Cross Promotion: 30 days of Positivity, Part I

May 11, 2010

I’m cross-promoting my facebook here. In an effort to put something positive into the dirge of social networking, I have embarked on a “30 days of positivity” posting spree. I’ll past them in here as well…

(begin post 1)

I’m pretty much always ambivalent about the Internet. Basically, on a given day, or sometimes even within a given day, I can’t decide whether it is a blessing or a curse. Keeping up with people is a plus and knowing about events and gatherings is good… but the constant flood of complaining, griping, and sniping makes me want to set fire to my computer periodically.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a college buddy of mine (and note, I did not write an “old college buddy”, even though college is somewhat old, because I didn’t want her to think I was suggesting that she is old– see what getting up to in or around 30 will do to your writing!) had a good idea. She posted 30 days worth of things that she is thankful for. Personally, I thought this was a great idea and a nice chance to avoid the cycle of negativity. So I’m stealing her idea.

I am embarking on a 30 day journey of things/people/places that I am thankful for. I’ll hopefully post one of these per day, but if not, I’ll try to catch up.

And so:

1)

I cannot imagine what my life would be like without my wife, Julie. I met Julie in 2000, started dating her in 2001, and married her in 2002. I can say without reservation that, religious decisions aside, there is no better decision that I have ever made, and that I definitely married up.

There are many, many benefits to marriage. None are greater than the fact of acceptance. I am incredibly blessed to know that my wife loves and respects me exactly the way that I am. Of course, this doesn’t mean that she doesn’t get angry with me when I forget to pay the phone bill or leave food in the refridgerator until it turns new colors. But in terms of overall character, it means that I don’t have to apologize for my flaws and shortcomings. It means I don’t have to be anything that I’m not, and that whatever direction life takes me, I know she will be with me.

In the strictly tangible world, my wife is a beautiful lady, an excellent cook, and a snide humorist, who occasionally breaks out with hysterical witticisms (such as the day when she called Dr. Pepper and Mountain Dew “the house wines of the South”).

In the intangible world, she is a thoughtful and spiritual partner. I cannot think of anyone who I would rather have as the mother of my child. Or anyone with whom I’d rather have shared Rally burgers in the impoverished days of law school.

Love and character are life skills which are nearly irrelevant in the spoken form, and invaluable in the active form. The best testimony to our marriage is the times when we have worked through difficulties and struggles. Marriage, like life itself, is ultimately a volitional, intentional act. My wife has chosen to stand by me, and I by her, day in and day out for eight years. I don’t say “thank you” anywhere near enough for that. But today I am. I am humbled and grateful and glad to call Julie my wife. So thank you, Julie. And I’m sorry about the phone bill and the mold covered food in the fridge.

Yet more readings…

April 30, 2010

Just trying to catch up on the reading quest

15. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

The crappy local mall bookstore went out of business many months back, and so, when the stock was getting priced lower and lower, I went and picked up a few books that looked interesting. This was one.

Henry VIII was an absolute giant in his own time. He solidified the English monarchy when it had bounced all over the place. And he had problems with women, specifically those he married. My father had taught me the basic story as a boy: six wives– divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. And in a nutshell, that’s it.

But there’s so much more depth here. The incredible scheming, the religious paranoia, and lots of humanizing touches– like the claim that Henry never consumated his marriage to Anne of Cleves because she smelled bad. Considering that this was the 1500s, I assume that everybody probably smelled like a garbage dump, so that Anne of Cleves must have been one noxious lady. I also enjoyed the story of Katherine Howard’s father, of whom little information survives, except a letter where he complained to someone that a medication he had taken had caused him to “bepiss my bed.”

Weir wrote a very interesting and fair look at a complicated time, and at six women and one man who would change the world. It was long… but enjoyable.

16. The Monkees: The Day-by-Day Story of the ’60s Pop Sensation by Andrew Sandoval

I had high hopes for this book. I dug the Monkees during their late 1980s rerunnings. I thought the book would be a nice chance to learn a little more about the Semi-Fab Four. Unfortunately, Sandoval’s book is only useful for the superfan. I don’t care that on July 18, 1968, Mike recorded a song called “Tapioca Pudding” with his friend, Bill Noname on backing vocals, and that the other Monkees didn’t like it, but after seven remixes, it was eventually placed on a 1990s Rhino album. Yeck. Slow, slow, slow reading… and by the end, I feel much less warm and kind toward the Monkees. They were handed pop success, and instead wanted to record their own rambling crapola.

