

And unlike Christina, I wasn't named "Employee of the Year" at my party. But my name WAS drawn for one of the nicer door prizes: a $50 gift certificate for what's probably my town's only "upscale" restaurant.

We'll definitely enjoy that! Even if it gets cold here (like in upstate New York), and we can't play golf some weekend. But what are the odds of THAT happening?

Friday, December 15, 2006

Party Time

Tonight's my company's Christmas Party.

We've rented a hall -- well, more of a barn, actually -- and arranged for a catered dinner of turkey and ham with lots of trimmin's, followed by a live band to dance to.

Last year we had a "family" party with Santa on hand for the kids (and a few adults who like to act like kids), hay rides, a big outdoor bonfire, a nice dinner with lots of door prizes, and that was it. Party over. No alcohol.

Tonight, in contrast, it's an "adult" party with a set-up bar and beer available, and the live music.

Not being much of a party animal, I enjoyed the family setting of last year. Tonight Carol and I probably won't stay past the band's first set.

Hey, it's supposed to be warm and sunny tomorrow, and we don't want to be hung over on the golf course!


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Somebody’s birthday?

Yep, today is. December 14, 1975.

No, it’s not mine. Nor is it that of any of my blogroll friends.

It’s my baby’s! My younger daughter was born 31 years ago today!

Carol and I thought her older sister was going to be the smarter of the two, because Carol taught Christina to read when she was just three. She always loved to be read to, and later to read. She still does.

But the younger daughter possessed logic skills that still surprise us. She was the one who could figure out problems. She became very good at relating seemingly random facts into a reasoned hypothesis. We called her “little miss logic brain.”

To this day she seems to know instinctively what to do or say in most situations. She can read people and usually impress them (positively) on a first meeting. She has also been referred to as “the queen of B.S.” (but she claims she inherited that trait from her father. Cheeky girl!)

Exactly ten years ago today she graduated Magna Cum Laude from college with a BA in Graphic Design. That evening Carol and I took her and her sister and some of her friends out for a celebratory dinner. She celebrated the completion of her formal education. Carol and I celebrated our freedom from paying the college about $1,000 a month! I likened the occurrence to getting a $12,000 instant raise in annual disposable income.

She and her sister each celebrate their birthdays about 10 days from Christmas, one on each side (before and after). Thus they always felt somewhat cheated out of extra presents since the two holidays tended to merge together for them.

This year we bought Amy a cheesy card and called to wish her a happy day.

But I can’t help pondering the significance of one fact: both of my children have now passed the point where they are only half my age or less. And they never will be again.

Another milestone.

Happy birthday, Amy!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Are you ready?

Ready for what?

Well, CHRISTMAS, of course! Isn't that what everyone asks you each time you meet them for the next two weeks? It is here!

Gee, let me think...

1. Is my house clean and decorated? No.
2. Are there lights up outside? No.
3. Are all my Christmas cards written and addressed and mailed? No.
4. Are all the presents bought and wrapped and shipped off or otherwise ready to be opened on the big day? No.
5. Is my tree up and decorated? No.
6. Have we bought the Christmas turkey yet, and all the fixins for the big meal? No.
7. Well, have we started on ANY of those things yet? Yes, some.

So let's tally up the score here. What's the result? Am I ready for Christmas?

You betcha! I'm ready to have a celebration in about a week and a half of the advent of the Savior and Redeemer of the world. I'm ready to sing some carols and some hymns, and give thanks for the real reason of the season.

And if some of that stuff in the list above doesn't get finished (or even started), that's OK. I'm still ready.

Are you?

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Meet the Fokkers Neighbors

One of our neighbors, just across the street and about three houses down, has a neat Christmas tradition. Well, they did it last year, and they're doing it again tonight, and I guess that makes it a tradition.

Wait. What are the rules here? For how many consecutive years must you do something before it officially becomes a tradition?

And then if you miss a year, does that cancel out the traditional aspect of the deed?


What they do is invite all the residents of the street for one or two blocks in either direction to come to their driveway at about dusk, share some hot cocoa or coffee or spiced cider and maybe some cookies or other sweets (and you can bring a plate of them if you like, but it's not required). And you just introduce yourselves and "visit."

("Visit" is a Texas term -- or at least a Southern term -- for sharing general conversation with someone. That's you all you non-southerners out there.)

We ambled over there last year and met people living in our block whom we'd never met before in all the 20 years we've lived here. Then (last year) it was cold, and the couple who live there built a fire in a metal outdoor fireplace right on their driveway and we huddled around it to keep warm. Tonight it's about 75 degrees, so the fire won't be necessary.

It's kind of a nice tradition. We plan to walk over there in a few minutes and see who shows up this year. There might be someone new. But that's won't really matter, because we'll have to introduce ourselves to just about everybody again anyway. We never see the people during the rest of the year unless they happen to be out mowing the lawn or something.

Time to go. I'll put this post on hold until we get back and tell you how it was.


We're back! It was nice again, just like last year. Only tonight was a lot warmer, with no fire. Just good friendly conversation with a little neighborhood gossip thrown in.

You know... "visitin'."

Monday, December 11, 2006

More cedar chest photos

This is an undated photo of my grandmother and her two oldest boys, my father and his brother. Since my father was born in 1914 and looks about three in this picture (don't you think?), it was probably taken in 1916-1918, give or take.

Love the sailor suits and the facial expressions!

This is a fascinating picture of my mother that seems to be printed on glass or ceramic.

This is how it looks displayed in an oval frame.

Then finally, here's a shot of me as a teenager. Check out that 1960s narrow tie! Looks like what used to be referred to as a "clean cut young man."

Friday, December 08, 2006


I've long been a fan of Scott Adams.

You know... The guy who created and draws the Dilbert comic strip.

He is able to capture with brilliance and sometimes subtlety the idiocy that goes on in so many of today's offices and workplaces.

And besides that, he's a man with two first names. Kinda like "John Earle." It's hard to remember which is his first name and which is his last.

This week I think he snapped to the "C" activity that's long been going on around us. Or at least part of it. As all of my regular readers know, the "C" (short for ycaripsnoc -- hint: try it backwards) affects nearly all inanimate objects, not just machines requiring electricity. But in this strip he points out that, given the tendency for all these machines and other objects to really be the ones in charge, changing over to electronic voting machines is just like throwing away any semblance we might have had of controlling our own destiny.

He gets it. Genius!

Thursday, December 07, 2006


Forget yesterday's poem, Tonight is when I need to be snorting Grey Goose!

I just came home from the dentist.

You know how some men have receding hairlines? Well, I have slowly receding GUM-lines. And as my gums slowly pull back from the normally visible portion of my teeth, they expose a portion that is not normally seen.

That is a very minor problem. The more serious problem is that the newly exposed areas are subject to attack, decay and wear.

Solution? Fill in the gap with a resin composite that is the same color as my teeth.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And it really is, except for one thing. The gum above my front teeth had to be “scalloped” to allow the composite to go under it.

