Sunday, December 31, 2006

December 30, 2006

What an odd day in history yesterday. As I mostly lounged around with the television on, I was struck by the contrast of lives that were talked about most of the day. The barbaric hanging of a deposed dictator, the decorated funeral service of an esteemed statesman, and the jubilant celebration of a cultural icon's life. All three lives were very influential in their own way and all dealt with quite differently in death.

I found myself grossly intrigued by the footage of Saddam's hanging. In this day and age, it seems a very crude and inhumane form of capital punishment. But like any grotesque crime scene or traffic accident, it's hard to turn away. It raised in my mind the whole debate of capital punishment itself and whether the purpose is retribution for the many heinous and barbaric acts committed under his regime, or prevention. Clearly, the purpose here was retribution since he was pulled out of power a couple years ago and not likely to rule again, ever. But only the true Judge will see to it that he gets what is truly deserved. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam deserved what he got ("thou shalt give life for life"), and yet, I felt compassion for the meek man who humbly submitted to the ultimate punishment. He seemed a much different person than the one who brutally murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people. "Seemed" is probably the operative word.

It was comforting then to watch the service and the eulogies spoken for President Ford, a truly humble servant, proof that living a good life is possible. I think I learned more about Ford in his death than I ever knew about him in life. Funny, I don't even remember Chevy Chase's impersonations. Such is the nature of the good man, I think...quiet in his success.

In stark contrast to quiet success, we had the life of James Brown, 100% showman. His funeral, like his life, was full of performances. It was a mostly jubilant occasion populated by the likes of Al Sharpton (who spoke of the "Brownization" of our culture), Rev. Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson (who spoke of being "amesmerized" by the Godfather of Soul), and a woman who "claims to be" Mr. Brown's wife. This group was a "little" more liberal than the attendees at President Ford's service. The news media spent an excessive amount of time and energy discussing whether or not Michael's appearance was mostly self-serving, being his first public appearance since being acquitted of child molestation charges. I'm no fan of Michael, but it seems natural that he might appear at such an event...just let him be. So it seemed Mr. Brown left life much as he lived it.

I don't know what to make of all this, but at the end of the day, I was left wondering how each of these people expected their funeral to play out and if it met with their expectations. And then I thought about my own life and how, like so many others, my own funeral will not play out on international television. And yet, in my own way, I hope to make a difference. All of this in the context of thinking about accomplishments and failures of 2006 and goals for 2007. Time marches on.

Happy New Year!!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

California Wildlife

A few photos from my husband's recent trip to California:

Squatter's Rights

XXL Heffalump

Per hour?

Wild & Rugged Big Sur Coastline

(Possibly the most beautiful spot in all of America)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Deskription Update

The Desk Meme! As seen around the globe. Jim started it (well not really, but that's the first place I saw it so he gets the credit). Darko, Whisky Prajer, Cowtown Pattie followed suit. And now, here is my desk in its entirety (well, almost). This is it, the nerve center, where it all happens, where it's at.

So. Yeah. Um. Well. I guess it's mostly self-explanatory.

I wish I could put those little tag labels on it like Mis_Nomer and Sgazzetti and Stephen did. They're so smart. I am like a root vegetable when it comes to performing such technological feats. But here's a quick manual rundown:

Far left: remnants of anniversary bouquet from over a week ago (it's pared down now, but still beautiful and fragrant)

Far right: Green M&M candy jar, made for me by my oldest step-daughter

Surrounding the perimeter: Lots of client files (back credenza represents work on hold for various and sundry reasons; foreground represents work in process, or "detritus"); I tried to make sure you can't read any of the client names but don't zoom in just in case (that's really the only clean-up I did for the photo, Darko ;-)

Center (extremely boring miscellany seen in offices around the world): hole punch (absent cover), family photos, pens, pencils, hippo letter opener souvenir from Tanzania, holiday cards, Dell laptop, coveted Herman Miller Aeron Chair (stolen from one of my departed colleagues), priceless Fire Ant Gazette coaster supporting my favorite beverage (this is not boring), orange (for when I run out of the World's Best Salt Water Taffy), turbo charged 10-key calculator, upright file holder holding odds and ends, fancy-schmancy Sharper Image give-away CD player

View: parking lot and other office buildings (stunning)

What you don't see: More files continuing on around the back credenza

There, I did it, Jim. ;-)

Now, I'd like to see these people's desks:




Darko's office desk


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Cheese

On Christmas day, I rode with my family over to my step-sister's house to celebrate with her husband's family (and their 2-1/2 year old little boy who was the center of everyone's attention and a joy to spend the day with). As we neared their house, we noted an inflatable lawn ornament that was no longer inflated but rather looked like Frosty had melted right there on the lawn. A sad sight, really. And so began a brief discussion about how this seemed to be the year for cheesy blow-up lawn ornaments. I suggested that possibly the cheesiest of all of them was the blow-up nativity scene. They all moaned at the thought and then Dad said, just as we pulled into my step-sister's drive way, "speaking of inflatable lawn ornaments..."

