Sunday, March 28, 2010

New Blog Is LIVE!!!

Check out my new blog:

Subscribe to it . . . share it with others . . . read it with devotion . . .

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stories Are The Most Powerful Force In The Universe

I'd like to start today off with a video recommendation - if you like sports, or even if you just like funny, you've got to see a special production by Carson, this video (yes, he's just as famous as Prince or Madonna because we can now refer to him by ONE NAME ONLY - CARSON), about a Philadelphia sports fan who, even after attending over 20 sporting events, has yet to see a Philly team win . . . (wow talk about run-on sentence) . . .

Now on to the promised introduction I talked about yesterday - an organization that harnesses the most powerful element in the universe. The organization is "7 Women, 7 Stories". It was founded by Anne Beiler (founder of Auntie Anne's Soft Pretzels) after she published her story in the book "Twist of Faith" and discovered the freedom that comes when you embrace, and share, your story.

The most powerful element in the world? No, it's not plutonium or baked beans or that little pen the president uses to sign stuff into laws. The most powerful element in the world is story. It's story, folks!

Tell yours.

And check out 7 Women, 7 Stories to find out more.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Favorite Novel of All Time

We are finally moved in. Kind of. There are still a few boxes lying around, full of pictures that need to be put up, little knick-knacks with which we need to clutter the house. But the bulk is done. And I feel that I'm ready to get back into blogging on a daily basis.

For those of you who checked in last week to see what my favorite novel of all time is, I apologize: at that point the boxes were still winning, and we had no internet (my efforts to get internet to our house were nearly as interesting as my attempt to get the $69.95 charge from McAfee for my double-subscription taken off my credit card).

Anyway, without further ado, my favorite novel of all time is . . .

Wait. First let me give you the first few sentences . . .

"The Salinas Valley is in Northern California. It is a long narrow swale between two ranges of mountains, and the Salinas River winds and twists up the center until it falls at last into Monterey Bay.

"I remember my childhood names for grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer - and what trees and seasons smelled like - how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich."

So begins John Steinbeck's epic novel, East of Eden. The back of the book describes it as a "the Trasks and Hamiltons helpless reenactment of the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel." In this book I encountered the most evil character I have ever encountered in literature (Catherine Trask) and one of the most wise and likeable (Samuel Hamilton). While the book is not as widely read as Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath (the political and social aspects of "Grapes" make it mandatory reading in nearly every high school and college across the country), Steinbeck felt that East of Eden was his best work. And I agree with him.

Two of our children's names come from this book (youngest daughter Abra, and youngest son Samuel). I hope you'll take the time to read it.

Tune in tomorrow for an introduction to an organization that harnesses the most powerful element in the universe (and I'm not talking about He-Man).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Friendly Reminder . . .

My first round of writing workshops are officially over, but we’re starting up again on April 7th and 8th. This time around it will be on Wednesday or Thursday nights for 6 weeks (there are 6:30 and 7:45 time slots available on Wednesday evenings, and 7:45 time slots on Thursday evenings) – each week we focus on a different aspect of writing as they pertain to storytelling in fiction and non-fiction: imagination, narrative voice, plot, dialogue, setting and living a writing life. Each person will work on short pieces to clarify their voice and sharpen their writing.

There is also a second-level course available on Thursday evenings at 6:30, also for 6 weeks – to enroll in this class you will need to either have completed the first level course or submit a writing sample. This particular class will focus on completing 3-4 short stories or refining/writing one longer piece.

Check out Janelle’s blog to see what she thinks about the class.

Both evenings are at the Family Center in Gap, PA. I may also be conducting a 6-week, first-level writing workshop in Gettysburg, but the details for that are still up in the air. The cost for all 6 weeks at either location is $125. Please let me know if you or anyone you know would be interested – I can be reached at

If you don’t mind sharing a link to this on your Facebook page or blog, I’d appreciate it!

Monday, March 22, 2010

My 10 Favorite Things About Moving

10) The kids find toys that have been in storage for 5 months - it is like Christmas

9) You find clothes that were accidentally placed in storage for 5 months - it is like Christmas

8) Throwing stuff out just because you get so tired of moving things you haven't actually used for years

7) "Accidentally" breaking things during the move that your spouse had previously refused to part with

6) Finding lots of change - Starbucks/Angela's Cafe fund is rejuvenated for at least a day and a half

5) Eating lots of junk food (all food prep equipment is in a box you cannot find)

4) The youngest kids actually go an entire day without whining and crying because the living room is temporarily turned into a jungle gym of boxes and out-of-place furniture in which they climb around and get lost

3) Finding old pictures of yourself from college and not knowing whether you should laugh or cry

2) Trying to create a clever argument as to why the mirror with the black frame needs to go even though it belonged to your spouse's grandmother ("accidentally" breaking this piece is not an option because you've been trying to get rid of it for years and your spouse would see right through an "accident" such as this)

1) Realizing the outlet plug on your clothes dryer actually fits the dryer outlet in the house

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pulling Out My Hair

"Hi, this is _______ with McAfee. How can I help you?"

"Hi, I just realized that you charged $69.99 to my credit card and I wasn't sure why?"

"Okay, sir, if I could just get some information to verify the account. To what card was this charged?"

"Um, I've actually cut up the card recently, so I don't know the card number. I just have my credit card statement which only shows the last 6 digits."

"Okay, sir, how about a telephone number?"

"Um, try this one ---/---/----."

"Okay, sir, that number is not in our system. Do you have another number?"

"How about ---/---/----."


"Okay, sir, that number is not in our system either."


"Um, is there any other way of accessing my account that you just charged $69.99?"

Silence. I hear the sound of pages turning in the background.

"Yes, sir. Can you give me a valid email address?"

"Uh, how about"

"Okay, there is a McAfee account on that email address but it is valid through 2011 and there have been no charges to it."

"Um, you just charged me $69.99."

"Okay, sir, do you have another valid email address?"

"You can try"


"Okay, sir, that account did have an automatic renewal option which is why you were charged $69.99."

"Oh, okay, can we take that off?"

"The automatic renewal?"


"Okay, sir, I've taken care of that. Will there be anything else today?"

"No, I don't think . . . wait. How much longer does that keep me protected?"

"Well, actually sir, you have also have a special offer with Dell that covers you for three years and goes through 2012."

"What? Then what was I just charged for?"

"You were charged for the automatic renewal."

"So I'm covered twice on one computer."


"Yes, sir."



"Sir, what would you like me to do with your second subscription?"

"What are my options?"

"You can transfer it to a friend or relative, you could . . ."

"Could I just get my money back?"


"Okay, sir, your refund of $69.99 has been processed."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Time To Move On . . .

Tomorrow we move (there will probably be a few days this week that I will not blog due to all the fun involved with changing homes).

It will be a big move for us - we've been living in mom and dad's basement now for about five months, and you get used to the constant hum of a full house (not that our three bedroom will be empty). But there's something nice about intergenerational living - the kids hanging out with the grandparents, seeing my sister and grandma just about every day, spending evenings just talking and playing Scrabble.

There's also something nice about having a place of your own, and Maile and I are looking forward to it. The house we're moving to is small, but it's on two acres of forest and yard, with a stream and a garden and lots of room for the kids to run around. The timing is right.

I think it's time for a change to my blog, too. I'm realizing that you can only write about not doing something for so long, whether it's "not watching tv" or "not eating chocolate" or "not sleeping on your left side".

With all these changes taking place, I thought I'd get into retelling some of the stories that led to Maile and I moving back to Pennsylvania. There's a lot of stuff that's gone on in our lives in the last six months, exciting stuff and sad stuff and extraordinary stuff.

So, as soon as I can get Gent to finish up, I'll start on the new blog. If you see him, tell him to stop spending so much time on the dinner theatre he is writing, directing, producing, and acting in. Tell him you are way too eager to stop reading about someone who is not watching television. (Gent, if you're reading this, I'm totally kidding. No hurry, now close this blog and get back to your production).

Okay, now that we've got rid of Gent, get on his case. We need, and we need it now.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Remember Gordon?

So, as has become typical on Fridays, I've got another old television show from the 80s for you to reminisce about. I know, this is a blog about not watching television - it doesn't make much sense for me to be doing this.

Oh well, it's fun, and it's really rainy outside today.

So, remember this one? Be the first to guess it right and you will win an awesome prize.

Nuclear family has something crash into their garage. His name is Gordon Shumway.

Did you guess it? Okay, the prize today is (drumroll please):

. . . the pleasure of knowing that you are right.

I gave this prize to my 6 year old son yesterday and he just stared at me for about ten seconds without blinking, then said, "no, really, what's my prize."

Thursday, March 11, 2010

2nd Favorite Novel of All Time

Just thinking about my second favorite book of all time suddenly has me so eager to read it again that as soon as we move (next week) and get our stuff out of storage, this is going to be the first book that I break open.

The book is "A Prayer For Owen Meany" by John Irving, and if you love reading fiction and you haven't read it . . . FOR THE LOVE OF GOD GO OUT AND BUY THIS BOOK.

Ever feel like your life has no purpose? In this book you'll meet a character who knows the date that he will die, and he lives his life in a way that every experience is preparing him for this final purpose-filled event.

