Thursday, December 28, 2006

new pics

new pics from November and December as well as Christmas.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

social hierarchy and child rearing

The rest of the Christmas crew arrived yesterday. Miss Lois is really quite mobile and is crawling quite well. She also is learning what the word “no” means. If she does something like touch the presents under the tree after being warned, she gets her hand slapped. It is not really that hard of a slap, and she does try to obey, but she always cries. I think it is more that she doesn’t like to be told “no.”

Our calico cat, Snickers, is not fond of children. When Ted was a toddler, he used to carry her around the house by holding her by her throat. She loves Ted, but has always just left the room if any kids ever came around the house.

For some reason Snickers does not disappear when Miss Lois is around. She just sort of ignores her and carries on with her business.

Today Miss Lois was patrolling downstairs when she spotted Snickers sleeping in her bed under the china cabinet. She started to crawl toward the resting feline and I got out the camera. However, when Lois saw the camera, she changed direction, headed toward me, and started to strike a pose. She is such a ham! She also knows the difference between a toy camera and a real camera. She knows when to turn on the smile and is never upstaged.

After I put away the camera, Miss Lois resumed her patrol and soon she again saw the cat sleeping. As Lois came closer, Snickers tried to ignore her. However, when Lois came very close and reached out her hand, Snickers gave a low, soft growl, put out her paw, and slowly pushed Lois’s hand away.

Miss Lois immediately turned around and crawled away crying. She knew what it meant. Even the cat was telling her “no.” Snickers, being a responsible adult, accepted her duty to help discipline and train the newest member of the family.

I’m really proud of them both.

Be blessed!
RB

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

frosty, don't hold your breath

Today we were sitting together, looking out the window at the blue skies and green grass outside Eben-Holden Hall. Yes, it was the annual holiday luncheon at SLU. During the meal, a colleague recieved a cell call from his co-author who works at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. At that very moment in southern Nevada, his children were outside making snow men.

Might it then be appropriate for our kids go outside and make sand men?

Meteorologists are giving almost no chance of a White Christmas here.

Growing up in Southern California, our idea of a White Christmas was getting up early and seeing frost on the ground. Even that happened only rarely.

Suck it up. Make your adjustments. It will still be Christmas.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

advice i'd pass along to my daughter

This week The Wall Street Journal had an interesting column with the title of this post. You can read it in its entirety here.

Below is point eight of nine points:

"We all tend to think we're better-than-average drivers, pretty good looking and smarter than most. This overconfidence spills over into our investing and fuels our headstrong pursuit of market-beating returns.

"Yet this is almost always self-defeating. Trying to beat the market typically involves a heap of investment costs, and those costs mean our efforts to beat the market usually fail miserably. Indeed, you will probably fare far better by sitting quietly with a handful of low-cost mutual funds, preferably market-tracking index funds.

"But it isn't just that efforts to beat the market are usually self-defeating. They are also unnecessary. Want to retire rich? All it takes is time and regular savings."

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

congratulations to the class of 9-11

Our 2nd Lieutenant is now a 1st Lieutenant. Yes, last week on November 28th he was promoted. He didn’t tell anyone, probably due to the humility usually associated with the classic Western hero. He is, after all, a U.S. Cavalry officer. (Just picture him standing, head looking down at the ground, casually kicking the Iraqi dirt with his boot, saying, “Aw shucks, t’wernt nothin.”)

He earned this promotion because after 18 months as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army he 1) has a pulse and 2) is still breathing. These are very good things. He has been consistent and diligent with these tasks. We want him to continue and keep up the good work.

All who graduated with him from West Point on May 28th of 2005 were promoted to 1LT together. Time magazine ran a cover story back then on his class, designating them the Class of 9-11. They were just weeks into their first year when the towers of the World Trade Center came down, so they are the first group of West Pointers to graduate having spent their four years post 9-11.

What does this promotion mean? His rank insignia is a single silver bar rather than a single brass bar. More importantly, it means a raise in pay.

We are looking forward to our 1LT’s next promotion to captain. The standards are tougher: he must maintain a pulse and still be breathing for another two years.

We’d like that.

Congratulations to the Class of 9-11.

Be blessed!
RB

Monday, December 4, 2006

confirmation of better returns

Today’s Wall Street Journal had its monthly review of mutual funds (Section R). It certainly confirms yesterday’s post on the wisdom of crowds. In the table below, you can see that over the past twelve months, indexes (market averages) beat the professionally-managed mutual funds in three major categories, or segments, of the stock market: 1) the largest companies (i.e., large caps), 2) small companies (small caps); and 3) international stocks.



Might this be just an anomaly for one year? Okay, let’s look at the returns over the past five years. The indexes still win except in the small companies category.



Small companies are where you would expect that professional managers would do better since information is not as readily available publicly as it is for large corporations. Even given that, the average fund beat the market index by less than one percentage point. If you figure in the difference in management fees between index funds and managed funds, it would be a virtual tie.

It’s not talk. It’s not theory. It’s the facts.

Be blessed!
RB

Sunday, December 3, 2006

knowing less sometimes means making more

Today I started reading a fascinating book, James Surowiecki’s The Wisdom of Crowds (Anchor Books, 2005). This is a best-selling business book written by a journalist who not only writes well but also gets things right. The counter-intuitive premise of this book is that the collective wisdom of people operating independently is very often superior to the individual wisdom of experts. There are some seemingly strange, out-there examples (terrorist threats, predicting elections) but also the more mundane examples of betting point-spreads, parimutual gambling (e.g., horse racing), financial markets, futures markets, even estimating the number of jellybeans in a jar.

The results are well known, or should be, to economists. However, Surowiecki is not an economist but a journalist. He presents the ideas in what I find to be a novel and interesting way while making them accessible to people unfamiliar with them.

Yesterday I read an interesting article (“Limited Menu: Choose Only Three,” The Wall Street Journal, 2 December 2006, p. B4) about a simple way to outperform stock pickers, investment experts, and mutual fund managers: just divide your money between three indexed mutual funds for domestic stocks, foreign stocks, and bonds.

An indexed fund has a portfolio or collection of stocks that simply mirrors a market index. An index is just a sort of average of stocks that reflects what is happening in a particular part of the financial market. Examples of indexes you may have heard of are the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500, NASDAQ Index, and Wilshire 5000.

The evidence that market experts do not beat the market, as measured by overall averages or indexes, is overwhelming. Over the last five years, over two-thirds of all mutual stock fund managers have failed to beat the market. 95% of bond fund managers failed to beat indexes. Over the period of 1984 to 1999, 90 percent of stock fund managers failed to beat the market.

