Moving Day

“Moving day” for this site…even though it isn’t going anywhere…yet.

If you aren’t following me over at sportsattitudes please do so. This site will remain (for now) as a historical reminder of what happens when an on-again/off-again blogger gets the “genius” idea to create TWO blogs.

One will do just fine now.

Hope to see you there.

 

 

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A Bridge (Plan) To Nowhere

Bridge Repair

Pennsylvania, as I have noted on occasion, is a very old state in many ways. It is not unique in that regard – there are other ancient states in the United States – but in fact a lot of stuff we use each day here is…old.

No shame in that…unless we’re talking bridges.

For as long as I’ve been alive the subject of aging bridges has been at the top of the agenda each year when the Commonwealth annually reviews what needs immediate attention.

It will be staying at the top of the annual agenda for a long, long, long time. At least as long as some of these bridges have been around…bridges I need not (but will anyway) remind you a lot of people drive across daily.

The residents of Chester County (a group including my wife and I) were recently notified vehicle owners will be required to pay a $5 additional charge each year – per car or truck –when annual Pennsylvania vehicle registration comes due. This is to help fund bridge repairs and reconstruction within the County. No problem there. Not a lot of money. Always glad to help improve our quality of life. Sounds like a plan.

These additional funds collected by Pennsylvania on Chester County’s behalf will be set aside in an account exclusive to County use. The County will then use those funds, estimated to be just north of $2 million, for those bridges deemed as “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”

It should be noted we’ve been reassured these classifications don’t mean the bridges can’t support traffic. A curious choice of words if that’s the case. I need not (but will anyway) remind you those definitions apply to bridges a lot of people drive across daily.

I don’t know about you but “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete” works much better for me when we’re talking a line of dominoes or Legos…instead of a line of cars or trucks.

According to information compiled by the West Chester Daily Local News:

Chester County has 94 bridges (including two shared with other Counties).

The life span of the bridges is generally considered to be 50 years.

The County Facilities Department previously had a goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year.

As they “stand” 57 of the bridges are over 75 years old and 31 are over 100 years old. Of the 94 bridges…34 fall into the “structurally deficient” definition while 61 rate “functionally obsolete.”

And as for the Facilities Department performance…Chester County has only been able to meet its goal of restoring or replacing two bridges per year 12 times since 1980.

In 12 other years no bridge work was done in the County at all.

Even with this new influx of cash the goal for these bridges has to also cross a bridge of rising construction costs. Therefore the new goal is now to restore or replace one and a half bridges in the County per year. (I don’t even know where to take this with a “half” a bridge…)

Forgive us if we start diverting around these structures. These numbers don’t support our lifespans being extended by driving over these spans.

We’re quite behind on all this but at least there’s a new plan. How do we ever catch up?

Well…let’s cross that bridge when we get to it.

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Supreme Court Squares – Republicans (And Democrats?) For The Block

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

(Image Credit Wikipedia.org)

In my last post I noted how the trend towards straight-ticket voting was helping to polarize politics and make it more “Us Versus Them” than ever in the US.

And then Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away over the weekend…

(Sidebar – he was 79. As for references to his “sudden passing” this isn’t the first time I’ve noted such language in obituaries and other articles about a man his age. Folks, that’s the life expectancy for males in our country. There is an expiration date on us all even if we aren’t living in a hospital or care facility. By all accounts Justice Scalia lived a full and rewarding life. RIP.)

If you thought the country was split into two before…watch what happens next.

The Republicans didn’t wait but minutes after news of his death before predictably screaming how we should wait for over a year for the next President to be able to make the all-important nomination of his successor.

The President and fellow Democrats simultaneously, predictably screamed back they most certainly will make a Justice nomination and seek a successor immediately in order to continue to ensure the integrity and performance of this all-important branch of the US Government.

The first irony that comes to mind is the main reason (I think) of having Supreme Court appointments for life is to insure the integrity of the power of the Court and protect against interference from either the Legislative or Executive branches. That being said it should be noted a President nominates Justices and the Legislative branch approves or disapproves.

That sounds like interference to me…checks-and-balances to others, I suppose.

The second irony is you hear Republicans indicating we have to hold off on replacing Justice Scalia because the American people should have a say in who sits on the Supreme Court. Please. All we’re going to be doing (in November mind you) is electing a President who upon taking office (in January mind you) will make a Justice nomination (sometime next year mind you) and have it vigorously contested (immediately afterwards next year mind you) by the party who loses the Presidential election.

I would be remiss if not interjecting on this whole “job for life” thing I’ve always wondered how in touch Justices are as they advance in age…not only with present-day USA…but in general? And what if they did something really stupid or illegal while serving at any age…can you imagine the political circus of trying to impeach a Supreme Court Justice?

Good thing we’ve had Justices behave…and often retire without dying while serving.

