Friday, April 27, 2007

New Body-Building Equipment

I bought one of these a couple of days ago. It is a Scotts Classic Reel Mower. I've wanted one for a while because they are retro and cool.

Last week, my tired powered Toro pushmower blew a rod in its initial foray into this year's mowing season. Not surprisingly, the cost of rebuilding or replacing the engine is more than half the cost of a comparable powered mower these days. Frankly, neither option is feasible at the moment as we are experiencing a period of compulsory fiscal conservatism due to our recent annual patriotic contribution to the US Treasury. I wish I had the time to rebuild it myself but, alas, I just really don't have time right now for another project. Besides, the yard needs mowing NOW. Anyway, we are hoping to find a good used riding mower in the weeks to come.

So far, I really do like this thing! And not just because its the only game in town at the moment...which it is. I ordered the mower on line, for about $130, including shipping. It arrived a couple of days later and it took about 15 minutes to assemble. The weather has not been amenable for much outdoor fun lately, but yesterday, and again today, I was able to get out and mow a bit. It works really well, absolutely as advertised. Unfortunately, my yard is a little overgrown right now, so it is not exactly the same as a casual stroll across the lawn. However, I really do think that once I get the yard under control, this guy will be perfect for weekly maintenance.

Our yard is quite large, so this will be a good workout. But at a mere 31lbs, it is really not hard to push. Its very quiet and it definitely cuts well. We'll have to see how it holds up over time, but with no engine and a minimum of moving parts, I think I can probably keep this thing working for a long time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Treasures, buried and unburied

One of the things that I enjoy the most about living in the country here in eastern Indiana is how distinct the seasons are. Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter, each in its time, with its own beauty, and with it's own trials and joys. While there are many, many wonderful things about Texas, from whence we are transplanted, the seasonal progression there runs more like Hot, Hotter, Rainy, and Cold with the occasional milder interludes.

I love Texas, dearly, and for many reasons. But I enjoy and am fascinated by the geography and climate here in the rural Midwest. I am especially impressed with how, after each frozen winter, the rich and fertile farmland, which lies atop an active glacial field, renders surprising treasures. Like pieces of wood, floating up from the bottom of a lake, all manner, size, and type of sedimentary and metamorphic rock are squeezed up through the topsoil to the surface, to glint in the sunshine. There are beautiful, jagged chunks of crystal, in various colors, often laced with gold pyrite. Multi-hued pieces of striated granite ranging in size from that of a dime up to a basketball, strewn on top of the ground. There is sandstone, limestone, shale, and many kinds of rock that I can’t identify. Some are as sharp as a knife, others rounded as smooth as a marble. Three hundred pound boulders, completely submerged and invisible last year now jut up like an iceberg, ready to flay the blade of the farmer’s till or planter.

In the area around our house, I often pick up pieces of old glass, pottery, and brick, as well as bits of chain, old tools, coins, buttons, fence wire, horse tack, and similar things. Once I found a child’s ring under one of the trees in our yard, at least 50 years old and tarnished, but otherwise nearly perfectly preserved. Another time I found an unshaped clump of beautiful green glass. Since we moved here I have collected all of the glass and pottery bits and intend to make or commission something artistic out of them someday.

And there are treasures like the one pictured, which Nancy and I found as we took a walk through the fields this last Sunday evening. This is a great time of year for that. The fields are not yet planted and the weather is beautiful. It is not so uncommon to find arrowheads and other artifacts here on the farm. For at one time, in the mid-to-late 1700’s, this was the wilderness frontier, the unincorporated edge of the American West, inhabited primarily by Native Americans, principally the Shawnee and Miami tribes, as well as the Chippewa, the Wyandot, and the Potawatomi. The name, Indiana, means “Land of the Indians,” and our part of the state, in particular, was well populated and traversed. This region is rich in history, both grim and glorious, for Native Americans as well as the early European settlers.