My step-sister is a girl of exquisite taste, and not a NASCAR fan as far as I knew (this was confirmed when I mentioned the "Jimmie Johnson" car on the front lawn and she had no idea who I was talking about). Now, I think this one deserves the title of cheesiest. I had not seen one of these yet (maybe because it's not even symbolic of Christmas...those elves appear to be attempting a car jacking). But here you have it, the front lawn of the place I spent my Christmas morning. My husband will be so proud. :-)

Monday, December 25, 2006

A Christmas Prayer

by Robert Louis Stevenson

Loving Father, Help us remember the birth of Jesus,
that we may share in the song of the angels,
the gladness of the shepherds,
and worship of the wise men.

Close the door of hate and open the door of love all over the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil by the blessing which Christ brings, and teach us to be merry with clear hearts.

May the Christmas morning make us happy to be thy children, and Christmas evening bring us to our beds with grateful thoughts, forgiving and forgiven, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Merry Christmas!

For all of you who are on my Christmas list, but for whom I don't have addresses, here is the Christmas letter I struggled to write (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours!

I’m having a difficult time coming up with this year’s letter. The year has gone by quickly and it seems like not much has happened, at least not much that is worthy of amplification in the annual report. Maybe it’s the very lack of “excitement” that we should be most thankful for. We need years like that once in awhile.

So if not much has happened, then why do we always feel so busy? Probably because there is always more little stuff to do than there is time available. And not all of the little stuff got done. Here are just a few of the things we did not do this year:

Buy a sailboat
Sail away to a desert island
Repair the cracks in our foundation
Sell our house
Quit my job
Start our new careers as sailboat captain and travel writer/silversmith
Take painting lessons (of the artistic kind)
Take a “big” vacation
Take a vacation, period

MBH's painting work has been incredibly fulfilling and has provided the resources with which to buy the sailboat if and when he finds the perfect vessel. In the meantime, we both continue to slog away at what we know best, awaiting divine intervention. Change is hard.

D1 has been living with her Mom in Salinas, CA all year and is a Junior this year. She vacillates between wanting to be a vet, a physician’s assistant and an actress when she grows up. I still haven’t given up on the possibility of litigator. She can argue better than anyone I know. Her creativity will serve her well regardless of her chosen path.

D2 returned here this summer (having spent her Jr year in CA) and is currently working full time as a hostess, not enrolled in school, but has signed up to return for her Senior year next semester. It’s been an uphill battle for D2 this past couple of rebellious years, but we have seen vast improvement and are encouraged that God has placed her back on the path towards being a responsible adult. She still has her eye on cosmetology school. She will turn 18 on February 1st. Prayers are in order.

What else? Let’s see. Well, I shook hands with Eric Idle, of Monty Python fame. That was a real surprise after seeing Spamalot in Chicago (a fantastic show!) and stumbling upon a signing party at Border’s Books the next day. And we also shook hands with Marcia Ball, blues pianist, and got her autograph at a concert here in Kansas City. And, I received a baseball at a charity event, autographed by the late great Kansas City Monarch’s (Negro League champions) first baseman and manager, Buck O’Neil, who passed away this year. So this was the year for autographs. Who would have guessed?

We hope the year has been full of blessings for you and your family and that the coming year is filled with many more. And in those difficult times, may Peace be with you. God bless.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Fa La La La La, La La La La

For those who haven't checked in at Purgatorio lately, here is some of the most hilarious Christmas album cover art I've seen in a long time. Countdown to Christmas is especially disturbing as Santa Claus appears to be on some serious drugs and frankly, it looks like the album should come with the Parental Control Advisory warning. But Snoopy's Christmas is not the image of Santa I'd want for my children either. And then there's the question of just what do they eat in England for Christmas? As usual, the comments are worth perusing for a good laugh at someone's expense.

Unfortunately, I sold all my LPs at a garage sale (or dumped them at a used record store in a fit of OCD) and so I no longer have some of the old covers. But I don't remember any as over the top as these. As usual, Mark does a great job of digging up the classics. Marcy is a recurring theme over at Purgatorio. Personally, I never had any of Marcy's albums, but I love the reference to her as the Bride of Chucky. She scares me a little.

The Manger

For Rachel. Blogger has finally decided to allow me to post a few pictures afterall. Now, the problem is that my husband has the camera in CA with him, so I am digging into the archives to find pictures of the animals who call this place home. Unfortunately, I do not have photos of the goldfish or the birds (they are European Green Finches) so this is just half of the crew, those not held hostage by cage or aquarium, if you will:

Begging For Treats

Resisting a Bath

The Complete Beanie Baby Menagerie
(Look at all those eyes!)

