Friday, November 30, 2007

Better Mental Health In Republicans

Gallup reported a new poll today (HT: WorldNetDaily) showing that Republicans report better mental health than Independents or Democrats.

Republicans are significantly more likely than Democrats or independents to rate their mental health as excellent, according to data from the last four November Gallup Health and Healthcare polls. Fifty-eight percent of Republicans report having excellent mental health, compared to 43% of independents and 38% of Democrats. This relationship between party identification and reports of excellent mental health persists even within categories of income, age, gender, church attendance, and education.

Page 2 shows the graphs with the breakdowns by the different categories. Page 3 gives the proper caveat that this kind of study only shows correlations and can't give the cause of the results.

It makes sense to me (a Republican) that Republicans report better mental health. (I'm going to be generalizing here, so don't go nit-picking about the exceptions.) Republicans tend to believe in strong marriages and families, and people are generally more satisfied with their lives when they're married and in good families.

Democrats tend to believe in non-traditional families being just as good as traditional ones. They seem to be constantly fighting to change society into their ideal, which is an uphill battle and can wear people down so they have lower mental health. If they can get non-traditional families accepted, they'll notice that too many people smoke around children. Or that too many people are still using incandescent light bulbs and not recycling enough, so the planet is going to hell in a handbasket. It's all so depressing when you're a Democrat.

Yes, Republicans are a lot less angry than Democrats. And a lot happier. And a lot healthier.

Let's all be Republicans and make the world a better place!

Twenty-five Christmas Questions

I saw this at Bekah's Bits, and I wanted to play too. Twenty-five questions about Christmas:

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper, unless I must use a gift bag.

2. Real tree or artificial? I prefer real, but I don't have room for one, so it's a small fake one now.

3. When do you put up the tree? When I get around to it. Usually before Christmas.

4. When do you take the tree down? When I get around to it. Usually after Christmas.

5. Do you like eggnog? I don't remember.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? Nothing stands out from when I was little. In high school, though, my parents got me a 10-speed bike, and I was thrilled because the bike I'd been using was a dork bike. I took the new bike outside and rode it in the snow.

7. Do you have a Nativity scene? Yes. Clear glass.

8. Hardest person to buy for? Everybody. I'm not a shopper.

9. Easiest person to buy for? Nobody. I'm not a shopper.

10. Worst Christmas Gift you ever received? When I was in high school, my brother got me some lavender cologne. It smelled good in the bottle, but it stunk on me. I don't blame him (how would he have known?), but it didn't work out.

11. Mail or email Christmas cards? Christmas cards? Huh?

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol (yes, I know, it was a TV show not a movie).

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? When I must.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? No.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Cream wafer cookies. Little flaky sandwich cookies that melt in your mouth because they're all whipping cream and butter. Hmmm. We're going to have to make some this year...

16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? Colored.

17. Favorite Christmas song? O Holy Night. And among the rest, O Come, O Come Emmanuel, because I like the lyrics and also the fact that it's in a minor key--so different from all the rest of the Christmas carols.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay home? Home.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Yes but only if I sing the song.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? With the little tree, neither. The angel & star are too big.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas Morning.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Shopping.

23. What is the 'corniest' family tradition you do, or miss doing? Putting "Sputnik" on the Christmas tree. It's a dreadfully ugly ornament I made when I was in Blue Birds in about 4th grade, with velvet ribbons & beads & golden-headed hatpins stuck in it all over. It always goes on the tree near the top so we can see it.

24. Ugliest Christmas Decoration ever invented? Sputnik.

25. Which looks best theme trees or homey trees? Theme trees look best, but they're for businesses. Homey trees belong at home.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Jesus & Mary in a Pancake

Photo credit: Dana O'Kane

The St. Petersburg Times reported November 20, 2007, on the latest sighting of Jesus. This time, He was seen with His mother in a pancake.

The grainy image emerged from a batch of Great Value pancake mix, bought at Wal-Mart for $1.25 - a suitably humble beginning for a wanna-be apparition.

Port St. Lucie resident Dana O'Kane said she discerned the outline of Jesus and Mary in the mottled pancake and took it as a reassuring sign from her recently departed father.

Two weeks ago, her mother was about to apply chocolate powder to a batch of pancakes when she noticed headlike shapes at the edge of one.

Her mother, though, did not want to be associated publicly with a Jesus pancake. But she did telephone her daughter, who lives nearby, to come for a viewing.

O'Kane said a halo over one figure tipped her off.

"I know it's Jesus and Mary," she said. "It's unmistakable."

I've mentioned this kind of Jesus sighting before, and I have to say the pancake is unmistakably NOT Jesus and Mary. It looks more like the wide-mouthed Creature from the Black Lagoon (right) and the girl he carried away (or did he only try to carry her away, it's hard to remember the details of the movie).

I don't know when the news media is going to stop reporting the sighting of indiscriminate blobs as Jesus. The Bible says He dwells in the hearts of the people who believe in Him. He doesn't dwell in pancakes or kitchen cabinets or the stain on your favorite jeans.

O'Kane's mother is the smart one here, for not wanting "to be associated publicly with a Jesus pancake."

Related Note:

It looks like they're doing a remake of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, set for a 2008 release date. IMDB says the movie is still in production.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Trip - It Comes Tomorrow!

Shortly after I got home from Texas, I loaded the dishwasher and turned the knob to fire it up. It made noise, but not enough noise and not the right kind of noise. No water happened inside. I tried several times, just in case. Nothing.