My family has inhabited this land since the early 1800's, so I do feel connected to all of this history and beauty. And now another Spring has sprung, and we are glad to have it. It is a blessing to live here.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Blessings #2

This past weekend at church I got to sing one of my very favorite songs, "Befriended", by Matt Redman from his Where Angels Fear To Tread CD. Here are the lyrics:

Befriended, befriended by the king above all kings
Surrendered, surrendered to the friend above all friends
Invited, invited deep into this mystery
Delighted, delighted by the wonders I have seen

This will be my story,
This will be my song,
You will always be my savior,
Jesus, you will always have my heart.

Astounded, astounded that your gospel beckons me
Surrounded, surrounded but I've never been so free
Determined, determined now to live my life for you
You're so worthy, my greatest gift would be the least you're due.

This is such a sweet, intimate song of has always touched me deeply. I can't speak for anyone else in attendance, but it really blessed me this weekend.

Here is what its composer has to say about it. I wish there was a good way to post the audio directly here, his version, of course, not mine. You can probably hear a bit of it on iTunes, I suppose. I recommend the whole CD highly, though, and the best place to buy it is probably

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Me Worship

This will be an extra special blessing to those of you who serve in your local church. Some updated arrangements of popular worship classics.

This is very, very funny to me.

h/t to my good buddy, Steve Mathews, who just started blogging, for bringing this to my attention.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Kay's Oriental Salad

What you are about to encounter is far and away the premier recipe utilizing that ubiquitous gem of l'haute cuisine, the packaged Ramen noodle.

This wonderful and versatile dish comes by way of my friend, Kay Koger, who is a superb cook and the very embodiment of the spiritual gift of hospitality. The basic recipe below is surely hers, although many of the variations are mine. There are several things that make this recipe great.

First, it is delicious and will please virtually everyone. Secondly, it is outrageously simple. Thirdly, it is an example of one of my favorite types of recipe, one in which there are infinite varieties of expression possible through the manipulation of and additions to it's core components. Cooking to me is like composing music, where one takes a basic idea and then freely experiments with the harmony, embellishes the melody, plays with the words, and reworks the groove to suit personal taste and whim. Here it is:

Mix together:
1 bag of prepackaged slaw mix
2 bunches green onions, chopped
Noodles from 2 pkg. Ramen Noodles, crumbled but not pulverized
Handful of chopped nuts (I usually use almonds)

Stir together well and add to above mixture right before serving:
1 cup oil (extra light olive oil or canola is good)
1/2 cup sugar (or Splenda, which is better for you!)
1/2 cup vinegar
Both seasoning packets from noodles

This makes a fairly good-sized batch, but it is so tasty you will be eating it before you are through making it. I’m not kidding.

I NEVER use sugar, I ALWAYS use Splenda. Any flavor of Ramen noodles work, but if you are going to use one of the meat variations below, which taste GREAT, then try to match the Ramen flavor to the meat. Olive oil works great, but you will want to use a really light variety so as not to overpower the other flavors.

Sautéed chunks of chicken, beef, or pork turn this into a really excellent meal dish. Also, you can add steamed or sautéed shrimp. Even frozen shrimp (thawed & cooked) work great. Canned Albacore tuna is good. Just mix these ingredients in before you add the oil dressing mix. Wine vinegar works very well, too, especially with the beef.

Other good additives include:
Left over (real) bacon bits
Chopped fresh tomatoes - drained
Roasted pine nuts
Walnuts or pecans (instead of almonds)
Chopped fresh spinach leaves, carrots, or celery
Red pepper flakes (if you want more attitude)

This keeps great in the fridge for several days and tastes great cold. If you try this, you will thank me later. Guaranteed.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I wish I hadn't said that...

Here's what I read this morning. Jesus, speaking about the coming end, says in Matthew 12: 35-37:

"The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him . But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

He is speaking directly to the Pharisees, but the context clearly asserts, with unswerving certainty, that everyone will be held accountable for the things we have said. I will be held accountable for all of the words I have uttered.

That is a very sobering prophecy, which is exactly what He intends for it to be.