Prayer Request for an Old Friend

You don't know him, but prayers would be a most welcome Christmas gift for an old friend of mine, Mark, whom I just learned (via the friend who is responsible for sending the picture of me sporting a viking helmet and tableau which you have all seen by fact, the "brunch" tableau in the photo belonged to Mark who was a party to the silliness we were all so engaged in at the time...we all enjoyed many a Sunday brunch together back in the 1980's) suffered a brain anneurism in April and is miraculously still alive but without many of his faculties. He still cannot speak but appears to be able to understand people talking to him. Doctors say it is a miracle he is alive and even more miraculous that he continues to improve. On Monday of this past week, he had a shunt put in his brain to relieve fluid build up. He is married with two little girls, 2 & 8. It is times like these when we look around at the friends and family we know and love and thank God for the blessings we do have and recognize that at any moment, we may find ourselves in a much different situation. I am sure Mark had a long list of things he would like to experience with his wife and daughters as they grow up and now, that list has been drastically rewritten, but not erased. There is hope and there is life and with your help, I have faith that Mark will live to see a brighter day.

Such is the strangeness of blogging, one minute linking to a post in reference to what is on my desk, the next linking to the very same post in reference to such a tragedy. The ties that bind are often strange indeed.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Desk Meme

Oh, I have a blog! Please pardon the lack of posting around here. I appreciate the fact that some of you still stop by once in awhile even when I've nothing to say.

Jim wants to know what is on our desks. And since I can no longer seem to upload photos, I will show you what is on my desk by way of linkage. I've shown you bits and pieces in the past. But I have moved offices and so you might notice that the desk in question appears to be a different desk. That would be true. Different desk. Same stuff. Including the flowers! Yesterday was my husband's and my actual wedding anniversary (as opposed to the anniversary of our first date which I gave you back on Halloween). And even though he is in CA and I am in KC, he surprised me with a very large bouquet that looks a lot like the one in the previous photo, only larger! It's gorgeous and smells divine and makes me feel special. :-)


Monday, December 18, 2006

Argh! The Chores!

One of the side effects of being abandoned by one's family (okay, really, enough with the self-pity already!) is having to take on their daily chores. So today was my first day home alone and let me tell you, there's work to be done around here! Like this morning, I had to take out the trash all by myself. I KNOW! Cry, cry, sniff, sniff. Not only did I have to haul the kitchen trash outside but then I had to haul the two large outside cans down the long driveway to the street, one at a time, in the freezing cold (through 3 feet of snow and freezing rain...maybe...okay, probably not).

And then, I had to feed the horse. Having no idea just how to feed the horse, I started out by giving him the wrong hay, the hay that was rotten because it had been sitting out in the rain. So I called my husband and asked if the hay was supposed to smell like mold. No! Not that hay, don't feed the horse that hay, give him the other hay, the hay under the tarp, the dry hay (you idiot)! He didn't say "you idiot," but I could hear these words nonetheless. So I carted the moldy hay out of the horse's reach and gave him fresh hay.

And then I had to check the horse's water. Frozen! Chip, chip, curse, curse. Why is the bloody heater sitting over there in the grass instead of in the tank where it's supposed to be? Probably for the same reason that the hose is lying in the grass, also frozen and attached to the frozen faucet back at the house, because when my husband left home, it was 65 degrees outside. I should have gone outside last night and taken care of these things before I went to bed. Buckets of warm water to the rescue and the horse is finally watered. Stupid horse.

But that's not everything. No. Next up, the goldfish. A simple pinch of food is all they take. Ahem. Except when you open the tank to find that the filter is completely clogged and the little paddle wheel is not atwirling. So a bit of a cleaning was in order, lest the goldfish not live to see another day. Which would be sad really, because, gee, they're getting so big that we might actually have to name them (naming the fish has typically been the beginning of the end for the fish).

Next? The dogs. They have not let me out of their sight since I rolled out of bed, worried I might forget to feed and medicate them. Smokey loves his medicine. Thank goodness for that. I'd hate to be force feeding him pills. So food, medicine and fresh water for the boys.

And lastly? The birds. There are 5 caged birds living in our house. They sing a beautiful song. They also make a hideous mess. Yesterday, I vacuumed up their mess. Today, I checked their food and water supplies and noticed that they need their toenails trimmed. I'm afraid to try this on my own, so instead I worry about their long nails and how they can't get a grip on their perch. Because I need something else to worry about.

So then, when I came home? All of the above, in reverse order.

At least we no longer own snakes, rabbits, rats, hamsters, chameleons, shrews or tarantulas. Things could be worse. But I'll sure be glad when my peoples come back home. 8-}

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Year End Tax Planning

While I'm busy making last minute year-end suggestions, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites (extracted in part from a client memo I just drafted):

Charitable giving:

Cash is always sure to mail the check before 12/31/06.

Non-cash contributions (be sure to ask for a receipt) - there is a listing of values here, to use as a guide for "good quality" items.