The book is written in the first person, and the narrator's best friend is a strange little fellow named Owen Meany. The book begins with this reflection:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice. Not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God. I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

There are so many interweaving storylines and characters and events that I won't even attempt to summarize it, but the following are some quotes from the book:

"If you care about something you have to protect it – If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it."

"When someone you love dies, and you're not expecting it, you don't lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time -- the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes -- when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever -- there comes another day, and another specifically missing part."

And a quote that I have to include due to the tv-less state of my life right now:

"If watching television doesn't hasten death, it surely manages to make death very inviting; for television so shamelessly sentimentalizes and romanticizes death that it makes the living feel they have missed something - just by staying alive."

Next Thursday, my favorite novel of all time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Workshop Topic: Setting

Last night at our writing workshop we explored how the setting in which we grew up affected us as people (trying to then get at how the setting in which we place our characters illuminates / affects / transforms them). It made me think a lot about the various settings in which I grew up, and how they affected me.

The first place I remember living is Laredo, TX . . . I was four or five, there were lots of lizards and heat and fire ants and dust and I saw my first real life road runner. From there we came back to where my parents grew up - Lancaster, PA. I often wonder how that homecoming at such an early age affected the way I feel about Lancaster, made it seem even more like where I belonged.

Growing up in Lancaster gave me a strong sense of community and family. A love for open spaces and fields encroached by forests and streams, especially streams with rich deep banks and lots of sky hanging above them.

So where did you grow up? How did your setting (either landscape or type of house or type of family) affect who you have become?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What Better Thing To Do This Spring Than Write?

Happy Tuesday! Spring is finally here . . . the snow is melting, little green buds will soon peek out of the tips of the branches, and life will start pressing up through the ground . . . what better time of year to get more deliberate about writing?

My first round of writing workshops are coming to an end, and we’re starting up again on April 7th and 8th. This time around it will be on Wednesday or Thursday nights for 6 weeks (there are 6:30 and 7:45 time slots available on Wednesday evenings, and 7:45 time slots on Thursday evenings) – each week we focus on a different aspect of writing as they pertain to storytelling in fiction and non-fiction: imagination, narrative voice, plot, dialogue, setting and living a writing life. Each person will work on short pieces to clarify their voice and sharpen their writing.

There is also a second-level course available on Thursday evenings at 6:30, also for 6 weeks – to enroll in this class you will need to either have completed the first level course or submit a writing sample. This particular class will focus on completing 3-4 short stories or refining/writing one longer piece.

Check out Janelle’s blog to see what she thinks about the class.

Both evenings are at the Family Center in Gap, PA. I may also be conducting a 6-week, first-level writing workshop in Gettysburg, but the details for that are still up in the air. The cost for all 6 weeks at either location is $125. Please let me know if you or anyone you know would be interested – I can be reached at

If you don’t mind sharing a link to this on your Facebook page or blog, I’d appreciate it!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Tell Me Yours

As we're closing in on my favorite novels of all time, I started getting curious . . .

What are yours?

I am in a reading lull and could use some suggestions.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

3rd Favorite Novel Of All Time

As you know if you've been following along for the last 6 weeks or so, Thursday posts are dedicated to counting down my top ten novels of all time.

The final three books in my countdown are pretty much interchangeable depending on my mood that day, I like each of them so much. But if I had to choose, I'd go with The Brothers K by David James Duncan at number three.

The story revolves around a family of four brothers and two sisters. Their mother is a Bible-thumper and their father is a mill worker by day and a minor league baseball star by night. When the father has an accident at the mill, his baseball career is snuffed out, and the entire family is affected.

It's a story of a family torn in different directions by religion, baseball, and war. It's a story of a family pushed and pulled back together by those same things.

The first time I read this book I was floored by the descriptions, the story line, and, most of all, the characters (so much so that our oldest son Cade is named after the main character).

If you get a chance, pick it up. Time to read!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Just Another Fortune . . .

As some of you may have read, last Wednesday I let you all in on the little secret that I was about to become a millionaire. What I did not tell you was that I replied to the Bank of Africa email with a one line message: I am interested in your proposition.

This was a mistake.

I have since been contacted by four separate individuals representing former account holders at the Bank of Africa who have all tragically and, slightly suspiciously, come to untimely ends.

The first man died in a plane crash - the person from the BOA who contacted me felt so passionate about this situation that every single word in the letter was capitalized.

The second also met his demise in a plane crash. Over the Baltic Sea. In 1999.

The third died in a tsunami - in this case Mr. Amadou Kabore used the word hence 17 times in his letter.

The fourth died on a boat.

And in every single case, the person's entire extended family died with them, leaving no immediate family, no extended family, and, more importantly, no one to claim their exhorbitant fortunes.

No one, that is, except me.

The reason I feel so devastated about this is because I am obviously about to collect between 30% and 50% of four separate fortunes, leaving me with anywhere from $15.7 million to $23.4 million. And have any of you recently looked up the lives of those who come into large sums of money? It's not pretty:

- only 55% of lottery winners said they were happier after winning

- only 40% increased contributions to charity

- 70% of lottery winners spend all of their money within three years

- 33% of lottery winners eventually file for bankruptcy

My family and I will obviously need your support to get through this incredibly difficult time of wealth.

I have to go now - it's time to get back in touch with Tuogo Hazem, Patrick Daniel, Chen Guangyuan, and Amadou Kabore.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Year Without Television - Day 60

Now that the Olympics are over, I don't feel any worse for having missed them. But even though I didn't watch, I'm still reminded that much of it makes no sense to me . . . here are ten things about the Olympics I don't understand:

1) The Opening Ceremonies - should that word be pluralized? I'm an English major and I still have no idea.

2) Curling - do those guys sweeping the ice really make that much of a difference? If they do, then the one throwing the big stone probably doesn't have to be THAT skilled, right? If the sweeping is meaningless, then why are they out there?

3) What good is a medal if it's based entirely (or even partially) on a judge's opinion? These events give me the same feeling as NCAA football national championship discussions.

4) A question for those skiers who go off the high ramp and do all kinds of flips, twists and turns: what was your very first jump like? Was it anything like when an eagle pushes it's babies out of the next?

5) How much do I have to pay to be one of the front two men in a bob sled (they seem to only be along for the ride, and I can do that)

6) Wouldn't a snow cone be more appropriate than a torch?

7) What do the five Olympic rings stand for (I could probably google this answer, but, until I do, it still fits in the category as things about the Olympics that I don't understand)

8) Why is there a difference between men's and women's skis? Aren't they just different lengths and, in some cases, different colors? Do the former wear a tuxedo on a night out? Do the latter where a bikini to the beach? Does one variety say, "Don't try to fix my problem, just listen?"

9) Wouldn't some summer events like the long jump, water polo or the 400 meters be much more entertaining as winter events? What if one year they completely switched all summer events to winter, and vice versa? Imagine platform diving into a 35 degree pool with a thin skin of ice on the water.

10) The Closing Ceremony(ies) - I don't really need Bob Costas breaking down the symbolism of whatever cultural event is taking place. I wonder if he actually enjoys that, or if in his head he is cursing himself for being the most accomplished sports analyst on the planet, wishing instead he could go back to the days of broadcasting a Cubs/Mets game in June.

So, on reflection, is there anything about the Winter Olympics you just don't understand?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Tell Us About Your Blog . . . And See Some Of My Favorites

My cousin Gent and I are working on getting this blog switched over to wordpress. My new address will be But as we've been working on this I've been checking out a lot of other blogs, just to get ideas on how I would like mine to look.

There are some really good blogs out there these days, as I'm sure you all know. The following are some of my favorites (in no particular order):

Bryan Allain - funny man Bryan shares his humorous outlook on life. Be sure to check out his "Cliche Thursdays". If you like what you see, order his blog year in review (available in real life hard copy and as a cute little file you can put on your computer)

Jessica Ramsey - a thought provoking devotional blog based on her responses to scripture from the Book of Common Prayer

Tyler Stanton - a hilarious blogger who has also created some enjoyable/side-splittingly funny videos

Rachele Gardener - interested in writing? Want to hear an agent's take? This is a great blog for writers to discover the inner workings of an agent's brain (don't worry, not as scary as it sounds!)

Janelle Beiler - are you a stay-at-home person needing some encouragement or a quick pick-me-up? Check out Janelle's blog as she writes about her life as a mother.

Andi Cumbo - if you want to read a great blog about Thoreau-ian simplicity, with some academic insights and a few great book reviews thrown in for free, Andi's blog is for you. She's got a refreshing outlook on life and will encourage the side of you that doesn't want to give in to the monster of materialism.

Shar Smucker - photographer extraordinaire. Check out the way she documents her ever growing family through photos.

The House Studio - a small publishing house trying to do things differently. Take a look at their books (The Kingdom Experiment, The Mosaic Experiment) and blogs.

So tell me about your blog? Feel free to advertise your blog in the comments section below - include your name, website and subject matter.

Don't be shy.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday's Television Quiz

Fridays are flashback day - perhaps not watching television has me feeling nostalgic about all the good ol' shows from the past. Can you guess this one? If they're too easy let me know and I'll try to up the challenge factor.

When I was a kid this was one of the cartoons that I loved but my parents were not too crazy about - not sure if that's due to the creepy bad guy, or the cartoon women running around in skin-tight sorceress gear. Or the fact that the main character was constantly claiming to be the power (my parents were new Christians, conservative evangelicals at the time, and so anyone besides Christ who ran around claiming to be THE POWER was immediately suspect).