There are two routes I could have taken. First, I could call a repairman, pay lots of money for him to show up and look at it, then pay more for him to (hopefully) fix it, and by the time it would be over it would have cost as much as a brand new, but cheap, dishwasher. Second, I could (or might be forced to, after the repairman arrived) just go and buy a new one. I opted for the second route.

Last Tuesday (over a week ago) I called my mom, because she gets Consumer Reports, and she found the dishwasher issue and told me what they picked as the CR Best Buy: Whirlpool, Hotpoint, Maytag, and Kenmore.

At Best Buy, I checked prices and features, then went over to Sears to look at the Kenmore and compare prices to Best Buy. They had a sign that guaranteed "next day installation," which was perfect for getting it in time for Thanksgiving, but the salesman assured me that didn't apply to the holiday season. Bummer. It turns out their "next day installation" only applies to non-built-in appliances, like freestanding stoves and refrigerators. Definitely not dishwashers.

I picked a basic (inexpensive) model, since that's what was in the house already, and had to laugh a little when the salesman asked me if I wanted the extended warranty. I had already explained that my house was for sale, so I told him again before declining the offer. He said the dishwasher wouldn't even be in the warehouse for the installers to pick up until Friday, and then the installers would call me to arrange installation.

They called me the next day to tell me that the soonest they could bring it out was the 29th, and (I asked) they didn't give priority to people with broken ones over people who just wanted a newer one. This afternoon they called with my installation window: tomorrow between 2:00 and 5:00.

I can't (but must) wait! I've been doing dishes by hand since I got home. Nobody should have to suffer such a fate, especially with the Thanksgiving dishes.

So tomorrow I'll be sure to dirty some dishes so I can put the new dishwasher through its paces. I'm more than ready for it to get here.

Update (Thursday 6:00 pm):

I have a new dishwasher and it works! What a great day.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Illuminated Lane Markers

Photo credit: Astucia
Autoblog reported Wednesday on a new invention that's improving driving safety in Great Britain.

Night-time travel is a necessary part of the busy world in which we live, but due to decreased visibility, traveling in the dark can be dangerous. The British have shed some light on night driving with the invention of the Astucia SolarLite flush road stud. The stud emits LED light, which is powered by small solar panels. The new stud tech is present on 120 British roads, and night-time accidents are down a dramatic 70% since the devices were installed. Amazingly, the SolarLite road stud gives drivers 900 meters of visibility, which increases reaction times to over 30 seconds. Reaction time with standard reflector studs is just 3.2 seconds.

This looks really great, especially for California's freeways. Anything that improves the safety of night driving can't come a minute too soon.

Iraq War is Hell on Box Office

So says Joe Garafoli in his San Francisco Chronicle column Friday.

Despite A-list casts - including Robert Redford, Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones - and generally good reviews, war-related dramas tanked this fall at the box office, failing to attract a substantial audience during Hollywood's serious film season. And now, with the lighter holiday movie fare blanketing screens beginning this weekend, the cultural window to bring narratives about the war to multiplex patrons is closing.

But to some Iraq veterans, like [Army National Guard sergeant Jabbar] Magruder, who have tried to raise awareness about the war's perils, the apathy represents a larger disconnect many Americans feel toward the war. Implicit in the Redford, Streep and Tom Cruise film "Lions for Lambs" is a challenge to filmgoers to become impassioned about the war.

"I thought that with the casts (of these films), at least a portion of America would go to see them," said Magruder, a 24-year-old who is taking premed classes at California State University Northridge and is the Los Angeles chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Like many soldiers, he joined the service out of a sense of duty and, because his family had limited financial means, to pay for college.

"America doesn't want to deal with Iraq, period," Magruder said. "There's just apathy. And that's what a lot of veterans, no matter what their position on the war, are finding when they come back home."

It's typical that this story is coming out the the San Francisco area, where people "don't want to deal with Iraq" or the military. What Magruder wants from America is for them to oppose the war the way he does, the way Hollywood does.

Hollywood these days loves to make movies that show America and Americans as the bad guys. In their eyes, the military is nothing but a bunch of hormone-raged killers and rapists, and their movies reflect that view. The problem for Hollywood, though, is that most of America doesn't share their jaded hearts.

I love going to movies, but I try not to go until I know it's safe. If there's a question about the viewpoint of a film, or about how heavy-handed it is, I'll wait until I hear from someone who has seen it before I decide whether to go.

Wednesday, I caught the last hour of Michael Medved's radio show, and he talked about the movies that were opening this weekend, two of which are about the war in Iraq. He said In the Valley of Elah is a "hateful film." And Redacted is almost as bad. Lions for Lambs (already out) is another film that blames America first, which seems to be why columnist Garafoli and the anti-Iraq-War Magruder like it so well.

The Iraq War movie I want to see is the movie Hollywood doesn't want to make. I want to see the We Were Soldiers of the Iraq War, a movie that tells of the bravery of our soldiers and the difference they made over there. I want to see a movie about the best of who America is, but Hollywood only wants to tell us about the worst of who we are.

It's not that the Iraq War itself is hell on the bottom line for the box office. It's that Hollywood's version of the Iraq War is. But Hollywood and the anti-military crowd just can't figure that out.

Other movie notes:

Some of the other movies Michael Medved mentioned were:

The Mist: "A dog." It's a Stephen King story, but the (liberal) reviewers have said the Christian character is scarier than the monsters out there in the mist. Another anti-Christian movie portraying Christians as one-dimensional rabid zeaolts. I won't be seeing it.