Scalloping is done with a needle-like sharp instrument, initially intended as a torture device in the middle ages. I believe the “scalloping” of gums brought about more confessions of faith during the Spanish Inquisition than the rack and burning combined.

I am fundamentally a wimp when it comes to suffering the pain of dental work. The dental assistant swears I start stiffening up and moaning before the doctor even picks up a mirror. I’m sure she’s exaggerating. She also claims I break out in a cold sweat at the sound of a drill in the next office. (Now THAT may be true.)

Anyway, the good dentist shot my gums full of Novocain and scalloped away to his heart’s content. I told him I would scream if I felt any pain, and he asked me to please refrain as it might scare him. He reminded me that he didn’t need to flinch while he was manipulating a fist-full of sharp pointed objects deep in the recesses of my mouth with one hand and holding a two-horsepower high-speed zinger drill against my tooth with the other.

You don’t know what a zinger drill is? That’s the device he uses to vaporize tooth tissue. Its business end is turning so fast it produces a whine like an amplified mosquito. Remember the burning smell that always accompanies its use? Well, if he works on one small spot for just a little too long, no matter HOW much Novocain he gave you you’ll feel that sudden “ZING!” of blue, burning pain just before you pass out.

Anyway, I refrained from screaming (barely), and eventually survived to come home and wait for the Novocain to wear off. It now has.

Pass the ibuprofen and the Grey Goose, please.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

A difficult post

I thought I’d post another poem upon my blog today.
But as I sat to write I found my muse had fled away.

I tried to think of topics that would lend themselves, just right,
To meter, rhyme, and humor, thus producing great delight

In each of you who read it. But as hard as I did try,
No subject did present itself. No, each was dull and dry.

I thought about the weather (boring!), maybe... holidays?
Or some sly rhyme about my kids as they went through a phase.

I started several; none seemed right. The rhymes just wouldn’t flow.
I even tried a snort of booze (to get a little glow).

It did relax me – that was good – and I began to think
That maybe words would flow if I had, well, just
one more drink.

I tried to be like Viki, who can chug that Grey Goose down
And write this crazy, funny stuff that won’t permit a frown.

I tipped my glass, then tipped again, and tried to get a start.
The keyboard soon became a blur, my focus did depart.

I typed some worrrds but couldn’t make the leters come out rite,
But now I found I didn’t care. It isn’t worth the fite.

I tipp my glas to Viki for her stamin-a and verve,
I’m gonna go and slep this off, it’s throan me quite a curve.

Yu gotta get in practice if yur gonna drink and rite.
Tomorra I’l be back, but now I gotta say g’niteeeee.....


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Why NOW?

The company I work for has hired a consultant to review how we are handling all matters financial. He is paid by the hour. $250 per hour, to be precise.

Now a periodic review of many things is generally good. In today’s business climate there are many areas in which a company must maintain compliance with myriad regulations. There is so much to keep up with, and the laws change so often that it helps to have an outsider take a look now and then to make sure we haven’t missed something.

So what’s my problem? Well, we also have an accounting firm who set up most of our procedures. They audit everything once a year... and to very exacting standards. The banks send in their auditors annually. Our insurance companies audit us annually as well, and not just for financial dealings. Some of them review all of the risks we encounter and audit our safety programs, Industrial Hygiene, and other loss prevention measures.

Then the regulators themselves come in and have their own inspections and audits. We see OSHA, the EPA, and even the Coast Guard (who audits compliance with our plant security plan.)

But this consultant has decided that we ought to have an independent review of all of our insurance coverage to ensure we are not underinsured, overinsured, or paying too much for the insurance we have.

That started out as just covering all of our “Property and Casualty” policies (called P&C by insiders). You know; like fire, theft, flood, windstorm, hail, business interruption, ocean cargo, transportation, auto, general liability, and more.

But then this consultant decided we ought to include Workers’ Comp while we’re at it. Next he said, hey, why not all of our benefits insurance as well? Like health, disability, group life, and all that?

He has arranged for three different brokers to “take a look at” all of these areas of coverage and, essentially, bid on providing those services for us so we can know if we’re getting a good deal or not.

Do you have any idea how much extra work that has caused me? I’ve had to gather and make copies of (and send out to these folks) huge stacks of documents, including all of our current policies and contracts, results of previous audits, and lots more.

Well, today was the last straw! Now he wants a review of our 401(k) plan! I balked, and told him, “Not no, but HELL no!” We like our plan. It’s less than 2 years old, the fees for administration are reasonable, and the psychological impact of changing plans after such a short time when NOBODY is complaining about it would be very bad.

I told him that even if someone else would offer the same plan FREE (no fees) I would not recommend a change, so let’s not waste everybody’s time gathering documents for these folks to review.

He was a bit taken aback, but agreed.

I didn’t tell him what I really think. I really think he’s just drumming up all these “reviews” because they sound good, and he can bill us for a lot more of those $250 hours!

Besides, it’s the end of the year and I’ve got more than enough regular year-end benefits enrollments and other HR stuff to keep me very busy, thanks.

Now is NOT a good time for all this.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Proud Papa Post

As my regular readers know, I have two daughters. Well, plus several others that are kinda sorta like adopted daughtes and who consider Carol and me to be their kinda sorta parents. But I'm talking today about birth daughters.

This weekend I have spent about 4 to 4 1/2 hours on the telephone with my two daughters. One lives in Chicago but works (from her home) for a Virginia company as a Graphic Designer/Creative Director/resident genius in charge of sales, marketing, advertising, promotion, and so on.

That may be a slight exaggeration of her real title, but it describes many of her duties and functions. And besides, remember the title of this post?

Anyway, THAT daughter told us stories about all of the creative work she and her team are bringing into their company, and it's pretty impressive. She sold her boss a year ago on the idea of hiring a marketing firm to suggest some direction for helping her group bring in this business. He invested several tens of thousands of dollars into the effort, and now it looks like it's going to pay off for them.

And my daughter (who is blogless and thus will remain nameless), working side by side with T (who DOES have a blog) are the co-department heads who lead this effort. Their group stands to bring into the company a significant amount of revenue in 2007, most of it at a higher profit level than the mostly government work the company has specialized in for years.

I'd love to pass on some of the stories about the work they're getting and performing, but there's just not enough time or space in this post.

Then there's Christina, who lives in Tampa. She has worked in an ophthalmology practice as a technician for the last 16 months, and just loves the work. This fall she passed a comprehensive exam and obtained her level A certification as an Ophthalmic Technician. Next year she plans to go for the "B" level.

Last night she attended her practice's annual Christmas Party, at which the doctors announce several awards to employees which carry cash prizes (bonuses). The biggest award is "Employee of the Year."

If you can't guess which award Christina won, please refer again to the title of this post.

Friday, December 01, 2006

More from the cedar chest

First I have another picture of Albert Boardman Earle (great grandfather) standing beside his car. This is a much better view of the car.

Next I have the earliest known sample of my writing. From this you can tell that my future as a novelist is very promising. It is my first published piece.