The third irony is even if Republicans are rock-solid on locking out the vacancy being filled to see if they can reclaim the White House the President and fellow Democrats might be better off letting them take that position.

A divided court – and by all accounts the Court now is as “balanced” as can be based on prior decisions – favors the President and his party in that with only eight Justices split decisions are inevitable. A divided Supreme Court leaves prior lower court rulings in place…and a large majority of the U.S. Courts of Appeals holds a majority of Democratic appointees. Further, there apparently is no law or policy about what the Supreme Court should do with cases already argued and voted on when a Justice dies. (Yes, you read that correctly – nada…)

If we take all the rhetoric out regarding either party’s desired timing for a replacement…and whether or not Justices even deserve a lifetime achievement award…the bottom line is a vacancy is now open on the highest Court in the land and the world doesn’t stop spinning.

Cases have been argued and voted on, heard, are to be heard and are to be argued and voted on. Important cases.

It is a disgrace of American politics we are possibly now going to leave the Supreme Court short of having a full complement of Justices for over a year regardless of whose “strategy” prevails. Political gridlock at its ugliest…over a unique position that helps shape, define and clarify the law of the land.

It is also a disgrace of American politics the nomination process for quite some time now has been about parsing ideology first, qualifications second. Whoever eventually gets this seat – assuming someone gets appointed someday – will do so primarily because of party leverage and/or because of how it is perceived they will rule on key issues more so than on whether or not their careers have truly distinguished themselves to be worthy of the lofty position of a Supreme Court Justice. The President and the Legislative branch members will all get their crystal balls out and first try to figure out who’s the “surest” bet to advance their respective agendas well before then considering a nominee’s true ability to honor and carry out the position on behalf of all Americans.

All. Americans.

Qualifications are unfortunately guaranteed to not be the top priority when considering our next Supreme Court Justice.

A job mind you…guaranteed for life.

 

Posted in Culture, Life, News, Opinion, Politics, Society, Supreme Court | Tagged , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Split Tickets Or Split Country – Straight-Ticket Voting Probably Polarizing

Political Discussion

(Image Credit MinnPost.com)

I rarely wade into the political pool but a column I read over the weekend provoked deep thought and consideration of others. Deep thought and consideration of others is not normally associated with our daily political news and hasn’t been for some time. Quite frankly I think many people are interested in politics more so now for the reality show aspect.

You come across an accident scene…it’s admittedly hard to turn away.

People seem to be watching the Democratic and Republican Presidential debates but it can’t be because they care about the issues of the day because the candidates rarely discuss the issues of the day. They’re way too busy insulting and yelling at each other…and most certainly degrading the other party at every opportunity.

Anyway, whatever your current take on politics is there has been an interesting trend which may help explain why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington and have instead become consumed with ripping everyone involved…about why we can’t seem to get compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington.

Terry Madonna and Michael Young are highly respected political analysts who have pointed out we have become a nation of “ideologically driven, politically polarized partisans who increasingly eschew the bargaining and compromise that have historically lubricated politics. Not only are moderates gone from American politics; moderation is gone as well. Nothing illustrates this better or explains this more fully than the enormous decrease in ticket-splitting.”

For those of us doing it without even knowing it had a name…we’re talking here about the act of voting for a Presidential nominee of one party while also voting for one or more Congressional nominees of a different party. Madonna and Young report ticket-splitting dropped to a record low in the 2012 Presidential election. One study estimated at least 8 of 10 voters voted a one-party, straight-ticket. As recently as the Presidential election in 1972 more than 4 of every 10 Congressional districts – 44 percent – were characterized as ticket-splitters – voting for one party’s candidate for President and one or more candidates from the other party for the Senate or House.

In House districts alone now…the most recent number stands at 5 percent.

This straight-ticket voting – whatever cause you would like to attribute it to – positions our nation perfectly for a polarized political landscape.

And with no compromise or agreement towards moving forward with issues in Washington the true irony is we voters who have become completely perplexed with our government’s stalemate have potentially had the power all along to jump-start movement…injecting checks-and-balances in government by electing people…not parties. Or as Madonna and Young put it…

“Straight-ticket voting produces elections that only increase the virulent polarization infecting our politics. Worse perhaps, it undercuts ever further the compromise and accommodation so central to our intricate governmental system of checks and balances – inevitably unleashing more of the divisive and dysfunctional governance that increasingly alienates American voters from their government.”

Something to ponder as this 2016 Presidential reality show rolls out across America…and for future Washington-eligible elections thereafter.

Sounds like those of us looking for Washington to get things moving again might consider examining each and every contest carefully that sends someone to Washington and considering there are more qualifications to consider aside from just one – which party they belong to.

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Birthday, Every Day, Forever And A Day

Cottage

In honor of my wife’s upcoming birthday (which also gets me out of having to find a parking spot among three-foot high mounds of snow…):

I was all set to seek a card,

To tell you how I feel,

But I say it to you every day,

And you know that it’s real.