Enchanted: "Delightful." A fairy tale princess and her prince get zapped into modern New York City. I'm planning to see it with friends after church tomorrow.

The Golden Compass (coming soon): Michael Medved didn't talk about it, but the publicity surrounding it says it's an anti-God, atheism-promoting film. They won't get a penny from me for this movie.

The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian is scheduled for May 16, 2008. Such a long wait...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Mixed Emotions at Thanksgiving

My daughter called me a couple nights ago after she left one of her night classes at the community college. She was at a standstill in traffic and wanted to know if I'd heard anything on the news about it. I hadn't.

She called later to tell me that a helicopter had just landed on the freeway, and my heart sank for what that said about the victims of the accident. I still didn't know anything, though. And then she said they were making the cars leave the freeway by way of the on-ramp. When she got to my house, she looked on the local news websites, but didn't see anything about what had happened.

The next morning I heard about it on the radio news. A pickup hit a van on the westbound side of the freeway around 9:30 pm, causing the van to flip. A woman and a child were thrown from the van. The woman landed on the road on the eastbound side, where she was hit by a car and killed. The child was hospitalized with very serious injuries, and another child was also hospitalized, though with less serious injuries. They didn't say if the woman was related to the children, but it sounds likely.

It's Thanksgiving now, and as I go through my preparations, my thoughts keep going back to this family that must be reeling from the loss of a mother while they stand watch over children in the hospital, helpless to do anything for them beyond praying for healing. How fleeting life is.

It sets my Thanksgiving celebration in perspective.

I've got a twelve-pound turkey, and my kids are coming over. My daughter told me she wants to prepare dinner, to give me a break this year. I told her that I like cooking some of the dinner, but at the same time, I had already thought that she needed some practice cooking a turkey for someday when she gets married. So I'll let her do the work this year, and I'll supervise.

My son is willing to help where he's needed. Last night, after my church's Thanksgiving Eve service, the three of us made pumpkin pie. It's hard to divvy up the pie-making tasks, but I had my son mix the dry ingredients (the sugar was lumpy after being left to its own devices for so long, so it needed some good pounding) and my daughter mix the wet ones. I made the crusts, and my daughter rolled out the second one while my son and I ran to the grocery store for a can opener for the pumpkin (I had taken mine to Texas for the trip, but we threw it out because it was getting too creepy to use anymore).

The pies are in the fridge, and I'm waiting for the kids to arrive, and I can't begin to say how thankful I am for every moment I get to spend with them.

And I'm so incredibly thankful that I decided to take the trip with my mom, for the time we've spent seeing places together and just hanging out (plus the entertainment value that Scooter offers). I'm thankful for the people we've been able to visit on the way--meeting blogger buddies, seeing old friends, and visiting family. And I'm thankful for the chance it gave me to clear my head and decide on a plan for the future.

At the Thanksgiving Eve service, they didn't have live musicians but used videos for the songs we sang. Those videos showed scenes of the country, and I found myself reliving parts of our trip. Super-speed shots of driving down the highway through the desert (we did that, only within the speed limit), clips of Niagara Falls, clouds on skyscrapers, lush green countryside from the air. I'm thankful that so many of those scenes felt personal.

But most of all, I'm thankful for the love and grace of Jesus, my Lord and my God. Without Him, I don't know where I'd be.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bad Science at Surface Temperature Recording Stations

WorldNetDaily reported yesterday about the poor condition of many stations recording the official surface temperature for climate measurement.

Dire "global warming" predictions are based on bad science from the very start, says a veteran meteorologist who found surface temperatures recorded throughout the U.S. are done so with almost no regard to scientific standards.

As a result of his shocking initial findings that temperature monitoring stations were constructed and placed without regard to achieving accurate recordings of natural temperatures, Anthony Watts set out to investigate the facilities used by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

What he found were temperature stations with sensors on the roofs of buildings, near air-conditioning exhaust vents, in parking lots near hot automobiles, barbecues, chimneys and on pavement and concrete surfaces – all of which would lead to higher temperature recordings than properly established conditions.

To qualify as a properly maintained temperature station, sensors must be placed in elevated, slatted boxes on flat ground surrounded by a clear surface on a slope of less than 19 degrees with surrounding grass and vegetations ground cover of less than 10 centimeters high. The sensors must be located at least 100 meters from artificial heating or reflecting surfaces, such as buildings, concrete surfaces and parking lots.

The photo included in the article, of Lovelock, Nevada's temperature sensor, is not one of the official climate monitoring stations. The one included above (Tahoe City, California) is an official station. It's close to parking (not shown in the photo), a tennis court only 25 feet away, not the required 100 feet, and of course a trash-burning barrel only 5 feet away.

The vast majority of the stations surveyed to date [(one third of the 1,221 stations)] fail to meet the prescribed standards. Using a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 reflecting proper maintenance and standards and 5 representing facilities that are severely compromised, Watts says 70 percent of those stations surveyed received a 4 or 5 rating, while only 4 percent received a grade of 1.

All of the most egregious violations he has observed in the study would result in artificially higher temperatures being recorded.

I suppose it's possible that every other country in the world is doing a better job of carefully measuring surface temperatures in a scientifically sound manner than we are. I suppose...