Donate appreciated property - you do not have to pay the capital gains tax on the appreciation, but can claim a deduction for the full fair market value of the property (get an appraisal if it's worth more than $5,000)

New this year (and especially helpful if you don't itemize deductions), transfers directly from an IRA to a qualified charity are not taxed (must be over age 70 1/2 and limited to $100,000); this can be a good solicitation incentive if you are helping charities with fundraising also. It's about time we got this one (now if they'll just lower the age requirement)!

Other Itemized Deductions:

If your deductions don't normally allow you to itemize, consider bunching together two years' worth of expenses in one year and then using the "standard" deduction the next year.

Pay your state income and property taxes in December (but if you are subject to Alternative Minimum Tax, this may not help you)

Refinance credit card debt with a home equity loan so that the interest can be deducted (too late to help you this year, but do this sooner rather than later)

Tax Credits:

New energy efficient tax credits for hybrid cars and home improvements purchased in 2006 (up to $2,400)

Business deductions:

For trucks and SUVs with a loaded GVW > 6,000 pounds, the entire cost may be deducted (Section 179) if purchased in 2006, even if the cost is financed and not paid in 2006

Establish retirement plan before year-end (the contributions don't have to be made until the due date for the return but in some cases the plan has to be established by 12/31).

If you are selling business assets or rental property, consider doing a tax-deferred (Section 1031) exchange.

Put your kids to work! Deduct their salary (not subject to social security taxes if they are under 18) and pay their tuition. ;-) You can also then make an IRA contribution for them.

Education strategies:

529 Plans are hands down my favorite option to save for future education expenses. While there are tax credits available for current higher education tuition expenses, 529 Plans are the greatest thing since sliced bread when saving for the future (they are one of the few "tools" out there that allow someone to make a completed gift for estate tax purposes and yet retain full control over the money; the deposits grow tax-deferred and are tax-free if withdrawn for education expenses). Each state's plan goes by a different name and is tied to a particular investment brokerage firm with set investment options, but you are not tied to the plan in your state (e.g. if you want to work with American Century, you can open a Kansas Learning Quest account). The money is not tied to any particular educational institution. Most states allow for a state tax deduction based on the amount contributed.

Capital Gains and Losses (outside of retirement accounts):

Be sure to hold stocks for more than 12 months in order to qualify for lower capital gains rates. The rate difference can be significant (15% vs. 35%) if you fail to meet the 1 year holding period.

If you have capital gains, consider selling off stocks that have lost money if you don't expect them to rebound. Be sure to tell your broker which lot to sell if you have multiple lots, sell the ones that cost the most (biggest loss). Be sure to count reinvested dividends as part of your cost basis.

Mutual funds pay capital gain dividends in Nov-Dec so take these into account, and consider waiting to buy mutual funds until January so you don't have to pay tax on gains that are built into the price of the funds you may purchase in Nov-Dec.

Estate Planning or Business Succession Planning questions?

Email me. ;-)

Da Blues

I don't mean to be a downer, but is anyone else exhausted? I think I've got a case of the Holiday Blues.

I just took my family to the airport where they boarded a plane to California for 10 days of vacation. Yes, that means they will be away over Christmas which is probably the biggest cause of my blues at the moment. Our youngest daughter (my step-daughter) is in CA this year, so it's important for my husband to spend time with her, and for our oldest to see her sister and her Mom. I was not able to take time off from work this year. In fact, while I'm sulking in my own situation, I might as well moan about the nearly 3 weeks of unused vacation time I will be losing this year...but it's not just a job, it's an adventure. Really, if they didn't tell us we get X weeks of vacation per year as a benefit, I might not miss it. I'm not looking for sympathy. I'm just suffering the consequences of my own choices. My heart really goes out to those families who spend Christmas without their loved ones who are stationed in Iraq. At least I have other family here, so I will not spend Christmas alone. And there's always Target's Choxie brand toffee and chocolate covered popcorn...mmmm. ;-)

Speaking of which...I fought the crowds at Target yesterday to relieve some of the Holiday Blues pressure and managed to knock off most of my shopping list with an hour or two at Target. I didn't get my act together soon enough to do my shopping online this year, but check out this site. I thought this would be a great gift idea for some on my list, but it's too late. This particular tree would make a great anniversary gift for Jen and Beau, whose romance can be traced back to a stroll along the Tidal Basin during the Cherry Blossom festival.

Now for getting Christmas cards in the mail. I don't think I've got the energy to do a Christmas letter insert this year. What are your thoughts on a letter? Too impersonal? Like them? Or not?

And while I'm busy whining, our new blogger friend, Janie, whose social calendar is about 12 times busier than mine, has a nice post up that reminds us of the real reason for the season.

Hark! the Herald Angels sing, Glory to the new-born King, Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinner reconciled.

