This Is Me--2024 A to Z Theme

My A to Z Themes in the past have covered a range of topics and for 2024 the theme is a personal retrospective that I call "I Coulda Been" which is in reference to my job and career arc over my lifetime. I'll be looking at all sorts of occupations that I have done or could have done. Maybe you've done some of these too!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Practical Prompts

              The above photo shows four of the many boxes I have stored in the closet in my writing office.  There are many boxes in this closet, and in the office there are additional files of materials that I have accumulated over the years--mostly for the purpose of providing inspiration for my writing or as a record of things that I have written.

              There is probably little of any real monetary value stored in this room, but there is a wealth of ideas and thought provoking information to be found here.  News clippings and magazine articles, photos, scribbled thoughts, odd objects, and items of personal memories are all parts of my treasure.  Whatever I have kept because it somehow made me think of something to write, I have filed in a special place or tossed into a box or a drawer to be filed away at a later time. 

            The way I see it is that in my lifetime there is no way I could ever possibly run out of writing prompts.  If I find myself saying that I cannot think of anything to write about, what I really should be admitting is that I'm too lazy or not motivated to write at this moment.  Everything is a potential prompt for writing.  You just have to use your imagination and ask some questions.

            Let me try a little exercise to illustrate how prompts are everywhere.  I'm at my desk and look to my left where I see a burgundy stapler.  Reaching over to pick it up, I realize it is a heavy metal stapler that could potentially kill somebody--there's a murder mystery here.   I look at the bottom and see it was made by the Bates General Binding Corporation.   I wonder what else they make and what is the history of this company?  Who designed the stapler, how is it made, and who made the decision to use the burgundy color.  This company is in Northbrook, Illinois.  What's it like there?  What is the history of this city?  The stapler was manufactured in Taiwan.  What is the factory like?  Who are some of the workers who handled this stapler while it was being manufactured and what are their lives like?

Potentially deadly stapler with a  long and complex history.

         These questions and contemplations could go on and on--I think you get the idea.   You could write an entire book about this stapler or come up with countless articles and stories about it.  And that was just the first thing I saw on my desk.   As cluttered as my desk tends to be, I potentially have a lifetime of writing at arms reach.

          Writing prompt exercises are fine, but where do those come from?  They come from another writer's imagination, that's where.  What are you doing to stretch your own imagination?   Look around you, pick common things up and examine them in detail.   Think about them and ask questions.  There are stories in everything, in everyplace, and in everybody.   It's up to the writer to make those stories come to life in an interesting way.
          The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge often elicits comments like, "I don't know if I can think of that many ideas for a whole month".    This is why it's a Challenge!   It's impossible to run out of ideas, though it's not inconceivable to run out of steam.  Last year I began to get a bit weary at the midway point of the challenge.  When I reached the letter "n" I decided that I could think of nothing to write about.  That's when the light bulb came on in my head.  I wrote a bit of flash fiction called "Nothing" that was rather well-received and this recharged my motivation.

          If writer's block is causing you to stumble, stop and take a breather.  Think.  Ponder.   Ask questions about why you are experiencing this barrier to progress.   Take a walk, listen to music, watch a movie, or talk to a child.  And if you need to do some exercises with writing prompts then let me suggest going for the practical prompts that are right there in your life.  What you write about is an extension of who you are.  Why shouldn't the writing exercises you do be a part of who you are as well. 

           How do you overcome writer's block?   Do you sometimes use prompts as writing exercise?   What are some of your favorite prompts?


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Thank You From A to Z

          The Blogging from A to Z April Challenge is off to a great start and I want to thank all who have signed up so far.  Some of you who have not signed up may be thinking that it's too early and you can do it as you get closer to April.  Why wait when you can do it now?

           Sign up in advance and you can start gettting organized to make the April Challenge easier once it starts.  But there is another advantage to signing up ahead of time--if you are signed up you can become a part of the team of bloggers who are working together to make this Challenge a bigger success.

              We encourage you to sign up now.   Once you are signed up for the Challenge you can start helping us spread the word by telling others about it and by displaying the Challenge badge on your site to let others know that you are participating.

              This week I have seen several of you with the badge on your site and even with posts announcing your participation.  We thank you for doing this.  Here are just a few that have been helping us:

Thanks to these bloggers who have contributed to the success of the challenge by adding the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge badge to their sidebar.

Eric from Working My Muse is looking forward to his first shot at A to Z.

Rosie at East for Green Eyes is enthusiastically joining us for the first time.
Rae at Fresh who is a second year participant with a new blog.

Yvonne at Welcome to My World of Poetry who last year contributed a poem for each letter of the alphabet.

Seams Inspired who is making a first appearance.

These great bloggers also included a post about A to Z:
(This really helps the cause!)

Jessica at The Alliterative Allomorph.

Gregg at Gospel-driven Disciples.

Sandra Ulbrich Almazan:  Speculative Fiction Author   

Ella from Ella's Edge
Sig from Beadedbear's Nonsense and Complete Waste of Time .
Heather M. Gardner  from The Waiting Is the Hardest Part.

          I believe there are more and if you have placed something on your site and I haven't acknowledged you, please let me know so I can do so the next time I do a post like this.

         Also, I ask each of you who read this post today to stop by the above sites and say hello.  If you aren't following these blogs, now would be a good time to do so.