But pictures like this one and the others at Watts's website tend to give a new meaning to the term, "man-made global warming." How much of global warming is real, and how much of it is man-made inaccuracy? Judging by the condition of our official surface temperature monitorning stations, we have no idea. And we won't be able to know until they get the problems corrected. And the U.S. Historical Climatological Network has not been addressing the problems.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Trip - Back at Home

I got back home last night, hitting San Diego just in time for Friday evening rush hour. During the ride throuh Del Mar, my car was moving, but my speedometer said "0." This is why I never pursued finding work in San Diego, even though it's closer to home than Orange County. Getting to Orange County takes less time than getting to San Diego.

On the way home, I noticed that West Texas is harvesting cotton. My sister used to live up in the Texas Panhandle about 25 years ago, and that was a big cotton-farming area. I was surprised to see cotton in Oil Country, but I suppose they have to do something with the top of the ground too.

Yesterday morning, in Lordsburg, New Mexico, I paid $2.759 for gas, the cheapest I'd seen in weeks. By afternoon, in Gila Bend, Arizona, I paid $3.059 and was happy to get such a good deal. In the evening, as I approached San Diego, the prices were through the roof. I didn't stop there, since I had just enough gas left to make it home, where the prices were usually about the lowest on my end of town. But when I got to the gas stations by my house and saw the prices there, I said aloud in the car, "Three-freakin'-thirty-one???" (Yes, those were my exact words. I did not say the bad "F" word.) California's gasoline taxes really stink! I put in half a tank, because I was down to fumes. But I didn't like it one bit.

Things got better after that.

My kids came over last night, and we watched Amazing Grace, because I had promised my daughter we would. My son wasn't quite as thrilled, but he stayed anyway (happy mom!).

Today I un-forwarded my mail (the Post Office won't let you put your mail on vacation hold for the over two months I was gone, so it was going to my friend's house) and met my daughter at the bookstore, where I bought Trigonometry Demystified and we hung out over chai tea lattes for a while. Then I bought some food, because my house had none.

Tonight my daughter and I went to my friend's house (the one who had all my mail) for Game Night, where six of us played two games of Baker Street (my daughter won the second game).

I had some trouble remembering where things were in my house, like going to the mug cupboard when I was trying to find a glass for water, or trying to figure out where I usually put my watch for the night (not sure, so I picked a spot). And I couldn't quite remember if I had everything I needed for my shower, so I stood there staring at the running water, wondering what was missing (nothing) before I finally got in. Little things like that. It's good to be back home, but it's still a bit disconcerting.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Trip - Heading Home

I leave for home this morning in my car. It's 1258 miles away, according to Mapquest.

I would have stayed longer, until after Thanksgiving, but when I was talking to my daughter over the weekend, she said she doesn't have anyone to have Thanksgiving with. Her dad and his wife will be going away on vacation for a week. And her friend, who used to live with us, is renting a room from a guy who doesn't allow land-based meats in his house. So the best my daughter could hope for over there is tofu turkey, and she's not up for that.

I'm not sure if my son has plans yet or not.

So I'm heading home. I've made the drive in 2 days before, but last time it took me 4 days. I'll try to get home before Saturday night, so I can go to church on Sunday.

And then I'll come back to Texas around the first of the year, so we can finish up our Trip.

Update (Thursday evening):

It sure is easier to drive through El Paso in a Toyota than in a 30-foot motorhome towing a Toyota.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Amazing Grace

It came out on DVD today, not December 4th as previously advertised.

I bought it. I watched it. Man, I love that movie!

Monday, November 12, 2007

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I've started reading Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. I bought it, I think when we were stuck in Odessa waiting for motorhome repairs and we went to the mall and walked through a bookstore, but hadn't read it yet. We had other smaller books to read at mealtimes.

I first heard about the book earlier this year, probably February or March, when Hugh Hewitt was reading it and became alarmed about the fact reported in the book that Yellowstone seems overdue for a massive explosion (average: every 600,000 years, time since the last one: 640,000 years). Hugh started asking the callers to his radio show (before they had a chance to say what they called about) if they had plans to visit Yellowstone this summer, and weren't they worried about it? I had plans to visit there and wasn't worried, but didn't call his show about it.

Hugh even had an expert on his show, the head geologist for the Yellowstone basin, and the expert said that the average is actually closer to 700,000 years. However, he said there have only been three massive explosions, with only two gaps between to use for averaging, and that doesn't give enough of a trend to be meaningful. So we really don't know.

I haven't got that far into the book yet, but I was hooked by the Introduction. Here are a couple paragraphs from there:

To begin with, for you to be here now trillions of drifiting atoms had somehow to assemble in an intricate and intriguingly obliging manner to create you. It's an arrangement so specialized and particular that it has never been tried before and will only exist this once. For the next many years (we hope) these tiny particles will uncomplainingly engage in all the billions of deft, cooperative efforts necessary to keep you intact and let you experience the supremely agreeable but generally underappreciated state known as existence....

Still, you may rejoice that [life] happens at all. Generally speaking in the universe it doesn't, so far as we can tell. This is decidedly odd because the atoms that so liberally and congenially flock together to form living things on Earth are exactly the same atoms that decline to do it elsewhere. Whatever else it may be, at the level of chemistry life is curiously mundane: carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen, a little calcium, a dash of sulfur, a light dusting of other very ordinary elements--nothing you wouldn't find in any ordinary drugstore--and that's all you need. The only thing special about the atoms that make you is that they make you. That is of course the miracle of life.