Anyway, how could I be to blame, if I just happened to wander over to my neighbor's house at exactly 3:30, and he happened to want to watch television, and this happened to be the show he wanted to watch (with a little prodding)?

A few clues:

- the main character's every day name, when he wasn't his heroic self, was Adam
- the main character's every day occupation was: prince (is that an occupation?)
- he had a dog named Cringer

Know it yet?

- the three sidekicks who knew his identity were The Sorceress, Man-At-Arms, and Orko
- he was the most powerful man in the universe

Still not sure? Here's one phrase that should bring everything back:

"By the power of Gray Skull!"

Click here to see the original trailer.

If you watched this as a kid, who was your favorite character? Was I the only one banned from watching this?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fourth Favorite Book Of All Time

For most of us who love to read, there is one book that we can look back on as THE BOOK that somehow lassoed our interest in the written word. Usually it happened somewhere in middle school or high school (although I have heard of late bloomers).

My fourth favorite novel of all time was this book for me - I read it during the summer before my senior year (thanks to Mrs. Yuninger), and the impact it had on me is immeasurable. The narrative voice was so astoundingly unique, and the story-telling so fresh and unguarded . . . from that moment forward I knew I wanted to write, I knew I wanted to read more, and I knew that when I went to college I wanted to study literature.

The book is The Catcher In the Rye by J.D. Salinger. The main character is Holden Caulfield, perhaps the least forgettable character I've ever run into. The book starts off with "If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like . . ." I found some more good Holden quotes on this website. Here are some of my favorites:

- "It was that kind of a crazy afternoon, terrifically cold, and no sun out or anything, and you felt like you were disappearing every time you crossed a road."

- "I'm the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It's awful. If I'm on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I'm going, I'm liable to say I'm going to the opera. It's terrible."

- "When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around. I even have to go to the bathroom when I worry about something. Only, I don't go. I'm too worried to go. I don't want to interrupt my worrying to go."

- "All morons hate it when you call them a moron."

- "It's really too bad that so much crumby stuff is a lot of fun sometimes."

- "Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody."

There is a tension in this book that has always fascinated me: the profanity-laced narrative of Holden seems incongruent with his all-consuming desire to protect the innocence of children. And he is still just an adolescent himself.

If you've never read The Catcher In The Rye, you really should. You can also find out more about the auther JD Salinger, who passed away last month here.

So what books snagged your interest in reading?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Email I've Been Waiting My Entire Life For

Seriously, guys, I'm about to be a millionaire.

Check out the following email I just received. I'm so giddy about it, I'm literally shaking. Don't worry, I'll still blog from my mansion.

The letter is as follows:

My Dear ,

How are you,first i will explain my self little to you before we continue.
I am the manager of bill and exchange at the foreign remittance department of BANK OF AFRICAN . (BOA) Ouagadougou, Burkina faso , I am writing to seek your interest over a transaction.

- I'm not worried that they don't know my name. In fact, they are probably just trying to protect my identity from anyone who may have picked up this email by accident. I'm also not worried that when I searched this dude on Google the first thing that came up was "Scam 419". That is a coincidence.

In my department we discovered an abandoned sum of $18.5m US dollars (Eighteen Million Five Hundred Thousand ) .
In an account that belongs to one of our foreign customer who died along with his entire family in 31 July,2000 in a plane crash.

- At first I wondered at this person's inability to write a complete sentence, or to use correct punctuation, but then I realized that this inattention to detail completely lines up with someone who would misplace $18.5 million in their department. This is called compatible evidence. This makes me more comfortable with the situation.

Since we got information about his death, we have been expecting his next of kin to come over and claim his money because we cannot release it unless somebody applies for it as next of kin or relation to the deceased as indicated in our banking guidelines but unfortunately we learnt that all his supposed next of kin or relation died alongside with him at the plane crash leaving nobody behind for the claim.
You can confirm the accident from bbc news website:

- The entire story summarized in a 74-word sentence using only one comma. Amazing. And the fact that there is a website attached showing the accident only confirms my suspicions: I am about to be a millionaire.

The Banking law and guideline here stipulates that if such money remained unclaimed after five years, the money will be transferred into the Bank treasury as unclaimed fund.
The request of foreigner as next of kin in this business is occasioned by the fact that the customer was a foreigner and a Burkinabe cannot stand as next of kin to a foreigner.

- The accident was in 2000. The money has to remain unclaimed for 5 years, which means these folks have been searching for me since 2005. That also means they have been working really hard for a long time to find me. I like that. Plus, they used the word "Burkinabe" which not everyone knows means pertaining to or originating from Burkino Faso. Only a genuine Burkinabe would know that.

We agree that 30 % of this money will be for you as foreign partner, in respect to the provision of a foreign account, 10 % will be set aside for expenses incurred during the business and 60 % would be for me and my colleagues.

- This is where I began to get a little unhappy . . . 30%? I don't think so, buddy. I need at least 40% plus travel expenses. What do you think, I'm some kind of writer with no regular income and will go through all this hassle for chopped liver?

There after I and my colleagues will visit your country for disbursement according to the percentages indicated. Therefore to enable the immediate transfer of this fund to you as arranged, you must apply first to the bank as relations or next of kin of the deceased indicating your bank name, your bank account number, your private telephone and fax number for easy and effective communication and location where in the money will be remitted .

- A logical request. Although I thought all the relations or next of kin died in the plane crash? How can I then apply as one of them? Maybe he forgot that part. Oh well, not a big deal.

Upon receipt of your reply, I will send to you by fax or email the text of the application. I will not fail to bring to your notice that this transaction is hitch free and that you should not entertain any atom of fear as all required arrangements have been made for the transfer .

- I was feeling a molecule of fear at first, and then a polyatomic ion amount of fear. But when he reminded me not to entertain even an atom of fear, well, then I was reassured.

So I've sent an email to to collect on this huge fortune. I'll let you know how it goes. I won't forget you all, when I'm rich.

How A Fire Helped Me Remember

It seems a long time since my first post on going a year without television, at least until I realize it's still February. Then it doesn't seem very long at all.

I was thinking a lot about our decision not to watch tv during our short trip to Rochester last week to see Maile's brother and his family. We took a few peeks at the Olympics (you can't travel 300 miles and then be antisocial!), and the kids watched a few movies. I was still reeling from the realization that television has some positive elements.

Then a quick attempt at starting a fire brought things into perspective.

My brother-in-law Ryan has a fireplace, and I was trying to start a fire without kindling (tiny twigs and branches), using only cardboard and then huge logs. It wasn't going very well - the cardboard would burn really hot for about a minute, heat up the sides of the logs, then die out.

Just as I was struggling to get this fire going, Ryan came home.

"You got any small sticks?" I asked.

"No," he said, "but there's a bag of firestarters out there."

I went out into the freezing cold garage and grabbed a small, yellow plastic bag with something solid inside of it. It was a firestarter. I read the directions, handling it like it might explode into flame at any moment. Then I placed it between two logs and lit it, bag and all.

Suddenly there was a beautiful fire roaring in the fireplace, but I was left feeling strangely useless.

You see, when I was a kid I was in this church thing called Royal Rangers, where we learned to tie knots, chant off certain credes about character, and, among other things, start fires. We learned to use kindling, tinder, and then the real firewood. No paper, no cheating.

By the time I was 12 I could start a fire with my eyeglasses, a shoelace and the hollow wooden thingy that held my red neck tie in place.

Anyway, Ryan's fire starter had taken all the fun out of it. I sat down with my book and tried to read, but something was nagging at my brain. Then I realized.

Television is a firestarter.

Remember how when you were a kid and your parents would say "stop nagging me - go outside and play" so you'd traipse out the door with a couple of G.I. Joe's or dolls or something and end up under a tree somewhere in your backyard or at a neighbor's house and you'd play and play until, when it was finally time to go back inside, you really didn't want to go?

Remember how you used to rely on your imagination to have fun, and you'd create entire worlds and universes and everything hinged on some single solitary decision that you would make?

This was the same thing as building a fire one small stick at a time, seeing the nearly invisible flame turn into some monster of a bonfire.

But now - CLICK - the tv is on. There is no creation, only consumption.

I miss those small sticks.

That's what we're trying to get back to with this tv-time-out. The creation. The imagination. Reading. Writing. Playing games. Peace. Quiet.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Some Interesting Television Facts Which I Don't Think Are Facts

Some interesting facts about television that I found on the internet (are they true? I have no idea. But I found the information on the internet - it must be true, right?)

- According to legend, there's a Superman in every episode of Seinfeld.

- In the movie 'The Wizard Of Oz', Toto the dog's salary was $125 a week, while Judy Garland's was $500 a week.

- One in every 4 Americans has appeared on television.

- The Muppet Show was banned from Saudi Arabian TV because one if its stars was a pig.

- If you have three quarters, four dimes, and four pennies, you have $1.19.You also have the largest amount of money in coins without being able to make change for a dollar.

Sorry, I know that last one wasn't exactly an interesting television fact, but I had to throw it in there.