         This brings me to the next suggestion.  Since part of the A to Z Challenge for some of you is to gain more followers for your blog, I recommend that you try to go through the Linky list and visit each blog that you aren't following now, say hello and introduce yourself, and follow that blog.  I guarantee that if you do this you will add to your following and you will probably end up with a few new blog friends as well.

        Remember to tell your friends who haven't signed up yet to come and join us.   The more who join means more fun and opportunity for you and the rest of us.

        Finally, remember to regularly visit the blogs of A to Z cohosts Talli Roland, Jennifer Daiker, and Alex J. Cavanaugh for any other Challenge tips and updates.

        On Thursday February 3 please drop by as I visit Patricia Stoltey

         Have a great weekend!


Thursday, January 27, 2011

I'm not posting anything new today and here's why:

                I want to continue to focus on yesterday's announcement.  If you missed it be sure to scroll down to see the Wednesday message or click here.

          At the time I write this post the challenge has reached the 75th participant.    We're off to a good start.  If you didn't sign up yesterday, I encourage you to do so today.   Remember, we're shooting for at least 300 in this challenge, but Alex's 500 would be even better.

           I saw many excuses out there of why you couldn't do this.  Well, I say you can!  Remember, you have two months to prepare for this.   You are creative enough and you won't run out of ideas--there are plenty for each letter.   Don't discredit yourself.  It can be all for fun or for building your platform or whatever you want to make of it.  This is the challenge of accessing endless possibillities in an enjoyable way.

          Also, I want to thank all of you who have already put up the badge and in some cases even posted about the challenge.   That's what it's going to take to really make this challenge a success.

          Click on the links for Alex, Jen, and Talli and read the comments so far if you haven't done so already.  Those links can be found in my post of yesterday (I'm having a computer issue right now that makes it difficult for me to add links).

          Let's try to get the Linky count up to 200 by Monday.  Please pass the word.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Very Special and Exciting Announcement!

            Are you ready for the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge?

            I know that some of you are ready because you've told me.   Others of you may be thinking about it and I'm hoping that today's post will get you to thinking a bit harder about it.   And then some of you may be thinking, "What's a Blogging From A to Z Challenge anyway?"

             This challenge started last year to celebrate my reaching the 200 follower mark.  I had no idea that it would take off as well as it did in the short lead time I had in 2010.  Nearly 100 bloggers participated last year with many more keeping up with the progress.  In the end most of the participants were very satisfied with having been a part of the challenge.

How does the Challenge work?

             The premise of the Blogging From A to Z April Challenge is to post something on your blog every day in April except for Sundays.  In doing this you will have 26 blog posts--one for each letter of the alphabet.   Each day you will theme your post according to a letter of the alphabet.

              You will only be limited by your own imagination in this challenge.  There is an unlimited universe of possibilities.  You can post essays, short pieces of fiction, poetry, recipes, travel sketches, or anything else you would like to write about.  You don't have to be a writer to do this.  You can post photos, including samples of your own art or craftwork.    Everyone who blogs can post from A to Z.

How can this Challenge help you?

             Ask someone who did it last year.   I invite any of you who Blogged From A to Z in April 2010 to leave a comment below telling how the challenge helped you as a blogger and otherwise.   Some of the benefits that I have seen mentioned and personally experienced were improvement as a blogger and a writer, greater self-discipline,  finding new blog friends, and increasing followers to each of our own blogs.  

             This year the Challenge is being announced two months ahead of time which gives everyone plenty of time to prepare.   Taking this in into consideration I anticipate having at least 300 bloggers joining in with us and I hope you are one of them.  

And here's the best news of all!

            Last year was nearly overwhelming for me to administrate the ongoing challenge by myself.  There is no way I can expand this Challenge to 300 or more participants and expect to do it alone.  That is why I've joined up with three of the most successful bloggers and blog event organizers that I know. 
            Just in case you don't know these great bloggers and writers, let me introduce them to you:

Star blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh, author of the popular science fiction novel CassaStar.  We met in last year's A to Z and he'll swear by the Challenge.  He's already organized events such as the Movie Dirty Dozen, The Top Ten TV Shows Blogfest, and the current Top Ten Music Countdown-- each one of these an unqualified success.    Alex is determined to see A to Z go to 500 participants and with him on board I think we can do it. 

Power-blogger  Jen Daiker from Unedited  jumped right into blogging last April by joining up in the A to Z Challenge.   In her short span of blogging she has amazingly passed the 1000 follower mark--I still am flabbergasted by that feat.  Blog events she has hosted or co-hosted are the Guess That Character Fest, The Great Blogging Experiment (with Alex Cavanaugh and Elana Johnson), and The Be Jolly By Golly Blogfest.   If only all 1059 of her followers blogged from A to Z with us!

Talli Roland from her self-named blog and the author of The Hating Game , her recent novel which is still doing hot business.  When Talli did her Web Splash to coincide with the release of The Hating Game, there were hundreds of fans who helped kick off the campaign with their own blogs.   She'll be in charge of our international affairs since she currently lives in London, England.   And Jen is already building her army of followers while Alex is taking control of CassaStar and the universe--it's a busy crew here.

           And if you're a regular reader of my blog then you probably know something about me, Arlee Bird--there's plenty written about me in my blog pages.    I encourage you to click on the above links to three blogs and give your greeting and, if not one already, become a follower of each of their blogs.

          Whenever you are ready to join up with us, sign up on the Linky list or if you're not sure how to do that let one of us know and we'll  add your blog to our list.  

Linky list is no longer accessible on this page.