There. I'm all better now. :-)

Saturday, December 16, 2006

See Janie Blog

Janie has a blog! Go see and check in often as she ventures forth into the blogosphere.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mo Keb' Mo'

Following my previous post, I got an interesting response from Darko, whom I might call a blues purist if he doesn't mind me using that expression. I don't know Darko's credentials but I can tell from his passionate and eloquent music reviews, especially in the blues and jazz genres, that he has some music background (maybe he would care to elaborate?) on which to base his opinions and I do value them. Following Darko's comment about singing "Dem Ol' Mortgage Blues," I went to see which album that song was on because I knew there was one (it's actually called Prosperity Blues for anyone who cares besides me, and actually there are a few songs on this particular album that I've never been crazy about although it did win a Grammy for what that's worth...usually a bad sign from a purist's perspective). I found this review of said album, Keep It Simple, which I thought was an especially good review. So this is really just for Darko, to validate what he said, and for anyone else who gives a whit (emphasis mine):

"Keb' Mo' is less a blues singer than a performer who works from that conceptual base, not in the way Taj Mahal does, knowingly carrying a tradition forward, half teacher and wise elder, but more as a populist, the James Taylor of blues [please note, he does not say Kenny G. although this is getting dangerously close], say, or a less recalcitrant J.J. Cale. To criticize him for not being Skip James or Robert Johnson sort of misses the point of what Keb' Mo' is shooting for, and like Bonnie Raitt discovered, bringing a modern popblues to a wide audience sure beats playing authentic for purists. Either path is as fake or as real as the other in a postpostmodern age where the blues creaks along as a single DNA strand in a world of rap, metal, and neosoul. All of which makes the blues a strange career path to use to get straight out of Compton, yet that's exactly what Keb' Mo' has done, rising out of one of toughest urban landscapes in the world by covering Robert Johnson songs on his National steel guitar. So enough about whether he's a real bluesman or not, because in the end he has to put supper on the table, and he does it by crafting a warm, wry, bluesinformed version of pop Americana that wrestles with contemporary problems like how to pay the mortgage, the high price of coffee, or how to afford a vacation in France. "France," the lead track on Keep It Simple, pretty much states the case with the lines "Wake up Mama/Don't you fret/I found two cheap tickets/On the Internet," which Keb' Mo' sings in a honeytinged voice over a patented and tasteful blues shuffle. Later, in "House in California," he sings, "Better have good money/If you're looking for a house/In California," and again, he uses a shuffle to hang the news on, looking no further into the past than necessary to put the song across. Keb' Mo' is a solid guitar player, and is a master of the easy, nuanced vocal, and he makes like Denzel Washington on this album, commenting on the little problems and travails of contemporary life with a winning grin and an assured stance that you can't help but like. Is this a great album? No, just a good one, all of a piece with his earlier work, and his debut release, simply called Keb' Mo', is still probably your best bet for a first purchase. That's the album the critics like best because it stays closest to the Delta definition of the blues, and it is a good album, but Keb' Mo' didn't trade Compton for the Delta just to stay there. He's looking for a house in California and a plane ticket to France. Aren't we all? That's the blues, folks."

- Steve Leggett, All Music Guide

And understanding his upbringing in Compton (South Central Los Angeles) makes the song City Boy, off of his first album, all the more poignant. It's one of my favorites, but there are gems on every album. There are also some real losers, but I'll take the bad with the good. That's what iPods are for. Let the culling begin. ;-)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Random Saturday

Random stuff...

1) Stocking up for Winter:

My beloved husband went grocery shopping and I have a great photo of the 5 (FIVE!) Kozy Shack Old Fashioned Rice Puddings now occupying the top shelf of the refrigerator, alongside the Sljivovica Old Plum Brandy (can't fault him for knowing what he likes ;-). Unfortunately, Blogger doesn't seem to want me to share the photo with you. So just imagine if you will...

2) Select iPod questions, posited here in case anyone out there has answers:

a) Is there any way to transfer music off of the iPod and on to the iTunes library on my hard drive (I've got no problem going the other way, from the library to the pod) so that I can then do a brain dump of everything from my pod onto my husband's (not that he would want this, but still)? I no longer have the music in my library because I deleted most of it, including that which was downloaded, to avoid clogging up the arteries of my hard drive.

b) Why isn't iTunes always able to retrieve album information (artists, song titles, etc) automatically? I just finished copying a stack of CDs and in one instance, iTunes recognized two of the three volumes in a set? Why not the 3rd?

3) I have not done any of my Christmas shopping yet (unlike some, who are breathing through their eyelids at this point). But I did spend some time at the bookstore last night (under the guise of Christmas shopping) and came away with these sooper-duper great finds:

a) Bill Bryson has written a new book!