Disclaimer - apart from the last random fact (which can be proven mathematically), I cannot vouch for the accuracy of any of the aforementioned facts. In fact, I doubt they are true simply because the web site where I found them also listed the following as facts . . .

- Five Jell-O flavors that flopped: celery, coffee, cola, apple, and chocolate

- Internationally, Baywatch is the most popular TV show in history

- The cigarette lighter was invented before the match

- In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the world's nuclear weapons combined

THERE IS JUST NO WAY THESE ARE TRUE!! Baywatch? No way! Celery Jell-O? Are you kidding me?

What do you think?

***I feel the need to source the two websites from which I got this information, even though most of it strikes me as false: here and here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

F = Friday = Fun

I'm sitting in a Panera Bread in Rochester, NY. The staff behind the counter are talking about how they have to work an extra shift, so they have loads of Red Bull in the fridge. I'm wondering what it will be like to be served lunch by someone on their third Red Bull, flying around the store. Literally.

Red Bull gives you wings.

Sounds like fun. But that's what Fridays are all about: F = Fun = Friday

So in the same spirit of fun, here's a game for the day: name that show. The following is a summary of episode one for a show that ran from 1978 - 1986:

A wealthy Manhattan industrialist takes in the two sons of his late housekeeper. The 8 year old is excited about the opportunity of a privileged life, but the 13 year old feels that the man is trying to buy their love with expensive gifts.

Know what it is? Too easy? Click here for the answer.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Fifth Favorite Novel of All Time Is . . .

First of all, if you want to start off your Thursday with a hilarious video interviewing people about today's economy, you've got to watch this classic by Tripp Crosby

Now, on to the business for the day - we've reached the midway point of my list of top ten novels of all time. That's right, ALL . . . TIME . . .

Number five on the list has just about everything: murder, history, a monastary, a mystery, detective-monk, and a labyrinth for a library. Any guesses? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

It's "The Name of the Rose" by the Italian auther Umberto Eco (who, by the way also wrote some other intriguing books: "Foucault's Pendulum" and "The Island of the Day Before" just to name a few).

I found the following summary at and couldn't describe it any better myself:

"In 1327, Brother William of Baskerville is sent to investigate a wealthy Italian abbey whose monks are suspected of heresy. When his mission is overshadowed by seven bizarre deaths patterned on the book of Revelation, Brother William turns detective, following the trail of a conspiracy that brings him face-to-face with the abbey’s labyrinthine secrets, the subversive effects of laughter, and the medieval Inquisition. Caught in a power struggle between the emperor he serves and the pope who rules the Church, Brother William comes to see that what is at stake is larger than any mere political dispute–that his investigation is being blocked by those who fear imagination, curiosity, and the power of ideas.

"The Name of the Rose offers the reader not only an ingeniously constructed mystery—complete with secret symbols and coded manuscripts—but also an unparalleled portrait of the medieval world on the brink of profound transformation."

This book is exquisitely written - by that I am also saying it is not a quick read by any means. Think of it this way . . . if you want a quick dessert, you go to McDonald's and get an ice cream cone; if you want something rich, something that will take you more than two minutes to consume, something that will blow your senses, you go to a gourmet restaurant and order their 3 Layer Dark Chocolate Cake with Homemade Vanilla Custard.

The Name of the Rose is the cake and custard.

Have you ever read anything that your brain thought tasted like a McDonald's ice cream cone?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Something TV Is Good For

First of all, a huge thanks to Bryan Allain (last name pronounced uh-lane) whom I've known for a while now but apparently have been mispronouncing his last name. He did a great job reviewing blogs for our writing workshop last night, braving the black ice and spinning vehicles to join us.

Now on to a major revelation I had last night regarding something that television is good for . . .

I got home around 9:30pm from class last night. We were going to drive to Rochester, NY, so the van was packed and ready to go - all I needed was to swing by my parent's house and pick up my family and a few things I had forgotten. But when I got to the house, all was quiet.

Hmmm, I thought. Where'd everybody go? I grabbed one last suitcase, an extra coat and finished loading the van. Came back inside. Still, no one. But I thought I heard voices upstairs, so I followed them. This is when I discovered.

There might be one thing TV is good for.

My mom and dad and sister and three of my kids were all crammed into the loft watching the Olympics, and they were having a good time. Through the window I could see all the snow, and in the loft everyone was covered with blankets and snacking and having fun.

In that split second I realized, since we stopped watching TV we have probably missed out on some fun evenings interacting with my family.

This of course has thrown my entire world view for a tailspin.

What do you think? Is forsaking television for this amount of time going to ruin all of our relationships, turn us into hermits? Or do we just need to break more televisions in order to get quality time with people?

**I completely understand that some of you have had trouble posting comments on blogspot, something which is annoying me to no end (blogspot, not you). I am looking into transferring this blog over to wordpress, but in the mean time, you can still comment on here with a google account or feel free to comment on my facebook page when I post about this blog.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Our Year Without TV - Day 47

Today marks day 47 of our year without television. That's approximately 165 hours saved (based on the average television viewing of normal human beings at 3.5 hours per day). For me it's translated into a few extra books read to the kids, a few extra books read by me ("All the Pretty Horses" and "The Crossing" by Cormac McCarthy, which I've been reading mostly in the evenings in leiu of tv), and some quiet evenings with my wife.

Just last night Maile and I were sitting on the sofa. I was eating Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream and she was reading Born To Run (a book about this dude who, after studying a Mexican tribe and doing some studies, thinks that running barefoot is the way to go).

Maile turned to me and said, "I don't miss television at all." Then she kept reading.

The funny thing is, neither do I. Now that we've been doing other things in the evening for the last 47 days, I don't even think about tv as an option any more.

This makes me wonder . . . are there other pointless activities I am conducting in my life that I should reconsider? Now don't get me wrong - recreational activities are important to our well-being. It seems vital to me that we all do things that help us unwind and recharge.

But, as my good friend Kevin Baugh reminded me once, we often mistake mindless activity for recreational activity. Think about the break down of that word for a moment - recreational - re creational - re creation al - re create. Are your recreational activities literally re-creating you, or are they bringing you down, sapping your mind and wasting your time? You should come out of a recreational activity feeling invigorated and excited, not wasted and lazy.

Maybe today would be a good day to replace one of our deconstructive activities with a recreational one - instead of watching tv, go for a walk; instead of playing video games, read a book to a child; instead of eating a bowl of ice cream, start a journal.

Recreate yourself.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Get Yourself Into The Guinness Book of World Records - Just Watch TV For 72 Hours Straight

Today is a tribute to Sri Lankan born Joachim. About a year ago, he nabbed yet another Guinness Book record by watching television for 72 hours straight. Could you do this? I know of only one person who could break this record, and that would be Bryan Allain if Lost was on for that period of time.

But this is not the only excessive accomplishment by Joachim - he holds 53 other Guinness records. Some of them are listed here, as well as reasons I could or could not break the record myself, if I tried:

- longest karaoke marathon (25 hours, 49 minutes) I'm not really into the whole karaoke scene. I could not break this record

- the longest time standing on one foot (76 hours, 40 minutes); I am assuming this means without any props. I don't think I could stay awake for three straight days. I could not break this record.

- the longest bout of ironing clothes (55 hours, five minutes); I have ironed one piece of clothing in the last ten years, and I can't even remember what it was but I say one piece because I'm sure I must have ironed something since I got married I could not break this record.

- carried a 4.5 kg brick for 135.5 km. I think I could carry a 9 pound brick 100 miles. I don't think my wife would let me go for the amount of time it would take, if that was all I planned on accomplishing while she looked after our four kids. I could not break this record.

- crawled non-stop for 56.62 km. I sometimes crawl after my kids, pretending to be a monster. They like this, but I usually only last about twenty minutes, after which my knees start to ache. This means, at most, I have probably crawled about 100 yards. I don't think I would make it 30 miles. However, my 7-month old son Sam is a crawling maniac. He could break this record, if Maile and I walked really slowly in front of him the whole time.

So I guess we've established that, apart from the crawling record, Joachim's numerous Guinness accomplishments are safe for the time being. I'm curious, though . . . are any of the records mentioned above within your grasp? Or perhaps you'd prefer to break one of Joachim's other records: dribbling a basketball for 156.71 km in 24 hours; dancing for 100 hours continuously; moon walking for 24 hours; performing at a non-stop musical for 42 hours; or pushing a car for 19.2 km in 24 hours.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Another Reason To Limit TV Viewing - The Health Of Your Children

It would now appear that there is yet another advantage to limiting television consumption. We've found studies suggesting that less tv leads to: a longer life, up to 9 additional years of spare time by the time you're 65, and a safer home. Now a study has come out linking limited tv watching to lower rates of childhood obesity.

In a study of 8,550 4 year old children, there were three activities strongly linked with lower rates of childhood obesity among the participants: eating an evening meal as a family 5 nights a week, getting at least 10.5 hours of sleep, and watching less than 2 hours of television per day.

The rate of childhood obesity associated with children who participated in all three of these lifestyles was 14.3%, but nearly doubled in children who experienced none of them (ie, the rate of obesity among preschoolers who ate less than 5 meals together as a family AND slept less than 10.5 hours per night AND watched more than 2 hours of tv per day was nearly 25%).

"These findings held true even when the researchers controlled for factors that may affect a child's risk of obesity, including maternal obesity, race, gender, socioeconomic status and living in a single-parent household."