"...with a pleasant lime odor."

I know it's early in the day, but this is my favorite thing I've seen on the Internet so far today. Be sure to click on the pix when you get there so that you can read the fine print...and it is fine indeed.

I'm just mildly surprised that it is intended to be applied to one's ears.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

People Don't Stop Killers, People With Guns Do.

The inimitable Glenn Reynolds has a good essay on what is likely the only reasonable protection against random mass shootings on school campuses and other vulnerable public places.

Dave Kopel's Wall Street Journal op-ed says much the same, with somewhat more background and context, even.

It is almost certain, though, that the one safety measure that could work effectively will never be implemented. I do expect we will see a massive amount of discussion on things that won't work and that more impotent policy will probably be enacted. Sadly, there will probably be some good people scapegoated in Virginia before it's done, sent undeservedly into forced retirement or otherwise disgraced. Such gestures are merely symbolic, promoting an illusion of efficacy, but meaning nothing and doing nothing to make anybody any safer.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

I am certain that over the next couple of weeks there will be countless eulogies, remembrances, and salutatory obituaries as the world bids its final farewell to one of the greatest of American writers, Kurt Vonnegut, dead today at the age of 84.

I, like many others before and after me, discovered Kurt Vonnegut while in high school and his influence shaped my literary preferences for many years. The first novel of his that I read was "Slaughterhouse-Five", a copy loaned to me by my friend Lee Davis. Vonnegut was a relentless pessimist, irreverent, profane, and intractable. But his books sing with a voice like no one else's. His mix of humor, anger, compassion, and satire is unique and irresistible. I have not read every book he wrote, but I have enjoyed and been affected by each one that I have read. "Breakfast of Champions", "Cat's Cradle", "The Sirens of Titan"...all excellent.

My own beliefs are not nearly as cynical as Vonnegut's, nor do I admire all that the man has said and done. But he has had as indelible an effect on literature in my generation as Ernest Hemingway did on the previous, I think.

I have one personal, strange story about Kurt Vonnegut. In February of 2001, I flew in to Dallas for some business meetings at the corporate headquarters and to represent my company at an industry tradeshow. I lived for many years in the D/FW Metroplex and when I found I had some free time one evening, I just drove around to the old, familiar haunts. After dinner, I wandered into a Barnes & Noble nearby. Browsed for a while, of course, and then left with a copy of "Timequake", Vonnegut's self-proclaimed "last novel", published in 1997. I hadn't read a Vonnegut novel in more than ten years and I had been wanting to read this one for quite a while.

By the time I got back to the room, it was late and I was tired, so I didn't even crack the book. The next couple of days were chock full of business stuff so, when it finally came time to head to the airport for the trip home, I packed the book with my carry-on stuff so that I could read it on the way home. This was on Tuesday, February 13, 2001.

After I settled in, I got the book out and began to read. I had not even made it through the prologue when I noticed something peculiar...and I scrambled around for my ticket stub to confirm what I thought was true....and yes! The first big thing that happens in "Timequake" is a kind of cosmic hiccup that disrupts the space-time continuum, and it actually takes place in the book on February 13, 2001!

Basically, in the book, on that date, the universe gets yanked back to February 17, 1991 and everyone and everything is destined, or doomed (per KV's perspective) to relive that whole decade over again...without substantial alteration, really, just doing the same thing all over again. Never mind, it makes a kind of sense in the book, but the point is I was sitting there in my seat on the plane, about to take off, looking around nervously, grinning, and muttering under my breath. I wanted to tell somebody that I was reading a book whose narrative was supposed to be happening on the same day and time that I happened to be reading about it. Even though it had actually been written 4 or 5 years earlier.

But I didn't tell anyone. Instead I just nestled into my seat, and lost myself in the book. I half-wondered, as we landed in Dayton, would the world be the same? Or would it really be 1991 again when I got off the plane. I couldn't help freaked me out, but I kind of half-hoped/half-expected something to be different. Vonnegut had once again completely suspended my disbelief. What are the odds that someone would actually be reading a book, a work of fiction, at the very same time that the events in that book were occurring?