Non-experts do even worse.

So why buy managed mutual funds to under perform the market when you can just buy the market? To do this, buy an index. It is just a small fraction, a representative slice, of the market.

Why do stock market index mutual funds beat the experts? First, they have low management fees, almost a percentage point below the average mutual fund fee of 1.4%. The fees are lower because they can have a computer manage it cheaply and there are fewer expenses due to less turn over (buying and selling of individual stocks) than a managed fund. In a very competitive market, an extra margin of 1% means a lot. Second, indexed funds have no sales fees – at least no competent investor would buy one that did. Third, index funds utilize the wisdom of crowds.

The book gives a better explanation than I could, but here is a very short one. With large numbers, markets tend to aggregate or sum up the private knowledge (information, hunches, intuitions) of many individuals. Also with large numbers, some overestimate while others underestimate, but the different errors of many individuals tend to cancel each other out.

Index funds have less risk. This is a good thing and is due to greater diversification, having money spread out over a large range of things. As a result, you will always do just about average, no better, no worse. The downside is you will not ever get to brag about great returns on your stock picks. The upside is that over the long run you will outperform the vast majority of the pros as well as just about everyone else.

Would you rather be able to every once in a while, occasionally brag, impressing people who don’t know any better, or always retire richer?

Friday, December 1, 2006

wanna save money?

Many participants in the Dave Ramsey course (Financial Peace University) have spoken how using cash in an envelope system actually saves money. (An envelope system is where you put the planned or budgeted amount in an envelope and use only use the cash there for a purpose.) Most start out using a cash envelope for food purchases. For some reason folks are not quick to spend using cash rather than plastic. We’ve had testimonies about envelopes for clothes, going on vacation, etc. Even a college student found he was saving as a result of the envelope system.

This confirms studies that show that people tend to spend on average 18% more when using credit cards. They not only buy more but pay more for what they buy

Since this is the first of December and Christmas comes in December this year, try something new. (Christmas in December may be a surprise for many people. At least a lot of folks act as if it is by not planning to have money rather than credit available for purchases.) This year plan how much to spend for Christmas. Put the cash in an envelope and use it for all Christmas shopping. If more than one person does the shopping, use separate envelopes for each person, then divide the cash between them.

What if you do not have the enough cash? Then you probably ought to rethink what Christmas is about. It is not about becoming a slave to the lender (Proverbs 22:7). Jesus came to free us from bondage. Is it really appropriate to celebrate his birth by going into financial bondage? Yeah, I know you want to have a ‘good” Christmas. If a good Christmas is about Santa Claus, buying stuff, the materialism thing, then finances may not be your most serious problem.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

one for the record books

This morning my senior seminar was held outside. I never hold class outside. It's the North Country. It's SLU. It's the last day in November. It's a record.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

fun during the holidays: priceless

I just finished watching a show about credit cards on PBS's Frontline. Here are some approximate numbers:

145 million = Americans with credit cards
55 million = number who pay entire balance each month
90 million = number carrying a balance (over $8,000 on average)
35 million = number of the 90 million who make just the min. payment

Q: How long would it take to pay off a $1,000 balance if just the minimum payment is made?

A: You can plug in your minimum payment percentage and interest rate (apr) to see how paying just the minimum would impact you by using this calculator. However, a typical minimum payment is 2% of the balance. The interest rates vary but 21% is not uncommon. If this were the case, it would take 33 years and one month to pay off the thousand.

Total payments (not including postage) would be $5,198.06.

The interest would be $4,198.06!

This is being overly optimistic because it assumes no additional purchases are made with the credit card. In reality, people who pay the minimum keep on charging and will die in debt no matter how long they live.

What a legacy to leave your children and grandchildren.

So go ahead, charge your Christmas presents. You don't have to think about really paying five dollars for every dollar spent. Don't multiply the cost by five and realize that you could pay off the mortgage on a house sooner. That's no fun.

Christmas with MasterCard.

Priceless.






Saturday, November 25, 2006

three simple, practical steps to avoid despair and condemnation

Lately I have been seeing many people go into a downward spiral of despair over their failings and sin. Someone is going gangbusters for Jesus then he or she has a moral breakdown (i.e., sin). Remorse is not bad. Confession is not bad. Do those things. Those things are not the problem; they are the solution.

The problem is the negative thinking that continues after the confession. We know that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1), but we continue to think of our failings, rehearsing all the past or former failings of a similar nature. When we get tired of doing that, we go on to recount all our other failings and imperfections in the flesh. In my case, this cannot only keep me busy for hours, but for days at a time.

What is there to do if you find yourself in such a downward spiral of despair? Even if you realize it is happening, you may feel trapped and not know how to stop.

What do I know about it? If you haven't already figured it out, I've been there. Every once in a while I go there again. I have a way to overcome it. It works. It works for me. It will work for you. If you think you are so special and unique, that it won't work for you, you are probably arrogant and ignorant (Arrogant + Ignorant = Stupid). That was not nice but this is what I'm trying to say: It works.

There is a very practical and very simple three-step method to stop the cycle. It does not matter how long or how deep you are in the cycle. It still works. I am so confident that it works that I am going to give it to you free with a 400 percent money-back guarantee.

Here are the steps:

(1) Have you confessed the sin or failing?

NO? Then confess it.
YES? Then acknowledge the forgiveness God has already given you.
NOT SURE? Then confess it.

If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness
~ 1 John 1:9, NRSV.

(2) Thank God for his forgiveness. Thank and praise God for the Blood of Jesus and the promise of 1 John 1:9.

(3) Just repeat step (2) if a) the thought comes back or b) you start to think “Yea, but….”

“Yea, but….” really means, “No, because….” Such thinking is merely a ploy to get around or ignore the power of the Cross. You are not that powerful. Don’t try it. Just thank and praise God for his mercy of forgiveness.

The first few times there may be a lot of Step (3)’s but stick with it. You will be amazed at the decrease in the frequency of such thinking over time. This is because three things will happen. First, you are retraining your mind and getting rid of habitual thinking patterns. Second, your enemy does not want to cause you to praise and thank God, so there will be less harassment. Third, you will be focusing on what Jesus has done. This is good: It is not about you. There will be the occasional testing but that is part of life. You are still flesh. Just get back with the program.

It works. It is based on God’s Word. Don’t be stupid. Just do it!