It's a book about science, about space, the solar system, the Earth, and life on Earth. But it's by a non-scientist. Bryson puts the arcane, incomprehensible stuff that likes to hang out in science tomes into a delightfully readable format for the rest of us non-scientists. He tells about scientific discoveries, but he also tells us about the kookiness of the people who made those discoveries (as well as some of the unfortunate losers who discovered nothing in their valiant attempts). I'm reading Chapter 4 now, and I've stopped numerous times to read a particularly interesting passage aloud to my mom.

I didn't want to wait until I finished the whole book before recommending it to everyone else.

Gotta go now. It's in the 1700's and they're trying to measure the Earth to see if Isaac Newton was right that it's not a perfect sphere after all...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Honoring Veterans Day

Even Google is honoring our veterans this year. It's about time.

WorldNetDaily has links to a couple AP stories related to Veterans Day. The first is the story of a new wife's devotion to her war-wounded husband. Grab a hanky.

The second is about the 25th anniversary of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, DC. I needed a hanky for that one too. That's just the way I am...

Thank you, veterans, for your service and sacrifices! And thank you, families of our veterans, for the sacrifices you made as well.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Trip - Friday Night Lights

I haven't been to a high school football game since... high school. Tonight we went to see the Cisco Loboes' last home game, against the Godley Wildcats. The whole town comes out for home games and fills the stands.

My brother-in-law filled me in on how the Loboes have been doing this year. He said their closest game so far was 41 - 6 at half-time, then they put in their second-string for the second half. But the Wildcats have been doing well this season too.

We got there early to get good seats, and after we were settled, my mom and I went down to the snack bar to get some dinner. I got a Frito Pie (Fritos covered with nacho cheese and chili), and my mom got a Sausage Wrap (Polish sausage in a tortilla). But what's with this snack?

They announced that the Rifle Raffle tickets were still available. One of the businesses in town had donated a rifle, and tickets were $5 each or 5 tickets for $20. I didn't buy any tickets. It's times like this that I'm reminded that Texas isn't the same as the rest of the country.

The teams took the field. These are the Loboes, flanked by their cheerleaders (sorry for the darkness).

After both teams had been announced, there was a moment of silence, the band played the National Anthem, and the game began.

The Loboes scored their first touchdown a minute and two seconds into the game, after the Wildcats won the coin toss and chose to receive. But the game was close. At half-time, the score was only 21 - 0. Three touchdowns, one extra point, and one safety.

The game was filled with yellow flags. Most of them were for Illegal Procedure, and there was one Personal Foul in the 4th Quarter, where a Wildcat got called for kicking a Lobo in the chest.

The Loboes played hard. When they ran the ball, they did it with determination to keep adding yards, even with the Wildcats pulling on their jerseys. They passed well, and their defense was solid. On one play, the Wildcats passed the ball and their receiver caught it, only to slam into a brick wall of a Lobo, who knocked the Wildcat on his back.

The final score was 48 - 6.

They made a movie about small-town Texas high school football, but I haven't seen it. I saw the game in person instead. Too bad football season is about over.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Trip - Back in Cisco Again

After we left my aunt's house in North Carolina, we pretty much made a bee-line for Cisco. No more sight-seeing, beyond looking at the scenery along the interstate. We took I-85 to Atlanta, where we caught I-20 and stayed on that all the way home.

Our internet access suffered as a result. One RV Park had secure internet, but because they had family visiting from England, they had the office closed and their "after hours" info didn't include the secret security key for the WiFi. Another place had unsecured WiFi, but they must have had a satellite link, because the lady at the office said they couldn't get to the internet on cloudy or rainy days, and that was our first seriously overcast day in a couple weeks. I got internet access at one place just long enough to pay my bills on time, and that was about it. It sure is nice to be back where the internet works all the time.

Now that our Northeastern Loop has ended, the most striking thing about that trip was how quickly the accents changed. Some of the changes were expected: A little more "R" in the non-Boston parts of Massachusetts than there were in Maine, the New-York-lite accent in Philadelphia. But it seemed as though we had hardly left Pennsylvania before we started being met with Southern Drawl. In one day we cut across parts of Maryland and West Virginia and stopped in Northern Virginia for the night. They're so close, so how can they speak so differently?

There are words, in the non-accented American English, that are one-syllable words, but some of them become two-syllable words (or almost) in certain parts of the country. I already mentioned a couple of them from New York (Dawn, sauce). Back in Texas, the name, Jim, can be two syllables: "Jee-uhm." In North Carolina, though, Jim was "Jim," but now became "nay-oh" and self became "say-ulf." Those two words are one syllable in Texas.

When we stayed overnight in Vicksburg, Mississippi, I overheard a woman talking on her cell phone in the restrooms (!!). She was leaning against the sinks, but still... That's not my point though. She said something about being "over in Mississippi," so she was probably from Northern Louisiana, but possibly from Alabama. Then she went on to say, "I'm Zack's wife." The word, "wife," came out with a major nasal sound along with the drawn-out "ah" for the "i."

This is America, and we're not supposed to have nasals in our language, but there it was. And it sounded exactly like a preacher I watched on a video, when he said "Why?" Very distinctive, but I can't remember where he was from.

Nasals are what they have in French (and in Polish, but nobody here knows about that). I used to work with a guy who was married to a woman from somewhere south of Mexico, so he spoke Spanish fluently and thought the language was beautiful. Not like French, he'd say, where they have that nasal thing that makes the language sound ugly. Then he'd pronounce the word, "Renault" with two nasals to prove his point, even though Renault doesn't have any nasals in it.