 

We’ve been together all this time,

Years now approaching thirty-five,

But know that as they’ve rolled along,

My love grows deeper, more alive.

 

We cannot know tomorrow’s plan,

We cannot know of future things,

But know this my love for it is true,

Forever we’re one with what life brings.

Posted in Faith, Family, Home, Life, Love, Marriage, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

Drone-ing On

Drone

(Image Credit HuffingtonPost.com)

A few days before Christmas a World Cup slalom ski competition in Italy was racing along quite nicely when a drone, carrying TV equipment through in the air in an attempt to raise the intensity level for the viewing audience, leveled off, fell from the sky and exploded into pieces on a section of slope crossed a micro-second earlier by Austrian ski star Marcel Hirscher.

No sooner had the wreckage of the drone and its camera been scraped off the snow…the International Ski Federation had banned television drones for good.

This whole drone thing perplexes me. I have not been able to figure out in this age of heightened security and concern of terrorism how drones have been readily made available to anyone with little or no regulation. One day Amazon just up and announced delivering packages to people’s properties via drone was not just something for the day we all ride like “The Jetsons” to work…but for the here and now.

That must be one powerful lobby drone-ing on about drones in Washington.

Anyway, we finally appear to be on the road to regulation in the US via a lawsuit filed this month by the owner of a drone who saw his blasted out of the sky by a homeowner in Kentucky last summer. Originally, a judge ruled the homeowner was well within his rights to shoot down the $1,800 aircraft because it was over his property and he had no knowledge of its owner…or its intent.

The Federal Aviation Administration has always said it has sole authority over the national airspace. (They say a lot of things, don’t they?)

Kentucky state law provides for landowners the right to use force if necessary to prevent trespassing on their property.

According to a recent story in USA Today the Supreme Court has not addressed air space issues since 1946 when a North Carolina farmer was ruled able to claim property rights up to eighty-three feet in the air – and get compensated by the military – for aircraft flying so low they were annoying his cows and chickens. (Eighty-three feet is awfully specific…but it’s a start…)

The problem is these drones just showed up and were embraced by a number of groups…including law enforcement…ironically under the premise they would help make all of us “more secure.”

This drone privacy issue is very much up in the air right now but I’ll say this. The fact there is a drone industry and the average man or woman is able to buy one and send it aloft without significant checks and balances is one of the great embarrassments of this so-called Homeland Security effort we allegedly have in place in this country.

Boggs (drone owner) vs. Merideth (“drone slayer” – he calls himself that) will likely be the start of a flight to the Supreme Court…not a minute too soon. Boggs’ lawyer, (in the understatement of the New Year…or any Year for that matter) citing Amazon’s master plan to have drones deliver packages onto people’s lawns…

“If every property owner has a right to take a shot at them that pretty much ends that business model.”

Do you recall the Secret Service recently went on high alert after one guy flew a drone over the White House…while another crash-landed one on that same property owner’s lawn?

What is the world of our nation’s common sense is happening here?

I refuse to drone on because we’ve got a long way to go until this gets settled…and considering the way drones just showed up one day it’s now guaranteed a portion of the populace will steadfastly declare their right to bear drones…oh yeah, we’ll be hearing much more about this going forward.

Fasten your seat beats…it’s going to be a bumpy flight fight.

 

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Movies Need Supported Not Awarded

Print

(Image Credit FreeDesignFile.com)

According to my trustworthy daily Peanuts desk calendar January 19th is National Popcorn Day. That’s appropriate for this post for a couple reasons. One, popcorn’s association with movie going is well-known and two, everyone has their individual preference as to how much butter and seasoning is required to satisfy their personal taste.

So you may have heard this year’s Academy Award nominations are out. Some are not happy with them. Well, that’s every year…but this year is a little more intense with talk of a boycott due to a lack of diversity among the top contenders.

I don’t know about you but while I watch the film Award shows – including the Oscars – I don’t put stock in any of them. That is to say I don’t feel we should single out such subjective works as worthy or not, better than others or not, etc.

I would much prefer, like paintings in a museum, we wander in and out of the cinema and just enjoy or not enjoy what we saw. It’s good to hear other’s opinions of movies after we’ve seen them because we may learn something we didn’t see or some theory about a film we didn’t consider. But even reviews after our views need to be cautiously considered because to me…movies remain very personal experiences…and even a seasoned film critic trying to be objective can’t help but bring “life” into their opinions. The reactions we all have about movies can’t help but be intertwined with our prior, unique experiences.

This stretches back to my college days where I took courses on Film Criticism. That’s where my painting analogy originated. Films are art that get “one shot” with me…just like a painting would.

Can you imagine what I think of all these alternate endings they stick on films when releasing them after their days on the big screen have come to an end? A travesty.

Coloring black and white films? An abomination.