Here is the cover of the book. Actually it is an anthology of stories written by all the students in Miss Crater's Country School, located at 3526 Meadowside Road, Baltimore, Maryland. (The telephone number was Gwynn 532. Yes, that's all of it!)

I was all of 5 years old in June of 1951 when this book was published. My contribution is found on page 9. I'm sure it was typed by my teacher.

In case you can't make that out, here is the text:


One time we went for our vacation up in Maine. We went in our car half the way, and in a big boat the rest of the way. We took the car on the boat.

We went fishing in the ocean. We went fishing from the pier, and some days we went fishing in a boat.

Betty came up with us and she went fishing, too. We caught Pollock, and I caught more than she did.

Johnny Earle

Finally for today, I have a picture of a happy couple taken by the U.S. Navy on the occasion of him graduating from flight school (getting his wings).

Ain't they cute??

Thursday, November 30, 2006

From my mother's cedar chest


First we have my great grandfather Albert Boardman Earle, in an undated picture.

If anyone can identify that car, they get extra points. I have no idea what it is!

Next, another undated picture. This is my mom, born in 1916. Hard to tell how old she was here, but clearly she was pretty!

Next, who could this cute little guy possibly be? And why would his picture be in my mother's cedar chest? Couldn't be me, could it?

Finally, I found this picture of a dashing Naval midshipman from 1966. What a great-looking guy!

Here's a close up cropped from that same shot:

Everybody, sing along with me:

"Those were the days, my friend.

We thought they'd never end..."

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Texas Thanksgiving golf

Taken by Carol (of course) on the golf courses we played over the holiday weekend.

Think it was humid this morning?
How humid was it?

Pretty darned humid!

Was there any fog?

OH, yeah!

For a while, anyway.

But later the sun came out, right?


At one point this great big fellow wanted to play through...

Did we let him? You bet!

One more shot of a different fairway on Sunday when the clouds rolled in.

Temps in the 70s each day. A great golf weekend.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Two unrelated topics

First, let me say that the “Not Right For Our List” notice from the literary agent was not any kind of real disappointment. I had figured long, long before that their silence was an eloquent way of saying “No thanks.”

I just found it surprising that they bothered to send the form rejection card at all after so much time. It seemed to me that after 8 full months something more ought to be stuck in the envelope than just the blue card.

Maybe something like, “Hey, sorry, but I just found your query where it had fallen behind my filing cabinet." Or maybe, "Hey, John, my assistant just found your query in an old stack of mail my former assistant never opened."

I read Miss Snark. I understand that the publishing industry moves v-e-r-r-r-y slowly. But some writers do depend on reasonably prompt communications to earn a living. Most real businesses do as well. I certainly wouldn’t want that agent representing me if it took that long for me to get a royalty check!

Next topic: I was tagged by Shirl a few days ago as follows:

1. Write six weird things about yourself.
2. Post this confession of the absurd on your blog.
3. Tag six other bloggers to do the same challenge.
4. Leave a comment on each of their blogs to inform them they have been chosen

Now, why Shirl thought I might have ANY weird attributes is beyond me. But one man’s “weird” is another man’s “normal,” so here goes:

1. I can smile and whistle at the same time. No, I don’t mean a little grin while I pucker and whistle a tune. I mean a big, toothy, ear-to-ear smile. How? I use my tongue and upper palate, and can whistle recognizable tunes for long periods of time. I used to drive officers crazy when I was in the military. I’d stand in formation with a big grin and whistle, and they could never figure out who was doing it.

2. I cry at sappy, happy movies and at weddings. Very un-macho.

3. I work while Carol stays home and takes care of the thousands of things that two-income families have a hard time getting done. We both like it that way.

4. (Now THIS is REALLY weird!) I married Carol 38 years ago and love her more today than ever. Can’t help myself.

5. My wife beats me at golf just about every time we play (unless she’s playing really badly), and that’s OK. Even when people ask me if my husband plays golf after they see me wimp a drive.

6. I love leftovers, so Carol can cook a huge meal once a week or so and we’ll eat from it for the next six days. Easy on her, and doesn’t bother me at all.

So, there you are. Weirdness by the half-dozen.

I think I’ll skip tagging the requisite six others and let any of you who feel more weird than normal (and that’s gotta be REALLY weird for some of you) have a go at it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm definitely thankful!

What a GREAT golf holiday weekend!

Oh! Was it Thanksgiving? We hardly noticed.

The weather in central Texas was simply PERFECT for golf. Temps in the mid 70s, low humidity, winds at 10-20, and clear skies. Well, today (Sunday) we had a few clouds; but no threat of rain.

We played 36 holes on Thursday, 27 holes on Friday, 36 holes on Saturday, and 18 holes today on our way home.


(Pictures soon – maybe tomorrow.)

Then, guess what was waiting for me when we got home. No, don’t guess; you’d never get it right in a million years.

I found in our mailbox a SASE (you know what that is, right? You DON’T?? It’s a Self Addressed, Stamped Envelope. Some purists insist that it be referred to as an SASE, as in “an Ess, Ay, Ess, Eee.” But I prefer to refer to it as “a Sassy.”) It was from a literary agency I’d queried about representing my novel.

No, it didn’t contain an offer to represent me. Nor did it contain a request that I send the agent additional sample chapters or the entire manuscript. No, it just contained a simple blue card that said although they appreciated my kind inquiry, they regretted to say that my project was not right for their list.

And that’s fine. Standard fare, in fact.

What made me laugh was that I’d sent in that query on March 17, 2006. And their response was postmarked November 20, 2006.

I guess I should be happy that it came in the same calendar year, right?

As Alan Jackson sings in “Chasin’ that Neon Rainbow,” “Lordy, don’t the wheels turn slow!”

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Ode on a Black Friday (Reprise)

(In case you missed it last year, or weren't reading this blog then. I thought about this when I saw the ads already appearing in today's --Wednesday's -- paper and decided to run it again this year.)

Our paper came on Turkey day.
It weighed about a ton.
'Twas full of ads for stores with sales
On stuff for play or fun.

Or maybe gifts for someone else,
Or items for our homes.
Seemed everything that stores can sell
Was offered in those tomes.

The Mall would open early,
And to get a super deal,
You had to rise at two or three,
(You’d better pack a meal!),

And stand in line outside the door
To be among the first,
Supplies were short. And all agreed;
To lose out was the worst!

So people from around the town
Did congregate and gather
Outside the doors of many stores,
And all were in a lather.

The folks would push and shove to be
The first inside to buy.
As “Don’t get in my way today,
I’ll knock you down!” they’d cry.

The traffic on the streets, it seemed,
Was packed and barely moving,
And tempers flared and teeth were bared.
'Twas not exactly soothing.

I wondered, in the midst of all
This snarling, angst, and hissing,
If maybe there was something here
That all of them were missing.

What happened to the “Ho, Ho, Ho!”
And “Peace on Earth!” we’d hear,
When friends and family gathered round
To share, from far and near?

This season is supposed to bring out
All the best in man,
Like loving, giving, peace and joy.
At least, that was the plan.