          Below is a badge you can add to your blog to help advertise to your readers. If you give us a plug on your own blogs now and then we wouldn't mind that either.  This lovely badge was created by Jennifer Daiker.

          Now let's hear about your A to Z experiences, opinions, or questions.    Help us make this a big success and you become a better blogger.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Owen Fiddler: A Review

You can find this book on Amazon
            On October 28, 2010, I reviewed Marvin D. Wilson's Beware the Devil's Hug and generally liked it, but with some reservations due to graphic language and sex.   If this part doesn't bother you, then I recommend reading Hug. 

          After Marvin's blog tour I won a copy of Hug, but since I had already read that one I was sent another earlier book by him.  This book is Owen Fiddler.  This modern allegory is a short easy read of about 200 pages.  It comes with the same caveat as Beware the Devil's Hug--if you are easily offended by, or prefer not to read, some profanity or sex scenes you should be forewarned that this book contains both.  It is not excessively used, but it is there.

             If you're past that, then you're ready to delve into this earthy earthly morality tale that's got one eye heavenward bound and the other studying things here at home.   Owen Fiddler is a guy who feels misunderstood and may be misunderstood at times.   He feels that he has been dealt a bad hand in life so he doesn't feel compelled to play life's game by the rules. 

            Owen goes through life with one mistake leading to another.  Even when good things come his way he manages to screw things up.  When it looks like Owen's life has really started going down the toilet, an amazing series of events occur as fate, or perhaps even the hand of God, step in to confront Owen with the man he has been, the man he is now, and the man he can be.  Will he make the right decisions?    Can he become a truly changed man?

            The book brings up important issues in a sometimes controversial way.  The characters are much like people you know or live in your own neighborhood.  The incidents are like things that could really happen.  The story is nicely told with a fast pace that keeps things moving.  There were times when I wanted more details about certain things, but the author has wisely chosen to keep the story compact and focused on the message.

             And there is a message.  However, this message is delivered carefully and with affection.  The story leaves you with a smile and a ray of hope for all of us.  There were a few theological cringes in the telling of this tale, but nothing that detracted from the ultimate lesson that is being taught.

              In all, I liked the story.   It has stayed with me in a good way and it made me think.  I also liked the characters--even that scummy Owen Fiddler.   Marvin's portrayal of his main character shows what a dirtbag Owen can be, but also takes us into Owen's mind  far enough to feel empathy for what he is going through.  This book is a careful literary balancing act that left me satisfied with the reading experience.

               You can visit Marvin D. Wilson's blog at The Old Silly.   Stop in and tell him hello and let him know that you saw this review.   Thanks for reading!

I won this book as a prize during a blog tour.  I have decided to review this book on my own accord and what I say here is my opinion.     --AB

Monday, January 24, 2011

Top Ten Countdown Blogfest


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          Counting down our top tunes of all time!  Alex has brought us another show where we each present our top ten favorite songs of all time.  My choices might be different next time you ask me, but these are pretty good representations of the types of music I listen to when it comes to popular rock era music.  And now to follow Alex's call:

Music moves us. It inspires us! Now, tell the world YOUR ten favorite songs of all time. The Song, the band – why does it move you?
          Here are my 10 choices--for today at least:
Good Vibrations   ---    The Beach Boys gave us this great tune in 1966.  I'd been growing up with their California surf and car music, but now my musical interests were turning to newer sounds.  This song was one of those newer songs and The Beach Boys were staying on the forefront of music trends.  It's intricate and rockin' and it blew me away when I heard it.

Summer in the City  by The Lovin' Spoonful  --- It was the year before the Summer of Love.  In 1966 my family moved to East Tennessee where we first set up home in a travel trailer in Tarbett Road Trailer Park--but that's another story for another blogpost.  This song was on the radio and I, as well as my new friend Fred Tilson, thought it was a very fine song and were amazed.   It still holds up well for me.

Slip Inside This House  by 13th Floor Elevators ---  In my high school years my musical explorations and inclinitions started getting more adventurous.  I liked the mysticism and imagery of the lyrics of this song and the persistance and the urgency of the music.  This song still bears repeated listenings for me.
Cinnamon Girl   by Neil Young  --- For me it could be nearly anything by Neil Young, but something by Neil has to be on my list.   This is the first song that caught my attention where I began to attach a name to his music.  I love those haunting Young and Crazy Horse harmonies and the roughshod backing of the instruments.

Nature's Way  by Spirit --- Lately I've been listening to a lot of Spirit and remembering what a great group they were.    I could have listed many of their songs, but this ecological message song is a big favorite with me.

Baker Street   by Gerry Rafferty --- It was probably October or November of 1978 when I was driving in my VW Rabbit hatchback on some back road in western Mississippi and heard this song come on the radio.  I was touring with a theatre stage production at the time.  I guess I'll have to make this story a blog piece for another time.  But I'll tell you--when I heard this song on the radio that morning I was really identifying with it.

Candy Apple Red    by Robbin Thompson Band --- In 1980 I was living in Richmond, Virginia when I started hearing about this band.  Later when I picked up a cassette of their music, this song really caught my attention and I still love to listen to it.  It's a peppy tune that evokes memories of the early days of rock and roll.  I could only find this live versions to use for my playlist, but the version here is a redition that's fairly faithful to the original.

Romeo's Tune         Steve Forbert is a singer / songwriter who hasn't gotten the attention he deserves.  This tune was popular in the early 80's but I've rarely heard it in the past couple of decades.  This holds a lot of memories for me of that period of my life.  The album this came from, Jackrabbit Slim, is a great one and I think some of the other songs are even better than this one.