Movies certainly don’t need to be benchmarked against each other. Film making (and TV too for that matter) should not be reduced to these pseudo-competitions.

This protest stuff is nothing new for the Academy. You know, if you insist on having these Award things in the first place at least be inclusive. Maybe that diversity issue is never going to change when it comes to the Oscars…whose voting block is 94% white and 77% male.

They did hire Chris Rock to host the ceremonies.

I believe this nonsense helps make my point. If we didn’t insist on having these faux competitions in the first place we wouldn’t have these types of faux pas situations.

My wife and I met while both working at a movie theater. We’ve never lost our love for film and try when possible to see movies the way they are crafted to be seen…in a movie theater. We calculated we were fortunate enough to see forty-seven films on the big screen in 2015.

I hesitate to say which movies I enjoyed the most or liked the least because I really don’t get any of these “Best Of” or “Top Ten” lists or rewards when it comes to film making. I am a true purist who believes each film should stand on its own merit and people should either love ‘em or not.

Everyone has their own taste towards what makes a great movie (as well as great popcorn).

I enjoy dishing about movies. I respect other people’s opinions and most often learn from ones that differ from my own take. Discuss this year’s films in the comments if you like. Ones you liked, ones not so much. It’s always interesting to me to hear others’ tastes towards film.

Do take in all the Award shows, even the Oscars, for they ultimately celebrate the art of film making and that’s a good thing…but my opinion is to not take seriously the nominations or the winners. But do see the movies you want to see regardless of what anyone else “rates” them.

Movies are a truly subjective experience and I don’t believe we need to rank, rate or reward them.

Just enjoy them…along with some popcorn if you like.

Made to your own taste of course…

Posted in Cinema, Culture, Entertainment, Film, Life, Media, Movies, News, Opinion | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

The Challenge Of Tweaking Twitter

Twitter

It is my belief the fundamental charm of Twitter is as much its brevity as its immediacy. Writing in 140 characters or less has become an art form for users. A skill. The national news, entertainment, weather and sports media can’t get enough daily Tweets to put up and across their screens and sites.

The powers-to-be at Twitter have floated the idea in the media this week of doing what they apparently have already been allowing on Private (Direct) Messages since July…a 10,000 character limit where users simply click a link to expand a Tweet and see the rest of the Tweet’s text.

Why change? Why take such a risk alienating users?

Well…to turn a profit for the first time might be at the top of the list. It appears growth has slowed and its stock has subsequently declined some 40 percent from where it stood last summer.

Twitter – and some in the media – claim at least part of its user base truly want this. They want to eliminate having to design “Tweetstorms” where users are forced to send out multiple Tweets to get one thought or message or whatever out.

My guess is the powers-to-be wish to make room for advertisers to more easily use the service. And make more money.

I had two “runs” on Twitter. One several years ago when it first came out and one a couple of years back. I didn’t stick with it either time for a variety of reasons. But in those moments of participation I did get a big kick out of the challenge of sending out a well-crafted, brief message.

So why post about a service I don’t use now? Because as a Journalism Grad (albeit in a galaxy far, far away) and having a continued interest in all things media I am eager to see what happens if this comes to pass. So many media organizations show Tweets.

Reporting Tweets has become a way of life.

Now, if the character limit is expanded to this extent and someone sends out a gigantic Tweet someone at each of these media outlets will have to parse through it all, deciding what to pull out…and put out.

When quoting Tweets now there are no editorial decisions to be made. Sure…a chance the user saying post-Tweet they were taken out of context. Some users even say someone took over their account when things don’t go favorably. But the point is just like fast food, the media can pretty much take a Tweet and run with it. Unlike fast food, at absolutely no cost.

What will happen if this actually happens will fundamentally have to change the way media reports on Twitter activity. They’ll have to read the entire Tweet, “edit” it, etc. and at that point you then have yet another example of the media dictating what is newsworthy and what is not. And in fairness to all Twitter users, a great case for saying if they send out one exceeding the current limit and it isn’t shown in its entirety they were quoted out of context because…drum roll here…their entire Tweet wasn’t presented.

I don’t particularly enjoy being bombarded with Tweets as part of my evening news, entertainment, weather and sports coverage. But I do think doing this will rob Twitter of its very soul.

I wonder how the majority of users really feel?

I will be interested to see how the media reacts if this goes down…and the character limit on Twitter goes up.

 

Posted in Business, Culture, Entertainment, Home, Life, Media, News, Opinion, People, Politics, Society, Television, Thoughts, TV, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

The Concept Of Last Christmas

happy new year 2016. holiday background

The seed may admittedly been planted for this post by a combination of factors, most notably being the cashier at our local movie theater suddenly starting to give me a Senior discount in the last few weeks without my asking for it…or from my claiming to be a Senior.

I’m not.

Yet.

Anyway…let’s give Christmas a proper send-off shall we?