But proper English doesn't have any nasals in it. Or so I thought, before I watched "Pride and Prejudice," with Keira Knightley, who is from England and knows how to pronounce British English correctly. There's the scene, after Mr. Bingley leaves for London and Jane is sure he never really loved her, and Elizabeth (Keira) says, "He loves you, Jane. Do not give up." And she says, "up," with a nasal. I've watched that movie a bunch of times, and the nasal appears at random times in the conversation, without any detectable rules for usage. Strange, but it proves my theory that only Americans (of the non-accented variety) know how to pronounce English properly.

Accents weren't the only interesting thing on our trip. There were signs posted that confused me. The first one was on the interstate, possibly in New York. It was a blue sign, like a Rest Area sign, which we were looking for, but it said, "Service Area." Huh? Well, nothing was broken, so we didn't need any servicing of our vehicles, so we passed it. But it was a gas station and McDonalds's and presumably had restrooms. After I thought about it a while, it made sense that there would be a place for people to get food and gas on a toll road without having to leave (and pay a toll) and then get back on (and pay another toll). But the name wasn't very clear to someone from a place where the only toll roads make you get off (and pay a toll) when you need to get gas.

In Massachusetts, there was a town with a sign near the City Limits sign. It said, "A Heart Healthy Community." When I asked, my sister-in-law said it meant the town had some programs to encourage the citizens to get exercise and eat healthy. I'm not sure if they used any draconian measures to ensure compliance, though. I would hope not. There were other signs near their town that even my brother didn't know what they meant. Not very helpful...

When we crossed the border into Mississippi from Alabama, we passed the Welcome to Mississippi sign (and understood it completely), and then we saw a sign that said, "Zero Tolerance Enforcement In Progress." Zero tolerance of what? Speeding? Drinking and driving? Smoking? Spitting? Drugs? Hate-speech? Guns in schools? Public displays of affection? Dogs on the grass in the wrong part of the Rest Area? We never got an answer. And we never violated the zero tolerance policy, whatever it was. At least, not when the cops were looking.

We're at home now, in Texas, where (like the rest of the South) ordering iced tea always prompts a follow-up question: "Sweet or unsweetened?" Unsweetened, please. No lemon. And may I have a straw?

Scooter made himself right at home. He went straight to the back wall of the dining room and looked for his food dish, which I was bringing in from the motorhome. And when my mom unblocked his doggie-door, he used it to go outside and take care of business. Then he took up his post on the back of the couch, even though the window shade was blocking his view of the front yard.

All is well.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Trip - Our Refrigerator

We left my aunt's house in North Carolina and drove most of the way across South Carolina before stopping for the night. After hooking up the motorhome and getting set up for the night, out thoughts turned to dinner.

I asked my mom, "Did you put the BBQ in the refrigerator before we left? Because I didn't."

She said, "No, I didn't either."


In our freezer, we have the chocolate-strawberry-swirl cheesecake. In the refrigerator, we have our marshmallows, a Ziploc bag of homemade cranberry scones, and we had our Scooter cupcakes, but we ate him for afternoon snack.

But we don't have any of the BBQ that my aunt packaged up for us. So sad!

We settled for leftover chili. It wasn't nearly as satisfying.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Trip - Making Marshmallows

I've learned quite a bit during our stay with my aunt and some of her kids. My aunt and her daughter bake desserts that they sell at the farmer's market most weekends, and one of the treats they make is marshmallows. From scratch.

I had never thought about making marshmallows from scratch. The whole idea sounds foreign. Marshmallows come in plastic bags. They come in large (normal) size or small. The small ones come in white or pastel colors. If you leave them in the cupboard too long, they turn into white (or pastel) cardboard. That's it. That's the sum total of the world's accumulated knowledge about marshmallows. Or so I believed.

But my aunt has a recipe (who knew?). And she made it, while we made crucial decisions--raspberry flavoring. And what a good choice that was, since they'd be chocolate-dipped! Here's how it works:

I didn't get a picture of the first part, which is melting something (corn syrup? sugar?) on the stove until the candy thermometer hits the magic temperature. Then you slowly add the melted stuff to the mixer bowl on low, with the whisk attachment. When it's all in the mixer, you speed up the mixing, after protecting your kitchen by wrapping plastic wrap around the mixer.

After it starts thickening, you can remove the plastic wrap and let it keep mixing. In a while, it starts looking like marshmallow creme.

Then you scrape it into a glass baking pan and smooth it out with wet fingers to keep them from sticking. And you let it sit uncovered (my aunt covers it loosely with a flour-sack-style dish towel to keep it clean) for 8 hours while it does its thing. Then you cut it with a wet knife to keep it from sticking (my mom and I each snitched a piece).

You can sprinkle it with powdered sugar and call it good. But what would be the point when the other alternative is to dip it in melted chocolate? Use wet fingers to keep them from sticking.

And you set the dipped squares onto powdered sugar, or powdered sugar with toasted coconut, or powdered cocoa with toasted almonds, or whatever powdered something your heart desires, to keep it from sticking.

They taste NOTHING like the substances in the plastic bags that try to pass themselves off as marshmallows. These are delicate, foamy the way they should be, mellow and rich, and ours have a hint of raspberry beneath the chocolate coating. Pure delight!

My aunt sent us home with the recipe.

The Trip - BBQ At Shelby

Two of my cousins, The Boys (they're within several years of my age, one way or the other), have taken up competitive barbeque. I didn't know people competed in that, but a moment of clear thought says people will compete in anything. This weekend was the last competition of the season, The Boys' third, and it was in Shelby, close enough that we, The Girls, could go.

There are teams that compete every weekend, traveling all over the country. The big names sell their products as well as competing for prize money.

There's a difference between what we mere mortals think of as barbeque and what it really is. When we go out in the back yard and throw a steak over the charcoal, that's grilling. Grilling means you're cooking over direct heat. Barbeque uses indirect heat and smoke over much longer periods of time. This is my cousins' BBQ rig. The wood fire goes in the compartment at the lower left, and the meat goes in the big section. But they've been looking online at the fancier rigs some of the big guys use.

They start cooking the night before and keep an eye on it all night. Starting at noon, they present their first kind of meat to the judges for double-blind scoring, and at regular intervals, they bring all the rest. There's chicken, pork, beef brisket, and ribs. By 1:30, when we got to their cooksite, they had just finished turning everything in. All that was left was waiting until 4:00, when the results would be announced.

We got to have some of their leftovers. A rib--wonderful--and some of the brisket. Oh my goodness, that was SO GOOD! The older cousin is a personal chef, and the siblings get their culinary skills from their father, who was a master chef.

While we waited for the awards, we (The Girls) wandered over to the stands, where we arrived in time for the last lawn-mower race of the day. There was a running start.

This guy took the lead and never let it go. Every lap he took that turn on two wheels.

In no time, he lapped the slow guy on the white mower, who had either the courtesy or the self-preservation instinct to take his turns really wide so all the faster mowers could pass him on the inside.

It didn't take long before the dust obscured the far end of the track.

And then the checkered flag announced what was all too clear from the beginning. Number 273 had won.

After the race we looked at all the crafts and goodies for sale. One woman was selling sugar glider pets, these little marsupials that live to be up to 20 years old and that like to take a nap in a pocket. She said hers climbs inside her shirt and takes a nap in her bra, but that was really more than I wanted to know. And more than I want from a pet. I declined her offer. But he sure was cute!

One of the booths was a political one, an unusual blend of parties. It was for a local man running for Congress under the Constitution Party, and they were handing out Party information. And slung across the front of the table was a banner for Ron Paul for President. The Ron Paul who is really a Libertarian but has an "R" after his name because he wanted to get elected. The Ron Paul who believes we should pull our troops out of Iraq even sooner than the Democrats want them pulled, and to heck with the consequences. This last point turns out to be one of the planks of the Constitution Party and must be why these guys like Ron Paul.

I didn't get the Congressional candidate's name, since I wasn't even close to being in his district, but he and I had a good conversation. We argued about the Iraq War (the candidate's son is fighting in Iraq right now), but neither of us was able to pursuade the other. He wanted to bring the troops home, and my concern over the risk of Khmer-Rouge-like consequences for Iraq didn't sway him. He asked me how we know that would happen, and I had no reply beyond "open your eyes and ears, and look and listen," which seemed pointless and bordering on rude, so I didn't say anything. I've never been a good debater with arguments and facts ready to go on a moment's notice. I do better on paper (or keyboard), when I have time to think and verify and organize my thoughts. I tend to leave discussions like this one at a stalemate, feeling like I would have made inroads if only I could have remembered some of the details I used to know when they were fresh in the news. Instead, those details just tease around the edges of my mind and then hide when I try to catch them. But even without the details, I enjoyed the friendly discussion, because I get very few with people who disagree with me.

After shopping and everything, we got good seats at the award announcements and waited for my cousins' team name to be called. Prizes were announced and given for 10th place and up, and every time there was applause, this dog barked.

One of my cousins (The Boys didn't find us, so they sat away from us) said he heard the dog but didn't see it, and because the timing of the barking was so perfect for applause, he thought someone had a recording of barking that they were playing. Nope, just a happy dog.

The Boys were pleased with their results. For only their third competition, they did well. They came in just over 20th place out of 64 teams, and all their scores were good. So they'll start planning for next year.

Back at home, we had the chicken for dinner (more wonderfulness), and then my aunt packed up a bunch of the leftovers for us to take on the road. It was a perfect day.

The Trip - Update

Note: See new The Trip post below (here).

Monday Morning Sky Show

I got my NASA Science News e-mail update this morning, and they're excited about this Monday's pre-dawn sky. What's up? Darn-near everything.

For starters, Venus will be up near the crescent moon. It's always a lovely sight when those two hang out together.

And Saturn will be just above them. The rings are visible in small backyard telescopes.

Mars will be up, too, the orange-red planet above Saturn, almost straight up in the sky.

But that's not all!!!

Orion will be up. If you have a telescope, take a look at the Orion Nebula (the center "star" in his sword). That's one of my favorites, but if there's too much light in your neighborhood, the Nebula only looks like a smudgy thing. Here's a sky map of where all the stars and planets will be.

But wait!!!

The Space Shuttle will be undocking from the International Space Station, and their paths will be visible with the naked eye for five whole minutes (the usual ISS visibility is about 1 - 2 minutes), starting at around 5:05 am local time in most time zones. Check here (select your country in the left column, then your state, then your city) for the exact times and sky locations for you. If Monday isn't listed, you don't get to see it then (sorry, Montana), but you could have a chance on another day.

