Tuesday, December 7, 2010

20,000 and Counting

I have an announcement to make.  Somebody, somewhere (probably in Wyoming) just became my 20,000th hit.  20,000th!!!  WOW!!! I know some of you are saying 20,000???  What took you so long?  To all of you who are saying that I give you a royal.... :-P

To the rest of you... I'm not sure what took me so long. :)  10,000 of those are ME so I should have hit this number MUCH sooner.  Also, I have spent my life studying and researching what people want.  I have made spreadsheet after spreadsheet, charting and measuring what it will take to make sure I please the masses.  And apparently it's NOT working.  I really need to re-evaluate my methods of cultural wooing because I suck.  Maybe I should just offer money.  Then I would probably read my OWN blog instead of just clicking for the hits.

Maybe I should focus more on the ever-growing 62 - 68 year old female skateboarding Mercedes mechanics demographic.  That's what my magic computer program tells me anyway.  (I have been debating on getting another program to pick the right demos to appeal to.  This latest suggestion might have made my decision for me.)  But whatever it is, I really wasn't planning on hitting that particular number.  Especially when I found out that just because you write it doesn't mean people will read.  Apparently, that "Field of Dreams" logic only works in the movies.

I have chatted with a few bloggers who I think have GREAT sites and most took a while to reach 20,000 hits.  So I'm convinced it doesn't particularly have anything to do with my crappy content.  Because their content is WAY better than mine and it took them a while, too.  So, I'm leaning on the side of luck in this case.  Just consider me lucky.  I'll take it.  I would rather be lucky than good anyway.

I was going to end it with that but before I could post this I saw something else I consider noteworthy but wouldn't be enough to have a FULL blog about it.  But I just thought it was interesting.

Imagine this 2 times plus 4 more figures.
The other day I went grocery shopping. Of course that's not news.  I grocery shop every Sunday morning.  (Something that IS worth mentioning is that I actually found EVERYTHING on the list (including some "made for her" junk that was added while I was in the checkout line (grrr)).  This seldom happens and is almost more notable than 20,000 hits!)  But as I was leaving, I saw a car that had those cute little stickers on the back that show all of the members of the family.  You know the ones I'm talking about.  The ones where you know the dad is a businessman because his little figure has a briefcase and the daughter is a cheerleader because her little figure has pom poms.  Well... this car had 18 stickers!!!  (At first I thought it was my friend SPUDS but it would have to have at least 8 more figures.) I had to actually STOP to count all of the people in the family.  There was mom and dad.  Then there were 12 kids (their own little "Cheaper by the Dozen").   (Some of you are adding that up and saying, "DUDE that only equals 14!"  And your math would be correct.  But they also had stickers for their 2 cats and 2 dogs.  I actually laughed because the pets were stick figures too and with THAT many mouths to feed, those stickers were probably accurately showing what the pets looked like.)

Those stickers went ALL the way across the back window.  I had never seen anything like that.  It looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics!  (I couldn't quite translate it, though.  I narrowed it down to either it was telling me the world was going to end on New Years Day, 2012 or that Best Buy was having a 2 for 1 sale on big screen TVs next week.  I'm sure neither translation was accurate but I know which is more likely to happen.  So I'm going to party like it's 2011!)

I also couldn't help but think... Good thing the parents opted for the luggage rack package on that Nissan Quest they were driving or they wouldn't have ANY place for those extra kids.  If I were them, on my Sunday grocery trips, I would strap 4 car seats to the top of the car in the luggage rack with the actual kids names taped to the back of the seat.  That way, anyone reading that back of my car would really have to think if those car seats are really used this way or not.  (I would also embellish the joke if I saw people staring at the car when I came out of the store.  I would start calling for one of the kids whose name is on one of the car seats.  After a quick search, I would end it with, "I told Johnny to stay right there (pointing at the car seat) until I got back!  Oh, well... I have 11 more just like him at home.")

That would make ME laugh.  And I guess that's what really matters. (At least that's what my computer program tells me.) :)

For my latest blog post at Nashville Parent Magazine

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Second Home

I want to direct your attention to my new location. No, no... I'm not going anywhere.  I just have a second home.  I am doing a little writing for a parenting magazine.  (I know, right?  They obviously don't read my blog.  I won't tell if you won't.)  They have agreed to post some of my works and I have agreed to go to some much needed parenting classes.  So, while I'm in class, please enjoy this little blurb I posted on their site.  

Saturday, November 20, 2010

This is Your Second Notice (Please Pay Your Attention on Time)

I will be jumping in a few directions today.  Some of you will keep up and some of you won't.  Either way, you can always soak this up at your own pace.  Because I personally HATE when people try to change me and not let me do things on MY time.  So with that in mind... HURRY UP AND READ!

The first NEW thing I have noticed is that I wake up just about EVERY morning with a song in my head.  Some people might think that's cool... It's not.  The song is often loud and it repeats over and over and over... and over to what seems like infinity. Of course it can't really go to infinity.  I'd surely die before then, right?  (I'm still trying to work out the details on this one.  A lot of things are up in the air right now.  I'm still trying to work out NOT dying without turning all glittery in the sunlight.)  But the point is it goes on and on and I can't stop it!  It's not enough to drive me crazy but it is enough to REALLY get on my nerves.

And here's the worst part of this... It's never even a good song!  I don't wake up to good stuff like Prince or classic rock or Evanescence or Old School Hip-Hop or some Motown or really just about ANYTHING from the 80s.  No, it's always those really dumb songs my kids listen to.  It's usually some Lady Gaga mess or some Justin (Leave It To) Bieber mess or some Ke$ha mess or really just ANYTHING from Disney.  (My stomach is turning just from writing the word Disney when talking about songs.  I have to take a moment.  I'll be right back.  And don't even get me started on Kidz Bop junk!)

Most of the time I don't even know the names on the songs.  My mind just decides to pick out the the most annoying parts of the stupid songs and play them over and over.  (And considering the songs, my mind has a LOT of annoying parts to choose from.)  It's playing so much in my head that I'm starting to wonder if I'm breaking any kind of copyright laws in my morning routine.  And if all of that wasn't bad enough... the part that almost makes me want to end my (possibly infinite, glitter-free) life... the part that makes the problem ten times worse... the part that makes me want to do harm to my favorite little cartoon mouse from my childhood... the part I TRULY detest is when the song in my head keeps building and building up to the point of explosion and my mind can't find a way to get it to stop.  That's usually when I freeze in horror because I just caught myself singing it out loud in the shower!  I don't even feel human at that point.  I really wish I hadn't noticed ANY of that.

But enough of that topic.  Let's move on.  Here is another thing I noticed.

The other day I was behind a person who was driving crazily.  (That actually looks weird to write but I think it's proper English.)  The driver was speeding.  He (Yes, honey.  I said HE.  You get your ONE.) was switching lanes.  And it wasn't the normal kind of lane switching.  It was the kind where he wanted to go into the other lane but somewhere in the middle of lane changing he decided that it's too much of a commitment to go into a new lane at this point in his life.  But instead of going back to his original lane right away, he just decided to ride in BOTH lanes presumably waiting for the road to shift underneath him and make the decision for him.  THEN he finally make a choice he can live with and turned the wheel of the car to go back to the original lane.  But when peer pressure, or zombies, or the IRS, or something else (just as scary or convincing) invisibly occupies the original lane, he immediately cut the wheel back and went into the lane he had commitment issues with before.  

(I call this the possum move.  If any of you have ever seen a possum cross the road then you understand what I'm talking about.  I have run over a many o' possums (get it) that have crossed from my side of the road and safely made it to within a foot of being off the entire road on the other side only to look up and see me coming and then deciding the safest course of action would be to RUN ALL THE WAY BACK across the street to their original starting point... on MY side of the road.  And this is really bad to say but I don't even feel bad hitting them anymore.  I'm never mean to a creature but that kind of idiocy really hits a nerve in me.  Plus, after you hit them you can't tell if they are really dead or just playing... well... possum.)

So the guy gets into his lane just as we get to the red light.  He stops a little past the white line that goes across the road telling you this is as far as you should go if the light is red.  But that wasn't a big deal.  We all do it.  Who can stop before crossing that line every time?  But this guy start inching forward.  Now, mind you, the light JUST turned red so it's not turning green any time soon.  But he doesn't care.  He keeps inching and inching forward.  After about 15 seconds of this (I promise you) his whole car is past the white line.  Cross traffic is now starting to slow down because they think they might hit him as they pass.  So I stayed far enough behind him in case he wanted to back the car up in compliance with the law.  He never backed up.  As a matter of fact, he stayed there and might have inched a few more times before the light turned green.  And just to top off everything before the light changed, he threw his cigarette out the window... litterer!

Finally, the light turns green and he takes off!  He gets through the intersection and then cuts BACK over into his original lane.  The person in the car who was ACTUALLY (and not invisibly) occupying the lane had to slam on their brakes to keep from getting hit by this person who obviously didn't care about the law or his fellow man.  I started to think that the person must really have an emergency on their hand and is not thinking clearly at this moment.  But before my mind could finish excusing the crazy driver and giving him the benefit of the doubt, the driver turns into a car dealership.  REALLY???  THIS was the emergency I was about to give him a mental pass for?  Now that I've told you what anyone would have seen.  Let me tell you what I noticed.      