Eye in the Sky by Alan Parsons Project  --- It must have been in the summer of 1982 when I first heard this.  I was sitting in a supermarket parking lot in Billings, Montana when this song came on the radio.   As I listened to it I thought to myself that this is one of the best songs ever.  I still have not tired of listening to it.

The Reason     by Hoobastank      I figured I should put on something from the last 20 years.  I don't know when this first came out.  It's a beautiful song that I can listen to over and over.   I could only find a live version for my playlist, but it sounds pretty good.  There was also a Spanish studio version available as well, which I thought was kind of cool.

         So there you have my list.  Did you put up yours?  If so, I'll be over to check it out.


Saturday, January 22, 2011

Awards Keep Coming!

             I find myself still catching up on awards.   And sloppily at that.

Alex at Breakfast Every Hour passed on this cool Stylish Blogger Award.  Thank you, Alex.

The rules for this one:

1. Thank and link back to the person who gave you the award.  I did it already.

2. Share 7 things about yourself.   I have done this many times, not to mention the many blog posts in which I talk about me.   Enough about me for today.

3. Pass the award on to ten newly discovered bloggers and let them know.   Maybe later, but I'm still so behind with all of my other bloggy things and I won't be the first one to bypass this one.

During the fabuliciously glamorous awards event hosted by Dezzy at Hollywood Spy I was honored with this Man of Integrity award.  Thank you, Dezmond.  I feel like a celebrity.

            I'm pretty sure I still have another award or two, but I'm still going through my accumulation of holdiay emails and haven't found the one that I'm pretty sure is there.  Well, there's always next Saturday for more awards.

And a reminder:   Don't forget Alex J. Cavanaugh's Top Ten Countdown Music Blogfest coming this Monday January 24, 2011.   You can still sign up!

And just in case you've missed it (and I don't see how anybody could) --  be watching Tossing It Out (the blog that you are reading now) this coming Wednesday January 26, 2011 for an announcement that I think many of you will find interesting.

Lot's happening out there.  What's going on with you?


Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Christmas Sweater by Glenn Beck: A Review

          Over the holidays I brought a number of books with me which I will be reviewing over the next few weeks.  Glenn Beck's The Christmas Sweater is a book that I did not bring with me, but my mother and her significant other insisted that I read this book while I was there.  In this post I will present some of my impressions of this book.

           The Christmas Sweater is a fiction that is based on certain elements of Glenn Beck's childhood.  Beck has taken inspiration from his boyhood to create a story that some might consider heart-warming while others might call downright maudlin. 

           Eddy is a boy who is growing up in a typical American household.  His father works hard to maintain a modest lifestyle for the family and his mother diligently creates a loving environment for her family.   When Eddy's father dies, his mother struggles to keep things together.  Money is tight, but Eddy still dreams of receiving a new bicycle for Christmas.  Instead, he is disappointed to find that his Christmas present from his mother is a sweater that she has spent hours of her spare time knitting for her son.   His bitterness becomes an overwhelming force in his world causing him to reject his family.   Eddy eventually learns a big lesson about love, sacrifice, and forgiveness that changes his outlook on life.   

          This was an excellent book for me to read while visiting family.  The simple style made it a very fast read and did not require much in the way of thought.   It's the kind of book that you might want to read when you just want to pass time.  There is a nice message, but the presentation is not particularly profound.  The book is light reading fabricated for the commercial mass audience.

          There is a repetitiveness in the story as certain ideas are hammered into the reader which helps to emphasize the moral lesson that is presented in the end.  I felt like the repeated themes served more as filler to make what could have been a short story into novel length.

           Some readers may find The Christmas Sweater to be sentimental pap.  I would compare it to something one might read in one of those inspirational magazines that have nice little stories.  There's not that much wrong with the book as entertainment--I enjoyed reading it.    However, I would not have wanted to pay for this book.   I'm glad that it was just there for me to read, but I don't need it on my bookshelf.

          I won't give away the ending, but I will say that this book uses a plot device that I've always felt was gimmicky and a no-no for most credible works of fiction.   The writerly advice I've always heard is to avoid this device, but it's blatantly used here.  It's probably what makes the story work, but it's also what makes the story shallower than it could have been.

          I recommend this book to anyone who likes a wholesome story with a message and wants something light to read.   If you're looking for something challenging then The Christmas Sweater will be unlikely to impress.    

          Glen Beck fans will probably love this book.   Now I have nothing against Glen Beck, but I'm not a big fan either.  I enjoy watching him on television, but I normally don't watch his show.  This book is probably a best seller because Beck's name is on it.

             If you or I had written this book, we probably would still be trying to find a publisher.  This is another example of name branding helping to sell something that might otherwise never would have found a very big audience. 

               Have you read The Christmas Sweater?  If so, what do you think about the book?   Can you think of any other books written by celebrities that gained far more popularity than they deserved?


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tossing It Out Tuesday: Getting Organized

            Since coming back from vacation and trying to catch up with everything that's accumulated over three weeks,  I've been having a time management problem.  I've decided that I need to simplify my life and start tossing out the things that complicate my time schedule.  I'm going to start with my clocks.

             Also I've been distracted by something that's happening next Wednesday January 26, 2011.  Be watching this blog for a surprise announcement.  I can hardly wait!


Monday, January 17, 2011

Blog Boggled: What If You Weren't There?