If you've ever read his books, you already know that he is a prize (to quote the Wall Street Journal, "The wonderfully droll Bryson is unparalleled in his ability to cut a culture off at the knees in a way that is so humorous and so affectionate that those being ridiculed are laughing too hard to take offense."). If you haven't, you owe it to yourself to do so now! If you like Dave Barry (7.27 on the Gunning Fox index), you will love Bill Bryson (8.91, slightly more intellectual, if you ignore his occasional use of the "F" bomb which automatically rules out the strictest interpretation of "intellectual" in my book, but with the same biting wit). He covers a range of topics, from his real specialty of travel essays (A Walk in the Woods and The Lost Continent are personal favorites), to linquistics (Made in America and Mother Tongue), to, well, just about everything (A Short History of Nearly Everything is just that). In his latest book, a memoir, he talks about his middle class upbringing as The Thunderbolt Kid in 1950's Des Moines IA, where the only cheese they ate was "vivid bright yellow and shiny enough to see your reflection in" and "the only bread was white and at least 65% air." The only foreign food they ate was French Toast and the only spices they used were salt, pepper and maple syrup. No offense to Iowans, but even today, those whom I have met still live by these basic food principles.

b) And Keb' Mo' has released a new CD!

Keb' Mo' is also on my favorites list. I first came to know Keb' Mo' when my husband and I went to Eureka Springs, AR for a canoe trip a number of years ago. Only we never canoed (is that the proper spelling? Is canoe even a proper verb?). A great thunderstorm arrived and rendered our canoe trip dead on arrival. Instead we found ourselves in the middle of the Eureka Springs Blues Festival. We had no idea such an event existed, let alone when it might be scheduled (this was one of those serendipitous occasions ;-). So there we were with nothing to do but check out the festival. Unlike many festivals, this one was not outdoors. Instead, they sold tickets to shows at various venues about town, such as old hotel ballrooms, hotel basements, auditoriums, city hall, etc. Eureka Springs is a very small artist community and there are some interesting places tucked away in the old buildings. They sold tickets to each event separately, which made things difficult unless you knew all of the performers. The only names we recognized were Maria Muldaur, Reba Russell, and Tab Benoit. This was easily the "whitest" blues festival I'd ever attended, both in terms of acts and attendees, not surprising given that we were in Arkansas. It appeared that Keb' Mo,' whom we did not know at the time, was the festival's headliner, so we asked the ticket seller, "Who's Keb' Mo' and what kind of music does he play?" She responded with, and I am not editing her response here one bit, "He's a black guy." Oh, really? Well, we half expected that. Could you tell us a little more? Maybe like, oh, I don't know, maybe what instrument he plays, what style of blues, that kind of thing? That's what we should have said. Instead, we just bought tickets and took our chances because, well, he's a black guy. Sheesh! This is why I will never live in Arkansas. Turns out he's a darned good contemporary Delta blues singer/acoustic guitarist/songwriter. That evening, he played unaccompanied on stage, sitting on a folding chair, while we sat in the rafters of the municipal auditorium. It was clearly not the best venue for such an intimate performance but we loved what we heard and went on to see him several more times (in much smaller venues with much better sound equipment and better acoustics) and bought all of his CDs. His latest, Suitcase, is not a disappointment.

and, last but not least...

c) A hefty book (it must weigh 15+ pounds) containing what appears to be the complete life work of the Pythons (as in Monty Python). I found this on one of those discount tables where you'll find any number of odd books that nobody really wants but when you consider that it only costs $0.85 per pound, who can resist? And there are photographs of all 6 Pythons throughout the years, so really, a bargain by any standard.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Orange is The New Pink

I really wasn't going to post any more quizzes for awhile. But Jim made me do it. This one's fairly accurate, especially the part about planning ahead. I've learned the lesson of making God laugh and have since learned to love the habit of "winging it." It seems my happiest memories are those unplanned serendipitous occasions, when reality surpasses all expectations and it's possible to see the supreme Planner at work. Don't get me wrong, I love the anticipation of events and vacations and enjoy thinking about what we might see and do, but rarely go so far as to etch plans into stone. I think I drive most people crazy with my spontaneity. Anyway, I rather like's warm and vibrant and fun!

What Color is Your Brain?


At work or in school: I need to be "hands on": I like to play games, to compete, and to perform. I enjoy flexibility, changes of pace, and variety. I have difficulty with routine and structure. My favorite subjects are music, art, theatre, and crafts. I often excel in sports. I like solving problems in active ways and negotiating for what I want. I can be direct and like immediate results.
With friends: Planning ahead bores me because I never know what I want to do until the moment arrives. I like to excite my friends with new and different things, places to go, and romantic moments.
With family: I need a lot of space and freedom. I want everyone to have fun. It is hard for me to follow rules, and I feel we should all just enjoy one another.
Take this quiz!

Enough about me. What's your story?

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This Blog Contains 0% Trans Fat

Contrary to what I said earlier on Beth's blog, you will find no artificial trans fats here. I use only the real thing. It's real butter or nothing.