"Helmcamp said it can be hard to institute some of these behaviors. But she suggested that parents 'make these behaviors a priority. Sit down and figure out how you can make it happen. Maybe your child doesn't need to be involved in four or five different activities.'"

"She said if it's tough to eat together five times a week, shoot for at least three nights a week. And, she also recommended removing TVs from children's bedrooms, which can help with limiting screen time and with getting enough sleep."

Have a great weekend. Watch less tv.

By the way, the link to the article is here:

Thursday, February 11, 2010

David Copperfield - Not The Magician

If you like long books that follow a character through their entire lives, make you ache with sadness for someone in a difficult plight, make you laugh out loud at humorous situations, and, in the end, leave you smiling, then my 6th favorite novel of all time is for you.

It's David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, and it's a doozy (interesting word history lesson for the day - “The word doozy comes from Duesenberg, an eminently desirable motor car of the 1920’s and 30’s. The Duesenberg featured a chromed radiator shell, gold-plated emblem, hinged louvered hood, stainless-steel running boards, beveled crystal lenses on the instrument panel, Wilton wool carpet, and twin bugle horns. Magazine ads for the luxury car carried the slogan: ‘It’s a Duesie.’” (The Secret Lives of Words, by Paul West).

Anyway, back to David Copperfield (the book, not the magician). Young David finds himself in a difficult situation - his father dies, and his mother's new husband is a violent man with a cruel sister. They treat him terribly and eventually arrange to send him off to boarding school. Thus begins the long tale of David Copperfield and his journey through life. Don't let the 600+ pages intimidate you - it's a super easy read. Most of Dicken's books were originally written as installments in the periodicals of his day, so the chapters are episodic and usually lead into one another in a suspenseful way.

And if you're in Lancaster and still snowed in, why not start a new book?

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Falling From The Sky

By some miracle I made it back from Florida yesterday (actually, that miracle came in the form of my mother-in-law Kathy Silva helping me fly stand-by). So I'm home with the family, watching the snow pile up.

And now, just because the grass is always greener, I'm wondering about that whole sand vs. snow thing. I mean, there's got to be some reasons that sand is better than snow, right?

- if you lay out in the sand you'll usually get tan, but if you lay out in the snow you'll just turn bright red and get frostbite, which leads to black skin and eventually amputation

- sand doesn't fall from the sky - not sure why this is an advantage, but it seems like one

- when sand sits around for a few days it doesn't turn into a muddy black slush

- sand isn't slippery - this is especially good, since we throw sand on top of snow to add some traction. If sand was slippery, and we threw it on top of snow, even more people would fall over.

- according to Wikipedia (by far the most reliable internet pool of information), sand is a naturally occurring granular material composed of finely divided rock and mineral particles. Snow is just frozen water. Sand wins.

- sand has given us brick, concrete and glass. Snow has given us sledding and sleigh rides and snow days. Hmmm, snow days. Sand never kept us home from school . . . snow is quickly regaining the advantage . . .

Anyway, wherever you are today I hope you are enjoying yourself. Have fun in the snow (or the sand, whichever best applies to you).

Monday, February 8, 2010

Because Of Snow, Santa Is Not A Terrorist

I expected to be home from my rock star road trip yesterday, but I'm still in Florida (to read more about my trip with The Isaacs, see last week's posts). Turns out they can't land a plane in 18 inches of snow, and it takes two days to clear it all and get things moving again. So I'm sitting in a cafe in Sarasota (with a coat on - it's in the high forties) looking at palm trees.

I'd rather be home.

But I do get to spend a few extra days with my grandma here in Sarasota, which is nice, and this morning she and I had breakfast with three of her brothers and sisters, which was cool. I guess one of the great keys to life is staying flexible, and enjoying the surprise moments that fate hands you.

I was also thinking that Monday is a perfect day for lists. And since PA got so much snow, and I'm looking out at sand, I was trying to think of ways to cheer you all up. So here are some reasons that snow is better than sand:

- If you are stranded somewhere you can melt snow and drink it. If you melt sand all you get is glass

- Imagine eating a sand cone

- If you get a lot of snow in your car, it melts and eventually vanishes. If you get a lot of sand in your car, after being at the beach for example, it works its way into the carpet and the seats and then into your underwear and makes things very uncomfortable.

- Imagine skiing on sand at 30-40 mph and wiping out

- Imagine getting hit with a sandball in the face

- Frosty the Sand Man sounds more like a horror flick than a children's cartoon

- A snow storm is beautiful and coats the world in a layer of white. A sand storm strips the flesh from any living thing, fills your lungs with tiny particles and erodes metal.

- No one dreams of a sandy Christmas. Do they?

- Picture Santa living in the Sahara Desert. No longer chubby, jolly, dressed in robes and fair-skinned, he is now skin-and-bones, grouchy, dressed in rags and tan. Basically, if you exchange sand for snow, Santa becomes a terrorist.

I hope you guys in PA are enjoying the snow. Hopefully I'll be enjoying it with you soon.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Am A Rock Star

I just thought you all should know: I am now a rockstar. I go to bed at 2:00am, sleep in a bunk on a bus, wake up at 10:00, eat lunch with the roadies, shower in a stadium locker room, hang out on the bus, sit in the musician's pit for the concert, and sign loads and loads of autographs.

Okay, everything I said there is true except the part about the autographs. There are other, not so glamorous, confessions:

- I had to pee for about two hours yesterday morning but it was so dark in the bus that I couldn't see anything, and I didn't know how to open the door at the end of the hall, so I held it. Finally, someone else woke up so I followed them. It was a sliding door.

- I thought I had really slept in the other morning because the clock above my bed said 11:25. I rolled out of my bunk feeling like a rock star. The clock was 2 1/2 hours fast. It was 8:55. Not exactly rock star.

- The first night I slept in these little bunks I kept forgetting there's only about 2 feet of head room. I sat up twice and stretched once. All three ended in collisions with the ceiling. Again, not exactly rock star.

- There's about ten buses outside the stadium. I tried to walk into the wrong one this morning. Not a rock star move. Fortunately it was locked.

- I showered in cold water this morning because apparently the Florida State locker room showers take about 8 minutes to warm up. The water started getting warm just as I finally rinsed off, gasping for breath and shuddering in the icy water. Perhaps if I was completely wasted this would have been a rock star way of shaking the hangover, but I wasn't. I was just impatient. And cold. Really, really cold.

So there it is. Two more days of rock star living and then I'm home.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Traveling With The Isaacs, and My 7th Favorite Book . . .

So right now I'm sitting in the bowels of a stadium, somewhere in Biloxi, Mississippi. Smells like it too. The Isaacs first show this week is a Gaither show here in town, but right now the stage is being assembled, seats are being put in place, and everyone is preparing for the show.

I am on the internet in the rather stinky dressing room, getting ready to go grab some lunch in the catering area.

Traveling on a bus was something new, but since I love sleeping in very dark places with some background noise (tires humming over asphalt), I slept great. Poor Maile . . . turns out the kids were up at all hours . . . I'll have some making up to do when I get home.

Tomorrow Tallahasee, the next day Tampa, and then flying home from there as long as this big storm doesn't drop two feet of snow on a BWI runway.

So, now is as good a time as any to tell you that my 7th favorite book is a novel by Wallace Stegner, one of the great American-west writers of all time. The book is called Crossing To Safety and tells the story of a young couple, just starting out. He is a professor, she is an expectant mother, and they move to the midwest, on their own, knowing no one.

It is a wonderful tale of friendship and of growing older. Stegner does a fascinating job exposing the issues that lie just under the surface between friends and spouses and relatives. His sometimes melancholy, sometimes humorous, and always insightful reflections on the "ordinary" lives of these characters is an enthralling read.

Highly recommended.

So now I'm off to find some food, and maybe get a shower, and then work with Lily Isaacs on her book, trying to tell it in as interesting and touching a way as Stegner could do (probably won't come close, but might as well aim high).

Happy Thursday.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Want To Get Published? The Perfect Query . . .

This morning I'm going to take a break from the whole television thing to talk a teeny tiny bit about writing.

I happen to know that some of you write because you come to my writer's workshop. Others of you write blogs or have talked to me about various pieces you are working on. Keep going! Keep working! Keep writing!

But at some point you will want to try to get your piece(s) published. It seems the one way to validate what we are doing. After all, there's something about writing that wants to be read.

The first step is almost always finding an agent. Some of the blogs I listed on this blog are those of literary agents - Chip McGregor and Rachelle Gardner (thanks to Bryan Allain of for recommending these - and I still feel awful about missing our breakfast, and I didn't miss it because it was my turn to pay). These agent blogs provide great insight into what agents are looking for.

And the first thing they are always looking for is a good query letter.

A whosit?

A query letter. If you get a chance, check out this excellent summary on query letters from Writer's Digest.

And good luck.

The Fart Machine Hits the Road . . .

The first month without television has gone by rather fast. To think that we still have another eleven months is a bit daunting, but we'll take it one day at a time.

We've pretty much weaned the kids off of television without making an official rule about it - they watch the occasional movie on the tube. The main challenge is still to continually think about what is filling up the time that the tv used to occupy. Too often for me it's the internet - not much of an improved trade off. Trying to focus more on replacing what would normally be tv time with more productive or family oriented activities.