And there's one more thing. The exploding comet. Here's what the NASA link at the top of my post has to say (it has a picture):

Comet 17P/Holmes burst into view last week when something happened to the comet's core—a collapse, a fracture, a comet-quake? No one knows!—causing the comet to surge in brightness almost a million-fold. It is now visible to the unaided eye as an expanding fuzzball in the constellation Perseus similar in brightness to the stars of the Big Dipper. To find the comet, first face Mars and then spin around 180-degrees: sky map. It's a must-see target for backyard telescopes.

Pretty darn cool!

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Trip - Saluda, North Carolina

We're visiting my aunt and three of her six kids (all grown) in western North Carolina. Most of our visit we've been taking it easy hanging out, except for the day we went to Costco and Target--which is a real treat for my mom and me not to have to do that in the motorhome.

Today we went to Saluda, near where they live, and wandered through some of the shops downtown. Saluda is located at the crest of the steepest standard-gauge mainline railroad grade in the U.S., a three-mile climb. I'm wondering if this is the place the Little Engine That Could climbed.

I'm not much of a shopper, so I took advantage of the opportunity to use my camera. This sign was in the window of one of the caf├ęs.

Gotta love it.

They had a Stamping & Scrapbooking shop in town, Random Arts, and we stopped there. Things have changed in the world of stamping since I dabbled in it (and paper-making) about 15 years ago. My friend the cardiac nurse and scrapbooking afficianado would know what to do with all this stuff. Bekah would too. But I was overwhelmed.

I understood the contemporary crafts gallery, Heartwood, a lot better, though I didn't buy anything there either. These glass...things were beautiful with the sun shining through them.

They sell one-of-a-kind art pieces--glass, jewelry, woodworking, pottery, sculpture... This moose is shaping up to be the only one we're going to see on our trip.

After the art shop, we browsed a couple antique stores, and I spotted this vintage ad for Sunbeam Bread. You can bet they'd never use it today, for two reasons. First, the religious reference would send civil rights groups into a whirling dervish of a tizzy. And second, most of the country's younger generation wouldn't even know what the religious reference was.

After Saluda, we came back to town and stopped at the grocery store, where we found this cake that resembled Scooter. Too cute. It's in our fridge right now. We haven't eaten it, because last night we had homemade cheesecake, which I didn't exactly help make, beyond choosing both strawberry AND chocolate swirls. Then I watched to see how unintimidating cheescake-making really is. So our little "Scooter" will have to wait.

Also at the grocery store was the Globe's latest update on the President's marriage. They've been predicting divorce for the Bushes for the last year or two, showing photos of Laura's face distorted to look like she was angry at her husband. But, I suppose because the President's last term is coming to an end and the Globe won't be able to keep his marriage on the skids for too long without people knowing they've been making it all up, now they're reporting that George and Laura are patching things up. A happily ever after story, for the President, and for the Globe.

Note: In case you couldn't tell, this picture was Photoshopped.

Judge Reduces Rape Charges

This story really burns me up.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday on a city judge who changed the charges against a defendant. Here are the particulars of the case:

According to testimony, a 20-year-old single mother agreed to an hour's worth of sex with [Dominique] Gindraw for $150 on Sept. 20. When she arrived at the address, Gindraw allegedly asked if she would also have sex with his friend; she agreed for an additional $100.

When the friend arrived, according to testimony, he had no money and was armed. The woman said she had been forced at gunpoint to have sex with four men.

[Municipal Judge Teresa Carr] Deni dismissed the rape and sexual-assault charges and held Gindraw for trial on a charge of "armed robbery for theft of services."

A week after the hearing, Philadelphia Daily News columnist Jill Porter quoted Deni as saying in an interview that the woman had consented to sex, and that her complaint "minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped."

The judge is a menace.

[Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Jane Leslie] Dalton said Deni's ruling and comments showed that she misunderstood "what constitutes rape in Pennsylvania."

Dalton said the law permitted any woman to change her mind after consenting to sex "regardless of the circumstances. We cannot imagine any circumstances more violent or coercive than being forced to have sex with four men at gunpoint."

Apparently for Judge Deni, prostitutes give up their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. They're not people anymore, just businesses to either be paid or robbed. That attitude is just plain sick.

The judge is up for re-election this Tuesday, and the Philadelphia Bar Association had already recommended (a month before Deni's change of the rape charges) that she be retained. They can't officially rescind the recommendation at this late date, but the Bar Association's leaders are now opposed to her retention. Let's hope they can spread the word quickly enough to get Judge Deni thrown out on her ear.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Dog Saves Toddler from Deadly Snake

The Daily Mail (UK) reported today on a family dog who saved the family toddler.

The drama happened as 17-month-old Charlotte played in the garden of her home near the Australian city of Cairns when Khan began to bristle.

He had spotted the king brown snake - the world's third most venomous - about to strike from its hiding place beneath their house.

Mrs Svillicic said yesterday: "Khan was really concentrating and was acting aggressively towards Charlotte-and kept trying to nudge her but it wasn't working.

"So he grabbed her by the back of the nappy [diaper] and threw her over his shoulder more than a metre, like she was a rag doll."

At that point the snake leapt out, Mrs Svillicic added. "Charlotte looked pretty shocked and Khan screamed, like he'd been stabbed.

"I realised he had been trying to get in between her and the snake before he threw her."

The dog received a shot of anti-venom from a vet and made a full recovery.

Great story. I love this stuff. Especially the happily ever after part.