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.


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!

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.

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!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

the millionaire next door

For a very interesting article, please check this out.

Be blessed!

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.


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