First off…farewell until next year for Christmas music. I know it is a passionate, love/hate thing for a lot of folks. Some people work in retail or restaurants and have to listen to the same rotation of a dozen songs for five weeks. That would likely make you prefer a root canal. Others have the opportunity to throttle Christmas music in and out of their daily routines as desired. But love it or hate it…it’s with us. I happen to love it from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day…in moderation, of course.

One of my favorite analytics sites is FiveThirtyEight. They use numbers and math to locate trends and make projections and predictions on just about anything…including politics. Well worth a visit.

They recently published an article called “The Most-Covered Christmas Songs Ever.” The column consists of three lists – one ranks the most-covered Christmas songs of all-time along with the year they were each released – another lists the most used Christmas songs in movie soundtracks – the third ranks the most-streamed Christmas songs on Spotify at a certain point into this Holiday. If you’re into Christmas music on any level you should check these lists out. You may even find a song or two…or three…you’ve never heard and wind up adding it to your collection.

I also found on FiveThirtyEight an article titled “The Charlie Brown Christmas Special Dancers You Most Want To Party With.” They have snippets featuring each one of the kids in the beloved Special on stage dancing to “Linus And Lucy” with comments by two of their columnists as to…based on their animated, animation dance moves…who would be the most fun to hang with at any party. A cute column worthy for any Charlie Brown/Peanuts fan to check out. I’m not going to spoil the fun of finding out for yourself who was determined to be the kid judged most likely to best liven up a gathering.

As far as that whole “Senior at the cinema” thing that got me thinking about mortality…which is what I’ve been led to believe one does when it becomes apparent you are closer to the end of your days than you’d like to admit. While that sounds a tad morbid for this time of year let me explain within such thought lays – I think – a grand opportunity to re-appreciate life.

I am not a “Doctor Who” expert in any way. I have only seen, say, twenty episodes or so. However I did recently watch binge-watch the TV series’ Christmas episodes…including one called “Last Christmas.”

The concept of “Last Christmas” (not restricted to this episode at all – it is a Who-ism) poses the notion people get together at Christmas because there is always the chance it might be the last time they do so. Christmas is a special, magical moment in our lives, one often consisting of emotional reunions with people we love and cherish. There is often a Sleigh-ful of memories that pour out of each of us from prior Christmases that accompany these gatherings.

I saw a commercial just last night for AT & T which does not “get” Christmas at all. The narrator said AT & T knows the best kind of Holiday is the one where everyone gets what they wished for.

Wrong.

The best kind of Holiday is the one where everyone appreciates and cherishes what they already have…who they already have…and who gave us all life in the first place.

I did not easily “shake off” this concept of Last Christmas. I do vow to tell my wife how much she means to me every single day as I will family members and friends. I know. It sounds like one of those well-intentioned New Year’s Resolutions that by mid-January will have literally flown out the window and be long gone.

The thing is…after reflecting on the concept of Last Christmas I’ve become more determined to get to…Next Christmas. I admit I can’t manipulate and travel through time like Doctor Who. But regardless…I will strive to keep in mind 1 Corinthians 13 where it speaks of love.

Love never fails. It never fades out…or becomes obsolete…or comes to an end. And…isn’t Christmas…love?

Last Christmas?

Nope.

Never.

 

 

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Death, Doctor Who, Entertainment, Faith, Family, Health, Holidays, Home, Life, Marriage, Movies, Music, Opinion, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Society, Spirituality, Television, Thoughts, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Christmas Is For The Innocent

Lamb

(Image Credit New York Daily News)

Several years ago I came across this story published in the New York Daily News by Karen Zautyk. She is a former Editorial Board member there who originally wrote this for her father, John. I think it captures the essence of Christmas being – most of all – for the innocent. Regardless of your religious beliefs I believe there is a life lesson within for all of us that cries out…we are all unique…and not alone.

O, Little Lamb…Who Made Thee?

It was cold in the stable that night and the animals were huddled together for warmth. The cows and the oxen and the donkeys.

And one little lamb.

Sad, scrawny little lamb, born lame and frail. Too frail to be out with the flock in the fields. The shepherds had carried it into the stable where it would be safe from the wind and the wolves, for both the wolves and the wind came down from the hills with fierceness in the wintertime.

The lamb had food and shelter but that was not enough. It was lonely. Separated from its mother, it felt unloved. The other animals tried to be kind but they had no time. During the day they were busy working. The cows had milk to make, the oxen had earth to plow and the donkeys had carts to pull.

At night they were all very tired. They’d feed upon the fodder and then go right to bed. None would talk, none would play. None would even sing a lullaby to a lamb that needed comfort. Every night the lamb would cry, and be told to hush, for its bleats disturbed their sleep.

Thus, that night, the lamb cried without making a sound as it had learned to do. And it looked at the strangers who were sharing the stable.  At the man, who held the woman’s hand and spoke to her so softly. And especially at the woman, who spoke not at all.