A few weeks ago someone asked what I think is a valid question . . . why do we consider reading "better" than watching television? Both are often done in relative solitude, both involve sitting still and not moving around or interacting with others, and both (sometimes) are done while eating. And there are plenty of crappy books out there that are just as escapist as television. So is reading 3.5 hours a day that much better for you than watching television for that same amount of time? I have my own opinion, but I'd be interested in hearing what yours would be.

Stay tuned this week as I hit the road with The Isaacs ( from Wednesday to Sunday. Touring with this bluegrass/country gospel music band comes as Lily Isaacs and I try to wrap up the first draft of her book. I am looking forward to this completely new experience of traveling in a bus from Nashville, TN to Bradenton, FL, watching them perform in some shows along the way.

So make sure you check out the blog later in the week. I'm taking my remote fart machine along on the bus (you can hide the small speaker under a pillow or strategically placed prop and then hit the button from the other side of the bus, emitting a rather realistic sounding fart) - should be lots of fun . . .

Hopefully I won't be hitch hiking back.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Help me remember the name of an old show . . .

So this morning when Abra got up at 6:30 I was thinking about when I was a kid and how I would get up early to watch cartoons (she doesn't get up early to watch cartoons - she's only two - she pretty much just gets up early to let us know that she is still in charge of this place).

I started thinking back to all of my old favorites: Smurfs, Gummy Bears (bouncing here and there and everywhere), Snorks, Muppet Babies and on and on and on. Those were the days! I turned on the tv (last year) on a Saturday and was so unimpressed with todays Saturday morning options.

So what are the great Saturday morning cartoons that you remember? The old classics?

One last question for this special Saturday blog post - there was a show I watched as a kid on Saturday mornings, not a cartoon, and it came on early. I'm thinking 7:00am. It was about a kid who had a computer (very outlandish back in the early 80s) and he somehow made contact with a girl in a space ship that left earth sometime in the future. Not sure that all their astrophysics theory was spot on, but it was entertaining. Anyway, I mentioned this show to Maile once and she had no idea what I was talking about. Does anyone remember this show? Can anyone tell me what it was called? (I know, that's two questions. Be nice, it's a Saturday).

Thursday, January 28, 2010

To all you stay-at-home moms and dads out there . . .

Yesterday, Thursday, I got all angelic and decided to give my wife a way overdue, much deserved day off. She could do whatever she wanted, go wherever she wanted, as long as she could get back to occasionally feed Sam (he is still breastfeeding, and contrary to what Gaylord Faulker might think, you cannot milk anything with nipples).

And to all you stay-at-home folks out there, I have to say - it is much easier giving up television when you are not home all day. There were multiple times throughout the day when I thought to myself, I need some mindless activity just to get through this hour. Or, I need to have something that my children will stare at for a bit while I gather my wits. So to all of you stay-at-home's, first of all, you provide an invaluable service to the next generation - please take pride in what you do!

Second of all, feel free to watch television without guilt.

But there were also moments of strange peace during my stay-at-home day.

For instance, feeding Sam yoghurt. He has just started eating solids (actually, semi-solids), so his eating technique can be rather slow. He tends to close his mouth in the middle of the spoon, sending stuff everywhere. His hands always want to get involved, and in an unproductive way. He also still thinks that food is best taken in by sucking, so sometimes, instead of taking the spoon (no sporks in this house) into his mouth, he'll try to suck everything off the spoon.

Slow process.

But about halfway through this little jug of yoghurt (took about fifteen minutes), I realized: I have no where else to be right now, so why not be right here? I told Sam to take as long as he wanted, be as sloppy as he wanted. I told him I was just going to chill and I'd be there to give him a bite whenever he was ready.

He seemed to take advantage of this.

But as I settled into this state of slowness, I thought to myself that television does not encourage slowness. Television is all about the 15 or 30 second commercial: BAM BAM BAM. The thirty minute program. BAM. Instant entertainment, movies on demand, news 24 hours a day.

Take a deep breath this weekend. Slow down. Do something that takes forever, and forget about the time your wasting.

And have a great Friday.

Book #8 on my list of favorite novels of all time is . . .

A man pulls up to a traffic light - it's red, and he waits for the signal to change, but it never does because as he is sitting there, waiting, his eyes are taken over by a strange white blindness.

Jose Saramago's book "Blindness" opens with this scene, but the situation only continues to get worse as more and more people in the city go blind. Soon the officials begin isolating those struck blind, hoping that if it is contagious they can stop the spread.

Soon the main characters of the book find themselves quarantined in an old asylum. Food is left for them in the yard, but there are no guards to oversee them, no doctors to help them in their blindness, and the conditions in the asylum quickly begin to deteriorate.

Two camps form - one, led by a lifelong blind man (since he is used to the lack of eyesight he now rules the newly blind) is corrupt and violent, stealing the food and terrorizing the inmates. The other group is led by a woman - for some reason, she never lost her vision.

"Blindness" is very much a Lord of the Flies involving adults - take away all of these luxuries that we currently live with (sight, excess food, comfort, clothing, etc): how would we behave? Would we become animals? Or is there something about us that is different, something that makes us human?

And, perhaps most importantly, how would we see the world, each other, our lives, if all of us were blind? Fighting, Saramago contends, is always a form of blindness . . .

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Spork Post

I'm tired of talking about television. And I've got another 338 days to try to think up posts about the tube, so today I'm going to talk about something else we should rid society of.

The spork.

That's right, I'm talking about the small plastic utensil many toddlers use when they are first learning to eat. Shaped like a spoon, the tip of it is slotted to create two or three prongs that don't really go anywhere - they're just part of the spork.

This is useless.

It is slotted, so it has no usefulness as a spoon. Kids can't eat soup with it. It sieves the cereal from their bowl of milk. Anything slightly runny or fluid just drips out the bottom.

But it's no good as a fork either, because the end of it is round. You can't skewer anything with it: hot dogs, mac and cheese, beef - all are resistant to the inadequate prod of a spork.

Things that are just as useless as a spork:
1) pretending that the finale of Lost is next week (Bryan, we all know it will never actually end)
2) half-time show for the Super Bowl (I know one person, 1 person!, that looks forward to that)
3) having an American Idol panel made up of anyone besides Simon, Randy and Paula

Alas, I'm right back to television . . .

Anything you find particularly useless?

Tune in tomorrow for my 8th favorite novel of all time.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Break Up Letter To My Television

Dear Telly

I'm sorry to be doing this by email, but I just didn't think I'd be able to stand the look on your screen if I told you face to face.

We're through.

I know we had so many good times: Mr. Rogers, Sesame Street and 321 Contact when we first met. Then there was my first foray into prime time: the Cosby Show and Candid Camera. But I was young, and so much has changed. You've moved beyond me. You've committed yourself to two hour chunks of time, like American Idol and Biggest Loser, and you've gone on and on and on in never-ending series like Lost and 24. I just can't do it.

I want to see other people. Real people, not the flat screen type. I want to read more. I want a full night's sleep - you're so demanding in the evening! It's all or nothing with you.

So for now it has to be nothing.

What? No, there's no one else. I know you've seen me spending more time with the computer, but she's just a friend. She knows how to listen. She doesn't keep me up at night. She's not that type.

I know, I know, I've heard you say it before. "I'll be waiting." I know you will. And I'm sure that one of these days I'll probably come crawling back, remote in hand, trying to make amends. But not now. Not today. Maybe not ever.

So there it is. I'm sorry about the dust all over you - I'll try to find the time to clean you off. But you're going to stay unplugged. That's just how it has to be.

Hang in there. You'll find somebody else.


Monday, January 25, 2010

Option #3: Breaking My Brother-In-Law's Television Set

First of all, happy birthday to my brother-in-law Ben, who turned 35 on Saturday. He runs a first class tennis academy right here in Lancaster County, so if you are interested in tennis you've got to look him up at Ben Halvorsen Tennis.

Anyway . . . the reason I bring him up, and the fact that he is getting really, really old, is that we went to his birthday party last night. We were hanging out in the kitchen, and at some point someone went into the living room and turned on the television to watch the Vikings/Saints game.

INTERESTING TELEVISION DILEMMA #1 - so this is the first time this has happened, but I'd imagine that it won't be the last: we go to someone's house to hang out and (gasp!) a tv set suddenly turns on. What to do? I ask you . . . WHAT TO DO!?!

Option one - watch television, breaking the fast but realizing the whole point of the thing is to become more involved in life, not less involved (I would consider hanging out alone in an empty kitchen being less involved in life, vs. going into the room where the tv is on and people are cheering and arguing and having fun)

Option two - go into the room where the television is but don't watch the television, either by sitting where it is not visible or by wearing some sort of blindfold or sophisticated blinder device

Option three - break the television (accidentally on purpose) since our obviously subversive goal is to rid the world of the idiot box

Option four - find something even more fun, like Twister, and do that in the kitchen so that everyone wants to hang out with the cool, we're-not-watching-tv-and-we're-so-much-better-than-you couple.