            Of late some of us, myself included,  have taken blogcations or have gone on special holiday blog schedules.  Most of us probably announced our intent beforehand.   But what if someone whom you read regularly and who often commented on your blog just disappeared from blogging.

            If you have been blogging for any length of time, you may have already seen this happen.  In my early days of blogging when I had few blog contacts, I would often find blogs that just stopped being active and had lay dormant for several years lost in blogger's limbo.  I would even leave comments on some occasions hoping the blog owner might respond--I don't remember it ever happening. 

            Does a dead blog mean a blogger is dead?  It could.   I was once following a blog and then there was a post from a relative that the blogger had passed away and the blog would have no future posts, but the archived blogs would remain.  I hadn't ever met the guy and he wasn't somebody that in the tangible world around me that I could call a friend, but when he passed I felt sad as though he were my real friend.

          Blogger friends are just as real as other kinds of friends.   I look at my Facebook page and receive all sorts of information about my Facebook friends.   But do I really know all of these people?  And do I really need to know about their Farmville activities or whatever other time-consuming activity in which they are involved.  I do like the tidbits of news I get from some of the friends that I remember knowing and from family members.   And I really enjoy some of the photos people put up.  But I swear I don't know who most of these people are.

        Bloggers can be an anonymous bunch in a sense, but many of us are opening up with our writings.  We will often hint about various aspects of our lives and sometimes bare our deeper thoughts and concerns.  Though a reader can never be absolutely sure about the person in the page,  I think most of us are pretty honest about who we are and what our intents are. 

           I think I can claim my blogger friends are real friends and hope they see me in the same way.  We may never pass on the street, or meet in church, or talk on the phone, but there is some sense of caring, sharing, and positivity.     I am thrilled when I read the comments that you've left me and I enjoy leaving my thoughts on your blogs.  

            There are a lot of blogs that we follow.  We may not always get around to leaving comments on every post and may sometimes not even get around to reading.   It can be a difficult thing to do and I think we all understand that.   But if you weren't there--not on your blog, my blog, or anyone else's blog--I'd miss you and wonder what happened.

             Have you ever found a "dead" blog and wondered what happened?     Have you ever followed a blog that ended with no explanation or because the blogger died?   Do you think of blogger friends as "real friends"?


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Dezmond's Big Awards Show and Banquet!

           Today is Dezmond's big award show at Hollywood Spy.   This is the blog event of the season and you don't want to miss it.   All the stars of the blogosphere will be in attendance so don't be left out.  Pull out your finest from your closet and get gussied up for the ceremony.  

           If you aren't following Dezmond's blog yet you really need to click on his follower button so you won't be missing out on the latest entertainment news.  Now get on over there and see what I'm talking about.

Now where did I put my tuxedo?   Hmmm---do you think this might pass as a formal blanket?


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Awards Jan 15

          Sorry for the hastily drafted post, but I wanted to acknowledge a couple of awards that came my way over the past month or so.  There is at least one more that I have not yet run across in my e-mails and I will be sure to recognize any others in an upcoming awards post.

First, from Stephen Tremp at Breakthrough Blogs I've received the Meat and Potatoes Award.  Almost looks as good as the dinner I had at Longhorn Steakhouse.  Thanks Stephen--I'm always up for a good steak.

Meat and Potatoes Award from Stephen Tremp

"You Inspire Me Award" from Yvonne Lewis
The ever-inspiring Yvonne from Welcome to My World of Poetry passed me this You Inspire Me Award.
Isn't it great how much we all inspire and support one another in our blog community.  Thank you Yvonne for another award.

           And that does it for this Saturday.   Thank you all for reading and be watching for some big news that will be coming soon.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Burritos and Buttermilk

              On Monday I decided that for lunch I was going to eat one of the two Tina's frozen burritos that had been in the freezer for a couple of months.   These burrito's are really not that great, but they are cheap and easy to zap in the microwave for a simple thought-free meal.  They are passable, but I'd probably rather have a fast food burrito like Taco Bell.   But for those one person meals or for busy mothers feeding teenagers who have no taste for fine food, Tina's burritos fill the bill.

          As soon as I decided on lunch I immediately thought of buttermilk.  Where this came from I have no idea, but it just seemed like the right accompaniment for the frozen soy product-filled frozen tubes that Tina made.  I started craving buttermilk and when I get a craving for something I have to satisfy the craving so it will go away.  I needed some groceries anyway, so I went to the market.  Since the half gallon size of buttermilk was the far better deal, that's the one I got.   Now I could plan on several days of drinking buttermilk.

      I was first introduced to buttermilk by my friend Fred Tilson.  Some of you may remember me talking about my friend Fred from back in Maryville, Tennessee.  He was a good ol' country boy with a rebel heart and he was one of the best rhythm guitar players I ever heard.  When I moved to Tennessee in the summer of 1966, Fred was among my first friends.  I had come there from the Northern Indiana part of Chicagoland and this new culture was quite alien to me.

        Fred introduced me to a lot of foods to which I was not accustomed.   We never had biscuits or gravy for breakfast when I was growing up.  I was especially intrigued by Fred's description of Red-eye Gravy like his father made.  He made it in a cast iron skillet with country ham drippings, coffee grounds, and a cup of strong coffee.   Sounded weird to me, but I was curious.  Since I have always liked anchovies on pizza and salty things in general, I loved the salty country ham.   Now, biscuits and sausage gravy or country ham biscuits are two of my breakfast favorites.

             Gravy and country ham seemed like pretty normal fare, but when Fred started talking about drinking buttermilk I was a bit more dubious.  Of course, I was familiar with buttermilk, but I thought it was something you used for cooking and not for drinking straight.  Fred was insistent.  He told me how he liked to drink it with cornbread or potato chips crumbled into it.  There was nothing like it for a hot summer day refresher.  That's what Fred said with great enthusiasm, but I was not convinced.

            Then one lazy warm summer afternoon I was over at Fred's house and he poured himself a glass a buttermilk.   He insisted I try some and poured some of the yellowish dairy sludge into a glass for me.  I'd seen milk that looked like that before and it meant the milk had gone bad.  I sniffed the substance in my glass.  It smelled like milk gone bad.  I didn't think that it was a good idea to drink it, but there was Fred gulping away.

           Warily, I took a sip.  This was rancid spoiled milk--it was absolutely gross.   Fred egged me on to drink more.  I took another taste and gagged.  This was not something that I was able to stomach.  And there sat Fred across from me finishing off his glass of buttermilk and then settling back looking satisfied with a thick buttermilk mustache.  I didn't know how he could enjoy this stuff, but he obviously liked it a great deal.

            After that I would sometimes tease Fred about his buttermilk.  He didn't seem to drink it that often, but apparently sometimes he would get a craving for it and down a glass or even a whole quart carton.  I would shake my head as I wondered how he could drink the awful stuff.  I had no interest in trying it again.

           Years later something odd happened.   I began to want some buttermilk.  By this time I had seen many other people drinking and enjoying buttermilk and I thought that maybe I should give it another try. Now in my thirties, I had tried many different foods that I would have never touched in my teenage years and buttermilk began to sound interesting to me.   I bought a quart, took it home, and poured a big glass, liberally seasoning it with salt and pepper.  Cautiously, I tasted it.  It still seemed kind of rancid, but the salt and pepper helped improve the taste.   While eating some fried pork rinds,  I continued to drink it until I finished it.  Actually it wasn't too bad after you got used to it.  And it made a nice accompaniment to the pork rinds.

         Since that day I have periodically had cravings for buttermilk and have picked up a quart or a half gallon that I will finish off in a few days.  It's good with cornbread or popcorn.  My favorite is drinking it along with crunchy tacos from Taco Bell.  I'll get buttermilk every three months or so--I don't drink it with great frequency, but I sometimes get a craving.  I don't know how good it is for me, but I'm sure it's probably fattening so it's better that I don't drink too much.

         I'm not sure why those Tina's Burritos would have made me crave buttermilk.  It was just one of those things that seemed to come to me from out of nowhere.  Maybe it was a message from Fred.  I'm sure if Fred would have been eating those burritos he would have been drinking beer with them.  I don't know if he would be eating those burritos anyway.

          And so I raise a glass of buttermilk to Fred.   "Here's to trying new things and letting them grow on you."  

         Is there any food that you hated at first, but you eventually developed a taste for?    What's your opinion of buttermilk as a beverage?     Do you have a favorite way of drinking it?    Or do you equate buttermilk with spoiled, curdled milk like I used to?


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Longhorn Steakhouse and Cheddar's

        When traveling, my wife and I tend to mostly eat in restaurants or get take out food.   Our Christmas vacation was no exception.  We had a few quite good meals and a lot of fast food.  Today I want to give a review of sorts of a couple of the standout restaurants.  This is not a comprehensive review by any means, but a short look at our experiences with these two establishments.

          On Wednesday December 22 my daughter Emilee treated us to dinner at the Longhorn Steakhouse in Lakewood, New Jersey.  The place was nearly full when we arrived at about six in the evening, but we were seated immediately.  The service was quick, efficient, and attentive.

            I ordered a 7 oz filet that was served with very tasty honey wheat bread, salad, and steamed vegetables.  The steak was perfectly prepared and melt in your mouth tender.  The seasoning was very savory.  This was one of the better steaks I've eaten.  The vegetables had the right amount of crispness and an excellent flavor.  At $18.79 this meal was in line with other restaurants of this caliber.  The serving was adequate.  I ate every bite and was well satisfied.

            My wife ordered a Grilled Chicken & Strawberry Salad.  This salad was a huge delightfully presented mixture of grilled chicken breast served over mixed field greens with strawberries, grapes, mandarin oranges, candied pecans, red onion, feta, and raspberry vinaigrette.   She loved it, but was not able to finish it because it was so big.   At $11.99 I'd say this was a good deal for a high quality salad like this.  Too bad they don't offer a half size version for half the price for smaller appetites.  This of course is something I would say about many restaurant meals.

            The restaurant is clean with pleasant western-style decor and well lit, which makes it conducive for family or business dining.  Perhaps not the environment for a romantic dining experience, but this is the kind of place I would prefer to go for the business of getting something good to eat for a price that won't make you feel a big void in your wallet.

           I was looking forward to trying one of these restaurants again, but alas they are only located in the eastern U.S.   I'll have to wait until next Christmas I guess, or whenever it is I'm back east again.


                A few days later we were visiting family in Maryville, Tennessee.  On the Tuesday following Christmas we decided on a family dinner at Cheddar's Restaurant in sister city Alcoa, Tennessee.  I'd been hearing about this place from my mother, but I'd never seen one.  As we started passing through urban areas on our trip we began to see many of these restaurants.  Cheddar's has its greatest concentration in some middle America and southeastern states.

             It's a family oriented chain that offers home-cooking with a gourmet touch.   I'd been told about how busy these restaurants get and I believed it everytime we'd passed a location during business hours and saw the full parking lots.  Our family dinner was set for 4 P.M. hoping we'd beat the crowds.  We still had to wait--the place was packed.  However our wait was only about fifteen minutes and once seated the waitress was very accommodating to our needs.

            The food was quite good-tasting and seemed of excellent quality.  My wife ordered a lemon-pepper chicken breast for $7.99 and I had tilapia in a mango salsa.  Both meals came with two sides with a fine selection from which to choose.  My sides were carrots and cole slaw.  Everybody had a healthy portion and no one went home hungry.  The price is right at Cheddar's and it's easy to see why the place is so popular.

            Have any of you eaten at either of these restaurants?  What's your opinion?   What have you heard from others?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Stats Status

 Trip Stats:

       On Thursday January 6, 2011, I returned from my Christmas vacation from Los Angeles to New Jersey and points south.  Here are some trip stats:

Days gone:  20

Time spent driving:  94 hours (or about the equivalent of 4 solid 24 hour days).   Since we were actually only driving an average of 8-12 hours per day, the driving was spread over about 9 days.

Miles traveled:  6059 --This was the total actual miles traveled from home departure to our return.  We drove less than 200 additional miles of driving in the places where we were since most of our time at our various destinations was spent just hanging out with family. There was another 200 or less miles of riding with others who were driving us around to other places.  For the most part we were pretty content on being housebound when we weren't driving.

States Visited: We passed through 20 states, but only actually stayed in 9.

Motels Stayed In:  10 nights in 7 different motels at a total cost of $454.60.  All motels were Marriott, Radisson, or Best Western properties with 3 nights "free" due to redemption of points.

Highway Tolls:  At least $40--I didn't get receipts for all of them and lost track of the precise amount.

Gas:   $708.55

Restaurant Meals:  ????   -- We ate in many restaurants during the trip.  I won't venture to even add them up, but I'll estimate that we splurged about $600 on food during the trip.  There was a lot of fast food, but several quite nice restaurants as well. 

CDs Listened To While Driving:   67-- I like to have a soundtrack going to accompany my driving.  I brought an array of listening ranging from Vivaldi to Eels to K.T. Oslin to Manhattan Transfer and on and on.  I would start the day with something classical and then a mix after that.  We drove all Christmas Day and listened to Christmas music the entire time.  We actually had 86 CDs with us, but since we also listened to the radio some and had some quiet drive time we didn't make it through all of the CDs we brought with us.  I love listening to music while driving.

Amount of Fun:   A whole bunch!

         This gives you a rough idea of what it might cost two people to make a lengthy cross country trip.  Certainly it can be done much less expensively, but I think we were in line with a certain element of frugality without being absolutely Spartan about it.   I highly recommend a road trip of this nature if you don't mind the hours in the car and the time away from home.  If you get the opportunity, go for it!

Blog Stats:

            I noticed that some of the WordPress blogs that I follow had received an assessment of "Blog Health" with an assortment of statistics and the blog owners posted their reports.

           In the past I have tried to make some sense of my Google Analytics reports, but have never really gotten overly serious about it.  When I changed my blog page template my Google Analytics stopped working and I just ignored it.  I notice now that on the Dashboard page there is a tab labeled "Blog Stats" that seems to provide the same information as Analytics did.  Someday I really need to study this and make some sense of it all.

           Have any of you studied your blog stats and made sense of them?   What conclusions have you come to from the information that is provided?     Where is the best place to go to find out more about how to interpret blog stats and put them to work?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Walking At Night (A rerun of one of my old favorite posts)

This is a rerun of a post that first appeared on September 30, 2009:

          Darkness does not have to always refer to that which is bad, evil, or scary. One definition is that darkness is merely the absence of light. Normally, though, the absence is not absolute. Often it is quite easy for most of us to see in the dark once our eyes adjust. We just might not see everything or see as well as we might if there were more light present. Walking in the dark can sometimes be illuminating to the mind and soul.

          I've been thinking more about my past experiences with walking at night in the mountains. When I was in my years between about 19 and 25 I did a lot of night walking, not for any bad intent, but just because it was interesting and it was something to do.

           I was still living at home with my parents in Maryville, Tennessee while attending the university in Knoxville. One of my favorite places to go any time of day was the Foothills Parkway, at that time a 16.5 mile stretch transversing Chilhowee Mountain going from the town of Walland to Chilhowee Lake. Foothills Parkway is still mostly unfinished, but should one day extend a total of 71 miles all the way to Interstate 40 near Cosby, Tennessee.

            Back in the early 70's the Chilhowee Mountain stretch was the part of the Parkway that was most accessable to me. It was about 15 minutes from my parents house to the parkway entrance so it was a easy place to go for a pleasant drive, to watch the sunset, or park and enjoy the city lights at night. The views were spectacular--the Great Smoky Mountains to the south and the beautiful Tennessee Valley to the north. If it was really clear, looking northward you could possibly see past Maryville-Alcoa to Knoxville and as far the Cumberland Mountains. No matter what the time of day the views were picture postcard perfect.

           My friends and I probably went up to Chilhowee Mountain at night almost as much as in the daytime. At about the midway point of that stretch of the parkway there is the Look Rock Observation Tower which is a circular concrete structure easily accessible by a ramp. The view from the top is amazing and attracts many visitors throughout the year. Most people don't go at night. That's when I usaully went.

           The Look Rock Campground, which is operated by the National Park Service, is nearby. Sometimes we would camp at this beautiful campground and walk up to the tower during the night. There were usually very few people who camped here. Most of the time the campground was closed and when that was the case we would park across the parkway from the tower access road and walk up to the tower. This way was much easier than the designated hiking trail which wound up from a scenic overlook area up through the woods. The access road was not as steep, it was wider, and much easier to follow in the darkness. We never brought flashlights. We never needed them. There was plenty of starlight, moonlight if the moon was out, and whatever ambient light exists that typically lights the night.

           After reaching the top of the tower we would nearly always spend the first several minutes silently taking in the view around us-- the shadowy majesty of the Great Smoky Mountains silhouetted against the night sky, a glimmering peek of Chilhowee Lake behind the foothills, the darkness of the valleys, and the expansive spread of the constellation of lights between us and Knoxville and beyond. We could see the lights of the Knoxville McGhee-Tyson Airport and watch the coming of going of the air traffic. There was the continous movement of the lights of the ground traffic flowing the streets below. The world of the night time spread out all about us as we watched in a sort of awestruck silence.

          Then after our meditation on the night, we would begin our musings on the possibilities of not only the night, but our lives, the world, the universe, or wherever our imaginations took us. Much like conversation that is traded around the campfire we would tell eerie stories and ponder the mysteries of the unknown all the while watching the skies in hopes of seeing a U.F.O. or at the very least a streaking meteor. It was a time of dreams and wandering thoughts. Eventually we would make our way back to the campsite or the car with renewed spirits and unanswered questions.

          After night has come, most of us sleep and dream. I've heard some people say that they don't have dreams. According to research, we all do dream and dreaming is essential for good mental health. Research tells us that on the average humans spend six years of their lives dreaming. Even animals dream according to scientific studies. Those who say they do not dream probably just don't remember their dreams or recognize that they are dreaming.
           Darkness inspires the dreams of sleep as well as the dreams of wakefulness. I'm sure you have heard people say, "Close your eyes and imagine...". What happens when you close your eyes? You create a personal state of darkness where there are no overt visual distractions and you can focus on an inner state of peace. It's good to dream whether it be nightdreams or daydreams. So close your eyes and dream of things as they have been, as they are, and as they could be. All that has been accomplished was initially dreamed. Let your dreams work for you. And don't be afraid of the dark.
            Do you listen to your dreams?   What have they been telling you?   Are you afraid to walk in the dark?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Going Home Happy

           As many of you read this I am wending my way across the vast expanse of the state of Texas as my wife and I travel from Houston to Las Cruces, New Mexico.  If you have made this journey, you know what a trek it is.  With occasional driving relief from my wife and a few much needed stops, it shouldn't be too bad, but it will seem like a long twelve hours with home drawing ever nearer.

         It's been a great trip though our visits with family have been all too short.  There is never enough time with loved ones you only see once or twice a year.  I guess the whirlwind tour is better than nothing, but someday we're going to have to find a better solution to this scattered all across the country situation.

        Santa came on New Year's Day for me this year and he was really a she dressed in red and she just happened to be my dear wife.  We were in Houston visiting one of our daughters and her husband. My wife decided that we should go to Best Buy (I thought stores were always closed on New Year's Day) so she could buy our daughter a big screen TV set for their new house. 

      After that mission was accomplished, my wife was in a magnanimous mood and bought me my long desired laptop.  She got it for both of us, but I'm sure I'll be the one using it the most since she usually only uses a computer to check the few emails that she gets.  Dear wife bought this laptop with me in mind and I am so grateful to her for doing so.

        Now that the trip is nearly over and most of the remaining days will be taken up by driving and visiting one more of my sisters, I still won't be on the computer much.  However, for the short while I am awake in the motel rooms at the end of the day, I will no longer have to trudge to the lobby in order to use the public computers.

        So now I finally have my laptop and now I'll have to find excuses to use it more.   Guess we'll need to plan another trip.

        See you after I get home.

        How did your holiday season turn out?  Did you get what you wanted for Christmas?  Did you enjoy time with family and friends?  Are you ready for another year?

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Perils of Writing While Traveling

        When you're laptopless like I am, writing and especially blogging become a challenge.  Sometimes I have a hard enough time when I'm at home with my own computer, but when days are filled with driving and visiting it becomes doubly difficult to fit in the time I manage for the computer when I'm living my regular old life.  It all gives me a greater appreciation for those of you who work regular jobs and manage to squeeze in time for blogging and writing.

          The composition book that I brought with me on my trip remains blank as my mind overflows with ideas for future writing projects and blog posts.  A small voice recorder could be a workable solution for me while driving, but it also might become annoying to my wife who would have to listen to my prattle.  Besides, my past attempts at saving ideas on a recorder rarely have been productive.

           Then there are the borrrowed computers.  Forget actual writing projects.  Blogging is possible, but can be very difficult.  Sorry that I haven't been commenting on many of your blogs of late.  I try to hop on hotel computers or borrow those of family members.  Thirty minute doses of computing get something done, but my 200 or so new email messages each day make me feel like it's a losing battle at times.

           I can certainly see some value in blog vacationing when I'm away.  And I still need to get my own laptop someday.

Any suggestions about making blogging and writing work better when you're away?   Do you try to keep up your writing work during vacation times or do you just leave it at home?