17. A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

I can tell you about this book, or this story. Or just show you the video which put it in print. I’m not watching it again, because it seems like somebody keeps slicing up onions about 2/3 of the way through the video. At least, that must be what it is. Yeah.

And turn your speakers down, unless you want deafened by Whitney Houston.

Pages:
Henry VIII 656
Monkees 288
Christian 256

So now… my totals 16.2 books, 6,058 pages.
To be on pace for the goals of 50/20,000: 16.3 books, 6,521 pages.

Ouch. So the book count is almost right on, but I have fallen about 470 pages behind pace. Might be time for that giant John Lennon book, or the giant Abe Lincoln book.

More reading materials

April 5, 2010

Will see if I can remember these all… no promises.

11. Dave Barry’s Money Secrets by, you guessed it, Dave Barry.

Every so often, I get an itch for a good Dave Barry book. They’re lightweight reading, generally a lot of fun, and just pleasant all around. “Money Secrets” can’t hold a candle to “Dave Barry Slept Here”, which is on the short list of books that ALWAYS crack me up. But it’s still a fun book. If you like Dave’s irreverent humor, you’ll dig it.

12. The Card by Michael O’Keefe and Terri Thompson

A confession here: I was a terrific baseball card nerd as a kid. I still have a few cards left over, but fortunately, I left the hobby at least mostly behind. This book talks about a particular card– a 1910 T-206 Honus Wagner card, which is apparently in the best condition of the few such cards in existence. This is the card that people have paid literally millions of dollars for now. The book goes on to look at the massive amounts of fraud and unethical card doctoring which occur in the hobby. The long and short of it is that cards aren’t worth much anymore unless they are professionally graded. But the grading companies appear to be somewhat crooked, and some people get around them. It’s an interesting story if you like to read about baseball cards and/or consumer fraud. If not, just skip on.

13. The Ultimate Book of Sports Movies by Ray Didinger and Glen Macnow.

Just what is says. This book ranks and discusses the top 100 sports movies. Think of your favorites– they’re all here, along with a few you’ve probably forgotten, a few you’ll wish you had forgotten, and a few that sound worth checking out. By way of a complaint, Rudy is WAAAAAY too low at 50-somethingeth. You don’t need to be a sports nerd to enjoy the book– but being a movie nerd probably would help.

14. Bluegrass by William Van Meter

Van Meter’s book is a chronicle of the murder, investigation and associated trial in the Katie Autry killing. Autry, a freshman student at my alma mater of Western Kentucky University, was raped, beaten, and set on fire in her dorm room. The book focuses on Autry and on the two suspects in her murder– Stephen Soules and Lucas Goodrum, one of whom is in prison for life, and one of whom walked free. Van Meter doesn’t unveil any novel theories of the crime, or even point fingers, so much as he raises possibilities, and writes of three young lives that intertwined in a hideous moment. I won’t say I enjoyed it, but it was a careful and thoughtful book, and is one worth reading.

Total Books: 13.7/50 (counting 1st book, which was mostly read in 2009, and two books in progress, mentioned below)
Total Pages:
Last count 3,770
Dave Barry– 240
The Card– 256
Sports Movies– 352
Bluegrass– 240
Two more in progress– one at 140 pages in, the other at 75.
TOTAL: 5,073

Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 12.9 books/5,151 pages.

So there we are: almost a full book ahead, but still about 80 pages behind. One of the two in progress is a nice 600 plus page monster, which should help balance these out.

Stay tuned.

More Readings

March 11, 2010

Finished 9. Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

I enjoyed the book. Jacobs’s biggest talent is making himself appear as some sort of “just plain folks” normal guy. Truth is, he went to an elite private high school, graduated from an Ivy League University and is the spawn of well-to-do New Englanders. And yet, he manages to paint himself as just a normal guy. Well, a normal guy who reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. A good trick.

10. Living on the Black by John Feinstein

Feinstein is an utterly unlikeable human being who happens to write some solid books. He’s most famous for spending a year with a 1980s vintage Bob Knight to produce “A Season on the Brink”. But this time, he spends a year catching up with late career Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina. He provides some interesting insight into the art of pitching. HIS trick was that he actually humanized Glavine to the extent that I felt BAD for him that the mean old Atlanta Braves only wanted to pay him $9 million per year to pitch, instead of the $11 million that he plainly deserved. It was a difficult trick, as I wanted to beat Glavine and Feinstein about the head with this 500+ page book when I figured the trick out. Ah, if only I could’ve pitched. I could’ve had four days to blog in between my starts.

So there we are.
As of yesterday, March 10th (day 69 of the year)
Books: 9.2 (thus resolving the “Magic in the Night” 2009/10 controversy
Page Count: 3,770
Pace needed to meet goals of 50 books/20,000 pages: 9.5 books/3,781 pages

So there we are. ALMOST on proper pace. Dave Barry is next up, so that promises both fun and a quick book (although a low page count).

More Books

March 1, 2010

And on with the great literacy challenge of 2010.

7. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life by Donald Miller.

Donald Miller is one unique cat. He would be my Christian theologian most likely to be seen in a bar. And in his latest book, he talks about what he learned in preparing one of his autobiographical/essay books to be a movie. Basically, he had to create himself in a movie. Which, admit it, we’ve all done 7,000 times in our head. I’ve even got the soundtrack to mine, even though I still have to figure out a scene which allows for a semi-random use of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love”.

From this premise, Miller hypothesizes that LIVING a life is, essentially, creating a story. We can sit on the couch and watch a lot of reality shows (or read Christian themed literature), or we can go out and DO something, something to strengthen our relationships with God, and with other people. And that juxtaposition isn’t coincidental. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” is half of God’s own two most important commandments.

Miller reconnects with his father, rides a bicycle coast to coast for charity, falls into and out of love, and describes a renewed commitment to living life aggressively rather than passively. Which is a good focus for a Christian book. Most of your Christians aren’t out there lopping off heads and sodomizing animals. If they fail, they often fail for lack of initiative and involvement. And hopefully, Miller helps prevent that here. I dig it, as I have pretty much all of his books.

8. Bringing Down the House by Ben Mezrich.

From Christian spirituality to card counting. Mezrich recounts the story of a group of MIT math students who use an intricate team-playing system to bust casinos in games of blackjack. The book is so fun that it reads like a thriller. Unfortunately, the more I read about the book, the more I learned that Mezrich played hard and fast with the truth. Jeff Ma is the real name of Mezrich’s main subject… google him if you want some more info about all of this.

And if it all sounds familiar, the movie “21” was made from this book. I’d love to see it, if anybody wants to send me a belated Presidents Day gift.

9. (ongoing) Know-It-All by A.J. Jacobs

Jacobs is a magazine writer who decided to read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Wacky hijinks ensue. He had me in the earliest pages of the book when he confessed that this wasn’t the worst idea he’d had– that he once tried to write a screenplay about a President with Tourette’s syndrome, called Hail to the Freakin’ Chief.

Or when he recounted an article from an old edition of the EB, which stated that ex-President John Adams retired to a life of drinking a tankard of hard cider every morning before breakfast and admiring the size of his manure pile. Of course, you can insert your own President/hard drinking/piles of crap joke here, with the name of said President likely being indicative of your particular leanings. But if you say it about John Adams, it was apparently true.

So anyway, the page count…
2,250 +
A Milion Miles 288
Bringing Down the House 288
Know-It-All 200 (so far)
TOTAL 3,026/20,000
Books: 8.6/50

And correct pace through 59 days of 2010 would have been 3,233 pages and 8.1 books. So I’m a bit behind on my page count and a bit ahead on my book count. Or am I? I counted “Magic in the Night” as a full book, when I read about 80% of it in 2009. I did go back and only count 50 pages from the book… so that probably explains the disparity there. I’m actually probably a little behind on both fronts. But hey, there’s 10 months to go.