Be blessed!
RB

Thursday, November 23, 2006

mi-iv: operation sweet pea

THE MISSION: 4:00 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
Two parental authorities with a certain package codenamed Sweet Pea arrived in Canton at 2 a.m. Wednesday morning after driving from their operations base in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts. They had Thanksgiving dinner Wednesday night in Canton and planned to leave St. Lawrence County (codename God’s Country) the next day to consume another Thanksgiving dinner. By the end of Wednesday evening, completely wiped out, they went to bed early.

My mission, if I decided to accept it, was to go downstairs, wait in ambush, and take possession of Sweet Pea. In all likelihood, only one of the two parental authorities would accompany the package to the kitchen. I was to immobilize the P.A. and go to the predetermined rendezvous point to wait for the eventual handoff of the package to another agent, codename Grandma.

I accepted the mission.

I quietly went downstairs and waited, under cover, on the living room couch.

THE AMBUSH: 6:00 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
I awoke on the couch. There were sounds in the kitchen. I waited. Perfect timing is essential to any well-executed ambush. I went into the kitchen and there was one P.A. holding Sweet Pea. The P.A. was big, 6’2" and outweighed me by 30 pounds. Physical force was out of the question even though I had the element of surprise and he still may be drowsy from the previous evening’s turkey consumption. Still, it was too risky. I could not take any chance of the noise attracting the other P.A. No, a more subtle approach was needed.

Fortunately, my timing could not have been better. I approached the P.A. just as he had finished warming a bottle and said in a concerned, fatherly manner, “I’m up, why don’t you let me feed her and you can go back to bed.” Caught by surprise and still in a bit of a stupor, he readily agreed and was soon upstairs, immobilized. I took Sweet Pea to the rendezvous point in the living room and gave her the bottle. We waited.

THE WAIT: 6:05 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
Sweet Pea enjoyed the bottle and was happy. There seemed to be some action happening at the lower end of the package. However, I could not smell anything, so how bad could it be? Probably just gas. We could deal with it later.

I put Sweet Pea on the floor. She has started to crawl, sort of. It is more a cross between an inchworm-type crawl and a soldier’s belly crawl. I just toss a few of her toys around and she can go for what she wants. It seems she is a bit of an intellectual and prefers newspapers. She likes to crinkle the paper and then taste it. The True-Value flyer is better than the Watertown Daily Times but her overall favorite is the blue Best Buys advertising insert.

This was a great time mostly because there were no EXPERTS around. Experts are parents (P.A.’s) who even though they admit that we went through four babies of our own just fine, and have taken care of countless other babies and know quite a lot about babies in general, they have just a really hard time believing that we know much about their child. Of course, the most expert of the Experts (optimates parentus) are First Time Parents (FTPs). Their child is so unique and so special that we cannot be expected to know how to respond in the unique ways they have learned by trial and error. Only they know what works with their child.

Often FTPs just take the baby with the first indication of any fussiness. Occasionally, they do try to teach us. For example, an FTP might speak and explain slowly, “When she fusses in that particular way you must hold her at approximately a forty-five degree angle with your left arm while standing on one foot, preferably the right one, but be sure to hold your left ear between the thumb and index finger of your right hand, elbow either over or behind the head – never in front of your face -- while smacking your lips.” Given the subtleties of the different baby fusses and the detailed solutions offered for each one, it is no wonder the Experts have their doubts about our abilities to learn to care for their babies.

Sweet Pea is quite smart. Without a P.A. around, we get along quite fine. Once she realizes her parents are not there to respond to her, she quickly figures out not only has she not trained me, but that I am not disposed to be trained. Soon we both know that I am bigger than her and we quickly establish a good working relationship. The fun can begin.

THE MESS: 7:15 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
After having a great time playing, I thought I had better check the lower end of the package. After going through many layers of clothing and partially removing the diaper, I discovered that there was indeed a dirty diaper. It was much bigger and messier than I could have imagined -- the worst I had seen in over fourteen years. I grabbed a clean diaper and the package of wipes. However, there was no changing pad. I was not about to change her on top of my fleece blanket or even our carpet. So, I put a section of the newspaper under her. Hey, it works for parakeets and dogs. Since she is somewhere between the two in size, I figured it would work with her as well.

I opened a clean diaper, placed it under the dirty one, and finished opening the dirty one. It was not a pretty sight. I tried getting a diaper wipe out but they were all connected like paper towels. It looked like I had pulled out a three-foot long wipe. I quickly dropped her feet, tore off a smaller section of the extended wipe, then quickly grabbed her feet again before she could start kicking who knows what to who knows where.

What I wonder about is where did it all come from? Sweet Pea is tiny and I could not figure out where she stored the entire volume of the mess extruded. It seemed to violate certain well-established laws of physics. Is there some chemical reaction with air that makes baby poop expand after exiting the body?

Sweet Pea was patient with me, but the operation was not going well and taking far too long. Humming the Mission Impossible theme inspired me and seemed to entertain her a bit but after awhile she had had enough. The fussing began.

MISSION OVER: 7:20 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
I had just finished the diapering and was in the process of getting Sweet Pea’s clothes back on when the other P.A. appeared. She had come downstairs to sleep on the couch in the den. This was probably prompted by the noise the first P.A. makes at night when immobilized. The den also provided a base to launch a rapid deployment force in case she heard fussing. She took Sweet Pea away “to feed her” and my mission ended.

RENDEZVOUS ABORTED: 7:35 a.m., Thursday 23 November, Thanksgiving Day.
Grandma came down to the living room. There was no package to hand off. As I expected in such cases, there was no acknowledgement of the mission.

EPILOGUE:
I should have changed Sweet Pea’s diaper right after she had her bottle. She would not have been fussy then. I easily would have gained the extra fifteen minutes needed to rendezvous with Grandma and complete the handoff.

I see now that I was in denial about the dirty diaper. A good agent must deal with the reality of a situation. He cannot afford the luxury of being in denial.

The mission was not a complete failure. I did get some quality time with the package. The first P.A. did get some extra sleep. However, the second P.A. did not get as much extra sleep as needed.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

video calls are wonderful

We had our first real video call tonight. We now have DSL instead of dial-up and last weekend I bought some video webcams and headsets. Sue and I talked between my office and home, but that doesn't really count. Tonight, Kelly in Colorado called us on Skype. After clearing up a software problem on her end, we had a lovely conversation. Her face filled the screen. It is really nice to see the person you are talking with.

Tomorrow her husband is going to try to call her from 2/9ths of the way around the world. We might get a call from him as well!

His internet service is not the most reliable and sometimes there are information blackouts, but we are hoping for the best. He can't use I-Chat, which is compatible with AIM Triton on our PC's, because of its greater bandwidth requirements. So we are going with Skype. BTW, Sue and I compared AIM Triton with Skype between home and my office, getting the same or better results with Skype.