Huddled together, the animals slept, and eventually the lamb slept too.

And the night was silent.

But then, in the darkest hour, there was no more darkness and no more silence. There was the cry of a baby. And the stable shone with the brightest of lights and there were voices ringing in the air.

The animals, shaken from their dreams, were frightened. They stamped their hooves and tossed their heads and made their frightened-animal noises…but the light was so lovely and the voices so beautiful it wasn’t long before they quieted and began to lose their fear.

And when the light had dimmed to a glow and the voices were only an echo, there in the manger they saw the baby…and their eyes went wide with wonder.

The animals murmured but would not approach until the woman beckoned. Then, one by one, the beasts came forward. All, that is, except the lamb…which was only a baby itself and still terribly afraid. Forgotten by the others it trembled in a corner and tried to hide beneath the hay.

But the baby in the manger was trembling too. The cold of the night had returned and the baby had started to shiver. When the animals saw this they huddled closer about the crib.

The man took off his cloak and made a blanket of it, but the cloak was thin and threadbare and provided little warmth. The woman held the baby to her breast. He shivered still…and she began to weep.

And the lamb, which knew what weeping meant, lifted itself from the hay. Though it was still afraid…it left its hiding place. It made its way among the legs of the bigger beasts until it stood beside the woman…and it laid its head against her knee.

And the softest of hands reached down and stroked its wool.

And the gentlest of hands picked it up and tucked it into the manger straw…and tucked the baby in beside it…and covered them both with the cloak. The baby snuggled near and smiled…and closed his eyes.

And the lamb was very glad it had learned to cry without making a sound. Because it was crying now and didn’t want to wake the child.

But the lamb wasn’t crying because it was sad. It was crying because, at last, it didn’t feel alone. Or afraid. Or unloved.

Then the lamb closed its eyes too.

And the woman sang a lullaby.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Faith, Family, Holidays, Home, Life, Opinion, People, Personal, Relationships, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

Thinking Past And Presents As Holidays Begin

Christmas farm dog wearing Santa hat sitting on top of haybale

In May 2013 a columnist by the name of Craig Wilson took his final bow after a buyout from his employer, USA Today. He wrote a Wednesday column called “The Final Word” for more than sixteen years. His weekly writing – regardless of subject matter – provided readers a unique, thoughtful take on even the most take-for-granted aspects of daily life.

Two of his columns have stood the test of time…especially at this time of year…even though one was published after a New Year began.  As we begin the Holidays I thought it would be enjoyable if I dusted these off. One is about the emotion we feel this time of year…how the simplest of decorations can create the most profound feelings. The other speaks towards the (in)sanity of materialism. It gives perspective as we prepare to exchange items accompanied (hopefully) with emotion. Both columns will hopefully bring a smile to your face and a reminder of what really matters not just at the Holidays…but every day.

A Glow In The Darkness Is The Best Gift Of All

Every December, a neighbor of ours opens his dining room shutters and lets in the world.

A floor-to-ceiling tree, laden with ornaments and white lights, fills the bay window. Underneath it is spread an assortment of antique toys. Original Raggedy Ann books, a model train engine from the Pennsylvania Railroad, a fire truck and an assortment of old stuffed animals. An elephant. A bear. A well-loved floppy-eared rabbit sporting a winter sweater and seated in a wicker sleigh, ready to glide.

The window, which is right on the sidewalk and perfect for viewing, has become a holiday tradition in the neighborhood. Like many, I make a detour on my nightly dog walk just to pass by.

I know there will come a Christmas when the display won’t be there, but until then, I happily take in the annual offering, just as I used to take in the mesmerizing holiday windows years ago at Sibley’s department store in Rochester, N.Y.

The magic of our neighborhood window, however, is that there’s nothing commercial about it. My neighbor offers up the display every year purely for the joy it might give a passerby, not to make a sale or hype a product.

It’s perhaps the simplest of Christmas gifts, which also makes it the best.

When I was walking Maggie the other night, I watched as a young mother and father pointed out the various toys to their daughter. She was maybe 3 or 4 and in her father’s arms. From the look on her face, you’d have thought she was in another world. Maybe she was.

And then the trio strolled away, happy perhaps in the belief that they’d just had one of the most pleasant and innocent experiences of their hectic holiday. A serendipity of the season.

When I was growing up in the country, Christmas displays like my neighbor’s window were not abundant.

But I remember being impressed that someone would take the time and effort to hang, say, a single strand of multicolored lights around their barn door. Or wrap a lamp pole with lights, aglow at the end of the lane. A lonely beacon in the night.

My dad did the same.

Christmas after Christmas, he would run the world’s longest extension cord across the snow-covered front yard, down to a tiny fir tree that proudly stood sentinel by the side of the road.

He covered the tree with what seemed like thousands of lights, and every night at 5, he turned them on with all the flourish of lighting the tree at Rockefeller Center.