Best. Video. Game. Ever.

February 17, 2010

Soooo, I finally got Beatles Rock Band yesterday. I first had to find a Rock Band bundle, so I had the drums and the wireless guitar, and a USB microphone. And after roughly two months of looking, I found one. Major props to my father-in-law for driving to Columbia, KY, to pick it up for me.

But anyway. This is it. In 1970-something, when the guys who made Atari started marketing video games, I like to think that in the wildest, craziest corners of their mind, they envisioned a game like this. The graphics are shockingly good, the music, well, obviously isn’t half bad, and the fun is immeasurable.

This (belated Valentine’s gift) is my Red Ryder BB gun. Short of exhuming and reanimating John and George, and letting me into the band, this is the closest to Beatledom I can get. And it rocks.

EDIT: I was just messaging my sister about the game. I wrote her, “It’s so great I want to poop my pants. Mostly so that I have a good excuse to go home and play it some more.” Just thought I should share… the anecdote, not poop.

A Country Genius

February 17, 2010

Another reading update.

6. Man of Constant Sorrow by Dr. Ralph Stanley.

A good friend of mine once had a dream in which I was eating a sausage biscuit and I was very proud to show him that the wrapper proclaimed it to be a “Country Genius Sausage Biscuit”. Needless to say, this became an overnight catch phrase. If there’s anybody who really is a country genius, it would have to be Dr. Ralph Stanley.

Dr. Ralph is in his mid-80s, and is still the reigning king of clawhammer banjo, as well as “what they call” bluegrass music (his words, not mine, as he doesn’t like the name). Dr. Ralph was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lincoln Memorial University in the 1970s, and apparently liked it so much that he insists on being called Dr. Ralph.

Anyway, in 2009, he finally got around to sitting down and writing his life story. From talking about milking cows to telling stories about a flatulent fiddle player (who cut, as Dr. Ralph calls it, “a real greaser”, which thoroughly disgusted a record company executive), this is about as genuine as it gets.

Dr. Ralph’s country genius, as a musician, as a writer, and just as a person stems from the fact that he is exactly who he is. There is no pretense, there is no dressing up the truth, there is only a great American life. So read his book. And go see him. When I told him I was born only a few miles down the road in southwest Virginia from his old hometown, he looked at me in wonder, and posed with me for a photo which is one of my all time favorites. And I will post it on here, if I ever remember to. He also sang “Oh Death”, just like he did in O Brother Where Art Thou, and put chill bumps on everybody. That’s a country genius, if I do say so myself.

Books: 6/50
Pages: 2,250/20,000

(another book is almost finished, which means another post…)

Reading in 2010

February 1, 2010

I have decided to re-up the 2009 reading challenge, albeit with a slight tweaking. To reiterate, the goal is to read 50 new books in a year. Note that it is restricted to new (to me) books. I love old books, and in some year, maybe 2011, I’ll do a reading challenge for them. Re-reads are pretty much always quicker and I know which ones are good. But I want to try to learn something new in this project. And thus, all new books.

Of the 50 new books, five are to be religious works. The theory here is a sort of literary tithe.

Also, to keep me from discriminating against the big, fat books that are piling up, another tweak is this: I want 50 books and/or 20,000 pages. I’d say 400 pages is a reasonable length for a book, and counting pages should also keep me from avoiding the big Lincoln biography, or the history of the Supreme Court, or the account of the lives of the wives of Henry VIII.

So anyway, finishing out January, I also got these in:

3. Big Man by Clarence Clemons. Odd, uneven book, with chapters by Clarence interspersed with chapters from his co-writer, screenwriter Don Reo, and other chapters of “legends” which are admittedly mostly lies. Fun, interesting, but REALLY uneven.

4. It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over by the staff of Baseball Prospectus. This is a book about baseball pennant races. The staff of Baseball Prospectus use history as a jumping off point to ask questions about baseball and to try to use empirical data to answer those questions. If you’re a hardcore sports nerd, this is great. If not, likely a bit dry.

5. Under the Dragon by Rory MacLean. Fascinating travel writing about Myanmar (aka Burma). Since a good friend spent a long chunk of time in and around the area, I’ve been very interested in it. MacLean writes the story of he and his wife journeying across the county in search of a particular kind of basket. En route, they encounter persecuted, browbeat, beautiful people who, bit by bit, spell out the story of a doomed land. Heartbreaking, engaging and very well written.

January total: 5 books completed/50
January page total:
Magic in the Night 268
The Book of Basketball 715
Big Man 384
It Ain’t Over 457
Under the Dragon 224

As yet unrevealed 6th book in progress 101
January total 2,149/20,000 (Actually, I realize in retrospect that I read approximately the first 200 pages of Magic in the Night in December… so while I’ll count the book as a 2010 book, the page count goes back down to 1,949/20,000).

Another outpost of the fried chicken world

January 27, 2010

Out on business recently, I stopped by the semi-world famous Bon Ton Mini Mart on the outskirts of Henderson, Kentucky, to sample their fried chicken. The good folks at roadfood.com had talked the place up, and circumstance placed me in Henderson. So I took advantage.

George Markham, the proprietor, greeted me. I told him I’d traveled far for his prized chicken. He told me it would take 20-25 minutes to cook. I assured him that was fine, that I knew that good chicken took a little while. The Bon Ton Mini Mart is not a mini mart, and I have no idea what Bon Ton is. It’s basically just a mom and pop restaurant, with excellent kitschy decoration. Mad props to curtains with chickens and frying pans on them.

The chicken was… wow, REALLY, REALLY good. It is perfectly fried. Not too greasy, wonderfully crunchy, flavorful, moist, and brilliant. My love of Prince’s Hot Chicken is well known within anybody who bothers to read this blog. This stuff is just as good. Different, as in not likely to set your mouth ablaze or drown you in grease, but just as good.

George came back to check on me. I heard him disappointedly say, “I haven’t seen him licking his fingers.” I assured his it was REALLY good chicken. Excellent banana pudding too. I gave my compliments to Donna King, the “chicken lady” who whips it all up, and told George I had two questions: 1) When I could make it back and 2) Whether I’d get a half chicken or whole chicken the next time.

Apparently, BTMM is closing in June. So go there. You won’t regret it. And if you can’t go there, here’s the recipe. I know jack squat about frying a chicken, and this looks hard, but if it tastes half as good as theirs does, do it sometime. And save me a piece.

http://www.recipelink.com/mf/14/33518

It Hurts Me Too

January 27, 2010

Cyberbullying.

I had never heard of it before yesterday. While I could guess at what it was thanks to the linguistic skills that a college degree should confer, the word was a new one. But in Boston, a pretty fifteen year old girl named Phoebe Prince apparently committed suicide due to cyberbullying.

The more I read yesterday, the more I learned. I read of an 11 year old boy who killed himself because he was taunted for being allegedly gay. I read of a 9 year old who hanged himself at school. I am just sick at this situation. It is a depressing thing to live in a world in which children, sweet, innocent children are driven to suicide by things on their computers.

Like Charlie Starkweather in Bruce Springsteen’s “Nebraska”, I end up being unable to account for the evil in our times, aside from a general meanness in this world.

And I remember when I was young.

I was bullied sometimes. One boy was so persistent that eventually my parents wormed it out of me, called the school, and involved them. Much to my own amazement, once the bully was confronted, he actually behaved himself from then on. That certainly seemed unlikely then and now. So I guess I was lucky. There were others, but never with that same scary intensity.

I also bullied sometimes. There are few things that I have done in my life that I would genuinely change, and that I really and truly regret. Bullying is one of them. I wish I could apologize to every person I ever taunted, persecuted or made uncomfortable.
When you’re 12 or 13 years old, calling each other names and insulting each other is just what boys do. Except when it isn’t. And those lines are often imperceptible to the persons doing the hurting. Until it’s too late, like it is for Phoebe Prince.

As a parent, there’s no easy way to say that this stuff scares the crap out of me. It scares me because I want to physically dismember anybody who says hurtful things about that little angel in my household. And it scares me because I don’t want her to be a tyrant to her own peers and contemporaries. Like I probably did a time or two.