Option five - just go with the flow

Okay, so I chose option five. And since enough people stayed in the kitchen to keep conversation interesting and fun, that's where I stayed. And, yet again, in some small way I feel like my life was a bit better because of this decision not to watch television. Not I-won-the-lottery better, or I've-just-had-another-child better, but slightly better. For example, the few times I peeked into the living room, the folks watching television weren't jumping around and giving each other high fives but were mostly just staring at the television like zombies. There was some polite conversation, but it was mostly along the lines of:

"So what do you think of that Brett Favre?" (still staring at the tv)
"Good quarterback. Indecisive."
"Good sausage bites, eh?"
"What's up with that Saints emblem?"
"I think it's a floor-d-something."

In the kitchen I was catching up with people I hadn't seen for years and talking, actually talking and not just letting sounds escape from my mouth. So that was fun, more fun than watching television, which is what I would have done if this happened a month ago.

Have a great Monday. INTERESTING TELEVISION CHALLENGE: Sometime tonight, when you're about to turn on the television just stop and think for a moment - isn't there something else you'd rather be doing?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

A List of (mostly PG-rated) Things To Do Instead of Watching TV

Most of the time there are two things people ask when they find out we are not watching television for a year:

What's wrong with you?

What do you do instead of watching television?

I thought today I could clear up that second question by listing things we do (or things we should/could do) instead of watching television. As to the first question - that is far too serious a topic for me to try to tackle on a Friday.

Let's keep it simple and go with a list:

1) Clip your fingernails/toenails - this is not something that I do, even now that I don't watch television. I bite my fingernails (I know, BOO!) and usually just tear off my toenails when they get to long. That sounds really gross. It's one of the few things I do that makes me feel like Bear Grylls from Man v. Wild, and I'm not giving it up.

2) Play games with the kids - this is something we are doing more often, usually an old classic like Sorry or a new favorite like Disney Princess Yahtzee. Unfortunately I find my competitive edges seem to be increasing these days. I often find myself shouting "No, no, no, you definitely claimed Ariel as your wild card. Stop cheating!"

3) Read (more) - this is happening. I am grateful.

4) Go to bed earlier - but this only leads to waking up earlier, so I'm not seeing a real net benefit with this one.

5) Go out and party - this is not going to happen with four children 6 and under, but for those of you more footloose and fancy free, this may be something to consider.

For all of you (and there have been plenty) suggesting that we have a fifth child with the extra time gained from no longer watching television . . . well, I'm not going to tempt fate by making reckless guarantees, but as of right now I can assure you we are happy with four.

As you can see, I haven't gotten too far with this list. If you have any other suggestions, let me know.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

And My #9 Book of All Time is . . .

Last night was one of those nights when I really could have used some television. Kids to bed early, nice and quiet, feeling very lazy and unproductive, and I probably would have enjoyed nothing more than a good evening of Seinfeld/Friends reruns capped off with something interesting on the Discovery Channel, preferably Man v. Wild. Oh well, instead I started reading All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and played some poker online. Only about 345 days to go.

So instead of watching tv I also decided to write about my ninth favorite book of all time: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is pretty much the ultimate love story, and I'm not talking about some gushing type of romance. Marquez's writing swings to a South American rhythm: laid back and sultry, sort of like iced tea on a baking summer day. You can just about feel the beads of moisture forming on the outside of the glass, or the warm radiation of sun through large windows.

It is the story of Florentino Ariza's unrequited love for Fermina Daza that spans 51 years, 9 months and 4 days. When Fermina Daza's husband dies, even though both of the main characters are now in their sixties or seventies, the story is only beginning.

Some of the scenes get a little sexy, so if you're more of a Puritan reader this might offend your sensibilities, but I found it at times hilarious and at times rather melancholy and touching. If you've already read Love in the Time of Cholera and enjoyed Marquez, you also must read another great book he wrote, One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Anyway, happy reading!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

My Favorite TV Shows That Do Not Exist

I was just thinking today over all the great television shows I watched as a kid, starting with the good old GI Joe and Transformer days, then on to 3-2-1 Contact and Reading Rainbow, the Cosby Show and A Different World, Silver Spoons and Family Ties.

Then I started to wonder, are there concepts for television that would bring me back, cause me to forsake my year long television fast?

Hmmm . . .

What if someone put together a reality tv show in which spouses switched places for a week . . . for all of you women out there, wouldn't you pay to see your husband at home all day with the kids, changing dirty diapers and doing laundry, or going to your place of work and struggling through your job all day long? (this was not my idea, but something planted in my head by C and S P, something of which I should be extremely suspicious as CP is a huge fan of Housewives . . .)

How about some good old fashioned reunion shows with a twist . . . something along the lines of Cosby Show/Roseanne after 20 years. Wouldn't it be great to see how Heathcliff Huxtable would deal with Roseanne?

Or maybe a combined Different Strokes / Press Your Luck reunion show . . . I can just hear little what's-his-name (was it Arnold?) shouting WHAT CHOO TALKIN ABOUT WHAMMIE?

Maybe there could be a more literal Survivor show where 16 contestants are released in a national park to survive on their own . . . only they are being pursued by men with guns (paintball, probably) and the last person standing wins the million bucks. Or a lifetime's supply of snuggies.

Any made up shows you are trying to sell to TV land?

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Million Little Nightmares

Okay, so I know I've given up television for a year, but I'm not strictly anti-television. It's true that tv shortens your life, uses up an undue amount of time, has basically been perpetuated in order to sell us stuff, and has killed small children by sheer force and weight. But it's not all bad.

Is it?

I was thinking of this during the recent earthquake in Haiti. If something like that happened 75 years ago, we probably wouldn't have even heard about it until weeks or months later. More people probably would have died if the entire world hadn't been immediately alerted as it was by television news networks. (By the way, if you haven't given toward the relief effort in Haiti yet and would like to, check out this link: )

Without television, all of those folks who received homes from Home Makeover would still be in their old circumstances. And Maile would probably weigh about fifteen pounds more than she currently does since she wouldn't have cried thall those buckets of tears.

If my kids were watching television right now I wouldn't have had to turn around and yell "don't pick her up by her feet!" Right now Abra's life would be better, or at least right-side up, if her siblings were glued to Dora or Super Why.

A suppose a lot of people have come to a belief in God because of television programming, and a lot of people have found old relatives, or watched the weather channel and avoided a rained out picnic, or discovered a new-favorite band on MTV or VH1 (actually I have never heard of anyone for whom this has happened, but I assume it must be true). I'm sure some folks have met their future spouse at a television event hosted at a common friend's house. That's good, right?

I guess I just feel like the television is a lot like the lottery - for all the schools and roads and old folks the lottery money takes care of, there's still way too many people buying lottery tickets with their food stamps. For every good thing the television accomplishes, there seem to be a million little nightmares . . . the child who stumbles across a pornography channel or the fact that the average American kid will have seen 16,000 murders by age 18 or the dad who watches television non-stop and doesn't take time for his kids.

Maybe I'm overstating things, I don't know. I hear someone shouting, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" (sorry Bryan, I had to go cliche on you guys) - plenty of people have good family time around the tube, or learn some cool stuff, or have their life changed for the better in some way or another.

I guess what I'm hoping is that my year without television will recenter me and that, if I return to television at some future date, I'll be more analytical about what I watch, make more of an effort for my tv watching to be a social event and not a sort of emotional/mental hibernation. I don't know. Maybe.

Or maybe January 1st 2011 will be the first time anyone has ever watched 24 straight hours of television on 6 different screens, 3 laptops and a mobile phone. Maybe I'll binge on tv. Who knows.

Stop Watching TV and You'll Get Rich

As I reflected last week on why we as humans watch television, I started to wonder about why television exists. And the more I thought about this, the more I realized that the reasons we watch television are only important to those broadcasting television in that it helps them best achieve their goal.

Hang in there with me. I know this is deep for a Monday morning, but in less than two minutes you can get back to focusing on your cup of coffee and counting the crosshairs on your cubicle fabric.

So, as I theorized, and as many of you confirmed, we watch television to be entertained, or to zone out, or to relax, or to avoid life. But why does television exist? That's easy - there's one reason, and one reason alone:

To sell us stuff.

Now, if you're main purpose was to sell something on the television, what is the single most important element you would look for in the show during which your ad would air? Getting people not to look away. So the networks create engaging plot lines (although these are expensive to create, cast and execute), or throw a bunch of people together and let reality grab our attention (cheaper, but less predictable), or show things so strange and/or horrific and/or normally personal that the viewer cannot look away (1000 Ways to Die, Discovery Health, American Idol, Biggest Loser, etc).

It's interesting to me that at least three parents have responded to my blog and said they gave up television for a time - and all three of these parents also mentioned how their children were more content and asked for less stuff when they stopped watching television. It made me wonder how many of the things I purchased last year had to do with advertising.

Now I'm not sure if it's my family's recent decision to give up television, or the fact that we are on an ultra-tight writing budget, but I've noticed this year that it has been easier for me to recognize when I am wastefully spending money. Interesting. I hadn't thought of that until just now.

Now, there have been some recent developments which allow us to put up at least a feeble fight against the advertisers of the world, the main weapon being the DVR. Record your shows easily, and skip through the commercials. But the networks have not been far behind in figuring out how to promote their sponsors during the actual show. I'd be willing to bet that as more and more people begin using DVRs to watch television, we'll begin to see less of a defining line between the show we are watching and the advert trying to sell us something.

Anyway, just an interesting thought I had. And another reason to consider cutting back on the amount of television you watch - you'll get rich.