I’ve often wondered what people thought as they drove down this country road, in the middle of nowhere, and came upon a solitary tree glowing in the December darkness.

Maybe they thought it was the prettiest thing they ever saw. Maybe they saw it as a gift.

Maybe they realized someone was just sharing his joy. Nothing to sell. No agenda in mind. Something done just for the joy of it. Like my neighbor’s magical window.

And maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Merry Christmas.

Think You Need More Stuff? Just Say Baaah

By now most New Year’s resolutions have bitten the dust. Lose weight. Stop smoking. Get a new wife. All just memories.

But one remains for me: to simplify my life.

It’s an ongoing quest, not so much a new resolution. I’ve written about it before. Buy less, play with the dogs more, let the Type A’s zoom by in their BMWs on their way to their McMansions. I’ll just be content with what I have.

Easier done, of course, when you have enough. Money, that is. But how much is enough? The March issue of O magazine asks that question.

Since I had written about the same topic not that long ago I was curious to see what Oprah’s take was. She invited a number of “writers, thinkers and financial experts” to share their thoughts.

One said materialistic people were more likely to be depressed and anxious. Never having been a big consumer that made me happy.

One said Europeans have the right idea by using more time to play than work. Never having been a European that made me sad.

And another said the first question everyone should always ask about a purchase is this: Is it a “need” or a “want”? It’s almost always a want. Put it back on the shelf.

But what I thought were the most interesting comments came from George Kinder, founder of the Kinder Institute of Life Planning, who says we earn three times as much as our grandparents did, yet we’re not any happier. He then asked two simple questions:

If you had only 24 hours left who did you not get to be?

What did you not get to do?

I found the questions almost cruel. He says they hit bedrock because what they really ask is: What’s profoundly meaningful to you? Have you been wasting your life making money when important things such as your family, your community, your “spirit” have been ignored?

Most of us don’t think about our “spirit” on a daily basis. Sad but true, we always use the excuse that we don’t have the time. We’re too busy making money, making deadlines and making sure the kids are wearing matching shoes, the groceries are bought, the bills paid, the bed made.

We always seem late for an important date.

We are also fools.

One of my Christmas presents this year was a little toy lamb that stands on four spindly black legs. On its white and curly side is written but one word: Simplify.

I put it on the windowsill above the kitchen sink so I could see it every day. And there it stands, spreading its message morning, noon and night, It’s the loudest lamb I’ve ever heard. It seems to know when I’m about to do something stupid, buy something I don’t need, keep something I’ll never use.

Simplify.

It has become a daily mantra. It follows some advice a reader shared with me. She attached it to her e-mail, as if an afterthought:

If it doesn’t breathe, it doesn’t matter.

Posted in Blog, Blogging, Christianity, Christmas, Culture, Faith, Family, Holidays, Home, Humor, Life, Opinion, People, Personal, Religion, Spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Supernatural – TV Worth Riding With

Supernatural

(Image Credit YouTube.com)

If you follow the television industry behind the scenes in addition to watching scenes you may have heard back in August the CEO of the FX Network, John Landgraf, stated he believes there are simply too many TV shows being made. Mind you his comments came during the Television Critics Association Summer Tour so they raised more than a few eyebrows (that were otherwise watching television no doubt). A month later he expanded on his opinion…

“I’m sensing a little bit of a malaise to tell you the truth. There’s this other notion that you reached something called the paradox of choice, which is you give people too many choices and it breathes discontent because ultimately it’s very hard to pay attention to all the choices. It becomes work to sort through every opportunity that you’re giving them. So you get this vague sense of malaise that even when you’re watching something great there could be something greater that you’re not watching.”

So the last thing you, dear TV devotee, likely needs is another person suggesting you should be watching a show. But what may surprise is I’m recommending a show already well-established in its eleventh season…”Supernatural.”

My wife and I were watching when this series debuted on the WB Network (extra credit for anyone who remembers the WB) back in 2005. After the first couple of episodes we were split on continued viewing and the verdict was to pass. Perhaps it was divine intervention (devotees won’t be surprised by that notion) but we reversed course not long after…and now we’ve probably seen each of the 225-plus episodes produced at minimum a half-dozen times each. It has been appointment television for us for a long time now. (New episodes air Wednesdays at 9 PM Eastern on the CW Network)

So now you’re thinking…how can I possibly take on a show that has not only logged so many miles but is still traveling new roads? (“The Road So Far” is a common theme fans live by…the series’ lead characters log a lot of miles)

Well…my timing of this post coincides with – as long as current scheduling is legit – the “rebooting” of syndicated reruns on the TNT Network. Tuesday, November 24th TNT is scheduled to air Episode 1 of Season 1 at 10 AM Eastern. If you have the opportunity during Turkey Week that’s one way to sample the series. TNT runs several hours of “Supernatural” daily and has helped build the show’s fan base significantly over the last handful of years it has done so.