I love this service. I made phone calls from Chengdu, China to the USA last summer using it. Only costs a few pennies per minute. What is also very dear to my heart is that it is all free for computer-to-computer calls. In fact, they'll let you make free domestic calls to landline and mobile phones until the end of the year.

Be blessed!
RB



Saturday, November 18, 2006

the millionaire next door

For a very interesting article, please check this out.

Be blessed!
Bob

P.S. The Washington Post may require registration but it is free.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

october pics

29 random pics from October at Webshots (2006 October). Only fourteen have Sweet Pea in them.

Friday, November 10, 2006

there are advantages

Here are two advantages of being known as a Christian that you may not have thought of:

1) Folks suddenly want you to pray or have people in your church pray when they have loved ones who are seriously ill, even though they don't "believe" in it.

2) Folks may assume that you are praying even though you are really just walking around talking to yourself.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

young mothers, be warned

I found the following on YouTube. Young mothers, don't let this happen to you! ....





I spent last evening watching Borat clips. I think I may be becoming a tubeaholic.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

a phone call

Last evening I was home alone catching up on some reading when the phone rang. I usually don’t answer. I wasn't screening calls but I don’t answer because they are seldom for me. If people want to talk to someone who is not here, they can leave a message. That is what answering machines are for. However, last night I decided to answer.

His first words were “Hi Dad.” It was after 4 a.m. his time and he just returned from a mission. I guess the lines for the phone are shorter then. We talked for a long time. It has been weeks since we talked and it was very nice to hear him.

I spent most afternoons last week looking at videos on YouTube about Iraq. I wanted to get a visual feel for the place so when he talked I might better understand. I also have been reading soldiers’ blogs to try to understand better.

I also found a site that explained the organization of an infantry brigade combat team (BCT), the typical breakdown of battalions/squadrons, and troop strength (i.e, what the 3,200+ soldiers do). I finally have a bit of a clue of what he has been trying to tell me. Each BCT has two infantry battalions, a field artillery battalion, and a support battalion. A BCT also has a cavalry squadron for recon and surveillance. The squadron consists of two motorized troops and a dismounted troop. The motorized troops are armor guys like our 2LT, while the third troop is infantry. However, the only armor they have is on the humvees.

He is at Rustamiyah, an area in eastern Baghdad. I had read that it was between a sewage treatment plant and a garbage dump. Supposed to be pretty bad, which was confirmed last night. He said it smelled like rotten eggs but at least he usually could not it smell it indoors.

His brigade, 2ID’s 2BCT, is still transitioning with the 101st Airborne’s 4BCT. The area in which our 2LT has missions is out in the countryside, with lusher-than-expected farmland. The group our 2LT’s 3-61 CAV is replacing is its sister squadron, the 1-61 CAV. (He said that was planned!) So it seems that the 61st Cavalry Regiment will maintain a presence east of Baghdad.

Yesterday the Pentagon released the names of some soldiers killed last Thursday. Included was the deputy commander of our 2LT’s brigade, Lt. Col. Kruger, and another Lt. Col., his counterpart from the 101st. Roadside IED. Ken did not know the man.

Separated from the US part of the base, the Iraqi part includes the “West Point of Iraq,” a military college established by the Brits in 1924 and patterned after Sandhurst. I do not think he found it ironic that he was back at a West Point after only 16 months.

It was just very pleasant to talk with my son. I miss him.

I was blessed. I am blessed.

RB

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

quotes, aging, youth

Today I discovered that for years I have been misattributing one of my favorite quotes to Goethe:

Forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age.
~ Victor Hugo

(Sorry about that Kathy. Thank you Darlene.)

I also found another quote I like:

I am not young enough to know everything.
~ Oscar Wilde

Monday, October 30, 2006

journey through the center of the earth

Our son is now in southeast Baghdad. I was just thinking that he is halfway around the world. Wait a minute. Since he is eight hours ahead, that would mean he is a third of the way around the world. Or does it? All this raises three interrelated questions.

Question #1: Where is halfway around the world? Since I am in the northern and western hemispheres of the earth, it must be somewhere in the southern and eastern hemispheres. To be more precise, if my current latitude and longitude is 44o35’42”N and 75o09’53”W, and if I were to journey through the exact center of the earth, then I would resurface at 44o35’42"S and 104o50’07”E (i.e., 180o - current longitude).

I would not want to do this. The shortest route, through the center of the earth, would be about 7,900 miles. However, the molten magma would make the Lake of Fire seem like a vacation resort by comparison.

Suppose I flew there as the crow flies? It would be about 12,450 miles to other side of the earth. Although the journey would be less unpleasant, I would still not enjoy the destination. It is in the southern Indian Ocean, about 900 miles southwest of the most southwest corner of Australia. It is in the part of the world called the Roaring Forties, a very cold place with very boisterous winds and very rough seas. I have seen videos of sailing ships traversing this area. It did not look like fun.

Question #2: How far around the world is my son? My son is about 5,380 miles away, only about two-ninths or 22% of the way around the world.

Being less than a quarter of the way around the world makes him seem a lot closer, doesn’t it? Two-ninths of the way around the world sounds even better.

Question #3: Why did I bother with this? Well, this sort of post happens when I bring my laptop to class while students are taking a test. Although not quite as bad as watching paint dry, watching students taking a test is still pretty boring. Random thoughts happen and I had time on my hands to explore them.

Be blessed!
RB

Saturday, October 28, 2006

the father of invention

I knew that I would have to go into work today. I missed a day and a half this week; things are past due; I have no choice.

I knew this when I woke up this morning. I went downstairs and saw that everything was laid out perfectly on the counter for my breakfast. Scanning from right to left, I saw sitting near each other the packets of instant oatmeal, the fresh-brewed coffee in the coffee pot, and the teapot with steaming hot water. I poured a cup of coffee. I pulled a bowl out of the cupboard. I opened the last packet of my favorite type of instant oatmeal, Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Crunch, and emptied the contents into the bowl. This has an extra “cluster packet” of crunchy things to put on top. I don’t know what they are but they taste great. This morning I went ahead and added the crunchies on top of the oatmeal mix instead of waiting until after the hot water.

If I had to spend a whole Saturday in the office, I wanted to treat myself to the best. Today, there would be no Food Club instant oatmeal for me!

Next I grabbed the pot and poured just the right amount over the mix so as to obtain the optimal consistency for my oatmeal. My favorite part of the breakfast creation process comes next. I stand and watch the dull, off-white mix expand and metamorphose into a lovely, light caramel color as the brown sugar melts and is absorbed into the oatmeal. Soon after, the fragrance of the unique blend of flavors begins to rise and I slowly breathe it in. Finally, I take the creation into the dining room to sit and eat, enjoying not only the taste, but experiencing the comfort and warmth it brings forth after being consumed.

To properly and completely enjoy Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Crunch, one must involve all the senses.

However, this morning was different. After I poured just the right amount over the oatmeal mix, I noticed the metamorphic process not only had happened quite suddenly, but that the lovely light caramel color was decidedly darker.

To my horror, it slowly dawned upon me that something was amiss. My quick-as-thunder mind came to the realization that it was quite possible I had not picked up the teapot, but had instead grabbed the pot of coffee. After a minute or so of staring in disbelief at my bowl of very dark brown oatmeal, the full extent of this tragedy began to intrude upon my consciousness. This was more than a loss of instant oatmeal. I had already added the cluster packet. I had lost my tasty crunchies to the coffee!

What to do? I could put it down the garbage disposal. However, I could not bring myself to throw out Quaker Maple & Brown Sugar Oatmeal Crunch, especially if it included the beloved cluster packet. So what the heck, I decided to eat it. I had lost any desire for breakfast anyway. I might as well just fill my stomach and go to the office. You know, buck up and get on with life, that sort of thing.

Actually, it was not bad. I had invented coffee-favored oatmeal. After all, there is coffee-flavored ice-cream and coffee-flavored candy, why not oatmeal?

Yes, I am the inventor of coffee-flavored instant oatmeal. Feel free to try it, but remember to always give credit to whom credit is due. (That be me.) The next time I make it I think I will use the Food Club plain or brown sugar oatmeal mix. It is a waste of the good stuff to mix it with coffee, but coffee could really add value to the cheap stuff.

Yes, there is a lesson to be learned from this story:

Necessity is the mother of invention. Stupidity may well be the father.

Be blessed!
RB

Friday, October 27, 2006

correction

There is a 1-61 CAV. It was activated in 2004 as part of the 506th RCT in the 101st Airborne's 4th Brigade. However, the army never activated a 2-61 CAV. Both the 1-61 and 3-61 CAV's are recon/scout units for their brigades. I know this doesn't matter but it does indicate that the numbering and "history" is rather arbitrary.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

it’s the army. it doesn’t have to make sense.

Our 2LT’s unit's full name: 2nd Infantry Division (2ID), 2nd Brigade Combat Team (2BCT), 61st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Squadron, Alpha (A) Troop.

So he is in the 3-61st of the 2-2. I think it is just called the 3-61st CAV

In the cavalry, soldiers are called troopers. Also, they use the term squadron rather than battalion, and troop rather than company.

This can be confusing even for someone familiar with army terms. What I found confusing for a long time was that I looked for a logic when there is no logic to the regiment or battalion/squadron numbers. Did you know that there are no 1st, 2nd, or 4th squadrons in the 61st Cav? Only the 3rd. (Is this in case they are captured, maybe the enemy will think there are at least two more squadrons around?)

The 61st is a new regiment formed just last December but they took the number from a deactivated WWII regiment. Even more bizarre, the WWII regiment was called the 601st but for some reason they took out the zero last year when reactivated. Stranger still, the 601st were called "Tank Destroyers." The new 61st is a scout regiment and has nothing more powerful than a 50-caliber machine gun mounted on a humvee. If they see a bad-guy tank, they have to nicely ask someone else to destroy it. If the bad-guy tank sees them then they are, to use a military term, screwed. But then if they are recon scouts who have done their jobs right, then the bad guys are not supposed to see them. This does provide a real incentive to do one’s job well.

As near as I can figure out, all the 601st and 61st have in common is that the officers and troopers are in armor branch of the army and not the infantry branch.

For the past fifty-plus years the 2ID has been headquartered in Korea. It still is. However, now only the 1st Brigade (1BCT) is there. For years, the 3rd Brigade (3BCT) and the 4th Brigade (4BCT) have been posted at Ft. Lewis, Washington when not deployed. Although, our 2LT did not join the 2nd Brigade (2BCT) until January of this year, the 2BCT left Korea two years ago to be deployed to Iraq, then was posted at Ft. Carson, Colorado last year, but they are now on their way to Iraq this year.

Confused?

As our 2LT has told me many, many times, "It's the army. It doesn't have to make sense."

Our 2LT is a platoon leader. Cav platoons, particularly scout platoons, are smaller than other platoons in the army. There are just 20 in his platoon and they patrol in four humvees, each mounted with a 50-caliber machine gun.

Well, at least he is in A-Troop and not F-Troop.

To see a page of coats of arms, crests, and links for the 3-61st CAV and the 2-2, please go to my 3-61st page.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. If you look closely at the coat of arms for the 61st CAV, you'll see a panther with the remains of a crushed tank in its mouth. This is to recognize the unit's historical roots as tank destroyers in WWII.


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

a call from kuwait

I just received a call from a certain army 2LT who is in Kuwait. He has been stuck in the middle of the desert for two weeks, at a very large base with nothing much to do. He's supposed to be in Iraq in the next couple of days, at large base just east of Baghdad. This base is a former Iraqi War/Staff College, sometimes called the West Point of Iraq. I find that a bit funny given how eager he was to escape West Point on the Hudson . What is also strange is that I can use Google Earth and get very detailed aerial photos of this place.

Friday, October 20, 2006

back to financial matters

Dave Ramsay has a free on-line newsletter that is kind of fun. You can sign up on his site (see the middle of page, under "Real Content and Real-Life Stories").

You can also get a free online credit report once a year from one or more of three credit rating companies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian). Since it is SLU's midsemester break and I was zero-tasking, I got all of mine. I liked Experian best for its detail. It gave the payment history by month for the past two years for each account. It also had a list of when companies had requested my credit history. (That was a bit disconcerting.)

For $7.95 I could have found out my credit score. However, that was about $7.89 more than it was worth to me.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. Yesterday's column by Walter Mossberg in The Wall Street Journal (page B1) was about the new Internet Explorer (IE 7). Although most of the article was about about how IE was just catching up (or rather closing the gap a little) with the much better Firefox browser, he did state for those using IE that the update was a big and worthwhile improvement.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

blogs and newsfeeds

I have been following a lot of blogs. It started out with blogs of certain people, mostly in church. Then it went to other people in church, then their kids, and then even other youth in church. It doesn't seem to matter if the blogger is young or old, but occassionally I get provoked, challenged, or uplifted by what folks write. I am still mulling over things people wrote last July and August!

I just counted the blogs I watch. I have over forty xanga sites to which I subscribe. I also have over two dozen non-xanga blogs (e.g., blogger, livejournal, etc.) I like to keep up with.

I really do not have time to check 70-plus blogs on a regular basis. I can't imagine anyone else would either. Only a handful actually have new content added on any given day.

I get a daily email update from xanga with all the new posts from subscribed sites. Typically there are a half dozen or so new xanga posts. The last couple of days have had closer to ten or eleven, but often there are only a few.

The other, non-xanga blogs have newsfeeds. All I have to do is open my browser, click a button or two and it checks for updates. Usually there are only three to five updates on any given day. That also includes newsfeeds from photo pages of family and friends on flicker and webshots in addition to blogs. (BTW, xanga sites also have newsfeeds.)

So instead of checking about 80 photo and blog sites, I only need to check the ten or so that actually have anything new.

I am very grateful for technology!

Internet Explorer 7 is now available to download. It has a newsfeed function built into it so that it is easy to get a newsfeed for a site and to check your personal collection of newsfeeds for updates.

I prefer Mozilla Firefox as a browser since it is much more customizable than IE. I use an add-on program, Sage, to handle my newsfeeds.

You might want to try newsfeeds. It is much easier than going to Louisa's site and clicking on all her links!

Be blessed!
RB

Monday, October 16, 2006

for that great dodger in the sky

For those of you who bleed Dodger blue, and for the rest of you who should, I have added a Los Angeles Dodgers links page to my personal website. There are a lot of links to articles and videos. Included is a great ESPN clip with former Dodger skipper Tommy Lasorda explaining to a distraught Red Sox fan what the post season is all about. There is also a very interesting section about the famous Bobby Thomson home run and how it may not have been such a miracle.

Be blessed!
RB

Sunday, October 15, 2006

my satanic worship

This morning as worship was just beginning, during the first moments of the very first song, I sensed, “What else have you been worshiping besides Me?” Whoa, what does this mean? I had been down this week, discouraged by my sins and their consequences not only for me, but also for those I love. I despaired of my lack of effectiveness, my lack of ability, my lack of talent, and my overall pathetic lack of progress in the so-called sanctification process. Oh yeah, the absence of any significant positive fruit in my life also bummed me out.

Have you ever felt like this? Have you ever over indulged in regret and despaired of sin?

Please stay with me here. This may not be easy to get across, so you really will have to pay attention.

I realized that I had been worshiping my sin, my failures, and my abundant lackings. In my despair, I had been bowing down before the works of sin. I had been worshiping what Satan had placed before me. They were very real things, but my despair over these things was really the equivalent of falling on my knees and bowing down to them.

In fact, I had been partaking in a form of satanic worship.

The Lord is a jealous God and does not want me worshiping anything or anyone else. He does not want me to worship Him on Sunday when I spent Friday and Saturday, and may well spend Monday, reciting my satanic verses of praise for the works of another. The Lord does not want to share my worship. He will not settle for some of it.

It is only by His grace that I can come boldly before His throne. Yet I was denying His grace, the grace in which I live, by exalting, and thereby worshipping, sin and a dead man. Grace has covered my sin; grace has made me dead to sin. That I am a child of God in right standing before God is a fact, a completed work, and a permanent condition: a result only, and completely, due to grace.

What I thought was regret, my despair transformed into idolatry. What I thought was contrition, became in despair my satanic worship.

It makes no sense to worship the God of grace while exalting what grace has already destroyed.

If you ever have trouble worshipping the great I AM, just sing a few lines of Amazing Grace. Worship gets very easy after that.

Be blessed!
RB

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

waiting

I Will Wait is a wonderful worship song by Jason Upton. It is one of my favorites. Last time I heard it, actually Sunday morning, I had to stop and think about what it means to wait for Jesus or to wait for God.

Before I go on, I must note that the rest of this has nothing to do with the song.

We can wait upon; we can wait for; we can wait with. What difference does the preposition make? What are the different connotations of each usage? When you say you are waiting for someone, there are a number of possible connotations. What I picture is that the person being waited for is not yet there. Most often the implication is that you are waiting for the person to show up. Waiting upon someone could mean the same as to wait for or it could mean waiting for something to happen or waiting for someone to do something. When you are waiting with someone, it definitely implies that you are not waiting alone.

For me, there is a big difference between waiting for Jesus and waiting with Jesus. You see, I am seated in heaven with Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6). My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God lives within me. God’s presence is always with me. I should never be waiting for God to show up since he is already with me.

We sometimes hear or read about entering God’s presence. If you are a believer, then you live and breathe, you exist, in God’s presence. God’s presence in the believer is not an emotion. It is not a sense or feeling. It is a fact. It is not a sometime thing. It is a permanent condition. Whether you know it or not, does not change the reality.

Doesn’t the Bible tell us to wait for God? Not in the NT, at least not after Acts 1:4. I checked. After the Holy Spirit came, each NT instance of waiting refers to the Second Coming.

Why am I being so picky about a word? Why make a big deal about using for or with? Because I do not always remember that God is with me. I do not always recognize or sense God’s presence even though the Word promises that He is always with me. In fact, it is all too easy for me to be blind to the reality of God’s presence. If so, then if I view myself as waiting for God in a particular circumstance, then I may start thinking of God as being far off, that I am alone.

Now if you are among the less than one percent of Christians that have no trouble always realizing and remembering that God will never leave you nor forsake you, who never ever feel alone, then never mind. The word usage does not matter.

As for me, it is a whole lot easier, a whole lot more comforting, and a whole lot more faith-building, to remember that I am waiting with Jesus than to think of waiting for him to show up.

If you are a young mother, tired, frustrated, and worn out caring for a number of children, might you have a better attitude, might you have more faith, might it be a bit easier to make it through the day, if you constantly realized that Jesus is right there with you? That He is experiencing exactly what you are experiencing? That you are not sticking it out, waiting for God to show up, but that He is right there waiting with you?

It is not only an emotionally good thing, it is the absolute truth of the situation.

Be blessed!
RB

Saturday, October 7, 2006

why be taken seriously?

I’m on a mailing list for a newsletter sent out by a family doing m-work in SW China. Their burden is outreach to the Hui people (Chinese Muslims). The latest newsletter noted that they had met a number of Hui who had traveled to England, Europe, and North America for university education. These Muslim friends returning to China say they never had a Christian talk to them about Jesus.

That would be me. Muslims take spiritual matters very seriously, probably are interested in spiritual matters, and therefore are in a sense open to at least discussing our different beliefs. Last June when visiting a Hui village in Yunnan Province, I had a scholar/teacher basically ask me for my testimony. After overcoming my initial shock, I was able to share. He then shared how he came to follow Islam which led to all in our group sharing. I’ve seldom seen or been part of such an open, two-way conversation before.

Therefore, to him who knows to do good, and does not do it, to him it s sin.
~ James 4:17

Why are we so afraid that we will offend? The thing is, they know we’re holding out on them by not sharing. In my case, don’t you think it a bit weird that to get me to share I had to be inside a mosque and be put on the spot by a mosque official?

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

pics from early september

One of our sons is leaving this month on a government-sponsored, all-expense-paid trip to Iraq. He was able to visit us early last month and we had a bit of a family reunion over Labor Day weekend. That is, all the the kids were home. This was the first time we've all been together since last Thanksgiving and probably will not occur again for more than a year. I finally got around to posting a bunch of pictures here.

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. One person is included in 25 of 29 pictures. Can you guess who that photogenic person might be?

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

video: the church you know

a funny video on tithing and giving.

Monday, October 2, 2006

at six months

Grandpa gave a test in his Friday classes so he was able to have a long weekend and take a quick trip to visit Rich, Stephanie, and Lois at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Miss Lois (a.k.a., Warrior Princess Sweet Pea) was six months old on Friday and who, despite being born in Boston and being a lifelong resident of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, is not a communist.

Grandpa tried to be helpful by offering to change her diaper Friday morning. He has had four kids and ought to know how. However, he forgot that Miss Lois was now into solid food. He quickly discovered the content was much larger, much messier, and much, much more odoriferous than expected. Having opened the diaper, he was past the point of no return, and he committed to the task at hand. In fact, it got all over his hand, the changing table, and what have you. Fortunately it was bath time, so what he didn'’t get off her, the bath did.

Late that afternoon Miss Lois and her grandpa went for a long walk and discovered a playground with swings. So Lois went on her first real, outdoor-playground swing ride. Grandpa held her in the swing as high as his shoulders and let her go. She squealed and laughed, thoroughly enjoying it. Since he is 6'’4" this must be some sort of playground-swing altitude record for a six-month old. They can have a lot of fun if mom and dad are not around to object.

Friday evening grandpa was very relaxed, quite content with not a care in the world, even mildly euphoric. For him, hanging out with babies is better than drugs. (I am being quite serious.)

It was a gorgeous day on Saturday. Everyone went to nearby Singing Beach at Manchester-on-the-Sea, where the sand makes a sound (singing?) if you shuffle your feet as you walk.

Pictures of Miss Lois and her guest from last weekend are posted here .

Be blessed!
RB


Sunday, September 24, 2006

a random walk

The post on September 17th (nny and the rich and famous) made a reference to stock pickers and market timers. I am certainly not against financial investments in stocks. However, most people have no business trying to pick stocks. Professionals, that is folks that tend to know what they are doing and do it for a living, do not consistently beat the market. Most of the amateur stock-pickers I have run into really do not know that much and tend to be attracted to get-rich-quick schemes. While not necessarily correlated, ignorance combined with greed is not good.

Greed is a very deceptive idol and a get-rich-quick attitude is not godly.


. . . [H]e who gathers money little by little makes it grow.
~ Proverbs 13:11b

The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.
~
Proverbs 21:5

If interested in an explanation of why I think short-term speculation by stock-picking and market timing is a suckers game, please check out a post from last fall (what's a random walk?).

Be blessed!
RB

P.S. I once heard a trans-local church leader claim that Christians with a prophetic bent should be able to get rich by picking stocks. (Glory be to God!) In less than a year he was asked to step down from his leadership position. Not generally known is that he was abusing the organization's credit cards for his personal use -- if you consider taking amounts into the six-figure range as abuse.

Monday, September 18, 2006

being a fool ain’t what it used to be

I have been reading and rereading Proverbs (I am waiting for it to sink in – might take a few more times.) where the word fool occurs quite frequently. What do you think of when you hear the word fool? Most of us think of a simpleton, someone not too smart. Sort of like Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, or Lou Costello of Abbott and Costello. Maybe the twit Bertie Wooster of Jeeves and Wooster fame? The OT uses the term fool sixty plus times. While I have not undertaken an exhaustive study of the multiple Hebrew words translated as fool, I do find the OT use of fool does not seem to fit our modern usage particularly well. What we mean by fool is more akin to simple, a word also found in English translations of Proverbs. A simpleton and a fool seem to be quite different in OT usage of the terms.

OT use of fool often denotes a vile person, devoid of or lacking moral character. Is there a modern term with that connotation?

The best I can think of is a jerk. If I told you the guy dating your sister is a jerk, you probably would assume I was speaking of his lack of character rather than his lack of brainpower. A great OT example is Abigail’s husband Nabal, man referred to in Scripture as a fool (1 Sam 25:25). Nabal was not a simpleton, but he was a first class jerk.

Check out these verses and see if they work:

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but jerks despise wisdom and discipline.
~ Proverbs 1:7

He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a jerk.
~ Proverbs 10:18

A jerk finds pleasure in evil conduct, but a man of understanding delights in wisdom.
~ Proverbs 10:23

The way of a jerk seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.
~ Proverbs 12:15

A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a jerk is hotheaded and reckless.
~ Proverbs 14:16

A jerk finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.
~ Proverbs 18:2

It is to a man's honor to avoid strife, but every jerk is quick to quarrel.
~ Proverbs 20:3

Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a jerk.
~ Proverbs 26:9

See what I mean?

Proverbs was given to give wisdom to the simple (Pr. 1:4). It is also used by God to point out what a jerk is but it takes the conviction of the HS for a real jerk to get it.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

nny and the rich and famous

This weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal had a front-page article on Steven Cohen, a young, rich financier. He manages a $10 billion fund from Stamford Connecticut. (Split that up and it would we be about $100,000 for every man, woman, and child in St. Lawrence County.) The article mentions that he has a large house with basketball court, ice rink, and indoor pool.

Big deal. I have a large house – at least more than large enough for our needs. We had a basketball court but I took down the backboard when we painted the carriage house (i.e., that is what realtors call a barn). I still have the backboard and if I wanted, I could put it back up in an afternoon. For several winters, we had an ice rink in the backyard. I still have the lumber for the frame but would need to buy the plastic sheeting. It is not expensive and readily available at Triple-A-Lumber. There is enough plastic in one roll to line three rinks, one for each of three winters. As for an indoor pool, all I need to do is unplug the sump pump and all too soon, we’ll have one in our basement.