Tune in tomorrow for a post which is in complete contrast with today's - ways tv has helped humanity. Any guesses? (for those of you who have expressed disappointment at the difficulty of commenting on blogspot, I understand your pain - feel free to comment directly on my Facebook page).

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Misspoke - Your Television IS Lethal

I know the other day I kind of made fun of the researcher who wanted to assure us that our televisions were not lethal "in and of themselves." You might die earlier because of all the sitting still, he said, but the tv itself won't kill you.

Turns out, he was wrong.

According to that bastion of journalism and British consumer safety (The Midsussex Times), your tv might just kill you. Or your child. Or, by extenstion (they don't actually say this), a small animal.

"The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) has highlighted a US study that estimated that 8,000 children in the US are injured by televisions every year." (Thanks Robyn for forwarding me this article: )

First of all, I have a large British contingent reading this blog . . . there is a royal society for the prevention of accidents? Really? I have to do some research - is there a US equivalent . . . perhaps the presidential committee for the prevention of falling? the senate judiciary committee with responsibility for the oversight of stubbed toes?

"How common are these incidents in the UK?" the article continues on. "The RoSPA states that it is aware of four cases in the UK since July 2008 in which children under the age of four have been killed by a television falling on them."

I guess now that televisions are as big as pool tables, a toppling tube could wreak some serious damage on a small animal or child.

So, I declare today, Friday January 15th, 2010, television safety day. And I plead with you, fasten down those child-killers! Or take a moment and anchor your 127" 5400p beasts to the foundation of your home!

Or maybe just get rid of your television.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Book #10 is . . .

Coming up with my top ten novels of all time is no easy task. And I'm sure once my list is complete I'll remember others that I enjoyed more, or wished I would have included because their inclusion would have made me sound so much smarter. Oh well.

Book #10 on the all time list almost didn't make it due to almost being non-fiction - listed as a novel but actually a retelling of a true life story, What is the What by David Eggers is the tale of a boy soldier from the Sudan. The frame of the story is Valantino Achak Deng's sponsorship by an Atlanta church and his ensuing move to the States. But the American city is an alien world to him, and his attempts to find work, succeed in school, and live in an apartment with a roommate are humorous/painful to watch. Humorous in that he doesn't know what to do with some of the food that is given to him and sticks the peanut butter in the freezer. Painful because, in his innocence, he allows just about anyone into his home and ends up the victim of burglary and assault.

But his reflections on growing up in Africa are even more eye-opening. When I was a kid my biggest fear was missing the bus, or showing up to school in my underwear. But Deng lives in a world where soldiers arrive as if out of no where and destroy his world. Fleeing through the desert at night with a troup of other orphaned kids, he witnesses a lion race through their line and carry off two boys. The remaining orphans freeze in their path, scared to move. Eventually they sit down, holding their breath, listening to the lion devour the children it took, hoping the lion would not still be hungry when it had finished.

Eggers storytelling, from the perspective of an adult Deng, is remarkable. If you care at all about the plight of the boy soldiers and refugees in Africa, this is a must read, ranking right up there with the documentary Invisible Children.

Highly recommended.

Join us next Thursday when the curtain will be pulled back on my 9th favorite novel of all time.

Now on to the contest winners. First I must apologize for the lack of organization. And also for the fact that some of the answers were on my profile page. Ha! Anyway, the winner's are John Perella and Stephen. If you guys could let me know your addresses, I'll mail a copy of Think No Evil to you.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

If You Watch TV You Will Die

First, an announcement (and then an explanation for the title of today's post). Now that I'm not watching television I'm getting a lot of reading done, so for the next ten weeks Thursdays' posts will cover my top ten favorite novels of all time, counting down from 10 to 1. Time for a little contest - whoever can guess the most books on my top ten list will win a copy of Think No Evil, a book I helped write about forgiveness and the Amish school house shooting. I know, I know, random. How do you have any idea what my favorite books are? Well, you could try listing your top ten and see if we have similar taste. Guesses need to be in before book #10 gets posted on Thursday morning.

Okay, so now on to why you are going to die if you watch tv. I know that we're all going to die anyway so I just as well could have written "shop at Abercrombie and you will die" or "Eat Healthy and you will die" or "read Shawn Smucker's blog and you will die (of boredom)". But check out some of these interesting findings from a recent article on CNN Health (thanks to Bryan Allain of for forwarding me this article - check out his blog - he's much more entertaining than I am - just don't start reading his blog instead of mine - okay, on to the article):

Too Much TV May Mean Earlier Death (I'm guessing they'll only report this online and not on their television network)

1) The more time you spend watching TV, the greater your risk of dying at an earlier age -- especially from heart disease, researchers found.

2) The study followed 8,800 adults with no history of heart disease for more than six years. Compared to those who watched less than two hours of TV per day, people who watched four hours or more were 80 percent more likely to die from heart disease and 46 percent more likely to die from any cause. All told, 284 people died during the study.

***Hold on a second . . . 284 people died during the study?!?! Did they die from heart disease or from "any cause"? Did the "any cause" include researches sneaking up on the 4-hour-or-more tv watchers and clubbing them on the head in order to pad their numbers?

3) Each additional hour spent in front of the TV increased the risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent and the overall risk of death by 11 percent, according to the study, which was published Monday on the Web site of Circulation, an American Heart Association journal. (The study will appear in the Jan. 26 print edition.)

***This gives a whole new significance to the decision about whether or not to watch one NFL playoff game or two (by the way BA, your comments about John Gruden have been duly noted and we will throw down about that at a later date)

4) Television isn't lethal in and of itself; the real problem appears to be that sitting is the "default position" for TV viewing . . . "Prolonged watching of television equals a lot of sitting, which invariably means there's an absence of muscle movement," Dunstan says. If your muscles stay inactive for too long, it can disrupt your metabolism, he explains.

***"Television isn't lethal in and of itself" . . . who wrote that line? Did anyone actually think that one potential result of picking up the remote and pressing power was instant death???

5) The amount of television a person watches is a good index of the overall time they spend sitting, Dunstan says. But there's also some evidence that watching TV may be unhealthier than other sedentary activities, says Peter Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., an exercise scientist at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

"Reading or doing homework doesn't seem to be associated with risk factors as much as television viewing," says Katzmarzyk, who was not involved in the study but has studied the health effects of sitting time.

Thank you CNN for taking up my cause.

So, the next time you pick up that remote, think twice. There might be a television-hating researcher waiting to sneak up behind you and club you on the head, just so that they can list your death under "any cause".

Don't forget: ten favorite novels. Take a guess. Tune in tomorrow for book #10 on my all time favorites list and the winner of the contest (Maile, you are not allowed to guess).

In Memory of Jeni . . .

Happy Tuesday morning everyone. By the way, it's good to be back in PA. I hope you all enjoyed Maile's posts over the weekend - if you didn't get a chance, make sure you check them out today.

Well, another weekend without television, and the world has not crumbled. So what did I do this weekend? I'm glad you asked - I went to West Palm Beach, Florida and hung out with some dear friends, Jim and Susan.

Jim has a daughter Jeni. She would be a little older than me. She lived in Washington State where she worked at a cancer research center and was the mother of two beautiful boys.

In the summer of 2002 Jim's daughter Jeni had finally reached the point that many do, and decided that she needed to get out of the abusive relationship she was in. Her two sons were 5 and 2. Not too long before, they had both ridden in the ambulance with her to the hospital after her husband kicked her in the face and broke her jaw.

Jeni began making preparations to leave. I think her husband must have found some evidence of her impending departure, so he confronted her one night as she was on her way out the door. We don't know exactly what happened at that point, but we do know that at least one of her two young sons was upstairs, awake, as her husband continued shouting, made his way into a side room, came back, pushed Jeni to the ground and shot her in the back of the head. She died instantly.

The man tried to clean up the mess he had created, rolled Jeni up in a carpet and put her in the garage, no doubt waiting for the right time to dispose of her body. A local store's security camera shows him, that night, going into the store with one of his young sons on his shoulder, buying some beer and hanging out as if nothing had happened.

Fortunately the police discovered Jeni. I won't go into the weeks and months that followed, or into the lengthy court case where the defense tried to trash Jeni so that the defendent's claim that she committed suicide would be believed. I won't describe in detail the feelings in the courthouse when he was handed a 25 year sentence.

What I do want to talk about is what we can do. First of all, think about spending an evening with friends . . . without turning on the tv. We don't do this enough. Jim, Suzy and I had such a great time, reflecting on their experience and remembering Jeni. It was a tv-less weekend, and I treasure the hours we shared.

Secondly, think of your friends and family today and thank God for each and every minute that you have with them. As too many have experienced during this holiday season, nothing is guaranteed. Our tickets can be punched at any time, so as you start off on this (cold) Tuesday morning, I challenge you to live this week like it's your last.

Finally, please please please think about your family and friends. Do you know someone traveling Jeni's road? Do you know someone in an abusive relationship? Have you wanted to say something for a long time but didn't want to appear nosy or irrational? A serious intervention may have been able to save Jeni's life. A warning from you might save your friend's life. Maybe, if you can't work up the nerve to confront them, you could just forward this post. It may make them stop and think.

It may keep them alive to enjoy another year.

See you tomorrow.