So what’s the answer? Is there, somehow,
Some sure way of stopping
The discontent connected with
Thanksgiving Friday Shopping?

For me it’s pretty simple:
When the mobs rush out to roam
The malls and stores and parking lots,
I’ll stay inside my home.

I’ll ponder God’s atoning Son,
The best gift given yet,
And do my Christmas shopping
On my high-speed internet!

Monday, November 20, 2006

Back in the saddle again

(“Saddle” = my normal routine.)

Airline travel between Houston and Washington Reagan on a Monday and a Friday meant planes that were booked to capacity. In fact, coming home on Friday the plane was overbooked. Continental was looking for “volunteers” to give up their seats in return for a $200 travel voucher good for one year. I wasn’t interested.

Now, if they’d been offering $200 cash, I might have stepped forward. You know what they say: Money talks.

On Friday morning I had to fight the stop-and-go rush hour traffic to get into Washington to catch my plane home. Then I got to fight the evening rush hour traffic getting out of Houston on the Southwest Freeway. More stop-and-creep.

Today I came back to an office full of things that had been deemed as "able to be put off for a few days." Thus nobody took the time to do them while I was gone. “Oh, John can do that after he gets back; just put it on his desk.”

Of course, this is a three-day week so I’ll still be behind NEXT week, after Thanksgiving.

That’s OK. It’s good to be home again. We’re planning to get outta town over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, so this will seem like a long vacation interrupted by three days of work in the middle. Not bad.

Thanks to all of you who expressed condolences. Your concern and kindness is/was much appreciated.

My posts may continue to be spotty this holiday week as I’m unsure about internet access where we’re going. I hope all my American friends who read this have a wonderful time feasting and giving thanks for family, friends, and other blessings. For those who don’t celebrate this uniquely American holiday, take a moment to give thanks for the good things in your life too.

It’s a good thing to do!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A tribute

She was born in July of 1916; thus she celebrated her 90th birthday just a few short months ago. She’d been raised in the South, spending years in Birmingham, Alabama and Alexandria, Virginia, before moving to Maryland and attending high school there.

When the stock market crashed in 1929 she was just 13 -- thus the Great Depression had a profound effect on the core values she developed as she grew up. Not many girls from families of limited means went to college in the 1930s, and though Fran was very smart a post-secondary education was not in her future.

She began a career in clerical work in the accounting office of a small business near Baltimore. A few years later she met Jack, a young engineer who worked at Proctor & Gamble’s Baltimore manufacturing plant. They were married and soon had a daughter and a son. Fran stayed home as a full time housewife and mom, while Jack brought home the bacon.

Over the years she and Jack passed on to their children the same values they had developed. These included financial conservatism, the belief that marriage was sacred and very important, that although married partners might disagree they never argued (much less fought), that a citizen should love America, that the right to vote should never be taken for granted, and that the opportunity to vote should never be missed.

They took their kids to church until the kids were old enough to make up their own minds about God. They understood the need for a good education, and sacrificed mightily to put their children through private schools and then four years of college.

Jack retired from Proctor & Gamble in 1975, and on Good Friday of 1976 he died of a sudden, massive heart attack. Fran never had any inclination to consider another marriage. She moved in with her daughter, and helped her raise the four grandchildren the daughter produced. This allowed Fran’s daughter to pursue her own career, rising to near the very top of civil service in the federal government in Washington, D.C.

As the years continued to pass, Fran’s physical capabilities diminished, but never her mental faculties. She remained just as sharp at 90 as she had been 40 years earlier.

On Monday, November 13, 2006, Fran died peacefully in her sleep. She had been experiencing fluid buildup in her lungs for a week or two before, but that seemed to be getting better. That morning, however, she went on to be reunited with Jack.

If you haven’t already figured it out, Fran was my mother.

I am in Maryland now with my sister (where the two of them have lived for decades) and will be here through the end of this week.

I’ll be back soon.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Bigger nuts

No, this is NOT a post about the standard male fantasy that "size matters."

Several weeks ago I posted about "Nuts on the golf course," referring, as you no doubt remember, to pecans and acorns. At the end of the post I showed you this picture to demonstrate the size of Texas acorns -- in contrast to the wimpy acorns found in other parts of the country.

Well, today as we were making our way around the course, I happened to find myself wandering around in the shade looking for my wayward tee shot.

Acually it wasn't my only wayward tee shot of the day, it was my second one. We were on the second hole. There are trees along the right side of the fairway. Most of these are pecan trees. But a bit deeper in the trees I found some other species including a quite mature Texas oak.

Scattered around beneath its canopy were many, many large acorns. Some of these impressed me as being significantly larger than the one I had shown you back in October, so I scooped up two nice specimens and brought them home.

In the photo below you'll see in the center the same acorn and quarter I had in the picture above. Dwarfing that acorn are the beauties I picked up today

Texas can be a fun place, sometimes. Today, finding nuts on the ground was a lot more fun than searching for those wayward golf shots.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A shameless plug

If you don’t regularly read my daughter Christina’s blog, you need to check out her current post titled, “What day is it, anyway?”

Her experiences of Thursday morning were some that most of us can relate to, and will smile at. Or laugh out loud, as I did.

You see, although she and I live in different time zones we often find ourselves commuting to and from our respective jobs at the same time. When I’m commuting and my cell phone rings, 9 times out of 10 it’s Christina.

And yes, Thursday morning she called me as she was frantically driving to work. So although I can only imagine the first “Oh, shit(!),” I actually heard her utter the second one. That’s because I was talking to her on the cell phone when she uttered it.

Read her post. You’ll understand.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

We’re Safe! (For now...)

When I arrived home from work, the storm clouds were rapidly building over South Texas. It looked like a hurricane brewing, right over my house.

Carol met me at the door.

“I don’t think they fixed it!” She glared at me, as if it were my fault.

“The counter still doesn’t work?” I tried to sound sympathetic and a little outraged at the same time. It isn’t easy. Try it.

“I don’t know,” she fumed, “I haven’t put the battery and memory card in it yet. It just got here a few minutes ago. But look at this note!”

The camera body was still taped up inside a plastic bag. Through the plastic wrap I could read a strip of paper about one inch wide by six inches long. Hand-written on the left was “Still Same?” Typed across the rest of the strip was, “Check folder name of customer’s CF card. Correct name is ‘100OLYMP’, but it may be ‘XXXOLYMP’. XXX is any number. If it is not ‘100OLYMP’, please rewrite folder name correctly.”

I asked Carol, trying not to sound patronizing (she hates that), “Uh, what does THAT mean, do you suppose?”

Hands on hips, she snarled, “It PROBABLY means that they didn’t fix it. It says, ‘Still Same?’ It sounds to me like they think the problem is with our memory card. They didn’t send back the letter I sent in explaining that we had tried another new memory card, and that our old one worked fine in another camera. They probably lost that letter and didn’t know what we did to troubleshoot the problem!”

Now she was really getting worked up.

I suggested (as gently as I could), “Well, why don’t we put the battery and the memory card in and see what it does?”

She acquiesced, but didn’t relent. “It’s not going to work. I’m going to be REALLY mad if I have to send it back again!” I could see not just a typhoon, but also a Tsunami heading for Olympus’ headquarters.

With the battery in and the memory card positioned, she turned on the switch. After the normal boot up activities, the menu proclaimed the picture counter at 462. (That’s the correct number!)

I sensed the Tsunami receding to a swell, and the typhoon was now down to tropical storm strength. The sky overhead lightened a bit.

“Take a couple of pictures and then erase them,” I said. “Let’s see what the counter does.

She took three pictures, and the counter went down by one each time. She then erased the pics, and the counter went back to 462.

The seas calmed, the storm became a zephyr, and the sun broke through over South Texas. All was right with the world.

Well, except for my daughter Christina. She’s having computer problems in Tampa. I’ll probably be on the phone with her for a while figuring that out. She can post about that in her blog is she chooses.

But for now, I’m looking forward to a pleasant weekend.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Our camera’s coming back!

They’re sending it 2nd day air. Maybe that’s Olympus’ way of saying they’re sorry we’ve had to send it off for warranty service twice in the last two months.

What did they find? What did they do? Did they really fix it? We don’t know. We may find out from the info that comes with it tomorrow.

All we know right now is it’s on its way and it has a tracking number. Carol’s mood is slowly improving, but she remains skeptical that all will be well when she installs the battery and memory card, turns on the power and looks at the main menu.

If it is NOT fixed properly, be on the lookout for violent storm clouds tomorrow originating in South Texas and spreading out to wherever you live. And Lord help Olympus if they claim to have fixed the problem and nothing has changed. If that happens I think the storm will become a typhoon that will seek out Olympus’ headquarters in Japan.

Election results? Who cares~! The price of oil? No big deal. Earthquakes, floods, riots and wars? Fuggedaboudit (as Badabing would say).

We’re planning an out of town trip in two weeks, and Carol’s GOTTA have that camera.

Or maybe Christmas will come early this year, and the replacement will be a Nikon.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Not a popular topic

One more brief post on United Way, and I’ll get off this horse.

First of all, I don’t think anybody appreciates being told how much they “ought” to give to any charity. That’s probably why the United Ways dropped the idea of “fair share” giving. I always tell employees where I work that giving is a personal decision. I will never pressure them to give at all, much less a certain amount!

I’ve been personally involved in our local United Way in one way or another for most of the past 20 years. I’ve served on the board of directors, in various panel positions including chair, and was even the organization’s treasurer for three years.

I’d encourage anyone with any curiosity and a little free time to volunteer to serve on an allocations panel or your local United Way.

You see, each locality (city, county, etc.) has its own local United Way board. This group sets the goals and approves the agencies that will receive funding. But the Allocations Panels (consisting of 3-6 or so volunteers) actually go visit the agencies, review their budgets, determine who they serve and what needs they meet. The panel recommends how much funding each agency should get.

So the control is maintained by LOCAL people, not outsiders. And over 90% of every United Way dollar collected is actually allocated (given) to the agencies that meet the community needs. Volunteers do most of the work, so overhead is about the lowest of any “charitable giving” programs out there.

Plus, there’s annual review and oversight to make sure the agencies aren’t wasting their money. If the allocations panel feels United Way money is being wasted, they simply won’t allocate funds to that agency.

So, if you want to help but don’t have a particular favorite local agency you want to give directly to, use your local United Way.

And now, back to our regular programming…

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Good Grief!

On Friday I wrote a post about my company's United Way campaign. Nankin commented that at HER employer, the "fair share" gift is considered to be one day's pay per month.


Um... Well... Wow!

I guess I must be really behind the times. Like I said, at my company one HOUR'S pay per month is considered the fair share gift, although they don't really use that phrase any more.

About half of my employees pledge that one hour's pay per month, and that always puts us in the top 10 in per capita giving in our local United Way. I'm wondering how many people at Nan's company pledge a day's pay per month (obviously 8 times what we consider to be gererous.)

How about it, Nan? Any percentages or figures on fair share giving at your place?

And you others who actually go to work and suffer through an annual giving campaign like this, what is considered "fair share" at your place (if you even use the concept)?

One hour's pay per month is only a bit over one half of one percent of a person's income. One day's pay per month is 8 times that much, or 4.6%. Some people tithe to their church, which equates to over TWO day's pay per month.

So, tell me your experiences, please.

I may have to adjust my thinking about charitable giving.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Heart warming!

Every now and then I report in this space about some goings on at work. The most recent was the tale of employee complaints about the way we paid out our quarterly bonus.

As HR Manager I get to deal with a lot of unhappy employees. Since I’m responsible for both the payroll function (including the time reporting) and the benefits, there always seems to be something wrong with one or the other of those areas – at least in the mind of one of my charges.

A minor example today was easily taken care of, but it will give you the idea.

Our health insurance plan USED to define a dependent child as eligible until age 19 unless, at that age, the child was a full time student. So long as he/she remained a full-time student, the child retained eligibility until age 25.

There were always problems involving how we defined “full-time” student. If in college, the usual test was whether the child was taking 12 or more semester hours. But that was problematic if during one semester only 6 or 9 hours could be scheduled due to availability of classes without conflicts.

So we removed the “full-time student” requirement last year, and now will cover children up to age 25 so long as they qualify as IRS dependents to our employee.

Well, today one employee brought to me a letter from our insurance company requesting verification of full time student status for his 21-year-old daughter. My employee’s wife panicked, because the daughter is only taking 9 hours this semester. They were certain that her claims would be denied and they would have to buy health insurance for her.


It was just an error at the insurance home office. One quick phone call cleared it up. But when it came to my office it was close to a full-blown emergency!

Anyway, my point is that I tend to think of employees as selfish and always complaining. Little children, so to speak.

But this week I began our annual United Way campaign. All I do every year is send an email announcing the campaign, and encourage everyone to consider a “fair share” gift of one hour’s pay per month. Then I distribute pledge cards.

No meetings, no arm-twisting, no pressure at all.

I did all that on Wednesday. Today, two days later, I already have back 25 cards, and almost ALL of them pledged a fair share gift. That is EXTREMELY generous. The employees at my plant fall almost every year in the top ten in per-capita giving. I’ll have the rest of the cards back within a week or two at the most, and almost everyone will pledge something. Over half will pledge the fair share gift, if this year is typical.

They may sometimes act like children, but they’ve got big hearts!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Plans for Thanksgiving?

Yes, the holidays are right around the corner. Traditionally this is the time of year to get together with close friends and family members for food, drink and good fellowship.

In our family, however, for the past umpteen years we have eschewed the travel time and expense of gathering in late November just because everybody does it. We prefer to gather for a week in February in the Colorado Rockies and ski, ski, SKI!

Our two daughters are off living with their husbands in Tampa, Florida, and Chicago, Illinois. We just visited each of them in September.

So, what are our plans for Thanksgiving? Heck, we’re going to hook up the camper trailer, jump in the car, and head out to a good golfing destination and play GOLF! I get a four-day weekend, so even if we get a day or two of bad weather it’ll be OK.

We’ve been debating where to go. The only criteria are a campground within reasonable driving distance of two or three or four golf courses that are affordable to play. Unlike, say the $400 green fees (apiece) that we’d pay at Pebble Beach. If we went to California. And if we were rich. No, for us the limit is somewhere around 10% of that number. In fact, 5% of it is even MORE attractive.

It might be different if we played scratch golf and the quality of the course mattered to our score. But as it is, we tend to “scratch” our way around any layout and enjoy ourselves even on a $15 daily fee muni.

We thought about making a long drive to Montgomery, AL, one of our favorite destinations. But that wouldn’t leave enough time for golf without taking a vacation day as well, because it takes a LONG day of driving to get there, and a LONG day to get home again. And we’ve GOT to try to play for at least three days.

So for now we’re close to settling on Central Texas, around Temple and Killeen. We’ll probably stay at the KOA in Belton and just enjoy being out of town and by ourselves. We’ll pick up a rotisserie chicken from a nearby supermarket deli for our Thanksgiving turkey. Have a little white wine, potato salad and canned green beans, and feel like we’ve feasted. We can even record some football game(s) during the day while we’re out golfing and watch them (sans commercials) after dinner.

The courses are all nearly empty on Thanksgiving Day, but very crowded on the Friday following. That’s when all the women go shopping, and the men go play golf. Saturday and Sunday are not too bad, because most people have friends or family over and don’t sneak off to play golf.

Ha! For us, what I've described above sounds like a perfect family holiday.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Carol is experiencing withdrawal

The camera has been sent back to California for either an adjustment or possible major surgery. As you all know, I blamed the infamous (unmentionable “C” word) that usually causes problems and failures in seemingly unrelated machines, appliances, plumbing fixtures, structures and vehicles.

They (the problems and failures) usually occur in one or more series of at least three, one right after the other. Sometimes there are simultaneous occurrences and incidents. Almost always they are expensive and lifestyle-altering, at least in the short run.

I’ve learned over the years that keeping quiet about this “phenomenon” sometimes (not always) has an ameliorative effect. The “C” will tend to leave us alone with only sporadic attacks if we don’t bring attention to it.

If it feels we are spreading word of its power and ubiquitous nature, it will sometimes unleash an attack of epic proportions.

So, with some trepidation I wonder, Viki, how’s the kitchen coming along? And Peter, to answer your question, yes; a simple mention in the comments section is often enough to cause horrible results. And don’t think that you can escape its notice Down Under in Queensland, either. My good friend Michelle in South Africa can attest to the world-wide reach of this scourge.

In fact, if all of you choose to boycott this blog for the next few weeks, I’ll understand. Even my daughter Christina is concerned, having been a victim herself in the recent past. And poor RobotJam is so upset his comment doesn't even make sense. Either that or he's been smoking that weird stuff again.

So, dear friends and readers, since I have now alienated most of you including my own children, I am left with only Carol for comfort as we two hunker down to try to weather the coming onslaught.

And she’s having withdrawal pangs for the digital camera.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

What have I DONE!?

I think I messed up, big time.

In a fit of frustration, pique (not “peak” or “peek,” as many try to spell it), and false bravado, I mentioned an Unmentionable in yesterday’s post!

I fear the end of the world may be near.

I came home from work today to find that our power had been out at some point. My computer (which I had left on) was running, but had obviously rebooted since no applications were open. I successfully opened several with the mouse, but then tried to type something on the keyboard.

Nothing happened. Nada. Zip. Zero.

Dead keyboard.

I tried unplugging and plugging it back in. The “Num Lock” light was on, but no keystrokes were getting through to the computer.

Okay, I thought, I’ll just restart. When all else fails, pull the plug and plug it back in. That works 95% of the time. The other 5% of the time you get electrocuted.

But the odds were with me so I restarted. Still nothing.

This was starting to get serious.

Oh, I know that keyboards are fairly cheap, but I was worried that the computer itself might have shorted something out on the motherboard, and I would need a LOT more than just a new keyboard. I thought about possible workarounds, like a USB keyboard (mine is a PS2). But again, if there’s a damaged component on that motherboard I’m in serious trouble. (I thought about the fatherboard, too, but the motherboard is MUCH more significant. If the motherboard is fried, it can be a real mother-something-else of a problem.)

I tinkered. I unplugged and replugged. And in the process of those activities, the mouse also died.

Now I was in REALLY deep doo-doo. The mouse is a USB device, and if THAT system fails I’m looking at a phone call to Dell or a trip to my friendly Best Buy that I mentioned yesterday for a whole new “system.” I had visions of $$$ flying out the window, or down the drain, or (choose your favorite analogy).

With absolutely no control I/O device left, I did the only thing I could. I literally pulled the plug on the computer.

No more software restarts. No more softball. If this computer (and the [shudder] “C”) were going to play hardball, I guessed I would too (not “to” as many tend to spell it). I reached under the desk and pulled the plug out of the socket. I waited a few seconds and plugged it back in.

Since I WASN’T electrocuted, the odds were REALLY in my favor now. Keyboard and monitor lights flashed. The speaker “beeped.” The computer restarted, booted normally, and everything worked.


Likely that was my one warning. My precautionary shot fired across the bow. I’ve been put on notice that the “C” is neither to be toyed with nor mentioned in polite company.

As we say here in the South, “Well shut my mouth!”

Monday, October 30, 2006

Be afraid!

I fear I am being revisited by the CONSPIRACY!

Yes, I’m naming names. No beating around the bush, no pussyfooting around the issue. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. So let’s go.

It’s our nice, expensive digital camera. Last July we noticed it was putting a tiny red spot in every picture at the same place. After our long vacation trip[ in September we sent the thing off to Olympus Warranty Repair in California. We enclosed a complete description of the problem, including a CD with sample pictures showing the red dot.

What do you think happened?

No, you’re wrong. They DID fix it, and they didn’t charge us anything. We were happy campers!

They repaired the CCD unit (that’s the part that actually records the image when you click the shutter, and converts the light into digital ones and zeroes. The also upgraded the firmware! That sounds like a good thing, right?

Well, as per their explicit instructions, we did NOT send off the 2GB Compact Flash memory card in the camera. In fact, it (the card) still had in its memory over 200 wedding pictures we took of the “golf” wedding of our good friend Ruth.

When the camera was returned, all repaired and upgraded, we inserted the memory card and erased all the pictures (since they had been previously downloaded to a PC.)

Usually when we erase all the pictures in memory, the camera menu tells us we have 452 images available. Then it counts down each time we take a picture. When we erase each picture it counts back up again.

Well, THIS time when we erased the pictures the counter stayed at 187. We took another picture and it went to 186. We erased that picture and it STAYED at 186. Uh-oh!

We have done everything you can think of to do, including:

1. Re-formatting the memory card.
2. Re-flashing the camera’s firmware.
3. Putting our memory card in a different digital camera (works perfectly).
4. Putting a new memory card in our camera (shows the same count as before.) Then took a picture and the count went down by one. Erased that picture and the counter stayed the same.
(Both 3 and 4 above were done at our friendly local Best Buy store, so kudos to them for helping us troubleshoot the problem.)
5. Putting that CF memory card in a slot in our photo printer, and using Windows to access the card, erase it and reformat it to ensure it has no corrupt files on it from the camera.

All evidence points to a problem with our JUST-REPAIRED camera!

So, we’re boxing it up tonight to send it back to California for ANOTHER repair.

The counter is currently at 137, and I’m afraid that when it reaches zero the camera will “think” it’s out of memory space and refuse to take any more pictures.

I believe I hear macabre laughter coming from the walls around me.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Nuts on a golf course

No, I’m NOT talking about the golfers.

Nor am I talking about other people who sometimes choose to come onto the golf course, thus putting their lives at risk from errant shots. Although “nuts” is an apt term for both of the above classes of people.

Today I’m talking about another kind of nuts.

Get your minds out of the gutter! I mean nuts from trees!

Okay, here’s an example:

This is a small-to-average-size pecan. We have pecan trees lining the fairways, and sometimes in the middle of our fairways at my local city park golf course.

Next I have a shot of a slightly larger pecan. This is the size I look for as I’m walking towards my golf ball after a shot. Usually it’s a short walk, but I DO pick up the occasional medium-to-large pecan, crack the shell, and snack on the meat inside. This time of year they are plentiful and delicious.

A few days ago I mentioned Live Oak trees, and told you that they produce acorns (although their leaves do not look anything like oak leaves. Well, here’s an example of the acorns from a live oak. Typically the tree will retain the little “cup” the acorn grows in, and when the acorn is ripe it turns brown and falls to the ground. I picked a green one off of a tree to show you the entire thing, so you’d recognize its similarity to the Oak acorns you may be more accustomed to seeing.

And speaking of the acorns you’re accustomed to seeing from regular oak trees, we have some of those here as well. But you know how people always say that “Everything’s bigger in Texas?” Well, in some cases it’s true.

Those Live Oak acorns are similar in size to the acorns I used to gather from oaks in the northeast. You agree? I’ve seen some bigger, but not more than maybe...what? Twice as big?

Well here are those same two Live Oak acorns next to a Texas Oak acorn.

Bigger indeed!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

A great day for golf!

Not a cloud in the sky. Wind variable from zero to maybe 10 mph. Temps ranging from the lower 70s to maybe 80 at the highest. Very low humidity.


No, I DON’T want to talk about score, thank you! It’s not the score that counts as much as the experience. Unless you’re playing for money, which I never do.

Why not? Well, because I don’t have a lot of extra money that I care to lose, and if I DID play for money I wouldn’t have ANY.

Carol, however, is a different story. She could play for money quite successfully, most days. Today she had three — count ‘em; THREE! — birdies. Plus she had a number of pars. I think her final score was 82, if you must know. She beat me by exactly 12, but who’s counting?

We played with Ruth and Donnie today. Donnie had a bad day (for him) but still beat my score. Ruth was closer to Carol with an 87.

There! Are you satisfied now? I SAID I didn’t want to talk about scores, but you forced it out of me. If you’re a good golfer, you play for score. If you’re an average (or worse) golfer, you play for the occasional good shot and the exercise. Guess what I play for! (Mostly, for the exercise.)

Okay. That said, I’m changing subjects on you. Halloween is upon us, and I’ve JUST learned that one of my daughters is going to a costume party. She and her husband are dressing as super heroes.

Which ones? Well, since a picture is worth 1000 words, here’s the whole story in a flash:

Meet Wonder Woman and Aqua Man!

(Yes, my daughter MADE the costumes. She gets all of her talent from her mother.)

Friday, October 27, 2006

MUCH better now, thanks.

Prescription refills are now complete, normal daily dosage has been resumed, and thus my emotions are again on an even keel.

As I look back through my posts earier in the week I have to laugh. I mean, come on! Who could imagine a concerted attack on unsuspecting humans by fish and birds and bugs, much less trees!

Oh, I checked again and I did get that Bible reference right. You know, about the trees that caused more deaths than the sword in that big battle with 20,000 casualties? Yeah, that was real. Hmmmm. Does make you wonder...

So anyway, now that my mind(?) is clear again, I've been looking over what the rest of the blogging world is writing about, and it all seems to be oriented toward Halloween. And though Halloween does NOT occur this weekend, that's when most of the celebrations and activities will take place.

But the bloggers have got it wrong. They shouldn't be blogging about Halloween. The really scary event that happens this weekend is the return to Standard Time (unless you live in one of those weird places that doesn't shift the clocks forward and backward during the year).

So, as a public service to all you thousands of faithful readers, don't forget to change your clocks by one hour before you go to bed on Saturday night. Otherwise you'll never regain that hour of sleep you lost last spring. Plus you'll show up in church an hour too early, and the preacher will have a heart attack from shock.

Well, now I can hear all of you asking, "Which way do we set the clock? Do we fall forward and spring back, or do we spring back and fall forward?"

Just recite this old nursery rhyme:

"Hickory dickory dock,
Three mice ran up the clock.
The clock struck one,
The mice ran down.
The clock struck two,
So buckle your shoe,
Three, four; shut the door.
Five, six; rednecks and hicks.
Seven, eight; open the gate.
The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out;
The worms play pinochle on your snout.
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.
Jack, set the clock or we'll all be sick.
Which way do I set it, forward or back?
Set it so we'll have more time in the sack."

Remember that one? I think Jill sang it. To Jack. As they were going over the hill, or something.

So the moral of the story is: "Never trust a banker who tells you the Czech is in the male!"

And with that, dear blogging friends, you can now safely set your clocks on Saturday night and be totally confused on Sunday morning.

Speaking of confused, did I actually TAKE those pills this morning, or did I toss them in the trash with the coffee grounds?


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Upon still further reflection...

Steve has a point... Although as someone who lives across the pond in Germany, sometimes his points might be a little hard for us “auslanders” to understand.

I mean, in my last posts I was discussing the dangers from attacks from various sea creatures, right? Later I moved on to land creatures, birds, and even microorganisms.

But then Steve cautions, “It's not just breathing things we have to watch out for.”

Do Stingrays breathe? I mean sure, they pass water across their gills, but is that breathing? And the microorganisms I spoke of? They can survive in all kinds of environments, and they don’t have lungs OR gills. Some don’t even need oxygen to survive. Do they breathe?

But, okay, Steve was talking about plants. And the more I thought about this, the more sense it made. He referred to “The Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” But I immediately thought of “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, and how the ents rounded up the trees of Fanghorn Forest, herded them to the battle raging at Helms Deep, and how the orcs and other creatures fled into the trees but never came out.

I’m not just talking about plants that are poisonous. I’m talking about killer trees.