It made for yet another singularly enjoyable, intensely moving, and absolutely unforgettable literary encounter with Kurt Vonnegut, one of the great writers of the 20th Century.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


More great, obscure music that you've probably never heard of...

Today I stumbled across the website of a contemporary music producer based in Germany who goes by the peculiar moniker of "King Brain". I had never heard of him, but he's got it going on, especially in the terms of funk, groove, and dance production albums.

Go check out his website here. The embedded mp3 player hooks you fast with a clip from a knockout tune by Leroy Emmanuel called "Funk Is The Final Frontier". Spend some time clicking around some of the other links and mp3's, too. There is a great YouTube video showing Emmanuel playing a couple of other tunes off his new album, "Color Me Funky", and then a really bizarre performance involving spoons. Emmanuel's music really reminds me of some classic Tower of Power, Parliament/Funkadelic, Earth Wind & Fire, kind of funk. This is the genuine article.

A big portion of the website is in German, but it is easy to navigate. There's a lot to see and some great music that you won't hear anywhere else.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Roll Over, Ben Franklin...

Here is Benjamin Franklin, the American renaissance man, performing on an ingenious musical instrument of his own design, the Glass Armonica. It is a series of tuned glass bowls of various sizes that are rotated on a horizontal spindle by a foot-powered treadle. One plays it with moistened fingertips, of course. Mozart reportedly composed two works specifically for this instrument, and there are people who still perform on them today.

This is one of the many wonderful and bizarre instruments from the gallery at

Most of the instruments featured, including the Glass Armonica, have audio files to listen to as well.

Friday, April 06, 2007

1:47 A Documentary Film

"1:47" is the name of a fascinating documentary film now in production that tells the story of a horrific explosion in 1968 that devastated downtown Richmond, Indiana, the city near which I live. Richmond is an interesting, historic town, and this was a very significant event, still very much remembered today.

Here is the link to the website on which you will see a short film trailer featuring photographic and interview footage of the disaster.

Movie Review: 300

Last weekend my son and I went to the movies. We saw 300, the new Frank Miller-inspired movie adaptation of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. in which soldiers from an alliance of independent Greek states staved off an invasion by a huge Persian army against overwhelming odds. It is a great piece of history on its own and its military tactics, as well as its cultural significance, is still studied today. The movie, of course, was a fictionalized account centering on the 300 Spartan warriors under King Leonidas.

The look and feel of the film was great. Some folks won’t like the violence, but we’ve all seen worse, I think, and it was pretty stylized, comic-book style. I really liked the musical score too, alternately dense and minimalistic, symphonic and powerfully expressive.

The parallels between the story and our own modern times were inescapable and, surprisingly, wholly politically incorrect by typical Hollywood standards.

King Leonidas was not authorized to go to war and defied the law of the land to do so. The Spartan Senate was decidedly against what seemed to them an improper and provocative preemptive measure, deeming the Persian threat distant and improbable. Yes, the Persian threat. Leonidas took his troops to war anyway, recognizing that the unappeasable Xerxes, the Man-God, sought nothing less than the complete conquest and subjugation of the then Western world. While the King was fighting off the totalitarian, religiously fanatical invaders, there was great turmoil and treachery in the government back home as unscrupulous politicians sought to undermine the war effort abroad in any way possible.

This story of the violent clash between two cultures is an unmistakable analogue to our present world state today. The story ends essentially faithful to the historical account and I’m not interested in quibbling over the details.

What I liked about this movie, beyond its marvelous cinematic qualities and engrossing story was it’s moral clarity. There are good guys bent on doing what is right who would gladly die before seeing it any other way. And there are bad guys with evil designs who need to be encouraged to either go away or, barring that, need to be ushered into the presence of their Maker with as much haste as possible and as much violence as required. It is, at least in part, a movie about the price of freedom.

It’s just not that complicated.