Cohen’s home also has paintings by the likes of Van Gogh and Gauguin. This smacks of a conspicuous consumption, which I find unseemly. I do not object to fine art. I appreciate fine art. In fact, I have a mouse pad with a wonderful reproduction of a picture of dogs playing cards. This is despite my computer having an optical mouse and therefore no real need for a pad. However, I feel it important to surround myself, and my family, with art – especially the masterpieces. It matters not if an original or a copy. The exposure to, and the cultured environment engendered by, displayed art is what is ultimately important.

The article went on to explain all Cohen’s troubles trying to stay on top as the “Hedge-Fund King.” While this should be a cautionary tale for those self-styled stock-pickers and market-timers out there, it won’t be. Such folks are too deceived by greed and pride to apply the lesson to themselves. However, it can also be a cause for reflection and gratitude. This guy is not really better off than I am. He doesn’t even get to live in the North Country, and I have a lot more time to enjoy the riches with which I have been blessed.


The blessing of the LORD brings wealth, and he adds no trouble to it.

~ Proverbs 10:22

Saturday, September 16, 2006

sharing carnal desires with paris hilton

I have stated that I have never thought Ms. Hilton to be particularly attractive physically and that her public persona leaves me cold. That is what I said. However, she recently made international headlines when busted for DWI in a vain, desperate attempt to fulfill our shared passion. The truth is now out. In fairness to her, it is really not her fault. The poor thing couldn’t help herself. The carnal desire that we both share was too strong, too overpowering.

If you read more than the headline, the newspaper article revealed the object of her desire. Paris was pulled over while going to get a hamburger from In-N-Out.

In-N-Out is a California institution. It was a small chain of small hamburger stands when I was a teenager. They had only a drive-up and a less-used walkup window. No indoor seating. This was California where the only appropriate place to eat an In-N-Out burger was in your car.

They had, and still have, the best hamburger in the land that invented fast food and the drive-up window. While once few and far between, In-N-Out franchises are today ubiquitbous in Southern California. A few now have indoor seating but the vast majority do not. I have the menu memorized. It is pretty basic: French fries, hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double burger (double the cheese and meat) in addition to shakes (excellent, very thick, three flavors only) and soft drinks.

The hamburgers are nothing fancy. Just your basic burger with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, ketchup, and a Thousand-Island-type sauce. It has not changed in over 40 years. They do not cook the hamburger until ordered, even though the next dozen customers waiting in line are guaranteed to order at least a dozen burgers. Where else you can get 1950’s style burgers at a drive-up window?

They are just plain good.

How good?

1. One day at lunchtime we drove past an In-N-Out without indoor seating. There was a line of people, forty or more deep, standing at the walkup window. This is in an area with numerous fast-food outlets and Californians are loathe to stand in lines. However if the drive-up lines are excessively long at In-N-Out, some Californians will take the extreme measure of actually leaving their cars and using the walk-up window. This happens no where else.

2. When my sister made of list of things to do during our recent trip to Southern Cal, at the top was “lunch at In-N-Out.”

3. My only souvenir of the entire trip was an In-N-Out t-shirt.

Many probably shook their heads at the headlines, wondering what this spoiled, empty-headed, rich girl was thinking when got into her car after having a few drinks. Californians knew she was thinking, “I want a double-double!”




Thursday, August 31, 2006

surgery

I have twelve days to go before a co-worker returns to work after an operation. Earlier this week she had breast reduction surgery. We’re friends, but what can a guy say to a woman after such a procedure without possibly getting into trouble?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

southern california

We spent the second half of our trip visiting my sister and her husband in Southern California. They have a very large house overlooking the Pomona and inland valleys. The elevation of the valley floor is about 800 feet and rises to a height at their house of close to 3000 feet. The south side of the house overlooks the valley while from the other side looks up to the more than 8,800-foot Cucamonga Peak of the San Gabriel-San Bernardino Mountains. At night, the lights of the valley are gorgeous. During the day, at 3,000 feet, you can see over the inversion layer – the invisible barrier that keeps the smog trapped in the valley. The smog makes everything look hazy, a sort yellowish gray haze at that, while if you look across over the inversion layer it is crystal clear. You can see poking through the smog the peaks of mountains that are some forty miles away.

In the old days, that is before I was married, this area was nothing but vineyards as far south as you could see. If there were not vineyards, then it was just rocks, sand, and brush.

One day the four of us toured our old home town of Pomona. My brother-in-law and I talked like old men, constantly commenting on how everything has changed. We argued about where old landmarks, since torn down and built over, were supposed to be. I saw the house I grew up in, my grandmother’s house, the schools I attended, Puddingstone Park where I proposed to Sue. The City of Pomona has more than doubled in population in the past thirty-plus years to about 170,000. I do not remember there being much vacant land left to develop thirty years ago. Despite the development, a lot a good memories came back.

Sue and I also visited our alma mater, Cal Poly Pomona, as well as her home town of Whittier. We saw the house her grandfather made in the early 1920’s, where he lived for over sixty years, where her dad and Aunt Lois grew up. Whittier has changed much less than Pomona.

We met my nephew’s fiancĂ©. We also met the greatest dog ever, Jock. My nephew is quadriplegic and Jock is his service dog. Jock can fetch things if needed, including beer from the refrigerator. He takes requests for specific brands as well. Brian is helpless if he falls out of his wheelchair and Jock has come to his rescue many times. Jock lives to help and is miserable if not allowed to work. My sister has no grandchildren, but at the order “Go to Grandma,” Jock heads straight to her.

Another day we traveled to Catalina, an island twenty miles off the coast. It was the first time we had been back since our honeymoon. The boat that took us over even went by the Queen Mary, now a hotel and permanently moored in Long Beach harbor. We spent out wedding night there. On Catalina, we went by the Zane Grey house where we honeymooned 32 years ago. Still looks the same and still has the wonderful view of the city and harbor of Avalon.

We spent our last day at the mother of all outlet malls, Ontario Mills. My sister and Sue spent three hours in one store alone. Fortunately, I had the foresight to bring a book so I was able to find an outside bench where I could read while enjoyably baking in the California heat. It was a win-win situation for everyone.

The thing that most impressed me about Southern California this trip was the mountains. I knew the San Gabriel-San Bernardino range was 5,000+ feet, with a number of peaks above 8,000 feet. I grew up looking at 10,000-foot Mount Baldy (officially Mt. San Antonio) out my bedroom window, at least when it was not too smoggy. However, I had forgotten how extensive and impressive-looking the mountains were.

We have pictures of my sister’s house as well as some of our touring.

I love California, but driving back home from the airport we both realized how even more beautiful the North Country is. There is no place I’d rather live.

Be blessed!
RB