But I laughed when I stumbled on this article, via Web MD (where I go to get all my medical advice). First I laughed and then I thought, now, wait just a minute! If I want to indulge in trans fats, why shouldn't I have a right to do so? At the risk of insulting any of my readers who smoke (although I beg of you to STOP! NOW!!), I understand the ban on smoking in public places. "Your" smoke bothers those who share the same air space. There are studies that show it is more harmful to me than to "you." Smoking infringes on other people's right to breathe cleaner air (although if it's clean air you're after, places like NYC are not the place to be anyway, but that's a different matter). So I get that.

But banning a substance that has apparently passed muster with the FDA just because it is harmful to me (and others who choose to eat it), makes no sense. If I want to order 4 fried chickens and a coke, that's my prerogative. Am I just being overly sensitive here? Is this really about protecting our rights as consumers to keep medical costs down so that we can have reasonable health insurance costs? I think not. At least, no one is saying that. I think this is a case of too much government gettin' in our business. I'm sure if I tried, I could think of many more things in NYC that call for banning besides trans fats. But that would only be cause for a heated debate. I'll let the late night talk show hosts handle the Top 10 lists.

That is all.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Literacy Link Fest

Darko had an interesting link up today. Have you all seen this?

Of course, I went and took the stupid test. Because that's what I do. And here are the results.

(Dear God, please give her something more worthy of a post, will you? Amen.)

Okay, on with the results.

Reading Level Results Summary:

Words with 1 Syllable = 2361
Words with 2 Syllables = 714
Words with 3 Syllables = 231
Words with 4 or more Syllables = 84
Gunning Fog Index = 7.75*

As I mentioned on Darko's post, what this basically means is that I'm writing at the Jr. High level, less than required for a Reader's Digest subscription. I was pleased, however, that two of my favorites, Mark Twain and The Bible (surely not the King James Version) are at the 6th grade level.

Note that I have only ever used 84 words with 4 syllables or more and 70% of my words are only one syllable. Grunts really. Who wants all those extra syllables anyway? Does that really impress people? A big fat NO! to that. I like to write like I like to read, in simple sentences, with simple words, with a complex thought thrown in once in awhile. I think the most complex thoughts are best understood with simple words. Big words are best used out of context, when you least expect them, I think. When the point you're trying to make is really very simple, then a big word can add an element of humor. Really, isn't that what Dr. Seuss did?

And because I love you guys and don't want you to have to do all the work (and copying Darko's idea) I present your scores for comparison:

Beth 8.35

Eric 9.43 (with words like décolletage, you're bound to do well on this test ;-)

Jim 8.67

Brian 7.12 (Brian hasn't written enough words yet for this to be a fair representation of the "Supreme Nerd's" true score)

Emma 7.57

Susie 6.38

Foo 8.36

Bret 8.86

Jimmy 7.86

Cowtown Pattie 8.78 (What this doesn't reflect is Pattie's artfully crafted story telling abilities)

Mis_Nomer (no score?! The computer could not even read her blog!)

Thinklings 9.35

Sgazzetti 9.61

Darko 8.89

Okay, now for some anomolies (a 4-syllable word!):

Rachel 4.95 (really? Well, she does teach small children, but still...)

Jen 5.57 (sumpin ain't write here cuz Jen is real gud with words; no, really, she is a word smith; what's wrong with this picture?)

*According to Darko, who scored a 97 on the nerd test, so who's to question him, this is the most important indicator and it indicates the grade level that one needs to pass in order to comprehend your blog. Go read the link for yourself if you want any more information than that. ;-)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Low-Ranking Nerd

Not sure what this does for me, or why I bothered to take this quiz, but now that I've done so, here you go, more blog fodder for the masses:

I am nerdier than 65% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

This is not a surprising result. Is this something like a low-grade fever? According to the report, I am "low on the totem pole of nerds." If Napoleon Dynamite had a sister, I might have been that girl. In fact, Napoleon reminds me of my own brother (in the olden days, of course). Oh, I'm in some trouble now. 8-}

Via Jim, whose score appears a bit low to me. He must have copied off of someone else's paper. ;-)



Is it important?

Our youngest daughter is an excellent reader and creative thinker and has the potential to become a great writer, but as yet, has not subscribed to the common belief that punctuation is important. She is very "inner-directed" (her pre-school teacher's words). This is not always a good thing. I've tried reading her stories back to her without punctuation (it's hard to go that long without breathing, you know), to illustrate the possible pitfalls of leaving so much up to the reader. So far, this has not left a lasting impression. *sigh*

To wit, here is a sign I saw yesterday that could have benefitted from the addition of just a little punctuation:


Now, is this place really selling sapphires? And fresh fish? And soul food?

Or, are we missing an apostrophe? Does this place belong to someone named Sapphire?

Should there be a comma between fish and soul food, or not? Is Sapphire selling fresh fish and cooked soul food? Or just soul food with fish in it? The Health Department might like to know.

Should the police be looking into such a place if it's in a neighborhood populated by pawn shops and drug salesmen?

The Desert Island Memequel

Again, courtesy of Eric. Now, instead of movies, we are to consider which teevee series we would want with us on a desert island. This should be "interesting" as I'm not sure I've seen enough teevee to make "educated" choices. And honestly? The last thing I'd want to do on a desert island is watch teevee, but here goes (heh, this probably shows my age):

Western - Bonanza :-)
Horror - Dark Shadows
Sci-Fi - Star Trek
Musical - Saturday Night Live, the earliest years (hey, they had a musical guest on every show ;-)
Comedy - I Love Lucy (I really never tire of these old episodes)
Police/Crime/Courtroom Drama - Dragnet (I'm not a fan of today's hyper intensive police/crime dramas)
Medical Drama - I like Eric's choice of M*A*S*H
Foreign - Mr. Bean (although this almost counts as a mini-series; does Charlie Chan count as foreign?)
Variety - The Tonight Show, w/Johnny Carson
Mini-series - The last mini-series I watched was Roots back in 1977 and I'm not sure I could watch it again, so maybe Pride & Prejudice? or Lonesome Dove?
Bonus Pick (any genre) - Lost (I've not yet watched this, but being stranded on a desert island seems a good time to begin); no, strike that, I'll take Gilligan's Island. ;-)


Friday, December 01, 2006

The Winter Weather Drive Home Report

It's 4:00 am and I'm awake and ready to go. But where? It's 4:00 am and it's snowing outside! I'm up early because I went to bed at 7:30 pm, thrashed by the latest snow storm to blow through. I left work early to try and beat the snow storm home but got on the roads and realized it was already too late. I tried playing the all-Christmas radio channel to boost my spirits as I hit the snowy, slippery highways at a blazing 5 mph. I was in for a long and frightening and downright exhausting drive home. This, after last night's drive home on pure ice that landed me short of home, at my brother's house, was almost more than I could handle. Almost. That's the key, isn't it? God never gives us more than we can handle, but He's not averse to testing us.

While my drive is normally a 35-minute, 35 mile, affair, Thursday night's trip took a little over 2 hours and involved peril. Usually, if snow is predicted, I will drive the Tahoe (it is old and it has over 200,000 miles on it but it is still 4-wheel drive and has some clearance for snowy conditions), but I left home on Wednesday morning without even a winter jacket, driving my VW Beetle, with race slicks and 4 inches of clearance. In snowy conditions, the VW's wheel wells fill with packed snow and turn the whole machine into something resembling a snowball. Packed snow, coupled with balding tires, causes much sliding and uncontrolled driving, resulting in what I imagine looks something like slow motion ice capades. I was not the only performer on the road either. There were others and our choreography was not well-rehearsed. The 18-wheelers were especially ill-prepared for the dance, barrelling down the road at a roaring 40 mph while the rest of us were busy twirling on ice. Anyway, after many frightful moments, prayers, deep breaths and pleas for safety, I arrived home and barely made it up the slippery driveway, into the safety of our garage. Halleleujia! My left leg was shaking like a sewing machine needle from all of its hard work operating the clutch (that's the other problem with the 5-speed VW in slow-going and perilous traffic; it involves a lot more work by the underutilized left leg). So, I made it home and after dinner and a glass of wine (maybe two), I went to bed thoroughly exhausted. But thank God I made it home.

Wednesday night, I was not so fortunate as to make it home, but I was very blessed to spend the night at my brother's house not far from my office. While Thursday night's adventure involved mostly snow, Wednesday night's was all ice. The rain turned to sleet in the early afternoon and, due to work related pressures, I could not get away until 4:30 pm, throwing what loose ends I could into my briefcase and racing out the door before things got any worse. By the time I got away, the sleet had accumulated on the roads and there was at least an inch of ice, and growing. I didn't even try to get on the highway, thinking I might navigate my way across town on the main surface streets, ultimately having to take the highway at some point and the final leg of the journey is a 5 mile stretch of rolling hills on a two-lane country highway. About 5 miles into my journey, I conceded the "fight," knowing there was no way I could expect to make it all the way home and called my brother before I got to the point of no return. "Hi D, how are you? Mind if I come spend the night at your house tonight?" Nothing like having unexpected company drop in at the last minute and ask to spend the night. 8-} Finding a hotel room was Plan B. "Sure," he said. When I arrived at his home (every inch of driving on the ice was hard work), I first breathed a deep sigh of relief. Then, I rang the doorbell. They greeted me with open arms. His home was so warm and cozy with the decorations of Christmas and smells of good home cooking. My SIL was in the finishing stages of making beef stew, cornbread and chocolate/chocolate chip cookies! How absolutely wonderful is that?! I was oh so thankful for the blessings of family nearby when I needed them. Plus, I got to spend time with my precious neices and nephew who spent much of the evening doing homework and practicing their violin, flute and drums, respectively. What a treat!

And yes, I wore the same clothes to work two days in a row. 8-}