The person who violated at least 4 to 5 laws (in just the 3-minute span that I had seen him) had a HUGE window decal covering the passenger side rear window of Jesus. After watching that scene, I'm pretty sure that's NOT what Jesus would do.  If you are a believer then I understand if you want to display your love for your savior with a gaudy, vinyl testification in your rear window.  It's your right.  I also understand that no one follows the rules ALL of the time.  But this case...THIS case makes me think that if Jesus HAD been in the car with him, he would have gotten out at the car, WALKED to City Hall and filed a Temporary Restraining Order on this person.  I couldn't help but think the guy probably also had one of those "Jesus is my copilot" bumper stickers but Jesus, HIMSELF, came down and scratched that sticker right off of the back of that car.  I don't know.  To me, it's kinda like being a Red Sox fan but going out and buying Yankees stuff.  There is no direct rule against that but if you really have that conviction those actions should make you feel a little dirty.

Well, I guess I will leave you with that.  It was a little hard to write this with the songs going on in my head right now.  But I managed to put the mute on my mind while I finished up.  Now, if I can just figure out how to do that in the shower.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I Have Noticed Me Noticing

My challenge to try to notice more in life has been met with mixed results.  I try to make it a note to notice things while they are happening a few times a day to make sure I'm not letting life just pass me by.  And with my new time crunch it's been increasingly difficult.  But I will continue to try.  Though the idea has been great, the experience has been a little... frightening!  I'm noticing things that probably should have stayed unnoticed.

Here's the first thing I noticed. I'm not completely sure if I want to tell it because I don't know how people will view me after admitting to such things.  But I told myself that I was going to try to focus on the here and now more.  And that means paying attention to the things that might otherwise get unnoticed.  And when I say unnoticed, I meant by ME.  I'm sure other people have noticed this particular thing that I just noticed and I'm sure other people have been noticing it for a while.

When I grocery shop alone... I talk to myself.... out loud.  (I know.  Weird, huh?)  Now, to validate your level of concern... I don't talk the uncomfortable, LOUD "I just got back from the the health department and you need to get checked too" mobile phone conversations you get at the checkout line.  When I talk out loud, it's a little bit louder and a lot more discernible than the mumbling you do when you are singing a song you have known for years but get to a part where you have never figured out the words.  Yeah, just a little bit louder than that.

I noticed that while I'm going down the aisles I just run my mouth like someone is there with me.  I speak the next thing on the shopping list as if I'm going to forget it if I don't. (I must get bread! Bread, Bread. Bo-Bread.  Banana Fana. Fo-Fread...)  I say what aisle it is in.  (Applesauce is in aisle 4... I think.  I'm not sure.  But that's where we are headed now!  Applesauce, applesauce.  Gotta get the applesauce!) I say what aisle I think it SHOULD be in.  (I think the applesauce should be put next to the apples. But noooo.... that would make too much sense.  I have find it on aisle 5, the baking aisle!)  I challenge other parents to a cart race.  (They have no idea that I just beat them!  They didn't even know there was a race!  Either way... I win... every time!)  And I do more than just mumble.  If you were standing within 3ft of me, you would probably be able to hear everything I'm saying.

I also talk about things that were supposed to be on the shopping list that, for some reason, weren't.  And the only reason I know they are supposed to be added is because I get a text message from the magical Phone Fairy letting me know milk needs to be added to the shopping list.  (Thank you, Phone Fairy!  Good thing you have a calling plan with unlimited text.) Sometimes the Phone Fairy is on time.  Other times I receive my text message right when I'm about to stand in the checkout line or even worse, when I just paid for the items and I'm leaving the store..  That's when the talking to myself begins again.  And, I'm COMPLETELY aware that people can clearly hear me OVER the other person in line talking about his *ahem* medical issues.  No mumbling there.

That situation causes a temporary case of undiagnosed Tourettes.  The only time it gets worse than that is when there is something on the list that is completely a non-standard item... like gouda cheese.  What's a gouda?  And why are we getting cheese from it?  Personally, (to make sane my insanity) I like to think it came from the Gouda Monster.  And after years of hard fought battles, the US Military finally took out the heinous creature with an unparalleled aerial assault that left the creature lying lifeless just before he was about to destroy Washington, DC.  (This was bittersweet because the good news is that the victory of our wonderful Armed Forces saved a LOT of innocent people that day but the bad news it also saved Congress and the Washington Redskins. (Sorry, I'm a Cowboys fan.  So that had to be said.  The Gouda Monster already took out my team months ago!))

But anyway... The Gouda Monster, realizing that it was about to die, had a change of heart and decided it wanted to leave the world with a gouda taste (I know. Terrible Pun.) in its mouth.  So it left its family recipe (passed down from generation to generation of goudas) on how to make its special cheese. (It really just tastes like blue cheese to me, but I'm wasn't going to tell him.)  His dying breath was to have this cheese shared with the world.  But with invention and capitalism comes profit.  So the recipe leaked out over the internet within minutes on the same site that gave us the Colonel's secret recipe.

Blue cheese makers were all over this.  They were already making this stuff to begin with, they just needed to re-market it.  They decided to package it under a different name, charge 300% more and live fat and happy on the new-found cash cow (so to speak).  Their marking departments also realized they didn't want people to confuse this "NEW" cheese with "BLUE" cheese, so they decided it needed to go into a section of the store that was COMPLETELY different than ALL of the OTHER cheeses in the store.  And THAT, my friends, is the story I spoke out loud to myself while I was trying to mentally justify the extra 30 minutes I spent looking for this odd item.  And before you say, "Why didn't you just ask someone?"  (I was probably too late on that one.  I'm sure some of you already have asked that.) It's kinda like asking for directions.  If it's a place I wanted to go to or an item I wanted to buy, I would already know how to get to that end before I left the house.

So that is the first thing that I have noticed.  There are others but I'm going to save them for a different post.  I think I have done enough sharing for one day.  But as a Public Service Announcement to my handful of male readers (not to exclude my female readers but I can bet YOU already knew this)... If you are sent to the store to get an odd cheese that you have never heard of, start at the deli.  Apparently, that's where they hide it from us.  Knowing this fact alone will probably save you about 30 - 40 minutes the next time you are tasked with grocery shopping.  Or, in a pinch... just get blue cheese and scratch the name off of the package.  You will thank me for it later.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Reeducation of America... and me

I was asked (in a non-nosy manner) why I took on a 2nd Full-Time job.  So I figure if THAT person was wondering the same thing, then someone else probably is too.  I have decided appease the masses and give a little insight into the World of Que.  Unfortunately, this section will be classified as the non-funny portion of Que World.  It's a pretty small section but has a HUGE impact.

Money, Money, Money
Where to start... Well, we have debt.  That's the simple truth.  We, like most American households, have enough debt that it makes us uncomfortable.  We have tried a lot of avenues to rid ourselves of the evilness of debt.  Some worked but none worked well.  So we decided to try OUR last resort.  And that was to increase our income by finding another job.

It's the dietary equivalent of trying to lose weight but not knowing the right way.  Then trying every diet plan under the sun.  THEN after having marginal success with some plans and complete failure with others, deciding to go to the last resort... a lot of exercise!  This is us putting aside a lot of other "luxuries" in life and getting on the dreaded financial treadmill and just running until we pass out... literally.

I personally think the debt mentality starts a lot earlier than we care to accept.  I started teaching our oldest daughter about debt and finances at the age of 7.  Some may feel that is early.  But I don't think it's early enough.  It wasn't like I was having her file my taxes.  I was just teaching her basic principles of money.  But not just that.  I was teaching her some of the basic principles of finance.  I think this is where the disconnect in my life started.

My parents didn't teach me those lessons.  I don't BLAME them one single bit, though.  They grew up poor.  Their parents grew up poor.  And their parents before them grew up poor. (You get the picture.)  So how do you teach your child about how to bake a chocolate cake if no one ever taught you how an over works?  Eventually, if you are to break the cycle, someone has to teach someone how to bake a cake!

Another place that I think fails is school.  And I'm not talking about all schools.  As a matter of fact, I think teachers should be one of the highest paid professions in the world.  But here is what I'm talking about with school.  School is supposed to help prepare us for life AFTER school.  One of the biggest (if not THE biggest) dilemmas we face after school is how to handle money.  So why isn't there a LOT more emphasis on that?  Yeah, we learn what money is and how to use (spend) it.  But most of us never truly learn how it works.  And that is the HUGE fail in my book.

If we really think schools are supposed to help prepare us for life, then this is something that should be taught almost every day and at almost every grade level.  Finances should be a reflex by the time you graduate.  We are a capitalistic society.  And that is true whether you agree with it's principles are not.  I just think that economics classes in school should have more "real world" value and not just a class that people glide through.  As important as money is (again whether you like it or not) economics should be ranked up there with reading, 'riting and 'rithmatic.  I think we as a society should be given better tools to deal with such a huge problem that affects everyone.

I know some of that sounded like a rant but it really wasn't meant to be that way.  I honestly believe that ultimately, we are responsible for WHO we are as well as WHERE we are in life.  So this is not a pity party "blame the system" post.  This is more of a "yes, most of us were failed but here's what WE plan to do about it going forward" post.  I do believe that it's sad when you live in a time when you feel having 2 full-time jobs a blessing.  But that's what it is and where we are at this point.

In case you are looking to buy me
something but didn't quite
know what to get.
For those of you who would think that I'm not doing this to have some of the the finer things in life... You would be WILDLY mistaken.  I would much rather get some sleep than to work extra hours to get the first flat-panel HDTV for the home.  We are really doing this so our family doesn't have to sacrifice one kids dreams for another.  We are doing this so that we don't ever have to rely on anyone (friends, family, govt) from now to well past old age (retirement and such).  We are doing this so that 5 years from now we aren't STILL telling our kids they can't go to the movies, to the store or even to a friends house because we can't afford it.  We are doing this so that emergencies don't cause us to have to decide whether to keep the house or the car.  We are doing this so that when my 3 girls get married off (in their 40s because they can't date until then) they will start life knowing how money works and knowing the best way to keep from having to work 2 jobs is to make sure you stay out of debt to begin with.  We are doing this to help break the "poor" cycle.  And, truly, we are doing this so that our finances start to have some resemblance of our character.  For me they haven't matched since college.  And it's LONG overdue.
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Saturday, November 6, 2010

Week Two Down... 50 more to go!

Man, you miss writing in your blog for one week and the world gets angry.  I have received death threats. (No I haven't.)  People have threatened to hold my dogs hostage until I make another post. (I completely made that one up, too.)  My family and friends don't want to talk to me anymore.  (Ok, that part may be true.  But it has nothing to do with my blog.  It has something to do with shaming my friends and the family name at a past New Year's Eve Party.  (Who knew polka music was out of style and the accordion never was in?  I most certainly didn't!)) With all of that in mind, I decided it was time to come out of hiding and write a small something for you guys out there who are reading this... my true fan. (This is a shout out to all ONE of you.)

I wish I had something good to write.  It has been a long week.  It's the 1st week in which I have worked both of my full-time jobs.  Again, in one of my previous blogs, I said I was not going to complain. (I lied.  I probably will.  Just not right now.)  I am a little tired, though, but that's to be expected.  I get to bed close to Midnight (after Midnight when training is over) and I get up at 5:00 AM.  It's a vicious cycle, but necessary.  I should be tireder that I am.  I'm sure that will catch up with me.  I don't require much sleep so I'm fine at the moment.  Besides, I get an extra 15 minutes of sleep on the way in to my first job every morning. (I can't confirm that I sleep on the way in.  I can just say I don't EVER remember the drive.)

I will take a moment to say one thing that I thought I was going to miss out on but it turns out I was wrong.  I thought I was going to miss out on all of the happiness I used to get when I got home from work.  That turns out to not be the case.  Every time I walk into the room (from upstairs working), my two youngest girls yell out "DADDY!!!"  The baby one even stops what she is doing and comes running to give me hug to go with the wonderful screaming.  That's something money can't buy and something that can't be explained to someone who has never experienced it.  It gives me the strength to go back upstairs and continue working.  I'm doing it for all four of the wonderful girls in my life.  (On the other note to this... When I get back upstairs and I hear all of the OTHER screaming and yelling going on downstairs a whole different emotion goes over me.  It ALSO gives me the strength to stay upstairs and keep working.)

I HAVE noticed, too, that I don't notice as much.  I'm sure that will change as I get into a groove.  But I don't see the funny in ordinary stuff as much.  Not that I'm sad, by any means.  But I'm thinking about work a lot (both jobs) right now.  So, my mind is more occupied with work stuff than play stuff.  And that's not normally me.  I have ALWAYS been good at separating work and home.  But now I'm in this weird middle ground between the two.  I'm not sure what I want to call this 2-ingredient jambalaya of metaphysical existences that mixes all of the joys and pains of home with the all of the joys and pains of work.  Using a little creative liberty, I think I will call it a state of "homework".  (I might have to Trademark or patent that name or something.  Now that I'm using it, it will spread like wildfire. (Oooo... I like that phrase too!))  But in any event, this "homework" thing is going to take some time to sort out and become second nature.  And when it does, I can go back to writing once or twice a week instead of once or twice a month.

So if you see me walking around in a daze I assure you I'm not thinking about parties of New Year's Eve past.  (I'm over that!  And you should be too.  Everyone knows Polka is King!)  I'm just in the middle of thinking over my homework and how to get an A+ in both.

While I'm studying, I will leave you with this.  
And if you STILL don't like polka after listening to this whole song
then something is wrong with YOU!

For the life of me I can't figure out why my wife can't appreciate this guy.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Bird in the Fender is Worth....

This post is not going to be interesting.  I'm setting the bar right now.  This is simply me telling you of something that happened to me a few days ago. (Did I mention that this was not going to be interesting?)

I notice odd things in life.  I think my senses are screwed up.  I have a bad sense of smell but my nose will pick up the most obscure scents lingering around.  (That not only has some advantages but it also some VERY distinct disadvantages.)  My hearing is similar.  I can hear a fly flying around in another room or even a conversation going on through walls and upstairs/downstairs in my house but, for some reason, I can't hear my wife telling me that the trash needs to go out, even when she is standing in front of me ...and looking directly at me ... and making me repeat the words that I obviously can't hear!  (Again... advantages and disadvantages.)

This rare oddity also works with my sight.  I have impaired vision (thus the glasses) but I will SEE the strangest things.  I don't say anything because I don't want my wife to think I'm crazy.  (We have a lifetime to be together.  I don't want to have this "weird sight thing" held over me for the next 40 - 50 years.)  I'm still not convince that I'm seeing something strange or that I'm interpreting what I see strangely. (See why I can't tell my wife?)  Anyway... here is an example of what I'm talking about.

The End (First): I had to ask myself, "Do animals, like birds, thrill seek?"

The Beginning (Second... because I'm cool like that.): So I was driving home from work the other day.  There was nothing special about the trip until I made the last turn and I was on my street.  I noticed a little bird in the road on my side of the street.

Initially, there was nothing strange about that either as it happens all of the time.  But that fowl looked foul.  He looked like he wanted to play chicken!  Of course I'm going to win this because every physics lesson I remember from high school tells me that staying on the present course was only going to end badly for the birdie.  (Basic Math had me winning this too: little bird 0.5 lbs + BIG BAD SUV 4000 lbs = me winning EVERY SINGLE time!)

Even with the Vegas House style odds greatly in my favor,  I am by no means evil (at least I'm not admitting to it here).  So I did slow down a little bit to give the bird some more time to check with his bookie.  (If it had been a cat, I can't say I would have been as nice.  But before I get email from the cat-lovers out there... I would have slowed down for a cat, too... just not as much.)  After getting a text from his bookie, the bird decided it was a battle he can't win.  So he hopped over to the left lane and admitted defeat. (For my UK (United Kingdom not University of Kentucky or Kansas) fans, you are now considered driving in the bird lane.)  The victory was mine... or so I thought.  Apparently, the ACTUAL competition had yet to begin.

As I neared the bird, he began to fly.  My first thought was that he was going to fly away.  But, Nooooo... He started flying in the bird lane in the same direction I was going!  It reminded me of the Dave Chappelle line, "I'm gonna race 'em!" (Most of you wont get that one.  But the ones who do will find it absolutely hilarious!) He started speeding up.  This bird wanted to race.  I know some of you are saying that he was just a little scared bird flying for his life.  But you are being very naive.  He's a bird.  At ANY point in time he could have flown upwards and away but THAT bird chose to out(fly)run my car.

Now, I'm the smart one here.  I am the creature of higher intelligence.  Between the bird and ME, I'm the one who knows that regular birds can't out-fly this car.  That knowledge alone should be enough to just smile about what happened and move one.  It's moments like these that men should rise above petty competition for zero gain.  We must take the high road.  But thinking about it, the high road would technically have been easier for the bird... since he can fly!  And THAT knowledge was what I allowed to "drive" my decision.  Oh... IT WAS ON! (For the female of the human species: The male of the species is missing the gene that allows us to take the high road when we have been challenged to a competition.  (It's similar for dares.) It has been a curse every since Eve challenged Adam to an apple eating contest.  She won...  He lost twice!)

So, I was driving.  The bird was flying.  I'm speeding up a little because I'm not going to let that bird take me in a race that I didn't know I was going to be in.  It's just not happening.  At that moment, I look forward (which is where I should have been looking to begin with) instead of at the bird to my side and I see there is another car coming toward us (in HIS lane, of course).  I then realize I have this race in the bag.  So I don't even need to push it.  I let off the gas a little (but not enough to let the bird win.)  It should have been over and done with at this point.  The car was coming.  I'm sure the bird saw it.  And being a bird, he should have just flown OVER the car coming and that should have been it.  But since I'm taking the time to tell this story, you should know that the normal route wasn't take.

The bird wasn't budging.  Not only did he play chicken with my car, he was playing chicken with the car coming toward us.  I honestly thought I was about to see feathers go flying over the roof of the oncoming car.  But that didn't happen.  That bird (and I will promise on a stack of bibles or testify in a congressional hearing), instead of going OVER the other car (again, he could do it at any time... he's a bird), chose to kick it into another gear.  He flew even faster at the oncoming car and cut into my lane in front of me at the last second!  I tripped out!  That was one of the craziest things I had ever seen!  He won the stupid race.

After he had performed his daredevil feat, he FINALLY decided to fly upwards.  I'm sure when he felt he was clear he turned toward me and waived a wing (kinda hard to tell when they are flying) and said, "See ya sucka!"  I'm also  pretty sure he literally gave me "the bird" too and went on his merry way.  (But I can't confirm that one.)  I wanted to explain to the bird that I let off the gas as an act of kindness.  I wanted to let him know that even in competition, men will still sometimes submit to act of humanity.  I also wanted to explain to the bird that I let him win because my street has 2 cops that live on it and they don't like speeding.  There were a lot of reasons I LET the bird win that day.  But if I tried to explain that to him, do you think he would have listened?  I doubt it.  Which really stinks because there is a bird somewhere in this world that thinks it won that race and defeated two humans in a game of chicken.  But my readers know what really happened.  It was my single act of kindness that let him live to tell the tale to all of his little avian buddies.

Aren't you glad this wasn't about it a cat.  This story might have had a different ending.  :)

Sunday, October 17, 2010



It has been quiet on the Que Family front.  We have been staying out of trouble.  And it's not that we necessarily WANT to stay out of trouble.  We just don't have the financial backing to get INTO said trouble.  With the current state of the economy, a lot of us find ourselves standing on the dock and the ship has long since set sail.  Some have been able to move on.  Some are still waiting for the ship to come back.   Unfortunately, that ship will not be returning for most of us.

With everything going on, I had to ask myself.... W.W.D.D. (What Would Daddy Do?) I know that's a take on What Would Jesus Do?  I didn't meant to steal it.  (I promise!)  But I had to take a new approach to the current set of circumstances.  To be honest, I'm sure I could use Jesus' principles and words to help in these times since the words are timeless.  But sometimes it's a little hard to relate to someone who wasn't married, didn't have kids (especially little ones), didn't have a mortgage, never made a car payment, didn't have student loans, still lived with his mother even in his 30s, and whose father COULD have bailed him out of any financial difficulty if it had ever become necessary.

Sure, he had his own share of problems.  And none of them would make me want to change positions with him.  But this isn't a life comparison.  It's just a statement to show that, at this moment, I'm looking for someone to get an idea from who has been "there" and done "that".  I love you, Jesus.  You are the savior for my soul.  But right now I'm going to look up to someone else for my particular set of problems... my father.

When I was younger, my family was very poor. So my father had a lot of the been "theres" and done "thats".  But there is one thing that really stands out to me.  When we were going through a particularly difficult time I didn't see my father  that much for a few years.  It wasn't because he was a deadbeat dad.  It wasn't because he left all of his responsibilities.  It wasn't because he didn't want to be there for his family during the tough time.  It was exactly the opposite.  My father took a second job to help pull us out of the trouble we found ourselves in.  He bit the bullet for a couple of years and did what he thought was best for the family.  That's where I am right now.

Living in a sea of debt and not being able to swim has created more than its share of issues.  So I decided to tackle this issue as my father would. Starting this week I will have two employers.  Honestly, it's going to suck pretty bad!  But you won't hear me complain much about it here.  As bad as it is, I will still feel blessed to have two jobs when a lot of Americans don't even have one.

But even with that understanding there is a fair amount of sucky things I will have to accept for a while.  This decision will mean that I will be spending less time with my wife and kids.  So, I will miss all of the gymnastics meets.  I will miss all of the school meetings.  I will miss all of the family dinners at the table.  I will miss out on seeing my kids (especially the little ones) learn new things (my wife MUST record some of those).  I will miss the putting the kids to bed at night.  I will miss sleep. (That one won't be too bad though.  The kids don't let us sleep as it is.)  And I will miss taking the kids to see the grandparents. 

There are a lot of other things I will miss but I don't have the time to list them all.  This sacrifice now is to help insure a better future for my family.  When you are in debt you don't get to enjoy all of those things I mentioned as much anyway.  It's something you are always thinking about.  Money (or lack there of) always makes its way into every aspect of your life.

So, this is how I plan to take control of the situation.  This is where our family starts to get some of its freedom back.  With every debt gone comes another opportunity to enjoy all of the other things that make life worth living.

I would tell everyone to pray for me because this will be a tough journey.  But honestly, I would much rather you pray for my wife.  I may be taking another job but she is the one who is making the real sacrifice.  She has spend more time with our 3 crazy kids without me as a buffer.  (I really didn't do much anyway so nothing will change.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - The Solitary Exodus (The Final Chapter)

So, it was the morning of my departure. I slept surprisingly well considering the "root" problem I dealt with the previous night.  The foam pad helped but the ROOT would not be denied.  It had an agenda and it wasn't going to let a little padding stand in its way.  Personally, I also believe it knew I was leaving that next morning and that made it all clingy.  You know how roots are.

I rose to the COLD morning air.  The previous frost warnings almost proved to be accurate.  In my professional, meteorological opinion, I would guess the temperature was about 1 degree ABOVE hell freezing over.  Which is warmer than I had expected it to be.  So... bonus.  But the area wasn't going to warm up simply because I was starting MY day so I got up and started getting ready.  I was even able to skip the first step in the old man morning ritual because my bladder was COMPLETELY empty from the night before.

The Scoutmaster had gotten up a little bit before I did because he had a dying fire to tend to.  He stayed true to his goal and only had to light the fire once when we arrived.  There was also firewood leftover from yesterday's episode of "Who Wants to Be a Lumberjack?"  So with his skills and the available resources he was able to revive a weak pile of embers to the mighty inferno it once was not even 6 hours earlier.  I let him finish that before I got out of the cold tent though.  In spite of popular belief, I'm not an idiot.

The campsite also began to wake up with the fire.  It didn't take long for the sound of the burning wood to change the site from a freezing cold ghost town to a slightly warmer (yet still freezing cold) ant farm.  People started moving around and that signaled the beginning of the day.

I was leaving out that day but before I got everything together I ate breakfast.  The morning's breakfast was an MRE (Meal, Ready-to-Eat) like all of our meals.  Mine in particular was Meatballs in Tomato Sauce. (I'm not completely sure on that fact.  All I know is that it was red and had meat in it.  So really it could have been any one of 50 types of MREs.  But I won't complain because it was a LOT easier to carry those down the mountain than the bologna and hot dogs we tried to carry down on the trip before this one.  That is a 10-Part series!  I will spare you all that one).

MREs are field rations provided by the US military for its service members who are in combat or are in other field conditions where regular food is not available.  So I was a little concerned to see that mine contained ingredients to make a French Vanilla Cappuccino.  What???  Not that I'm opposed to an MRE having French Vanilla Cappuccino.  I just can't understand a combat situation where someone once said, "You know what would make this lovely meal complete? ...French Vanilla Cappuccino.  Now, hand me my rifle.  The enemy is advancing."

After eating my breakfast (minus the Cappuccino) I got my gear ready for the trek up the mountain.  My pack was MUCH lighter now that the MREs were gone.  I did pack one with me so that it would be one less the others needed to worry about when they left the following day.  (I left a day earlier than the others because I was working on a business idea that needed my attention.  If we get to go next year, I will make sure I get to stay the whole time.  I wouldn't want that root to miss my back too much.)

Because it was cold I was originally going to wait until it was closer to noon leave. But I knew that it was going to be a tough 4-mile hike up the mountain so I would get plenty of warmth simply from the movement.  With that, I put on my pack, retrieved my number 2 pencil and (though I made fun of it) asked if I could keep the little knife for protection on the hike.  I was given the security clearance necessary to possess such a powerful weapon. (They don't just let ANYONE carry those things!)  My friends had also been debating for 2 days on whether to walk up with me so I wouldn't go alone but I finally convinced them I would be fine. (I have awesome friends!)  They reluctantly and with extreme reservation agreed.  (See?)  And the journey alone began with a few appropriately placed fist bumps, hand shakes, hugs (yes, hugs) and simple good byes.  I would have left them with an even more appropriately placed gas-plosion but I really had to go to the bathroom at this point.  So in the end (pun intended) the joke would have been on me.  Literally...

The hike up the mountain lasted about 2 hours.  It was a lot easier than expected because my pack was MUCH lighter on the way out because the food was eaten.  But still... 2 hours is a long time to be walking alone on a mountain trail.  The entire hike I saw 3 people.  There was a guys hiking down alone (idiot) and a couple who were going to be out just for the day (I assume) because they didn't even have packs.  So that left a lot of time to think.  Especially random thoughts like...

1. I noticed that there are a lot of places in the Smoky Mountains that may received one direct ray of sunlight a year.  And yet, the mountain chain is teeming with vegetation.  That made me think... People should be like that as well.  Even if life dumps on us every day of the year except one,  we should find a way to use that one day to give us the strength to last us until the next "one" day.

2. Which hand should I use to hold the walking stick and which hand for the knife?  If I were to get attacked by a pack of Ninja Bunnies, which weapon configuration would be most beneficial. (If you have seen "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" you know this is a distinct possibility.  If you haven't, you need to.  But I will warn you it IS a cult classic.  So you will immediately LOVE it or HATE every minute of it.  There is no middle.)

3. I wonder how many times this theory has been tested: If you and your friends are being chased by a bear, it doesn't matter if you are the fastest.  You just have to make sure you are not the slowest.

4. Man... My wife would HATE this whole multi-day hiking/camping thing.

5. Half way up the mountain I couldn't help but think to myself, "You know what would make this lovely hike complete??? ... French Vanilla Cappuccino."

6. In the movie Star Wars, the bad guys were always trying to "force" people over to the Dark Side.  When this tactic stopped working, why didn't the PR department shift gears and start offering something different like free food or massages for the first 1000 people or even gift cards?  I'm mean, they owned everything at that point.  Surely, money wouldn't have been a problem.  They could have even done the old bait-and-switch like a lot of the multi-level marketing businesses do.   They would offer you a trip to some remote tropical planet if you just sat and listened to a 1hr presentation showing all of the benefits of the Dark Side.

7. If the federal government says they have my best interest at heart, then why don't they personally ask me what I think/feel/want so they will at least know what my best interests are?

8. This trip has truly changed me but I STILL hate shopping.... and cats... and stuffed toys with HUGE eyes.

9. I wonder if the people who named the "Titanic" had named the ship "I will never mock GOD and his awesome power whether I believe in divinity or not" would the ship still be around today.

10. I also thought about the fact that each step I moved forward took me one more step away from my friends.  With each step up the mountain, if something happened, I was THAT much farther away from those who do anything to help me.  With each step I increased my chances of falling to serious injury or even death.  With each step I was leaving behind life-long friends.  And with life's uncertainties, there was a chance I would never see them again.

But it is all about perspective.  Because...

With each step I was one step closer to seeing my kids' smiles.  Each step brought me closer to seeing my beautiful wife.  Each step up the mountain was filling my heart with joy knowing I'm that much closer to hearing the sounds of my children's laughter.  With each step I could almost feel my lovely wife's touch.  Each step led me one step closer to... home.

All in all, the camping experience is one that I will enjoy year after year.  But to be honest, the best part of being away from all of the bad stuff about life for a few days is the coming home to all of the good stuff.  Without my family in my life it really wouldn't really be living.  I would just be going through the motions of life.

It felt good to be home.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - The OTHER Half-Day of Nature (Part 4)

What??? Are you still here reading about our boring camping trip?  I would stop writing about it but I'm in too deep now.  I have to finish!  So just sit back and enjoy part 4 of 5.

When we last left our heroes...

We decided to go hiking.  We had just hiked the day before so it probably wasn't the greatest of ideas.  But we were in the wilderness... what else was there left to do?  We had firewood and our clothes were drying.  So we decided to hike farther down the trail to see what else the mountains had to offer.

Since we were in the valley between two mountains, the trail generally followed a mountain stream about 50ft away.  A very COLD mountain stream.  I remember it being cold the last time we were there because we all bathed in it's Arctic frostiness (not at the same time, mind you).  It was Spring we when made the trip last time but I promise the water could have held an iceberg or two if it had been deep enough.  So there would be no stream bathing on this trip.  I would be carrying this manly musk back home with me.  And that's the way it should be!

The other two people (the Scoutmaster and the Dr.) who were veterans on this trip wanted to find a little water hole they had found before.  They remembered how cold it was but they didn't care because there was a deep pool of water to swim in and a little waterfall to accent the scene.  It all sounded fine and dandy but I wasn't going to get in it!  One of my friends wondered why.  So, I told him.

You won't hear me do this a lot but I'm going to make a racial (NOT racist) statement here.  I don't know a lot of black people who enjoy water.  And I'm going to go out on a limb and say YOU (as in ANYONE reading this) don't either.  Sure, you might know one or two but they are about as rare as the elusive jackalope.  I'm going to let you think on that one for a moment.  Now, to add to the thinking process, how many black people do you see at the beach?  THEN think to yourself... How many of those at the beach do you actually see in the water?  I'm going to guess (with confidence) that you won't find too many.  Years ago there was a HUGE argument about the TV show Baywatch (I told you YEARS ago) not having many black people represented.  People were calling the show racist (NOT racial).  Personally, I think they were being pretty accurate.

Racial (NOT racist) statement part two: You don't see a lot of black people in places where it's cold.  Do we need to take a break so you can think about this one too?  We are just not fond of cold ANYTHING (minus drinks).  When you watch the Summer Olympics we are everywhere.  When you watch the WINTER Olympics we are not even at the indoor events.  We don't ski.  We don't play hockey.  We don't ice skate.  And I will repeat this...  You might find your one or two but you will not find a number that's even statistically recognizable.  I don't know why but that's just the case.

Now combine the two previous paragraphs and tell me if you have ever seen a black member of the Polar Bear Club.  Just the thought of that BLOWS my mind!  I can't imaging perfectly sane people WANTING to strip down to almost nothing in subfreezing weather and jumping into a pool of water that's probably colder than the subfreezing air.  I can't even wrap my brain around that one.  I'm sure there is an exception but I have looked at photo after photo and have yet to find a single one.  (This might be a good challenge to my readers.  If you have a pic of a black Polar Bear Club member, send it to me.  I would love to see it just so I can mark it off of my bucket list.)

And THAT'S why I didn't care too much about the swimming hole.  It wasn't even something I was going to look back on years later and go, "Man, I wish I had risked hypothermia and drowning just so I can say I did it." But I'm not a party pooper so I was on the lookout for it as well while we were making out way down the trail.

I'm not sure how far we went (but it wasn't even a mile) when the Scoutmaster thought he saw it.  So he went to investigate.  And by investigate I mean he cut through the overgrowth to get to the stream and starting making his way back upstream.  I think we all learned a lesson that day. We learned that is a lot has changed since we were here during our late teens.  After going from rock to rock (then eventually just walking in the water itself) he realized he couldn't find the original spot.  Too much had changed.  But, of course, he wasn't going to let that stop him.  So he and the Dr. found a different spot.  And all was well... until the next trip when they try to find this NEW spot again.

I decided to make my way back to camp.  So did the Rookie.  We made it back and enjoyed the last few minutes of direct sunlight left in the day.  The swimming hole adventure didn't last as long as I had expected it to so the other two were back at camp not too much longer after that.  It was definitely lunchtime.

This is also when we got to what the camp was really about.  As we ate MREs (the same food that the fine soldiers of the US military enjoy) we finally took a few minutes to just talk.  We talked about life.  We talked about politics.  We talking about the state of the US.  We even talked about time travel and physics (that conversation didn't last long).  We talking about where our lives are and how different it was the last time we were in the exact same spot.  We talked about the Butterfly Effect.  We talked about religion.  We talked a little about everything and a lot about nothing.  That was easily my favorite part of the whole trip.  There were a lot of funny and crazy things that went on in the VERY short time I was there but those conversations were the most memorable.  If life sees to it that we NEVER get to go back again, I will at least have that moment to keep me company.

Everything was going great until people started showing up.  Apparently, everyone got the memo that I was going to be at that particular campsite and wanted to come and see if the rumors were true.  Of course, THAT wasn't the case (I don't think) but people did start showing up.  As stated in an earlier camping post of this trip, we saw very few people the last time.  We also didn't have to share the area the entire trip.  Now, already, on this trip we had another person sharing the area (the Fisherman) and other people were coming through OUR campsite.  We didn't mind the Fisherman being there because he was.. well... out fishing pretty much the whole time.  But we had a few smaller groups of people come through first looking for a good campsite.  We directed them away.  Then a larger group came through looking for the same thing.  We gave ALL of them the "this is OURS, go get your own" look.  And they all obliged.  That was until the LAST group showed up.  I can't remember what group they were with (mainly because I didn't speak that much to them) but they decided to make our cramped campsite even crampier. (For some reason, spell checker didn't like crampier.  Oh, well.)

We didn't know this new group of people so we didn't trust them either.  (That meant all of us kept our weapons of choice close just in case.  My little knife was easy to conceal.) We also noticed that they were ill prepared to camp.  They were fine for hiking but not for camping.  This is especially true since there was a frost warning in the area for that night.  I kinda felt bad for them and so did the Scoutmaster.  So before going to bed, he made sure that the fire was a large, good one and that they had plenty of chopped wood ready in case they needed it.

We decided before we went to bed that we would move the tent a little.  I spearheaded this movement because through the course of the day I found out that not EVERYONE was sleeping with a root in their side.  So we moved the tent and changed the sleeping arrangement.  I really felt good about the new move until it was time to go to bed.  I put my sleeping bag in it's new spot.  I placed my trusty knife next to where my head would be for quick access. (You can't trust those squirrels.  Every good camper knows that!)  I get in my sleeping bag and there it was.  Mr. Root's cousin.  ANOTHER FREAKIN' ROOT!!!!  You've got to be kidding me!  Was this thing following me?  I moved my bag around to try to find the best spot.  But even the BEST spot left me with a root press in my back.  I just had to make do.

There was a problem with this night's making do with the root.  I don't even know if this is medically possible but I'm blaming it on THAT root even if it's not!  But for some reason, that root in my back kept making me have to go pee.  And I'm not talking every 30 minutes to an hour.  I'm talking like 5-10 minute intervals.  There were several problems with that.  I didn't have my glasses on so I couldn't see.  The tent was dark and I was on the side away from the entrance.  So that meant every 5-10 minutes I was getting out of my WARM sleeping bag, putting on my shoes, stumbling over everyone, opening the tent (letting in MORE cold air and making me have to pee worse), making my way down a trail (blind and in pitch darkness), peeing, making my way back (under the same conditions), opening the tent again (more cold air), stumbling over everyone, taking my shoes off, getting back into a (NOW) cold sleeping bag, and finally snuggling up to my favorite ROOT in the whole wide world.  I don't know how many times it happened as I stopped counting at 42,007.

I'm sure this ritual was annoying everyone but no one said anything.  The Scoutmaster DID finally offer me a foam padding to go under my sleeping bag.  It was something short of turning water into wine (probably not a good analogy for someone who was peeing a lot).  But it worked!!!  I didn't have go pee after that.  Granted, it could have been the fact that there was ZERO water left in my system after the many, MANY trips to the bark covered port-o-potty.  But, as I said before, I'm blaming it on the the root.

I would like to say that things ended there.  We were in the tent.  It was dark.  It was cold.  It was time to sleep.  But someone decided to put the final exclamation point on the evening.  Someone... And I'm not naming any names because that would be RUDE.  Isn't that right, Scoutmaster??? Someone decided that the night wasn't complete until someone sounded the evening tuba.  Someone (Scoutmaster) ripped on of the loudest, most explosive farts to finish the day off.  Does everyone remember that we were in a closed tent to keep as much of the cold out?  Nothing says camping like trying to decide of you want to freeze to death or die a painful death from paralyzing gas of a butt bomb.  The rest of us zipped up our sleeping bags over our heads and prayed for mercy.  Sometimes that's your only option.  It did, however, insure that if someone or something was going to attack the campsite that night we were protected by an invisible field of toxic gas.  Sorry other campers... you have to get your own!

That simple (yet hilariously disgusting) act also led me to believe that, though, there were a lot of things different on this trip from when we made it almost 20 years ago... some things were still the same.

Stay tuned for Part 5 and FINAL chapter of the Man-Camp 2010 Saga.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Where Wisdom Fails

A few weeks ago a friend wrote historical account of King David and how his words had relevance to events of modern times.  Today, I will be doing the same with King David's successor (his son), King Solomon. I must first warn you that this is NOT a biblical reference.  This is a reference to a biblical figure.  SO I don't want any email talking about how I'm changing the bible.  If you want to read the ACTUAL account... read a bible.  If you want to hear MY account... here it goes.

King Solomon was given the gift of Wisdom.  He was wise beyond his years AND experience.  There are other stories that tell of his wisdom and why he was considered a great King.  But I want to focus on one in particular.  It's the story of the 2 mothers and the baby.

King Solomon was busy doing kingly things when he was told that he needed to make a judgment call.  He was told that this was a high profile case where the evidence needed to solve it was nonexistent.  Not wanting to back down from a challenge, he decided to rule on the case.  Plus, he was King so his words would be final.  Also, figuring this was a great moment to gain some much needed exposure for his kingdom, he made sure the local media was summonsed and had a front-row seat to this interesting case.

Bailiff:  All rise!  Hear Ye, Hear Ye!  The (currently) United State of Israel Court is now in session.  The honorable Judge and King Solomon will be presiding over the case.  (Queue the music: Lil Jon - Get Low.  He was known for is wisdom but he was also known to get crunk every now and then!) You my now be seated.

King Solomon: Bring forth the plaintiff and the defendant.

Bailiff: I would love to, your Kingship, but I can tell which is which.

KS: What do you mean?

Bailiff: *sigh* Well, you'll see.  Bring them both in.

At that point, 2 women walked into the courtroom and make their way to the Bailiff.

Bailiff: Place your hand on this stone tablet with the 10 Commandments etched into it and repeat after me. 'I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.' (The women repeat.)

KS: Great.  Now will someone tell me why you are even here.

Woman 1: That woman took my baby!

Woman 2: I did NOT!  You took my baby!

KS: Ladies, ladies!  One at a time.  Woman 1... Would you please tell your side of the story.

W1: Both of us had children at the same time.  We were even friends until the other night when SHE (let the record show she is pointing at W2) rolled over and smothered her child in her sleep.  I was sleeping soundly in my Sleep Number bed... my number is 20, BTW... when W2 came over and TOOK my baby.  I didn't even know my baby was gone until the morning when I realized that I had woken up from the first good nights sleep that I've had since becoming a mother.  Now, may I have my baby?  Please!

KS: What say you W2?

W2: Well, the story she told was the truth.  That is except for the fact that she took MY baby while I was sleeping on my Tempur-Pedic bed.

W1:  I did NOT!!!

W2: You did too!

The two women began to fight as the gathering crowd starts chanting 'Solly! Solly! Solly!'  Of course, the Bailiff breaks it up.

KS: Ladies, Ladies!  I'm not going to warn you again.  There will be no fighting in this courtroom!  Now do either of you have any witnesses?

W1: No.

W2: No.

KS: *sarcastically* Great. OK. Where are the deadbeat baby daddies in all of this?

W1: Ummm... I think you sent them both to war.

KS: Oh! *AHEM* Uhhh...Sorry about that.  Let's move on!  We will solve this right now.  Where is the baby?

Just then a representative from Social Services enters into the courtroom with the baby.  The crowd goes 'awwwww'. Soft background music begins to play. (They have to tug on the heart strings because this is sweeps week.)

KS: Please hand the baby to W1.

Baby: WAAAA!!!!

KS: Now hand the baby to W2.

Baby: WAAAA!!!!

KS: OK... That didn't work.  I thought that would make it an open and shut case.  I guess not.  This is going to require me to use my noodle on this one. (The Bailiff whispers in his ear that there is only about 10 minutes of TV time left so he needs to start wrapping up this case.)

King Solomon thought and thought for what seemed like an eternity on TV time.  But all of a sudden his God-given talent of wisdom kicked in.

KS: Bailiff, may I borrow your sword?

The Bailiff looked confused but obliged.

KS: Bailiff, will you hold the baby?

Bailiff:  Wait, sir!  What are you going to do. (As he goes over and takes the baby.)

KS: Well... since I don't know which woman is telling the truth, I have to assume that they are BOTH telling the truth.  In which case, this baby should be shared between them.  I'm going to cut the baby in half and each woman will get a half a child.

The crowd gasps!  The bailiff gets the 'EWWW' face but then shrugs it off because he realizes that this will be GREAT for ratings!  Just then the women speak up.

W2: NO!  My King!  I know you are a wise man and your word is final.  But PLEASE don't kill my baby!  Just give her (let the record show she is pointing to W1) the baby.  I would rather see my baby with her than chopped up for ratings.

W1: See, this woman is questioning your decision.  I, for one, think you are a wise, noble and honorably King.  So if you think the baby should be split between the two of us then I agree with everything you said.

KS:  I will be back after this commercial break with my decision.

(commercial break)

KS: OK.  I have made my decision.  There will not be any cutting of the baby today. (The crowd goes 'AWWWW!') W1 agrees that I am a wise King so she thinks my decision should be accepted.  W2 has already decided to give the child to W1 so there is only one thing left for me to do...  (He goes over to the Bailiff and gets the baby.) I'm going to give this beautiful, wonderful... wet baby to its rightful mother... W2. W1 (in a totally ripped from Maury Povich style), you are NOT the mother!  You see, there is no way the REAL mother would allow her child be killed.  Even if it is sweeps week.  So I feel confident that I have made the correct decision.  Now, you crazy kids get out of here!

King Solomon gives his signature smile for the camera closeup and ending music plays followed by the credits.  Another successful show.

Now you are probably wondering why I told that COMPLETELY accurate story.  Well, after reading the story it made me understand one thing... I don't believe that King Solomon RAISED his own children.  He had a few of them but this "wisdom" wouldn't have worked on a 4-year old.  And it DEFINITELY wouldn't work on my 4-year old.  This is the same story but only with a 4-year old:

4-year old: That toy is mine!

2-year old: Mine, daddy!

KS: Now children... You know you should always tell the truth.  That's what good people do.  So if you want to grow up to be a good person and make something of yourselves you need to start with honesty.  Now... whose toy is this?

4YO: Mine!

2YO: Mine, daddy!

KS:  Ok. Fine.  We are going to have to do this the hard way!  Someone bring me the handsaw.  I'm going to cut this toy in half and FORCE you two to share or lose the toy.  What do you think about that?

4YO: Ok. Go ahead!

2YO: Mine, daddy!

KS: You see little ones... With my infinite wisdom I have just figured out whose toy this is.  This toy belongs to the 2YO.  If it belonged to you, 4YO, you wouldn't have given it up to slaughter as you have.  You wouldn't have allowed me to destroy something you love so much.  You would be willing to give it to your sister to make sure it didn't perish.  And now that I know this, you should tell the truth little one.  Whose toy is this?

4YO: Well, father... It's actually MY toy but I would rather see the toy destroyed than to have to share with my little sister.

KS: CRAP!   ... Where's your mother?

I don't know how it is in everyone else's house but that's the way it is in ours.  This happens almost daily.  Our 4YO would rather lose a toy (or anything else, for that matter) that she loves than to have to share it with her little sister.  Now I'm not going to say that Solomon wasn't wise because it was well documented that he was a wise king.  (That is, of course, if you don't count the whole taking of 700 wives and 300 more girlfriends.  There's NOTHING wise about that.  Men have a hard time keeping ONE woman happy.  I would hate to see the man that is disappointing 1000 of them at the same time.)

I just wonder how wise King Solomon would have been considered if he were dealing with children.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - The Morning of Nature (Part 3)

So, I didn't sleep well the whole night.  Getting back to my roots was not all it was cracked up to be.  It sounded much better in the Smoky Mountain National Park brochure.  But as soon as the sun started opening up its eyes, so did the Scoutmaster.  He was up early because he had a goal to make sure the camp fine didn't die out during the entire trip.  (For the record... it didn't.)  That meant early morning chopping of firewood.

I could hear the chopping off in the distance.  Then it faded away.  Not because he got farther away but more because I was finally starting to fall asleep.  And just when the sheep started counting me... B-BAM!!!!  If you don't know what B-BAM is, that's the sound of a LOG being dropped on the ground and rumbling the surrounding area (like the tent I was just sleeping in).  I was able to brush that one off and attempted to go back to sleep when I heard... HACK! HACK! HACK!  Of course, THAT'S the sound of a log being chopped into smaller pieces... near the tent  That was also the sound of me getting up and getting my day going.

When I emerged from the tent I noticed that Scoutmaster wasn't using the hatchet to chop down the tree.  I could only assume it was still being held tightly from what happened the night before.  But I found out later that his weapon/tool of choice was a machete. (Quick analogy lesson:  Machete is to the knife I had as 50" plasma HDTV is to the screen on my wireless phone.)

The machete was an AWESOME choice but it did bring back some deep rooted fears.  The reason I don't get scared watching scary movies is because my mind can't wrap around the "impossible".  When something just isn't REAL to me I don't get caught up in it (minus fantasy football and sci-fi (no problem believing sci-fi)).  So when I was watching those Friday the 13th hacker/slasher films in the early 80s they didn't bother me.  Even at a young age I knew for a fact that no one was REALLY strong enough to take a machete (Jason Voorhees weapon of choice) and literally dismember someone with one swing.  That just wasn't possible!  And the thought stayed in the realm of impossibility until I watched Scoutmaster chopping this TREE into firewood.  NOW that movie is real to me and I will never be able to watch any of them again.  I will be telling my therapist the same thing in our next session.

This is the day of nature as my title suggests.  And one thing happens when a group of guys are void of women for at least 24 hours is that they start going primal.  It's small at first and grows with each passing day there is no female presence.  It starts with the chopping wood.  Then it goes to the grunting (usually due to aches and pains depending on the age of the camper).  Then it goes to the favorite area among men... the Gas of Passage. (It's kinda like a Rite of Passage only it smells a whole lot worse.)  With that statement it is also noted that women pass gas as well.  I know this for a fact.  But I have never seen women pride themselves on their ability to clear out a room (or campsite) with a single blast.  I have never heard of women naming their flatulence.  I have also never seen a woman go over to another woman (or man for that matter) for the sole purpose of unloading butt bomb on them and then running away to keep from being collateral damage to their own explosion.  I'm guessing that MOST of that (with a few exceptions) is distinctly male.

I don't want to downplay this ritual in any way, though.  Apparently, (unbeknownst to me) it is a highly-celebrated tradition.  It is also one that lasts the ENTIRE day.  At one point I could have sworn two butts in our group were having a full-blown (pun intended) conversation with one another (complete with questions AND exclamations).  I would also like to note that 2 of our butts were silent (mine being one of them).  And it wasn't that my behind didn't want to join in the fun and put its 2 cents in... It was really that mine didn't have much to say.  It would act like it wanted to join the conversation but then change its mind at the last minute.  I found that very disturbing.  I felt like Rudolph not being able to join in any of the reindeer games.  Everyone else was just tooting away (and by everyone else I meant the Scoutmaster and the Rookie) and I was just a brass section outcast.

Part of the reason for my lack of organic, homegrown methane is that I made sure I cleared out my system before we headed down to the campsite.  Why is that, you ask? (I know SOME of you are asking.) That is because the shortest time to get to nearest "bathroom" was 2.5 hours (longer for wireless - even longer for emergency help).  And that is being very generous.  When I was 17, "roughing it" was cool.  Now that I'm in my mid-30s, I don't particularly like the idea of dropping a deuce in the forest.  And it's not that I wouldn't do it, it's just that I didn't want to if I didn't have to.  (After explaining to my wife what you have to do when you use the bathroom in the wilderness (before and after) she has opted out of ANY and ALL camping trips that put us more than 10 minutes from the nearest potty.)  That doesn't sound too manly but I have to draw the line somewhere.

But with all of that (olfactory disintegrating) auditory FUN going on, the morning was really set aside for important things.  We had to setup our clothes on the makeshift clothes line to get the most of the 3 hours of direct sunlight we were going to get.  Our clothes were soaked from the rain on the way down.  We also had to finish getting enough firewood to last a few days.  That took a bulk of the morning.  (Another side note: It was really impressive watching the Scoutmaster and the Rookie cut into (and through) these really large trees with that machete.  The Dr. and I used the hatchet and we weren't nearly as affective as they were with the military issue machete.  But we managed and are better people for it... blisters and all.)

The clothes were on the line drying.  We had plenty of firewood.  It was time to explore the wilderness.

That is where we will begin Part 4 of this 5-Part experience.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - (Part 2.5)

I will be posting the next part of the series soon.  But I wanted to post this so people can get a visual of what I was saying about the hike and camp.  Here is a pic that one of my friends took as we were getting ready to head down the mountain.  I wish I had a pic for size comparison but here is me with my small backpack, skinny #2 pencil walking stick and my trusty (borrowed) knife on my side (for protection against birds and other smaller wildlife).  I might post more pics as I get them.

As you can see I REALLY look like I'm ready for a camp out.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - The Descent (Part 2)

Before I get to the descent down the mountain, there is a little housekeeping that needs to be done.  I was asked this but I didn't realize there was a difference.  In the Rocky Mountains (and probably EVERY other mountain chain) people drive to the base of the mountain and ASCEND the mountain as the first part of their hike.  When they are done, they DESCEND the mountain to get back to their vehicle.  The Smoky Mountains are a little different.  You drive to the top of the mountain.  That's where you will find your trailhead. You then descend the mountain to your campsite (in a valley).  When you are done, you ascend the mountain, get back in your car and then drive back down the mountain.  Weird... I know.  But that's the way it is.  You learn something new every day.

Now back to our regularly scheduled program already in progress...

We crossed the threshold of the trailhead.  So there was no turning back.  The Scoutmaster, The Dr., The Rookie and myself (with my baby backpack and #2 pencil) made our way to our old campsite.  It was going great!  The air was fresh.  The scenery was beautiful.  And the first few hundred feet were filled with excitement and anticipation!  Each step just as I remembered it almost 20 years ago....  Then came the next few hundred feet...  The steps were slower (even though we were going downhill).  The scenery didn't seem quite as important.  Something was different.  The next few hundred feet were the feet of discovery.  I found the "something" that was wrong.  It was sitting out on the trail staring me in the face.  I found the last 15 - 20 years of my life just waiting for me to catch up to it.  And those extra years were really asking me what the hell I was doing hiking down the side of a mountain without any preparation or getting in any kind of shape!  I had no answer.

All I know is that when I was a teen I heard crickets and birds on this trail.  Now, with all of us in our 30s (some farther in than others), the crickets and birds have been replaced with gasps for air, grunts from aching muscles and general uneasiness.  The trail was the same but WE were different.  And I don't know which one of us was a savior.  Some kind, gentle soul made the world a better place with just 2 words... break time!  We all rejoiced.  Unfortunately, you couldn't hear it because we were all out of breath.  But the good news is that before the hike started, I called this hike the 'no pride' hike.  That meant we put our manly egos aside and if someone needed a break we would stop.  No ribbing.  No poking fun.  Besides, when someone called for a break, we ALL needed it whether we admitted it or not.

After about 1/3 of the 4-mile hike (or about 1.32 miles (just guessing because there are no mile markers in the wilderness)) we started to get a rhythm.  We knew how fast to go and how far to go without pushing ourselves.  This trip was looking up.  Then something hit me on the head. At first I thought it was that same stupid bug that had been trying to get into my ear since the beginning of the trip.  (I really, REALLY hated that bug!)  But it wasn't a bug.  It wasn't even an insect at all.  I look up to try and figure out what it is.  Just as I did, another one landing on my glasses... SPLAT!  You've got to be kidding me!  It was a drop of rain.  And it brought ALL of its little friends to play.  GOD was making us earn this man-camp.

This was fine because it completed the Trifecta: The first trip down the mountain was in the snow (I wasn't there for that one).  The next trip was at night (an awesome story (wish I was blogging then)).  This last trip was in the rain.  It wouldn't have been much of a problem if I didn't wear glasses. (I actually wear contacts but the economic downturn meant you prioritize differently.  And contacts didn't make the cut.)  There were times I couldn't see the trail from all of the rain on my lenses, but I managed. As a matter of fact, we didn't lose a single man when I was trail leader.  So I considered it a success.

Another thing that was different on this trip was our memory.  I promise you we passed the same tree/rock/roots combination a thousand times.  This deja vu affect really plays tricks on the aged mind.  It caused one of us (not me) to claim every few hundred feet that we were almost there.  For those who haven't been camping this is the equivalent of the 'are we there yet' syndrome on long trips.  It actually got to the point (spawned by extreme exhaustion) to where I was going to attack if I heard it one more time.  The only thing that kept me from doing so was the fact that I was carrying a #2 pencil and everyone else was carrying a weapon of single destruction.  So I endured the constant torture.  But truth be told, I was thinking the same thing but I wasn't saying it out loud.  Every time I saw the tree/rock/roots combination I thought we were close as well.  But trust me... we weren't.

After 3 hours and 15 minutes we FINALLY made it to our campsite.  It was great.  We hit the trailhead at 4:30 PM and we landed on our campsite at 7:45 PM.  After such an ordeal, civilized people would rest.  They would sit on the ground and thank all that is holy for getting us there safely after everything we had gone through.  But we left civilization 4 miles and a few thousand feet of elevation away.  So the Scoutmaster says we need firewood and shelter.  That was code for 'I'm getting the firewood while you set up our tent.'  We got it and started to work.  He and the Dr. went to cut the firewood and the Rookie and I set up the tent.

This wasn't a huge deal.  I was happy to set up the tent.  I had done this before.  It was getting dark at the site and we needed to play to our strengths.  So they got the wood and we set up the tent.  They did an awesome job!  They got some great firewood.  Within 30 minutes we had a HUGE fire that was keeping us warm.  The  tent, on the other hand, was a different story.  The Rookie and I were working on a time frame.  The sun was going down so the clock was running.  We set that tent up in record time.  We were proud!  That was until we tried to get into the tent.  That's when we noticed it was facing the wrong way.  The fire was pleasantly warming up the back side of the tent.  Luckily, the tent manufacturers had US in mind when they were making the tent.  They knew that one day some idiots would set the tent up backwards and need to move it around.  So it was lite and easy to move... with 4 people.

We got the tent turned around the right way.  We got the fire going.  We changed out of our wet clothes.  The only thing left was to go to bed.  I know that's one thing I can definitely do.  So we picked our spots in the tent.  I was the second one to pick but I was LAST in the order that counted.  I picked the worst spot in the tent because there was root in my back (or side depending on how I slept).  I didn't complain because I'm not a complainer (in spite of what you are reading in my blog).  I just assumed that everyone else was sleeping on a root too because we were in the wilderness... the home of back roots.  The odd thing, though, is that there wasn't a tree for at least 15 ft.  What's the ROOT doing there to begin with?!?

The root and I finally came to an understanding.  We came to an agreement to live in the same space at the same time.  I knew it was going to be tough but that was the plan.  And the plan worked until a variable changed.  We had been trying to go to sleep in our isolated campsite for about an hour when I saw lights.  I'm not sure how many lights but there were definitely lights.  I decided to keep my mouth shut and see if I could determine what was going on.  We were in a campsite 4 miles from the nearest trailhead.  It had been dark for at least an hour and a half.  So why are there lights???

I was going to keep this quiet until I could tell what was going on but the crew was not as asleep as I thought they were.  Apparently, the Dr. was just as awake as I was.  The last time we came to this site we saw 5 people in 4 days... and NONE of them traveled the trail at night.  So this was pretty crazy.  So the next few minutes sounded like this...

Dr.: What is that?
Scoutmaster: What is what? (obviously just getting to sleep)
Dr.: What is that light?
Scoutmaster: It's just the campfire.
Dr.: That's not a campfire! (I agreed because I was facing the light and the campfire was behind me.)
Scoutmaster:  You are right.  Shhhhhhh....

At that point we all prepared for something moving toward us in the night.  I have to admit it was very exciting! There was a light coming toward us and it was something I was not prepared for.  We knew there was a chance for bears but not bears with flash lights.  So this was elevated into something serious (especially since the last time we came to this site we only saw 5 people in 4 days.)  Someone was making a midnight run into our camp.  What do we do next?

Here's the part where I wish I had a night-vision video camera.  It would have been a perfect scene for a movie.  We were all prepared for an impending confrontation and that's where the funny comes in.  The  camera would have panned to the Scoutmaster and would have seen him on one knee with his gun (completely licensed to carry (even in a National Park)) waiting on the intruder at the entrance of the tent.  The Rookie had his handgun in the same position waiting to backup the Scoutmaster.  The Dr. would not be outdone so he had his hatchet (capable of severing a limb with one swing) in the ready position in case someone tried to invade the tent.  And what did I have (just in case)... I had a baby knife.  Yeah... the small theme continued.  I had this baby knife waiting just in case the 2 handguns and a hatchet failed!  If there had been a camera here this would have been a funny sight to see. (Spuds would have been proud!)

Luckily for him (and us) the person was a good guy just getting a late start on his fishing outing.  So all was well.  But that didn't sit well with the rest of us who thought the campsite was going to be empty like it was almost 20 years ago.  We now had to share this site with someone.  And at least 2 of us wouldn't sleep because of it. The other 2 (with the guns) slept very well.  I know this because their snoring proved they didn't fear anything.  I just found it hard to sleep with a root in my back when there is a stranger in the midst.

Oh, well... I decided to TRY to sleep and worry about this the next day.

This looks like a good place to start Part 3.  Good night (or morning/noon/night depending on when you are reading this).  Come back for part 3 of the Man-Camp 2010 adventure.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Man-Camp 2010 - The Genesis (Part 1)

This past weekend, my friends and I restarted a tradition we had back in high school.  We decided to go back to our old camping spot in the Smoky Mountains.  We never really pinpointed the last time we made this trip but I would beg to say it was between 15 and 20 years ago.  And if I didn't learn anything else about the trip, I DID learn that a LOT has changed in 15 years.

First off, I'm not a seasoned camper.  When it comes to camping I'm about as comfortable as President Obama being the keynote speaker at a Tea Party Rally.  I'm also about as experienced as Sarah Palin is with foreign policy.  So you can see there are a few challenges.  But I'm very resourceful when I need to be and I have a lot of fun just hanging out with my friends.  So camping is a fun getaway.

Of course, being a guy, I waited until the last possible minute to pack.  I mean, we had only been planning this trip for 7 months.  But also being a guy, I didn't have much to pack.  I got everything I would need for this little trip ready in less than a hour.  I didn't have an actual hiking backpack because my friend was bringing one for me.  So I put everything in a laptop backpack (see... resourceful).  I said goodbye to the wife and kids and I was on my merry way.

It didn't take long for the first thing to happen that made me question the trip.  I got onto the interstate and start heading toward the Smoky Mountains.  I happen to look at my directional gauge and it was saying W.  Now, I wasn't GREAT at Geology but I do know my West from my East.  The mountains are in the east (from where I live) and I am traveling toward the sun (which is rising).  I guess that's another thing to add to the list of things to get fixed.  I'm not sure where that ranks with the Anti-Lock Brakes probably gone as well as the driver's side airbag but I would bet it's pretty low.  I have almost made a game out of it.  I want to see if I can get ALL of the warning lights on my dashboard to light up at the same time.  That may take some planning but I believe I can do it.

It's a pretty long trip so the night before I gathered some music.  I found some old CDs (even though using old and CDs seems rather redundant now) that I listened to years ago.  I have an odd variety in my taste of music I listen to from Hip Hop to Country to Rock to Pop to RnB (sometimes hard rock (borderline metal) and Celtic).... the list just goes on.  So these CDs are a hodgepodge (another word that I didn't realize was a real word) of junk I put together to listen to.  And, of course, it's all OLD music because I haven't burned a music CDs in years.  But I found 3 disks of music that kept my loud off-key singing company on this journey.

(I'm actually going to post a little mini-contest on this site to see who can guess the songs on the travel  CDs I was listening to.  I will give the artist and you guess the song.  After a while I will narrow the field down but adding the year the song was written.  Then if people still can't get it I will add the album it came from.)

After about 5 total hours of loud singing and travel (from Knoxville to Gatlinburg the traffic was evil) I met up with my friends and we got ready to descend down the side of the "baby" mountains.  My wife thinks they shouldn't even be called mountains because she lived next to the Rocky Mountains and the Smokys are over a mountain shorter than her precious Rockys.  My thing is they meet the minimum requirements for being called a mountain.  So no matter how SMALL something is, it still gets to keep the name by definition.  (And that goes for EVERYTHING.  It may be small but it should still be called what it is called... and not "funny" little nicknames. The little nicknames are not funny... ever!)

Speaking of small... My friend (who shall be named Scoutmaster) brought my backpack.  And I'm not going to complain too much because he purchased it.  So I wasn't picky.  But he pulls out his backpack.  It was a nice respectable, MANLY backpack.  It looks like he could pack his clothes, food, first aid kit, his wife, his kids and his truck in that thing.  The next person on this trip will be called the Dr.  His backpack wasn't as big as Scoutmasters but it was still impressive.  It was a NEW backpack so it was spacious and made of some of the newer high-tech material.  It was very nice.  The 3rd member of the crew will be called the Rookie because this was is first multi-day hike and camp.  But even HIS backpack was a larger one.

So Scoutmaster brings me my backpack.  And as I stated before, it was still called a backpack... by definition.  I looks like I could store a toothbrush and a Dora the Explorer doll... that's it.  (Good thing I left my Dora the Explorer doll at home.  It was a hard decision but it looks like a wise one!)  Again, I'm not complaining.  The way I saw it was a smaller pack is a lighter pack. Umm... I was wrong about that one too.  Apparently, I was the one designated to carry the lead (as in the heavy metal, Pb, on the periodic table) reserves to the campsite.  Because everyone knows you can't have a successful outing without ample supplies of lead.  I moved the lead around and was able to take my items out of my laptop backpack and place them into the backpack (thankfully) provided for me.

NOW, it's time for our hike to begin.  That was until the Scoutmaster asked, "Does everyone have their walking stick?" Silly me!  I didn't get a walking stick.  But a good Scoutmaster always has backups.  His walking stick was a LOG!  It was awesome.  It looked like something straight out of Lord of the Rings (even having metal bands around the top and bottom).  The Dr.'s walking stick wasn't as aged or as natural of a make as the Scoutmaster's but it was still very impressive.  It was a finely craft smooth chunk of wood with a thin piece of rope tightly wrapped around the top like spiral staircase covering the top 6 - 8 inches of the stick.  Just like the Scoutmaster's, this walking stick could be used as a walking stick or a weapon if a bear decided it was tired of talking politics and wanted to talk about cuisine.  The same could be said of the Rookie's walking stick.

But since I didn't bring one, I was at the mercy of the "what's left" pile.  And just like to kids who is always picked last in kickball, I was presented with my "what's left" options.  I had 2 choices.  I had the choice of a walking stick that resembled a mechanical pencil and one that looked like a #2 pencil.  And since this was all feeling like a test to me, I chose the #2 pencil.  I guess I shouldn't call it a pencil because by DEFINITION it met the minimum requirements for a walking stick.  I could use this as a walking stick or as a weapon if a squirrel wanted to jump up to me to impress his girlfriend.  With this stick (which I'm grateful to have) the squirrel would be toast! (That theory was never tested but I feel pretty confident of the outcome... I think.)

Now that all of that was out of the way, we decided to head down to the belly of the "baby" BEAST of a mountain. As the Scoutmaster took point I couldn't help but think in my head "One ring to rule them all!"  Unfortunately for this analogy that makes me a hobbit.  Even worse, I'm not even Frodo... I'm Sam.  But hey, there has to be some benefits to being a hobbit that's over 6ft tall.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.