I’ll bet you think that happens only in fiction, right? Well, let me refer you to a fascinating passage in the Bible. Please turn with me to 2 Samuel, chapter 18. Are you there yet? That’s OK; we’ll wait while you find it.

What’s happening is this: Absolom, a son of King David (yes the same guy who slew Goliath -- remember him?) wants to be king, but there’s just one little problem... His father, David, the current king, isn’t dead yet.

Absolom figures he will hurry up the process, and rounds up an army to fight against David and HIS army to see who will rule Israel. Here’s the Bible’s description of the scene (New International Version):

2 Samuel 18: 6 The army (of King David) marched into the field to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There the army of Israel was defeated by David's men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest claimed more lives that day than the sword. (Emphasis added.)

I am NOT making this up! It’s right there!

So, Steve, you’re right. We have a LOT more to worry about concerning creatures living things that might attack us than just those things that seem to be able to move across the landscape.

But y’know, trees breathe too. Isn’t that what photosynthesis is all about? Taking in CO2 and giving off O2?

I'm getting more confused.

Damn! Where ARE my meds?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Seriously now...

A few of the comments made to my previous posts started me thinking (a very dangerous situation) that many of you might be taking these reports too lightly.

Remember Hitchcock’s “The Birds?” We’ve already discussed “Jaws.” How about “Arachnophobia?” “Snakes on a plane.” People, this list really does go on and on.

Okay, you’re thinking, but those are all fiction. Those things didn’t really happen.


How do you know that? You believe all this pseudo-science about global warming, don’t you? Yes, you do. Why? Because you read about it in the newspapers. Well, you read about the stingray attacks in the paper, and saw reports about them on television, right? Killer bee attacks are almost routine these days.

Birds HAVE been known to kill people. Geese have knocked military fighter jets out of the sky by flying into the jet intake. Granted, it’s always just as hard on the goose as it is on the plane, but still.

Microorganisms kill people all the time, and we call it disease.

So maybe you’d better not snicker when someone writes about attack worms. Or swarms of jumbo shrimp or Maine lobsters coming to their house in the middle of the night.

Heck, the next thing you know Zinnia’s chickens might start coming after her when she tries to punt them over the barn roof! All manner of animal attacks might occur, now that the creatures are getting their acts together.

In fact, the longer I go without refilling my prescriptions, the more likely these scenarios become.

So laugh if you must, but this could be serious!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A plague of worms

No, not earthworms. Web worms. And their cousins; other leaf-eating worms that don’t web up but can strip a tree in a week.

We have a tree in our back yard that’s called a Live Oak. No, that’s not as opposed to a dead Oak. These trees are related to the oak in that they make acorns, but their leaves are small and dark green, and stay on the tree all year long. Even when it freezes.

It’s like having a deciduous evergreen.

They grow maybe twice as tall as a house, and provide dense shade. During a South Texas summer, dense shade is very nice. They require little maintenance, and don’t make a mess in the yard.

So, what’s the downside? Well, every year in late October to mid November, they attract a crop of these nasty worms that eat their leaves.

The first time we noticed this was when the tree was small. I glanced into the back yard one day and commented that our tree was dying, since about half of the limbs and branches were bare. Carol hadn’t noticed, so we went out to look at it. The darn thing was literally crawling with worms!

The worms would drop off to the ground and then climb back up. There were worm droppings all over the ground under the tree.

I went to Lowes, bought a bottle of Malathion, and sprayed the heck out of the tree. The next day the worms were all dead and the tree slowly began to put leaves back on. That act has become an annual ritual in the fall.

Guess why I’m telling you all this. Give up? Yep, THEY’RE BA-A-A-CK!

So this afternoon, after work, I put on old clothes and sprayed Malathion all over our Live Oak tree. It’s now higher than the house and the hose can barely get the spray up to the top branches. In the process I sprayed myself quite thoroughly as well.

Yes, I’ve showered and put my stinky clothes outside. But the house now reeks of that oily Malathion smell.

The good news is, the smell will be gone by tomorrow.

And so will the plague of worms.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Typical Texas

Saturday we played golf. The temperature was in the upper 80s with very high humidity and almost no breeze at all. By the end of the round my shirt was soaked. Heck, even my underwear was soaked. (Yeah, I know: TMI. Sorry.)

We walk the course whenever possible. That day we managed to do so, but by the last few holes I was just about shot, physically. The air conditioning in the car felt SOOOO good driving home! A cool shower and cold beer really hit the spot.

Then came Sunday. Cloudy with drizzle in the morning, but mostly cloudy with no rain in the early afternoon. The temperature was 56 with a north wind blowing.

We walked the golf course again, but this time in long pants and sweatshirts, with a light jacket handy. Driving home it felt SOOOO good to be warm and out of the wind. A nice hot shower hit the spot. Later we watched TV on the couch, dressed in sweat pants and tee shirts, and under a light blanket.

Today is cool and dry and beautiful, but by tomorrow the humidity is supposed to be back, with afternoon thundershowers.

“What a difference a day makes.
Twenty-four little hours.”

Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Perfect Illustration... my post of Friday.

Jim Davis is on the right track.

And even if not every attack is successful, don't think they won't continue. In fact, I predict they will escalate in frequency and in intensity!

Click HERE to view.

(With a nod to the comments of Steve G and Hale McKay.)

(And yes, I'm probably violating the copyright law here, but if someone complains I'll take it down.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Spielberg got it wrong

“Jaws” and its sequels and spin-offs put fear in the hearts of millions of people. In fact, the tag line for one sequel was, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.”

Turns out that all that hype about shark attacks was really just (dare I say it?)... a red herring.

Sharks are not the real threat! It’s OTHER creatures from the sea that we have to work about. They don’t eat you. They don’t take off a limb. They aren’t attracted to blood in the water.

In fact, neither you nor they have to be in the water to attack.

An alert reader sent me the link to this AP story.

We all thought Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin’s incident was a freak occurrence, right? A “once in a lifetime” accident. And admittedly it was not only a horrible tragedy, it was unheard of. A stingray stabbed Steve in the heart with his barbed dart.

Well, now the stingrays are coming right out of the water, landing in your boat, taking dead aim, and striking directly for, yes, the heart!

A coincidence? Come on! Two completely unheard of incidents involving the same species within 6 weeks of each other. That alone would be enough to disprove any coincidence theory, but look at the key similarity: both stingrays went straight for the heart!

In the past we’ve always assumed that the ray was a docile creature that only used its poisoned barbed darts defensively. But now they are clearly on the attack. They’re pissed, and they’re coming for us.

The good news is that the gentleman in Florida may survive his attack through the simple expedient of leaving the barb in his heart until surgeons could remove it.

But what’s next? Will sea lions flap their way ashore and attack us in out beds? Will schools of mullet jump en masse into fishing boats, swamping them and drowning the people?

And how about fresh water creatures? Will rainbow trout swarm to overwhelm fly fishermen in mountain streams? Will minnows swim up the nostrils of swimmers to suffocate them?

I don’t know about you, but I’m staying well away from boats and bodies of water until this water-dweller threat is understood and contained.

Jaws was only the beginning!