DVD and Streaming options are also readily available. I should note in particular on the Season 10 DVD release there is a special feature, a mini-documentary if you will, of what extraordinary lengths fans of “Supernatural” go to in not only showing their devotion to the show but for each other. It is one of the better-produced “extras” you’ll find.

Unfortunately it is difficult to suggest you can just dive in anywhere. In a show with this many hours in the rear view mirror multiple, season-long arc back stories obviously exist. Our always-on-the-road heroes, brothers Sam and Dean Winchester, have been to Hell and back.

Multiple times, in fact.

Why should you invest time carving out more time for “Supernatural?”

For starters it’s about determining and honoring your destiny in life, the strength one can draw from within even the most dysfunctional of families, Angels and Demons, Heaven and Hell…and even what lies in between those two far-from-final destinations. It’s got a little bit of everything. It’s violent. It will make you smile. It will make you cry. There are bad guys you root for on occasion (for the greater good). There are good guys you root against on occasion (for their own good).

The bottom line is you have two brothers hitting the highway and following down their dad’s path fighting all things evil. And there are a LOT of evil things out there that need fighting, I assure you.

I am not delusional enough to think I can do adequate justice in this confined space to the stellar work of stars Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki (both of whom are also – I’m told – considered to be “easy on the eyes.”)…co-stars Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard and Jim Beaver…and the tremendous line-up of guest stars, directors, producers, designers, etc. that have all executed their craft over all these years to provide you any kind of “Best Of” list. I’ve already risked your ire proposing you undertake taking on this series in addition to the ones you are trying to keep up with. To torture already-rabid fans reading this post of “Supernatural” with a “Top Episode” ranking would also be blogging suicide…not that I couldn’t come back from Death (another common theme fans relish).

So…instead I’ll just concentrate on newcomers who want to sample the show before making a formal commitment. Take a peek at the following episodes I find among my favorites, presented in order of appearance and admittedly front-loaded from the early seasons under the assumption you don’t want to be trying to figure what the show is all about too far in. And another very important disclaimer for long-time fans…my taste here runs towards episodes mixing horror and humor more often and more so than our “mythology episodes.”

Season 1, Episode 1 – “Pilot” – Watch this episode first. Do it. It truly sets the stage for what will follow about as good as any pilot episode you’ll ever see and, if you indeed want to jump around, the baseline provided will come in very handy. It also features one of the more shocking scenes you’ll see in a television show’s initial episode.

Season 1, Episode 11 – “Scarecrow” – If you need an example of the “Monster Of The Week” strategy the series cut its teeth on you can likely do no better than watch this episode which deals with an investigation of disappearing couples within a small, truly creepy town in rural Indiana.

Season 2, Episode 18 – “Hollywood Babylon” – The Winchesters go undercover as production assistants on a haunted movie set. “Supernatural” likes to play behind the Fourth Wall of making television and movies…letting us all know this is all just make believe…right?  Right?

Season 3, Episode 11 – “Mystery Spot” – The show pays homage to the classic comedy “Groundhog Day.” How many days – and in how many ways – can one die? Turns out a lot…because of the “Trickster.” One of the best time-loop hours ever.

Season 3, Episode 13 – “Ghostfacers” – Our heroic brothers investigate a case Dad couldn’t crack years earlier and stumble into a wannabe ghost hunting reality show pilot the likes of which after sampling you’ll never, ever take a show on paranormal studies seriously again.

Season 4, Episode 5 – “Monster Movie” – An Oktoberfest effort with polka bands, big beer and bigger pretzels where Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy…and a pizza delivery guy…all wind up stealing the show as the cause of the mayhem within a Pennsylvania town’s celebration is far from black-and-white…but this episode is. A tribute to classic creature cinema.

Season 4, Episode 17 – “It’s A Terrible Life” – We don’t know how it happened but the Brothers Winchester have landed in an alternate reality where they don’t know each other…yet. Working at the same company they eventually wind up working a case of sorts…mysterious suicides are all happening under the same roof. And then an Angel appears…

Season 5, Episode 8 – “Changing Channels” – The “Trickster” once more enjoys playing tricks on Sam and Dean. Winking at its audience about the making of hit television shows “Supernatural” takes its shots at parodying series we all love whether we’re able to admit it or not. You’ll never take a drug commercial seriously again either (not that you did to begin with…).

Season 5, Episode 9 – “The Real Ghostbusters” – I have mentioned how fanatical fans of “Supernatural” are. This episode explains that better than anything. A hilarious send-up staged within the confines of a “Supernatural” fan convention it is also a “love letter” to the hard-core fan base this series enjoys.

If you have room…invite the Winchesters in from the road for a spell. They don’t stay in one place for very long…but they might stay in yours.

Posted in Entertainment, Life, Opinion, Review, Reviews, Supernatural, Television, TV | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments