Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holidays!

Overcome by Christmas cards and gift-wrapping, there wasn't anything for me to write about since my last post.

I hope your holidays were joyful and that the New Year is safe.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Dallas Opera: "Die Fledermaus"

There was only one skunk on the road to Dallas this past Sunday and the portent held true. There were no ringing or vibrating cell phones, no watch alarms, and no out-of-place applause. The only skunk in the audience was the woman next to me wearing perfume.

Fortunately, there were large blocks of empty seats in the upper balcony making it easy for me to move up and avoid having another allergic reaction to her otherwise pleasant fragrance.

I moved to an empty lower row of only three seats and settled in to having a good time with this comic operetta by Johann Strauss II.

Although the first act is filled with chuckles from the interplay of the characters which was easy to follow because the performance was in English, I was nearly overcome by yawns and general boredom. The only bright spots were the voices of Chad Shelton, playing Alfred, and Ava Pine, playing Adele, who turned out to be the star of the show both in voice and in acting.

To be fair, Ana Maria Martinez, playing the part of Rosalinde, was recovering from the flu. Knowing this only makes me wonder how much better she might have been if she had been in full health. On the other hand, Miss Pine was recovering from a sinus condition.

Since many of the singers, excluding Pine, Shelton, and later Grant Neale, weren't easily projecting their voices over the orchestra or filling the hall with their voices, it made me consider that the smaller capacity of the new Winspear Opera House with its 2200 - 2300 seats, compared to the 3400 seats of the Fair Park Music Hall, would aid weaker voices. In any case, a voice like Pine's will be sure to knock our socks off in the smaller venue.

Happily, the pace picked up in the second act and the production improved through to the end of Act III. Neale, as Frosch, the jailer, was in fine voice and left me in stitches with his pratfalls and complaints about opera and Alfred's singing. Indeed, I'd be lying if I didn't admit how well Shelton sang and portrayed Alfred despite Frosch's complaints.

The only character I found disconcerting was Prince Orlofsky, played by Marianna Kulikova. I don't know if it was her somewhat erratic voice which got stronger as she went on or her makeup or the sight of the side of her right breast bulging through the side of her uniform. There were too many lopsided features for me to ignore in order to catch the laughs. Was she a woman playing a man as a trouser role suggests? Or was she a woman playing a man playing a woman in drag as a man?

Overall, it turned out to be a gentle and pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon, not an expensive nap as I feared it would become during Act I, although it wasn't worth the 4-1/2 hour drive except for Ava Pine's performance.

If this production is any indication, we need to keep an eye on Ava Pine because she might be going places.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008

There it is. I participated. I met the challenge head on and won. I can't say that I'm proud of it, though, because it was a lot of painful work for a negligible reward. It feels like a hollow victory.

I'm not talking about the web badge or PDF certificate I was awarded. They're kewl and I'm glad to have them.

What I mean is that NaNoWriMo isn't for everyone.

The intent of NaNo is to enable a writer to produce a novel's first draft in only 30 days instead of the six months or longer that it usually takes. It is particularly effective for writers who can't quell their inner editors long enough to finish a first draft.

Unfortunately, as in other aspects of life, one size does not fit all. NaNo isn't suitable for every writer; I suspect especially those who don't tend to do a lot of rewriting. In case you're wondering, writers fall somewhere along a line that ranges across three basic categories: from writers to editors to revisionists.

For example, Lee Child writes a first draft and that's the only draft he does.

In "James A. Michener's Writer's Handbook: Explorations in Writing and Publishing," Michener described himself as being not a good writer, but a great editor.

At the opposite end of the range from Lee Child are writers like Louise Ure who describes herself as a revisionist who changes everything that's in her first draft. Everything!

Because I tend more to Lee Child's end than I do to Louise Ure's end of the range, being a polisher and tweaker instead of a rewriter or revisionist, I am still dismayed at the huge amount of untenable crap that was the result of my participation in NaNo. Sure, I won, but what I got from it was merely the length of a novel. It wasn't a first draft as far as I'm concerned. From the 344 manuscript pages that resulted from my NaNo efforts, I've been deleting everything I have to rewrite from scratch. As of this posting, only 55 pages remain.

That's a serious load of crap, isn't it? I'm not concerned about the actual rewriting because I have all my preparatory material. I'm annoyed only about the waste of time.

The reason for this is because the pressure of the short deadline and the advice given by Chris Baty and other experienced NaNo writers influenced me to cast everything I learned from Mary McClure to the wind. In addition to being a mentor to journalists, Mary encourages all writers and has an excellent sense for what works. It's not that Baty et al give bad advice, either, only that it doesn't always work for everyone.

So there I was, halfway through November, suddenly aware that extremely little of what I was writing could remain. It's not that the story is bad. It's because the writing was truly awful; I haven't seen my writing that bad before - ever. Not even in junior high school. By striving for the quantity that NaNo demands, I wasted nearly a month's worth of writing time that would have been put to better use producing pages that I wouldn't have to delete at the end of the challenge so I can rewrite them.

I would have given up and quit at that point of unhappy discovery, but I decided to see it through. After all, I had dedicated November to NaNoWriMo and I didn't have anything else to do on the spur of the moment. I did, however, quit as soon as I came to a natural stopping point after passing the 50K word goal even though there were more days left that I could have used to write more. I just didn't want to have to rewrite any more than I did already and I'm not enough of an adrenalin junkie to want the intensity of NaNo writing to last longer than necessary.

It really is an accomplishment to come out of NaNo as a winner. I only wish that what I got out of it was more like other first drafts I've done.

The bottom line is that while I have a winner's badge, the real prize for me is a workable draft. That is, a draft that I can actually work on, not one that I have to delete and rewrite.

Maybe if I was a revisionist, I'd be a happy camper. Instead, I suffered the insanity of NaNoWriMo and have only 12,000 words to show for it despite being a winner. I could have had that anyway if I hadn't been honor-bound to not start writing before November 1. NaNoWriMo simply isn't my cup of tea.

Will it work for you? Here are some things to consider. If you:

1. Are a procrastinator

2. Can't stifle your internal editor long enough to finish a first draft

3. Typically do heavy editing, rewriting, or revising

NaNoWriMo is likely to work out very well for you.

If you're a procrastinator who doesn't like to rewrite, all I can suggest is that you either set your butt down and write on your own volition, or bite the bullet, do NaNo, and rewrite whatever results.

To be a NaNo winner, I offer the following tips:

1. Dedicate enough time to churn out an average of 1,667 words per day for 30 days in a row. Get a haircut, do all the laundry, buy groceries, warn your family and friends that you won't be available, get an answering machine or turn off your phone, put a "Do Not Disturb" sign on your door, have your spouse pay all the bills or pay all you can afford on October 31 and delay as many as you can until December 1.

2. Persuade someone to prepare your meals or stock up on sandwich fixings, cereal, Ramen, and other quick foods like Knorr Rice Sides and Sides Plus to which you can add a drained 8 oz. can of vegetables and a drained, two-serving can of meat like chicken, ham, or sliced Vienna sausages after preparation according to package directions. That will give you a one-pot meal that serves two. If you're single, refrigerate the second serving and reheat it later for another meal. (For easy cleaning, fill the pot with hot water and a few drops of detergent as soon as it's empty, and let it soak while you go back to writing. It'll be easy to clean after a few hours.) During NaNo, I had an unusual craving for milk and grapes. Since protein and fruit are synergistic, I wasn't concerned, only noticed that the combination and quantities were unusual for me.

3. Plan your story as much as possible. The more you know about your characters and plot, the less you'll get stuck. Free-flow writing works, but if you get writer's block, having an outline or a stack of notes at hand will help you get back to writing. If it isn't cohesive, don't worry about it. Write on. Fix later.

4. If you don't have names for your characters before Nov. 1, don't get hung up on inventing them during NaNo. Simply call them something, anything, consistently all the way through. That way, you can go back after you determine a name and do a Find and Replace All if you're using Word or the equivalent in other word processors. Then, you can tweak the names according to how other characters address them during a regular editing pass. I used occupations such as POLICE CAPTAIN, WAITRESS, character types such as VILLAIN and VICTIM, and physical characteristics such as BLONDE when I didn't want to waste time thinking up a name.

That's all I can think of at this time. If you have other tips that helped you become a NaNo winner, please post them in Comments.

Happy Writing!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Dallas Opera: "The Marriage of Figaro"

I should have known by the five dead skunks I saw during my drive to Dallas, plus the two that I didn't, how the Sunday matinee performance of "The Marriage of Figaro" was going to be.

The opera is one of my favorites. Humor and wit abound along with the cleverness of Mozart's music. Like the road to Dallas, this production was thoroughly enjoyable and the best I've ever seen for this opera. The laughs were elicited from us by sight gags as well as by vocal phrasing and the performers' timing was impeccable. For example, Keith Jameson, who played Don Curzio, the magistrate, stuttered musically and majestically; we couldn't help bursting out with laughter and love how his stuttering was echoed by the other singers which enticed even more laughter from us. It wasn't just the laughs, either. Susanna Phillips, who portrayed the Countess Almaviva, sang so beautifully that I wanted her arias to last longer and wished we could shout, "Encore!" at the final curtain and get her to sing one again.

However, as excellent as it was, I am almost sorry that I went and I deeply regret buying season tickets; I am that disgusted. It wasn't the horribly uncomfortable seat that will hopefully be corrected with the move to the new Winspear Opera House next season or that I was perspiring until the third act when someone finally got smart enough to turn on the air conditioner.

The skunks were in the audience.

Every other opera I've attended in other cities, when the house lights go down, the audience settles in anticipation. In Dallas, chatter speeds up and doesn't finish until AFTER the music is started...except for the past-their-prime women sitting near me who started talking well into the act while the performers were singing. I couldn't give them the evil eye because they were in my row and wouldn't have been able to see me. I couldn't shush them without creating another disturbance. The only things I could do were pray for them to shut up already and wish my arm was long enough to reach over and head-slap the pair of them.

In addition to the talking were the cell phones. Not only did I hear a cell phone playing a tune that was discordant to the music being played by the orchestra, I heard the bzz-bzz-bzzz of a vibrating phone, and the ting-ting-tinging of a watch alarm. Which part of "Please turn off your cell phones" couldn't the morons understand?

Another skunk was the perfume. Ladies, when you're going to be sitting for hours, shoulder-to-shoulder with others, PLEASE DO NOT WEAR PERFUME OR ANY OTHER TYPE OF FRAGRANCE. All you need is the effective use of bath soap. For those of us who are allergic to fragrance, the watering eyes and congested sinuses are agony. For those of us who think your favorite fragrance stinks, it's misery. How would you like to spend three and a half hours sitting within five feet of a skunk? If you think I'm the only person who thinks this way, there were women in line at the ladies room who I overheard complaining about someone wearing perfume who was sitting near them, too.

Another thing, especially if you were among the group of idiots sitting in the right balcony and clapping when no one else was, here's a clue:

The superscription above the stage means that someone is singing or is about to sing and that you should be quiet and listen. It is NOT a signal for you to start clapping with all your might to drown out the singer's voice as well as the harpsichord being played by the conductor, Graeme Jenkins.

Since the Dallas Opera was founded in 1957, one would think there's been enough time for its audience to learn how to behave. Certainly, cell phones have been out long enough for people to have grasped general etiquette by now and turn off their cell phones in libraries, churches, theaters, AND AT THE OPERA. The mere fact that the performers are singing without microphones gives normal, respectful audiences the motivation to help them be heard by everyone by being quiet, but no, Dallas, you are too rude, crude, and socially unacceptable to exhibit the minimum in common courtesy or to have any degree of couth.

Dallas, it's time for you to grow up and start behaving yourself. I'm giving you the rest of the 2008-2009 season to prove yourself capable of not ruining another opera only because I already have tickets. Yes, I have thought about trying to get a refund or sell my tickets on eBay, but I really want to see the operas. After that, we'll see. There's also opera in Tulsa and Fort Worth's Bass Hall is too fabulous for me to waste nine hours of driving time plus the cost of gas and the ticket only to endure your atrocious behavior no matter how stellar the performance.

In the meantime, I'm telling everyone to stay away from you.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Review: Kaweco Sport Eyedropper Ink Roller


Length capped: 4-1/8 inches
Length uncapped: 4 inches
Length posted: 5.25 inches
Diameter: 3/8 inch at the grip
Weight, filled as an ED pen: 0.39 oz
Weight with optional Monteverde mini converter: 0.325 oz
Ink capacity using a Monteverde mini converter: .45 ml
Ink capacity using a short standard international cartridge: .5 ml
Ink capacity as an ED fill: 2.5 ml
Optional clip
Optional pen case holds two Kaweco pens.

Using this pen since April, the Kaweco Sport ink roller remains one of my favorites.

I bought the red Ice which is an attractive, compact pen that fits neatly into a pocket. It's a true red that's not at all orangey. The pen, sold by Swisher Pens, was modified by Nathan Tardif to be filled by an eyedropper and it still accepts a short international standard cartridge or a Monteverde mini converter. I really enjoy viewing the ink in the transparent barrel. I usually write with caps unposted, but this feels better, and is comfortable, with the cap posted.

The ink cartridge that came with the Kaweco lays a bright, attractive blue line that is too broad (.6mm) to suit me. Writing with Montblanc Sepia brought the line width down to .4mm and Noodler's waterproof black brings it closer to .5mm. Very nice.

The Kaweco with the provided ink doesn't write as smoothly as my fine Parker rollerball and requires a bit more pressure with any ink I've tried, but being able to use my fountain pen inks and have different colors makes up for any lack of smoothness.

The best part is that I can write checks that have the carbonless copy using the fraudproof Noodler's bulletproof inks without caring if I'm pressing hard enough for the copy and still writing lightly enough to avoid warping the nib of a fountain pen.

For those who want the fluidity, variety of colors, and earth-friendliness afforded by fountain pen inks but who don't want a fountain pen, I recommend the Kaweco ink roller, especially the eyedropper pens sold by Swisher Pens because of the convenience of the larger ink capacity.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

A Reminder

Now that the elections are over, many are deeply disappointed or maybe even angry that their candidates lost while others are elated that their candidates won.

This reminder is for us Christians because whoever our leaders are, whether we agree with them or not, we are called to pray for them and all others in positions of authority:

1 Timothy 2:
1. I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
2. For kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.
3. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour;
4. Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.

That's what it was all about, wasn't it? Didn't we vote the way that we did because we want quiet and peaceable lives and thought the candidates for whom we voted had the better ideas for our getting them? Or maybe we voted the way that we did because we're so soft and desperate to reach the pie in the sky that we have to have the easy way out no matter what it costs us over the long term.

Personally, I'm not so sure about the godliness and honesty part because I know enough "Christians" who don't read their Bibles, preferring to follow the popular speaker of the year who usually says what sounds good, perverting the message of the Bible. They're not godly or honest because they don't want to take responsibility for what they believe. They're not real Christians because the word "Christian" means "a follower of Christ" (Acts 11:26). However, it's possible that they're baby Christians who simply don't know any better. For the others who aren't newly born-again, since listening to false leaders is a lot easier, that's what they do. They let the deceivers mute their consciousnesses and feed their greediness for personal gain instead of heeding good leaders who encourage us to pray and know the Word for ourselves, as Christ did, as they do themselves.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

For Geocachers - My Car is a Travel Bug

A few days ago, I got and activated a static-cling Travel Bug window sticker for my car.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about, geocaching is a great reason to get off the computer and go have fun outside. It's treasure hunting for individuals and families alike. It's for everybody with skill levels ranging from the wheel-chair bound to athletic hikers. Typically, you need a computer to get the coordinates from whichever website(s) you choose to patronize and a GPS receiver to guide you to the spot unless you know how to map coordinates the old-fashioned way. For most caches, the rule is that if you take something, you need to leave something of equal or greater value so there's something for the next treasure hunter to find. Many urban caches are too small to hold much more than paper and a pencil for you to log that you found the cache so you may not require additional supplies or equipment, but those who venture away from urban settings are advised to take the Ten Essential Systems, including a compass and map, like any other hiker should.

Travel Bugs are a little different from the usual treasure because the geocacher doesn't keep them, but moves them from one cache to another to fulfill the goal set by the owner. However, a vehicle Travel Bug doesn't require you to buy a GPSr or know how to map coordinates because it doesn't wait for someone to pick it up from a cache and move it to another. It is already out and about waiting for someone to only catch sight of it. If you spot a vehicle with a Travel Bug sticker, all you have to do is write down the tracking number that's under the bug symbol, go to, enter the tracking number in the box provided and click "Track" so you're taken to the proper page, click "Found this item?" and log in to record your discovery.

For further information, please feel free to check out Getting Started, Resources, the Travel Bugs pages on the Trackable Items link, and other pages at

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Playing With Water

I might be getting older.

Several months ago, I had the hankering to buy a few children's watercoloring books to revisit my childhood. Back then, I was never able to color inside the lines and painting was about the same but more enjoyable. I enjoyed swishing the brush around in a glass of water and swirling it in the pan of paint. That was the main activity. I don't recall how my pictures turned out or if any were ever completed. None of them ever made it to the front of the refrigerator.

In my second childhood, I'm learning that paper wrinkles up from too much water and that the depth of color varies by how it's applied as well as how much is on the brush. During a visit to Hobby Lobby to buy a dip pen to try with a new fountain pen ink I have, I saw that artist's supplies were on sale 25-50% off. Thinking that this is an activity I might continue, I bought a couple of instruction books, a set of watercolor paints in tubes, a small palette that folds in half and latches closed, a watercolor pencil kit with instructions for beginners, and a set of brushes.

Most of my time since has been spent reading the books and painting a couple of pictures from the children's books using a couple of techniques I learned from the instructional books. I don't expect to become a great artist, but hopefully, I'll be able to put a motif on my pearl white Crane's stationery to personalize it such as a small sailboat or a tornado or a cactus. Dabbing color in the impressionist style would serve nicely, I think, as a cactus flower. Anyway, it's a goal.

The truth of the matter is that I like to play with water.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My Space on MySpace

I neglected last week's post to set up an account at MySpace. It's not as user-friendly as Facebook because your age and location and other personal information WILL be displayed whether you want it to be or not unless you know CSS or spend time searching for CSS code to hide the information. As a result, I invoked a woman's right to be perennially 29 years old.

There's not much there, right now, but you're invited to visit my space at:

I'm planning to use the blog there differently than I do here, perhaps for status reports on writing projects and such.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Financial Bailout

Watching CNN earlier today, I saw part of the discussion and the following vote that was taken that approved the bailout of the financial sector. The emails read by the CNN commentators were overwhelmingly against the bailout and CNN was prompt to present Congressional views that while they didn't like the bailout, either, it was that or something worse down the road.

Basically, I agree with those who oppose the bailout. To those who bought homes when the market was high, I ask, "What were you thinking?!" Only people with money to burn can afford to buy without waiting for a sale. Everybody else has to stay where they are or rent until the housing market swings downward. Those who didn't wait, got that for which they signed up. We don't need to bail them out from their lack of patience.

Those who got loans without knowing exactly what their future payments were going to be were just plain stupid. They may have thought they'd never hand a signed blank check to a stranger, but that's essentially what they did by taking out loans that have future payments that are adjustable. Why they never considered that their future payments could be too much for them to pay, I have no idea. I don't believe the rest of us should bail them out because doing so would interfere with their education. There's no better cure for stupidity than going through the school of hard knocks.

The money lenders who gave those loans are loan sharks and crooks. They don't need to be bailed out, either.

Overall, the situation is that of predators gobbling up the prey. The law of the jungle. The survival of the fittest. I wish it was a situation of the greedy being hoisted by their own petard.

So, why are we bailing them out?

Supposedly, it's because the ever-expanding ripples eventually touch everyone and everything in the pond. It's so the good, financially responsible citizens who form the backbone of America may continue to function. It's disturbing that those who haven't contributed to or participated in the problem have to bear the burden of the solution that may turn out to be nothing more than a quick, stick-on bandage.

What makes me angry, though, are people like Karen Trainer and her husband who simply walk away from the contractual obligations to which they committed themselves voluntarily:

"As a successful professional, Karen could comfortably have managed the higher mortgage payments her bank demanded.

Instead, she decided to stop her mortgage payments altogether and let her bank repossess her apartment.

Her credit record will be badly damaged by the decision, but Ms Trainer expects this to recover soon.

'Generally speaking, within 5 years you are about back where you were, so my husband and I decided we'll take the hit and live with it.'"

It's shameful that Trainer and the others who bought when the market was high and were able to make their loan payments are too avaricious or too short-sighted to see that their depreciated home values would eventually recover at the next up-swing of the market's cycle. All they had to do was wait it out instead of walking away from obligations that they were well able to meet.

As with bankruptcy laws, I would like to have changes instituted that will deter people of low moral fiber like Karen Trainer from taking advantage of the system and leaving the rest of us to clean up their mess.

My two cents.

Psalms 37:21a. The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again...

Sunday, September 28, 2008

What School Failed to Teach Me

My friend, Rox, forwarded an email yesterday that horrified me:

"WHY WOMEN SHOULD VOTE. This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; they lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote. The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden's blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of 'obstructing sidewalk traffic.'

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air.

They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cellmate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack.

Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women. Thus unfolded the 'Night of Terror' on Nov. 15, 1917, when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson's White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women's only water came from an open pail. Their food--all of it colorless slop--was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press...

So, refresh my memory. Some women won't vote this year because -- why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn't matter? It's raining?"

Snopes rates the email's status as "True" and gives further details.

Do you see why I'm horrified? The only thing I learned in school about the suffragists is that they marched and picketed for women to have the right to vote, an undertaking that's seemingly mild enough. At no time was the huge battle for reform turning ugly even suggested although we learned about wars and riots and civil rights demonstrations and assassinations. It's okay for us to learn that men are violent toward other men, but it's not okay for us to learn that men are also violent toward women who are typically physically weaker. What a rude awakening it is when we discover the truth!

I had to spend a little more time at Wikipedia looking into it.

"Clift recounts that the force feeding of Lucy Burns required 'five people to hold her down, and when she refused to open her mouth, they shoved the feeding tube up her nostril.'"

"In protest of the conditions in Occoquan, [Alice] Paul commenced a hunger strike. This led to her being moved to the prison's psychiatric ward and force-fed raw eggs through a plastic tube. Other women joined the strike, which combined with the continuing demonstrations and attendant press coverage, kept the pressure on the Wilson administration."

Djuna Barnes, a journalist, voluntarily submitted to force-feeding to be able to write about what the suffragists were experiencing. From her article, "How It Feels To Be Forcibly Fed," that was first published in "The World Magazine" on September 6, 1914:

"If I, playacting, felt my being burning with revolt at this brutal usurpation of my own functions, how they who actually suffered the ordeal in its acutest horror must have flamed at the violation of the sanctuaries of their spirits."

Force-feeding is described as feeling like being raped and while hospitals use small tubes, prisons use large tubes that are painful for the prisoner and are more difficult to swallow or push down. In the UK, suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst was held down so a steel gag could be used to force her mouth open which made her gums bleed. Eventually, in 1975, the World Medical Association prohibited the procedure being performed on prisoners "capable of forming an unimpaired and rational judgment."

Indeed, the third definition of "rape" at Merriam Webster says it's "an outrageous violation."

What an abuse of power the warden displayed by ordering the guards to "teach a lesson to the suffragists." How could the guards so viciously attack defenseless women for doing nothing worse than carrying signs?

What a slimeball President Woodrow Wilson was, evidently operating under the principle of "If you can't beat them, join them."

This is really disturbing, that American men would do these things to their own countrywomen. That they did it only a little over 90 years ago and that it isn't taught as part of American history shows how chauvinistic men in this country have been and still are, serving to prove that all women need to have and exercise the power of the vote.

What's even more disturbing is that so many American women today take the right to vote too lightly to exercise their right once every two years or, for Presidential elections, once every four years. That isn't so often that the time it takes to cast a ballot can possibly be an intolerable burden and two years is surely enough lead time to plan to go to the polls.

Please don't let the beatings and other abuse that our foremothers endured be in vain. Select your candidates and on Election Day, GO VOTE!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Conspiracy Theory

As already presented in "Are You Prepared?", September is National Preparedness Month.

That's why I suspect there's a conspiracy. First, the government designates the month. Second, as if to reinforce the designation, Hurricane Gustav motivates the evacuation of New Orleans. Next, Hurricane Ike confirms the necessity of our being prepared, not only by blowing about and flooding the mostly evacuated Galveston Island and Houston areas, but by flooding, adding to existing floods, and by putting out the lights as far north as the state of New York.

To add insult to injury, two disaster movies, "Daylight" and "Apocalypse 10.5" were shown on Monday on the USA network with the terrorist movie, "Live Free or Die Hard," playing on HBO last week and this.

Do you see what I mean? The government, nature, and TV are in cahoots.

There's also the issue of the bad guy in "Live Free or Die Hard." Am I the only one who's noticed his resemblance to Ryan Seacrest?

Do you think the film makers did that on purpose?

No, I don't really believe there's a conspiracy. The best I can do to link them together is say that they're coincidences. However, I've long held the belief that there's no such thing as a mere coincidence. Coincidences are God's way of allowing us to see Him at work.

Job 37: 6. For he saith to the snow, Be thou on the earth; likewise to the small rain, and to the great rain of his strength. 7. He sealeth up the hand of every man; that all men may know his work. 8. Then the beasts go into dens, and remain in their places. 9. Out of the south cometh the whirlwind: and cold out of the north. 10. By the breath of God frost is given: and the breadth of the waters is straitened. 11. Also by watering he wearieth the thick cloud: he scattereth his bright cloud: 12. And it is turned round about by his counsels: that they may do whatsoever he commandeth them upon the face of the world in the earth. 13. He causeth it to come, whether for correction, or for his land, or for mercy. Proverbs 6: 6. Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7. Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8. Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. 9. How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep? 10. Yet a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep: 11. So shall thy poverty come as one that travelleth, and thy want as an armed man.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

In Memory and in Honor

Above all other days, today especially is the day to remember and honor all who died or were injured because of the attacks on September 11, 2001. Please pray for the families and friends who still suffer from the loss of their loved ones as well as for the survivors.

Please remember in prayer and honor, also, those who continue to fight for cherished freedom everywhere.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Are You Prepared?

This is the fifth annual National Preparedness Month.

With summer behind us, and before we get caught up with the holiday season, it's a good time for us to check and see if we're prepared for the effects of inclement weather. Are you prepared to spend a week or two without gas, electricity, or potable running water?

Hopefully, most people will never have to cope with events such as 9/11, Katrina or Gustav, flooding, tornadoes, or wildfires that require evacuation, but winter storms and other hurricanes have negatively impacted many people each year. Plus, there are other situations, such as traffic mishaps, for which you should be prepared. For example, if you were in Minnesota driving on I-35 West when a portion fell into the Mississippi River as occurred on August 1, 2007, would you have been able to free yourself and help free others trapped in their vehicles?

I know that at least one friend keeps water on hand at home in case of another boil notice so she doesn't have to rush to the store like everybody else and risk the store selling out, but what about the rest of the supplies we might need?

Back when fear of the Y2K bug was running rampant and the talk at work was about how badly we thought it would impact us, if anything happened at all, one co-worker said he wasn't concerned because he already had a closet dedicated to five days worth of goods for his family of seven just because we live in Tornado Alley. He said that every other month, they buy new cans of food for the closet and the older cans are moved to the kitchen pantry to be used for daily meals. That way, their emergency stash of food is always fresh and the money spent to set it up is never lost from their never having to use it. It motivated me to keep a supply of water on hand, but that was the extent.

In late 2006, when the Pineapple Express hit the Pacific Northwest, those who are campers and backpackers felt pretty smug because all they had to do was set up camp in their homes. The effect of the bad weather was more of an adventure than an emergency situation or inconvenience because they already had sleeping bags for warmth, camp stoves and fuel for hot meals, water purification methods for clean water, and flashlights, headlamps, and/or lanterns for light as well as enough food and water.

Those who had a day pack with the Ten Essential Systems in their vehicles ready for spur-of-the-moment hiking trips were prepared to survive in their vehicles when they were caught out on the road by flooding, snow, or ice storms shutting down traffic.

More and more people are setting themselves up with the recommended Grab & Go bags, seeing the wisdom for having them. Have you thought about what you'd need in your bag? To help you with your list, here are some links with my comments.

Preparedness for home:

FEMA - Basic Preparedness

American Red Cross - Build a Disaster Supplies Kit.

[Update 1/21/09 - Disappointingly, this and other links within the Red Cross site that guide you to preparing your own disaster kit are now dead. Since this general guide is the only one I've found, which contains another dead link for preparing your own disaster kit, I can't help but wonder if they're more interested in your buying a kit from them than in helping you make up a kit for your specific needs. After all, emergency kits have become a niche industry. The problems with a ready-made kit is that they don't suit everyone or all circumstances and when you set up your own kit, not only do you control the quality and the quantity of the contents, you'll know each item, why they're there, and how to use them quite unlike a commercially-prepared kit assembled by strangers who did it to make money from you.]

Operation HOPE - Emergency Financial First Aid Kit (EFFAK) and Personal Disaster Preparedness Guide (PDPG)

The FEMA and American Red Cross sites recommend supplies for at least three days up to two weeks. While that may seem adequate, I can't help remembering that one friend was without electricity for 17 days. After what we saw happen in New Orleans because of Katrina, it'll be safer to plan for the longer term, even a month or more, rather than the shortest duration. I suggest that your priority is to get what you need for the three days now, and add to it gradually until the full term is covered.

Not mentioned as a method of water purification, probably because of the cost, is the SteriPEN which uses UV-C light to kill protozoa, viruses, and bacteria in less than two minutes for 32 ounces. The Adventurer model that uses solar power or electricity to recharge the included Lithium CR123 button cells would be better than the original model that uses regular or rechargeable batteries because water is vital and batteries have to be replaced.

However, there have been issues with the Adventurer making it best for us to wait until after the issues are resolved before buying one.

The original SteriPEN is still highly regarded and is the simplest purification method next to solar water disinfection which takes at least six hours compared to the few minutes of a SteriPEN, but, depending on the number of people for whom you're purifying water, you might need several sets of batteries because it goes through them rather quickly. Lithium batteries are recommended for the original model because they last longer, enabling more water to be purified. Rechargeable batteries are recommended for this reason, also, but in an emergency situation, you can't rely on having electricity available to recharge your batteries and it isn't possible to know for sure that you'll have enough batteries on hand or that you'll be able to get new ones when you need them.

I remember seeing solar rechargers several years ago, but I didn't want whatever type of batteries they recharged for some reason back then. Maybe it's different now which would be great because the batteries could be used in other things as well.

Anyway, if you get a SteriPEN, either the original blue and white model or the Adventurer later on, have another method of water purification as backup just to be on the safe side. Travelers nearly always have the options of buying bottled water and AA batteries, but those options may not be available after the city's lights have gone out.

In regards to tea, regular tea does not last indefinitely as the lists erroneously indicate. If you stock tea bags from the supermarket for your emergency supplies, plan on replenishing them every six months. If you buy loose leaf tea fresh and store it well, it may last a year before going stale. If you cycle tea out every six months, consuming the old tea and replacing your emergency supply with fresh, you'll get decent flavor without wasting any tea by having to throw it away. If you drink instant tea, you're on your own. Maybe instant tea lasts indefinitely; sorry, I wouldn't know.

Preparedness for the great outdoors - the Ten Essential Systems. The ten essential systems increased to eleven when Oregon started imposing a $500 fine for those who require a Search & Rescue effort and don't have a cell phone with them. Since systems 2 and 3 both consist of items worn for protection from the elements, I don't see why they can't be combined into one system. Then, we can bump up those that follow to make communications the tenth system without losing anything, as follows:

1. Navigation - map, compass, and GPSr

2. Personal Attire - sun glasses, sun block, hat, and clothing for protection from the sun, rain, and insulating layers to protect from the cold

3. Illumination - flashlight, headlamp

4. First aid kit

5. Fire - many hikers and backpackers carry tinder and three different ways to ignite a fire to ensure they can start a fire in adverse conditions because most people die from hypothermia or dehydration and fire can be used as a signal as well as illumination

6. Repair kit and tools

7. Nutrition

8. Hydration

9. Emergency shelter

10. Communication - cell phone, whistle, signal mirror.

Preparedness for your vehicle:

An article at Backwoods Home magazine recommends a 10-day survival pack for your vehicle under $25 that was motivated by the Kim family survival tragedy in 2006.

[Update 1/21/09 - Although Yago's intention is good and you should have a survival kit for your vehicle especially if you drive out of town, I realized with much embarrassment that Yago's kit doesn't have 10 days worth of food, the meals that "require only a cup of very hot water" or "require only one or two cups of hot water" aren't meals but side dishes that require, not one, but two cups of boiling water, and all that protein, bouillon, and caffeinated beverages aren't nutritious enough, and in the case of caffeine, is actually detrimental for someone trying to stave off hypothermia as we should expect to be doing if we got lost in the mountains, snowbound or rainstorm-bound in our cars, or if the heat fails in our homes during the winter. Another vitally important point is that chlorine dioxide water purification tablets, "which will kill off all the bacteria and harmful organisms in about 30 minutes," actually take at least 4 hours to kill cryptosporidium, longer if the water's cold as we should expect it to be during a typical North American winter; iodine has poorer results than chlorine dioxide. I'm embarrassed because I should have recognized the erroneous information by simply looking at the list. Where did I park my brain? As a result, I've decided to do a series that will yield a better survival kit. For your convenience, a link to the first article of the series is at the bottom of this post.]

Among other things, the article recommends saving the free packets of salt you get at fast food restaurants. Before you do, however, I advise that you check the ingredients as many I've found contain sugar (sucrose, dextrose, etc.) that may be a health concern for you or other members of your family.

For car emergencies, I've seen recommendations to have a hammer or center punch for knocking out closed side windows and a sharp knife to cut seat belts to free occupants from a car sinking in water or in danger of fire. There are also tools specifically for car rescues: the LifeHammer, the pocket-sized ResQMe, and the Victorinox (Swiss Army Knife) RescueTool. A crowbar might also be of some help after an accident.

Don't forget to ICE your cell phone, if you have one, so that emergency personnel can find your "In Case of Emergency" medical and contact information when they search for "ICE" in your phone book. Just make a contact named "ICE," enter your data, and save it. If you need additional space to enter more data, name the first one "ICE 1 of n" where "n" is the number of the last ICE entry so that it's easy for others to tell there's more they need to see. Then, make more contacts naming them "ICE 2 of n" and "ICE 3 of n" and so on.

From the lists I've seen thus far for Grab & Go bags, there's redundancy that seems unnecessary to me. How many decks of playing cards or games does one person need to carry? It's occurred to me that if we had each one of the recommended bags, we'd be hauling way too much stuff to carry around with the easy mobility necessary for an emergency evacuation.

It makes more sense if one bag is a subset of the next larger bag progressing as follows:

1. The E-kit (E = "Exposure" for the kit described here, not "Emergency" or "Evacuation" or "Earthquake") is very small and will fit into a briefcase, backpack, large purse or tote. It contains items to protect your airway, eyes, ears, and skin against dust, noise, and hazardous materials such as a mask that's rated as N95 or better, earplugs, goggles, nitrile gloves (to avoid allergic reactions to latex), and non-breathable rain gear like the cheapest plastic rain wear you can find such as those that are sold in pouches small enough to carry in a pocket. You don't want nylon or Gore-Tex because breathable fabrics are not suitable for this type of protection. This kit should be with you at all times especially if you live in a location likely to have dust storms or earthquakes (lots of dust) or receive falling ash or poisonous gases from a volcanic eruption.

The E-kit might be useful to protect yourself from exposure to nuclear, biological, or chemical hazards caused or transmitted by people, but that depends on your knowing when to use the contents. Since the NBC (or BCR for biological, chemical, and radioactive for you Brits) hazards aren't readily detectable by ordinary citizens, it's more probable that by the time you're alerted, it'll be too late for protection and you'll need to seek medical treatment for having been exposed. If you weren't in the affected area, stay away unless you're First Response personnel or don protective gear as may be appropriate.

2. The E-kit can be placed in your Go bag for the office or workplace. The bag for the workplace contains bottled water and other items you'll need to survive at work for a while or the contents may be used to make your way home or to a designated rendezvous point to join the rest of your family. Some people call this their EDC (Every Day Carry) bag.

One thing to keep in mind if you have a disposable water bottle is to be sure to hang onto it after you consume the contents. Many people impacted on 9/11 were given bottles of water and could have refilled them from accommodating businesses that turned on their taps for the thirsty as they trudged home. However, they had nothing to drink from except their hands and no way to take water with them as they continued their journeys home because they discarded their empty bottles.

3. The bag for your office or workplace can be a subset of, and combined with the bag for your vehicle. Frankly, I don't think a Grab & Go bag should include most of the car items because they're standard emergency items that we're supposed to keep in our vehicles all the time, anyway, such as a spare tire, jack, flares, first aid kit (FAK), etc. If I had to leave my car, I wouldn't want to lug around car-specific items. I'd want to carry food, water, clothing, health and comfort items for my survival. As a result, I'm going to ensure that I have the articles recommended for a vehicle, but I'm not planning to get a bag for carrying them because, except for water, food, and the FAK, I have no intention of hauling them away from my car.

4. The bags above can supplement the Grab & Go bag for home. This is also called a BOB (Bug Out Bag) or 72-hour bag because the contents are supposed to sustain you for a minimum of 72 hours or three days and three nights. If you have to evacuate your home, I'm confident you'd want to have the items of the other bags without the expense and weight of redundancy with the exception of food, water, and medication. My two cents.

Whatever you do, please don't forget to make a Grab & Go bag for your beloved pets or arrange for their care.

Here are some lists that may help:

Chaffey College - Grab 'n Go Bags

City of San Juan Capistrano - Grab & Go Bags

City of Vancouver - Grab'n Go Bags

Jeff Skrysak's Grab 'n Go Bag. Jeff is an EMT who now lives in a developing country where he's learned valuable lessons. I include his list here because he explains the reason behind many of the items that people may be inclined to leave off their lists.

For washing needs, I use the biodegradable Campsuds for camping and traveling because it can be used with either fresh or salt water for hands, body, hair, clothing, and dishes. Having it eliminates the need, weight, and space for several other bottles.

The Beneficiary Book - Disaster Preparedness Guide and Checklist.

Aton Edwards, the author of the PDF file about Grab-and-Go bags that follows lists items that I'd never consider otherwise, but gives excellent guidance for issues not addressed by other sites I read such as calculating how much cash to have on hand in case of an emergency evacuation and how to deal with the issue of having to use the bathroom while stuck in traffic for hours during a mass evacuation:

"Preparedness Now!" by Aton Edwards - Grab-and-Go Bag.

I can't imagine urinating into a regular funnel as Edwards suggests because of the shape of the funnel and location and stiffness of the drain spout. I'm thinking it's a sure way to get me and my car wet. Better than that, especially for the many girls and women who live in pants with front zippers and who would never consider switching to a skirt that provides better coverage while squatting, there are several urine directors designed specifically for the female anatomy that enable one to urinate without having to squat with pants down and derrière exposed:

The SheWee, Whiz Easy/Whiz Freedom, and the Portable and Medical models of the Freshette are designed specifically for use while seated as well as while standing.

The TravelMate website says that tubing is easily attached if desired and has a testimonial from a woman who attached tubing and used a collection bag to "go" while in a kayak, but I didn't see where tubing and collection bags are on the website leading me to believe that they're no longer offered and the customer now has to obtain them elsewhere.

Other urinary devices, such as Lady J, My SweetPee, Pee-Zee, and pStyle, are designed to be used only while standing and are nearly as useful as those that enable one to urinate while seated in a car or standing elsewhere because they allow women to "go" outdoors discreetly and eliminate having to sit on or awkwardly hover over dirty toilet seats and Port-A-Potties while urinating.

Getting one of these things is actually a good idea, now that I'm thinking about it, not only for a disaster kit for use in stalled traffic or for when restroom maintenance at shelters doesn't keep up with usage, but for other places such as fairs and festivals where restroom facilities aren't as clean as we'd like them to be.

If you have to buy the recommended radio, flashlights, and other battery-powered devices, I agree with Edwards about getting solar or hand-cranked-powered ones. That way, not only will you not have to be concerned about availability of new batteries when yours go weak, you'll save the cost, space, and weight of carrying spares.

Since the majority of water filters don't meet the EPA standards for killing bacteria, protozoa, and viruses, please be sure to do your homework and research the devices before buying one and stick to those that purify water of all three categories of contaminants.

Edwards doesn't say why he specifically lists, "Stainless steel mess kit or outdoor cooking gear." Stainless steel is heavier than aluminum and titanium, and more expensive than aluminum. During an emergency evacuation, you're already under stress and any additional weight adds to that stress needlessly. Not knowing his rationale, I think you'd be better off keeping the weight down, shaving off any and all ounces possible, to avoid additional stress.

Firestarters such as Spark-Lite, BlastMatch, Strike Force, and the Light My Fire Firesteel Scout or Army Model are better than regular magnesium firestarters because they're easy to use and are more reliable, and because magnesium shavings aren't easy to gather together especially if there's any whisper of a breeze that'll blow them away.

Cotton balls covered with petroleum jelly or dryer lint are really good for home-made tinder and those trick birthday candles that can't be blown out are exactly what you want for getting a fire going in breezy conditions. Of course, you'll want to have storm matches (waterproof and windproof) or NATO matches as well especially if you don't have one of the firestarters listed above. Be sure to include pliers or a multitool with pliers in your repair kit to hold the storm matches so you don't burn your fingers while lighting one because many of the sticks are awfully short, the exception being those sold by REI. Having some of those ubiquitous disposable butane lighters and wooden Strike Anywhere or regular kitchen matches will conserve your storm matches until they're really needed.

Miscellaneous Notes:

A pencil is better than most pens because not all pens will write under all conditions. However, none of the lists mention that the pencil needs to be a mechanical pencil unless you pack a pencil sharpener or know how to sharpen a pencil safely with a knife. This is an important consideration because many Americans don't carry pen knives or pocket knives, anymore, certainly not the majority of women. I recommend a Fisher Space pen because it writes under adverse conditions, on various types of paper, lasts longer than a pencil, and there's no lead to break or be sharpened. Along with that, I recommend getting "Rite in the Rain" all-weather writing paper so any notes you make for yourself or leave for others won't be damaged by rain, wet hands, or being washed if forgotten and left in a pocket.

In regards to feminine products, sanitary napkins are excellent for first aid kits to use for bleeding injuries. However, for feminine needs, I recommend that women change over to a menstrual cup because it weighs little, takes up much less space than does a month's supply of typical products, is highly cost-effective, and using one ensures that not having feminine hygiene products readily available after what you packed is gone won't be an additional issue during an already overly stressful situation. Just be sure to practice using one for as many as three or more monthly cycles because the learning curve is fairly steep and may not be as short as when learning how to use a tampon.

A safety whistle is essential to summon others to help because your voice can't carry as far as the whistle's trill and you can blow much longer than you can yell. Think, for example, if your car slid off the road out of sight of other motorists such as down an embankment and you were trapped inside. How would you alert others of your predicament if your car horn doesn't work and your cell phone gets tossed out of reach during the accident? Having a loud, lightweight, whistle on your key ring is ideal. A pealess whistle is best because most peas stick when wet and the best pealess whistles work even under water.

Here are some of the better whistles for your consideration. Please don't test blow them unless outside with other people a good distance away as permanent ear damage results from sound exceeding 85 decibels (db). They are not toys to blow near people's ears just to annoy them and pain isn't funny; the loudest ones can be heard up to a mile and a half away:

Fox 40 Sonik (125 db)

Ultimate Survival Technologies JetScream (122 db)

All-Weather Safety Whistle Co. Storm (118 - 120 db)

Orion ORI-624 (116 db)

Fox 40 Micro/Adventure Medical Kits Rescue Howler (110 - 122 db depending on how forcefully it's blown. The Fox 40 website rates it at 115 db.). The AMK Rescue Howler is the exact same whistle as the yellow Fox 40 Micro. Previously, there was a difference in the way the lanyard was threaded through at the point of attachment, but now, there is no difference except for the packaging. Because this whistle requires more effort to blow than a Fox 40 Mini or Classic to get more than a pitiful, useless whiff of a sound, children or people who have breathing problems will do better with a Classic or Mini whistle than with a Micro.

Fox 40 Classic and Mini (115 db)

S.O.S. (113 db)

Acme Tornado 636 (107 db)

ACR Electronics WW-3 (102 db) - this can be heard a half mile away on a calm day.

There are other good safety whistles as well. If you want to get one not listed here, just remember that metal + cold weather = tongue-stuck-to-the-flagpole.

The Sawyer Extractor bite kit is the only snake bite kit acknowledged by wilderness medical professionals as being effective although some controversy has arisen because the effectiveness depends on whether it is utilized immediately after the bite and on what type of snake it was. Those who swear by it say its ability to extract up to 35% of the snake's venom is better than nothing. Especially since it works extremely well for bug bites and stings, it's worth adding to your FAK. Please don't bother thinking that getting one of the other snake bite kits will be just as good. At the least, they're ineffective and you'll only be wasting your money. At the worst, using one of the others may be worse than doing nothing at all.

I like the idea of storing important papers and treasured photos digitally to save space and reduce the load, but I'll have to figure out a way to ensure I don't stick any magnetic media in with my shake flashlight because it will zap the media if I put them close enough in my Grab & Go bag. Uploading the files to a cloud storage site is a better idea as long as it's not the sole off-site backup.

The lists include maps and a compass. This means that you have to learn how to use them if you don't already know. Waiting until you're in a situation requiring you to use a map and compass is not the time to learn. Remember, we're doing this to be proactive, not reactive.

I think what I already have will suffice and all I have to do is buy food and get it all into a single bag in keeping with the concept of being able to Grab & Go, but it certainly won't hurt for me to make a list and check it twice.

How about it? Are you prepared for the effects of inclement weather and whatever natural disaster is most likely to occur in your region of the country? Or, are you in denial thinking that it will never happen to you? Maybe you're right and it won't, but will you risk being caught off-guard like too many others have in the past?

You may be overwhelmed at the number of things that need to be done, but if you start now and focus on completing your preparations in reasonable chunks rather than trying to get everything done all at once, it'll be easier. Think of what type of emergency situation is most likely for your area and go from there. I know, of course, that a bad situation will never happen to me, but I can't predict the same future for you ;).

If you have other tips and suggestions that have helped you in the past, please post them in "Comments" so everyone may learn from your experience.

Luke 4:
[The devil said:]
10. For it is written, He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee:
11. And in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone.
12. And Jesus answering said unto him, It is said, Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.

Matthew 25:
1. Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.
2. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.
3. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
4. But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.
5. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.
6. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.
7. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.
8. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.
9. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you....

[The next article in this series is, "Preparedness: Introducing the Fifteen Essential Systems."]

Saturday, August 30, 2008


"He said you're his girlfriend."

I was aghast. First, I hear that I'm working for the C.I.A. and now this. I've got to start wearing nicer clothes for my casual wear.

Back when I was a teen, my mother despaired over my running errands in the island uniform of T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. "You never know whom you're going to run into," she lectured.

Until now, I always thought her concern over my leisure attire was motivated by her desire for me to marry well. Now, I see how clothing can be used as an exclusionary barrier. If I had been dressed up, instead of dressed down, when I encountered him at the convenience store I frequent, that he might have been able to pass himself off as my boyfriend to the store employees shouldn't have ever crossed his mind.

But, then, the idea that I work for the C.I.A. shouldn't have, either. At least, my wearing nicer clothing would have made his lie less believable because of a greater contrast to his dirty-gray T-shirt, jeans, and baseball cap. That he's been gone for several months, arrested for credit card fraud according to the grapevine, and I'm hearing of his lies about me only now gives me pause, "Did they believe him?"

Think about it. Americans are notorious for dressing poorly, but even our casually-attired society in which anything goes has standards that may be construed as uniforms.

Is a young man wearing an oversized T-shirt, baggy pants, and athletic shoes more likely to ride a skateboard or a horse?

Is a woman wearing something tight, low-cut, and short more likely to be advertising her body or her brain?

When you see a couple, is it more likely that their clothing matches in quality or does one member typically wear better clothes than the other?

Yes, appearances can be deceiving. If Adam and Eve hadn't been cast out of Eden, we'd all be naked, having to actually talk to get to know one another instead of making snap judgments based on the pieces of fabric that cover our bodies.

Genesis 2:25. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Road Trip Recipe: Capellini Alfredo ala Burger King

My latest recipe was developed last March in a Los Angeles motel room. I call it, "Capellini Alfredo ala Burger King."


Angel hair pasta, as desired.

Extra virgin olive oil, to taste - use enough to help the next four ingredients stick to the pasta, but not so much that you end up with a puddle of excess oil.

Salt, to taste.

Pepper, to taste.

Granulated garlic, to taste.

Parmesan cheese, grated, to taste - it's better to use a lot and lay it on thick.

1 packet per serving of Ken's Steakhouse Ranch dressing from Burger King - if you don't use all the dressing they give with the salads, it's a great way to use it up instead of throwing it away. Of course, for a family, it's unlikely there will be enough extra dressing for everyone, so you'll have to find a grocery store and buy a bottle.


Boil angel hair pasta to al dente and drain.

Drizzle extra virgin olive oil onto pasta and toss.

Sprinkle salt, pepper, granulated garlic, and Parmesan cheese. Toss.

Squeeze one packet per serving of Ken's Steakhouse Ranch dressing from Burger King onto still-hot pasta and toss thoroughly.

Serve and enjoy!

NOTE: While this doesn't result in the traditionally thick Alfredo sauce, it certainly is as flavorful and is a wonderful change from whatever else you've been eating while away from home.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Packing List: Laundry

Essential to travel is the issue of laundry. If you're going for longer than a weekend, do you pack light and wash a few things every or every other day in the room's sink or find laundry facilities along the way or use the hotel's laundry service? Or, do you pack heavy intending to return with a suitcase full of dirty clothes?

With airlines charging for checked luggage that used to fly free, and with Delta doubling the fee for the second checked bag from $25 to $50 last month, more air travelers are seeing the wisdom of packing light.

For road trippers, packing light makes it easier to haul everything to your room upstairs especially in large cities where cars are broken into for a pair of skates and a Bible or for dirty laundry on the back seat.

Here's what I pack for my laundry needs:

1. Flat rubber sink stopper. Not all sinks have working stoppers and the plastic stoppers I tried didn't seal leaking plugs. Does double-duty as a jar opener.

2. Detergent. Biodegradable Camp Soap by AGS Labs is gentle and doubles as body wash and shampoo.

3. Flexo-Line travel clothesline. This the best travel clothesline I've ever used and the only kind I've used since I gave up on the others over 15 years ago. Elastic clotheslines don't handle much weight, sag too much, and lose their elasticity too soon for me. Their suction cups don't hold reliably. Neither do those that have two twisted lines that are supposed to hold wet clothing but don't. Flexo-Line's three-strand, braided, rubber tubing is lightweight, packs small, and holds up to 12 lbs. of wet laundry securely without clothes pins.

4. Something to hold the other end of the Flexo-Line. If the bathroom door knob isn't feasible, you have to get creative. Here are some that I like:

a. My power suction hook has never failed me on smooth tub walls or tiles. It has a hook that folds down over a stiff cover to lock the suction cup in place, like a Snap Hook. Hooks with regular suction cups aren't reliable.

b. A climber's carabiner works with fixtures such as towel bars and does double duty as a theft deterrent device when clipped to your bag and the overhead rack on trains and other public transportation where snatch and run thieves prey.

c. A cheap stick pen is probably the smallest, lightest, and simplest. Just wrap the end of the Flexo-Line around anything stationary and stick the pen through to hold it. Zounds! It might actually double as a pen for your travel journal when not being used to hold your clothesline.

5. Bumps-B-Gone hanger(s). I pack one or two in a carry-on bag for air travel and the whole set of four for extended road trips. Rooms don't usually have enough hangers anyway, and many can't be used anywhere other than with the rod for which they were designed. Regular plastic or plastic-coated hangers leave unsightly bumps in the shoulders. Inflatable hangers are a waste of money because they don't support much wet weight and leak after a few uses. A Bumps-B-Gone hanger can be formed for whatever you want to hang on it, then straightened and laid on the bottom along the long side of a carry-on bag where it doesn't take up much room or folded in half if that works better for you.

6. Plastic pants/skirt hanger or a plastic hanger with clips to hang pants or a skirt (optional - I like to take them on road trips). Many motels have an iron and ironing board in the room or you may borrow them from the front desk, but it may be easier to steam out wrinkles while you take a hot shower when you have your own pants or skirt hanger with you. Otherwise, set up the Flexo-Line over the tub and stick a couple of places of the waistband through to let the wrinkles fall out after your shower. Also provides (an) extra hanger(s) when in rooms that don't have enough.

7. Travel hair dryer. This may be optional because several hotel and motel chains provide a hair dryer as an amenity. Frankly, I forgot to take mine on my last road trip and never missed it. A hair dryer also helps get rid of the last bit of dampness when you're in a hurry to wear something although sunshine and your body heat will take care of that soon enough during warm weather.

8. A small spray bottle (optional). Spray plain water on isolated wrinkles or set-in creases, hang, and let air-dry or use a hair dryer. I tried Downy Wrinkle Releaser during my last road trip and was disappointed because it did not perform any better than spraying with plain water. Also useful alone or with a hair dryer for sprucing up hat hair or a bedhead.

9. Woolite Gentle Care Drying Rack (optional). I use this for air-drying sweaters and other dry-flat articles on extended road trips during cool weather.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Working for the C.I.A.

On Saturday, I was told that a man figured out that I work for the C.I.A.

"WHAT?!" was my near-shrieked response. "Where did he get THAT from?"

"He said it's because you keep clothes in your car top carrier. He said you do it so you can make a quick getaway if you have to. I've been meaning to tell you about it, but I kept forgetting until now."

I laughed and she did too, because we both know what a big fat liar he is even without this huge whopper.

"For the record," I said, "No, I don't work for the C.I.A. and never did and no, I don't store clothes in my car top carrier."

Maybe this is a signal that it's time for me to redo my packing list. I thought about it before, but hadn't actually started working on it. For years, I traveled at every opportunity, usually taking a few vacation days to pad a three-day weekend to get enough for a short trip without feeling rushed. I gradually accumulated things to keep in my bag so all I had to pack were my camera, clothes, makeup, and medicine, if needed.

Generally, I took only a carry-on and my camera bag. The exception was Hawaii because it's home. For those trips, I packed a suitcase into another so I'd have one checked bag going and two checked bags coming back full of gifts and goodies I missed and couldn't get in fly-over country where I live.

For road trips, I added a six-pack cooler for my film, another for canned drinks, a battery recharger, and a sack of canned meats, vegetables, crackers, and soups to help keep my expenses down.

Over the years, my situation changed along with what I took. As a result, when I packed for my last road trip, I had too much of some and none or too little of others requiring me to buy stuff on the road or do without.

I also bought things because what I had wasn't working for me as well as I envisioned or simply because they looked kewl and I wanted to try them. It's a good idea for me to sort through everything, regroup, and pack what I can to be ready for my next trip like I used to do.

I plan to post my packing list in sections as I go through them. Maybe my rambling through my packing list will help you plan for what you should take on your travels in the future. If not, oh, well!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Canadian Brass

If you're not familiar with the Canadian Brass, it is a brass quintet that does classical, pop, and jazz, mostly classical, mostly Baroque. I have some of their CDs and have had the pleasure of seeing them in concert. They're funny and put on a great show.

Here are a few links:

Bach's Toccata & Fugue (these guys are good!):

Jazzy version of Bach's Fugue No. 2 (kewl!):

Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee (funny):

Pachelbel's Canon in D (funnier):

Official website:

If you ever get the chance to see them live, go.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Something Fun: The #1 Song On This Date in History

What was the #1 song on the day you were born? Find the hit song for your birthday or other significant dates at the #1 Song on This Date in History.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Et Ain't Jest Dem Furriners

Too many Americans are familiar with the frustration of talking to Customer Service or Technical Support agents who are located in other countries and don't speak American English well. I'm here to tell you that communication isn't a problem only because of outsourcing overseas.

In May and June, I went to Ft. Worth to see a couple of operas and on my way back, I stopped in another town to eat at a favorite restaurant of mine.

The first evening, I got turned around trying to get back to the Interstate and drove too far out of my way. The second evening, I asked the hostess standing outside if I could exit the shopping center's parking lot at the north exit and turn left onto Kemp through the break in the center medial strip, pointing to the exit and what I thought was the break to allow crossovers.

She said, "No."

Me: "Okay, what's the best way for me to get onto Kemp going east?"

She: "Where do you want to go?"

I told her the town.

She: "It's been several years since I've gone to Oklahoma. I think you'll want to take Kemp to Kell, then get on the Interstate and go north."

Me (again pointing to the north exit): "Yes, I know the route. My question is how do I get onto Kemp going toward the Interstate. Can I exit there and turn left?"

She (pointing to Kemp, the street nearest us, the street that the north exit is on): "That's Kemp. What you'll have to do is get on Kell and it'll take you right to the Interstate."

Me: "Okay. How do I get onto Kemp going east since I can't turn left when I exit the parking lot? If I go out the south exit, I won't be on Kemp and I don't want to end up going out of my way like I did the last time I was here."

She (pointing to the exact same exit and median break that I did the first and second times I asked): "All you have to do is exit over there and turn left at the crossover. I do it every night when I get off work."

My next encounter was with Customer Service in New Jersey. I had already spent over an hour on the phone one Monday trying to access an account that wasn't available. The fifth Customer Service agent recommended that I try again later because maybe the system was being updated.

Tuesday, I went through the automated telephone system to change my PIN that the fourth agent reset on Monday. Mind you, I didn't ask for my PIN to be reset. The fourth agent somehow decided that was what was needed to make my account available to me which, of course, didn't work. On Tuesday, once again, I got the message that my account wasn't available and was transferred to a Customer Service agent.

Agent: "How may I help you?"

Me: "I've been trying to access my account through the telephone, but the system says it isn't available and I'd like to know why."

Agent (typing sounds): "I can reset your PIN for you."

Me: "An agent already reset my PIN yesterday. The system says my account isn't available. Why isn't it available?"

Agent (more typing sounds): "I can't change your PIN. I'll have to reset your PIN and then you can use the automated system to change your PIN."

Me: "Yes, I know, but I can't change my PIN if my account isn't available and I don't know why it isn't available. Can you make it available?"

Agent: "Are you using the automated telephone system or the Internet?"

Me: "Telephone."

Agent: "Do you have access to the Internet?"

Me: "Not at this time."

Agent: "Okay, I can reset your PIN and then you can use the automated telephone system to change your PIN."

Me: "I want to talk to somebody else."

Sheesh. And I edited both encounters for brevity.

(The next agent immediately saw that my account was locked and unlocked it, but didn't know how it got locked or why. It would have been nice if I had gotten him on Monday.)

Genesis 11: 6. And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. 7. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another's speech.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


I caught the end of the "Walker, Texas Ranger" episode in which Walker (Chuck Norris) and Gage (Judson Mills) are to fight "The Hammer" to the death. That is, to their deaths. "The Hammer" chooses to fight Gage first and promises Gage that he'll die slowly. He then promises Walker that he'll die even more slowly than Gage.

In the final shot, Walker and Gage turn away from the camera and walk out side-by-side, their back muscles rippling beneath their gleaming skin, looking good, and a sudden thought struck me:

Has Jet Li ever appeared in a movie topless without a shirt? What about Jackie Chan? Steven Seagal? Sonny Chiba? I'm pretty sure Bruce Lee did.


I'm thinking of signing up for NaNoWriMo.

The reason I'm thinking about joining is because a couple of characters in a story I'm plotting are trying to go off the reservation. At first, I thought I had a plot problem, but no, it's these people. They want to go off and do something that's going to land them in Federal prison if they get caught and I need a way to stop them.

Because they're the good guys.

Good guys aren't supposed to land in prison if a prison isn't part of the story. That's where the bad guys go when the story ends. Good guys aren't supposed to do really bad things at all unless it's against the bad guys, to stop them or in self-defense.

Everybody knows that. Yet, here are these two characters of mine who are headed straight for the pen if they don't straighten up and the bad guys haven't even made an appearance. Who's going to beat the bad guys if the good guys are in jail?

"What's that?" you say. "You're the author. You made them up. You can make them do whatever you want."

No, it isn't that simple. Sure, I created them, but as many authors can verify, some characters have a way of going off, doing their own thing, and the only thing the writer can do is watch and write down what happens.

In this case, however, these characters are trying to take off on their own at the start of the story. I've got them checking into a motel and they're planning on getting a good night's rest so they can go do something illegal tomorrow.


There are two ways to handle them. The first is for me to simply refuse to write about them until they decide to toe the line.

That method worked well with Cathy in "Personals 106," my first story since high school. She was created to be a romantic interest for the man of the story and the next thing I know, she's planning to involve him as the other man in a torrid adulterous affair.

I swear, I didn't know she was married!

There we were, figuratively duking it out. I folded my arms and simply refused to write. Eventually, Cathy decided to give up and go back to her husband, and I was able to conclude the story.

So, here I am again, refusing for the past month to let these characters do their own thing. This is where the [inter]National Novel Writing Month comes into play. I figure if they continue to refuse to let their story be plotted my way, on November 1, I'll start writing anyway.

That's the second method.

I'll let them arrive at their motel, check in, and go straight to jail if that's what they want to do. For all I'll care at that point, it'll serve them right. Hopefully, it'll purge their systems enough for them to let the bad guys do the bad things when I write the novel I intended for them.

Under NaNoWriMo rules, all I have to do is write at least 50,000 words from November 1 - 30. It could be the complete first draft for a short novel or a substantial amount for a longer one. Let's see:

50,000 words over 23 days (not 30 days because of Sundays, Thanksgiving, and an out-of-town day) = 2174 words a day.

At 40 words per minute because I'm slow, that's about 54 minutes of typing per day.

That looks do-able to me. With these characters, even if I'm not a NaNoWriMo winner, I'll win.

For those who don't finish writing the rough drafts of their novels in November, another website designated the month of December as National Novel Finishing Month. The month of March is designated as the National Novel Editing Month to give writers a rest and fresh eyes for editing their drafts.

If my troublemakers quit their shenanigans and allow me to plot the book during the next three months the way I've got it in my head, I'll be able to start writing on November 1 with plot notes in hand. If not, I can watch what becomes of them and if they land in jail for the entire month, that's what I'll write about.

Or, I could write another story I've been plotting...

As soon as I figure out from where the waitress came and what she's doing serving the woman a cold drink after her swim. I mean, I thought the man and woman were at his house. That's where I put them. The waitress, however, makes it look like a resort hotel which makes me wonder: Where are they? How did they get there? They aren't in Oklahoma, Texas, or Arizona. Is it Florida? Las Vegas? Southern California? Someplace more exotic like Hawaii or the Cote d'Azure?

As annoying as these characters can be, I gotta admit it's never a dull moment and the mental vacations are great.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For Writers - The Pen Addict

Nothing is more important to anyone who writes than the instrument used for writing. While paper might be something on which we compromise by resorting to the backs of envelopes or napkins, a favorite pen is something we'll take time to hunt down if misplaced. How much it weighs, how it's balanced, how fine or broad the line, the color of the line, the smoothness and longevity of the line, as well as the way it feels in the hand, fat, medium, or thin; all contribute to a writer's obsession with pens.

Have you ever wondered what a particular pen is like before you buy it? For those not entranced by fountain pens, I highly recommend The Pen Addict who provides a valuable service by reviewing many pens available and provides links to other like-minded sites.

If you're new to fountain pens or are looking for tips about use, care, or suggestions for paper or other websites, I refer you, of course, to my own pen webpages (shameless plug). The page listing the Best Pens to Buy For Everyday Use has been updated.

For Readers - Book Darts

Book Darts - These great little doo-dads are the best. For several years, I've had the pleasure of using them to mark not only the page I'm reading, but the exact line where I left off. They are much better than bookmarks because they mark the precise line and don't fall out.

I also use Book Darts to mark passages in books that I don't want to damage by using a highlighter. They surpass sticky tabs and other reading tools because they don't damage books when used properly and they're less expensive than other similar devices I've found.

Just be sure it isn't tilted when you slide one on or it will dent the edge of the page.

Available in tins or in bulk from or by calling 1-800-366-2230.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Latest Pen - Stypen Up

In 2004, BIC bought Stypen and is now shutting down production in its factory in Joigny, France. From Office Products International:

"Bic to close Stypen factory
15 April 2008 - Joigny, France

Bic has announced that it is to stop production at its Stypen factory in Joigny, France, at the end of July...."

Reading this in May motivated me to finally buy a Stypen Up. Other stylophiles had recommended the Stypen line of fountain pens several years ago, but I didn't get one because I prefer fine nibs. However, finally clued-in that Stypen's medium nibs are closer to fine than they are to broad, I decided to buy one since no one knew at that time if Bic is moving production or liquidating Stypen's fountain pen assets.

Even though I've since learned that production is being moved to Montévrain, I'm glad I bought it because it's a great pen that's no longer exported to the U. S.

The diameter measures close to .5 inch at the widest point. Capped, the pen measures 4-3/8 inches. Nib extended, with cap posted, it measures 5-1/8 inches. Without the cap, it measures 4-5/8 inches, still a comfortable length for writing without posting the cap. As you can tell, the retractable nib makes it shorter and easier to fit in a smaller purse or pocket. The pen is attractive, lightweight and comfortable to hold. The cap posts securely without making the pen top-heavy. The Up uses short international standard cartridges only and produces an average flow, not too dry and not too wet. The line is close to a European fine, slightly broader than that of a Platinum Preppy. As may be expected for a pen priced at $25 with a steel nib, the nib is stiff, but it's also smooth.

The only thing I don't like about it is that the twist-retractable nib is inconvenient and slower for intermittent writing, that is, when I write a little and pause for a long time like when reading and making notes or when shopping and crossing items off my list. For longer, continuous writing sessions, however, it's great.

I wish I had bought one sooner.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Birthday, America!

You're 232 years old, now, still a young 'un compared to other countries.

Not yet potty-trained, you still have to learn how to deal with your own waste.

You still need to learn to eat right, exercise, and get enough sleep in order to maintain good health.

You still need to learn how to lock your doors so that thieves don't sneak in and rob you of what's rightfully yours alone.

You still need to learn how to manage your money and to take better care of your natural resources because they are what sustain you and have enabled you to grow as much as you have.

But, even with these and the other negative things you need to grow through, you're still the country in which a lot of people want to live and few want to leave.

Although many celebrate the national holidays of other countries, they're celebrating them in the United States of America and not in those other nations. That, in itself, is a sign of your goodness because having big bashes themed on our cultural diversity is what we Americans do to remember from where we came and to joyously celebrate the freedom and the wealth we have in you.

Look at St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo, for example. St. Patrick's Day is a quiet, religious holiday in Ireland except where the Irish have learned the value of the American tourist dollar, not the boisterous day of parades and green beer that it is here, and Cinco de Mayo is mostly ignored even in the Mexican state of Puebla where the originating event occurred.

So, celebrate your birthday and have a good time doing it.

May God give you wisdom to grow on.

I love you!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

About Writers

Writing can seem to be an almost mystical journey. From where do the ideas spring? How does the writer settle on a particular word or turn of phrase?

Those who engage in writing find that one size does not fit all. It isn't a matter of simply turning on the computer and typing. Some have to perform preparatory rituals such as sharpening a dozen pencils or refilling their fountain pens. Some write best while listening to a certain style of music or in dead silence. Some writers take their laptops or pens and paper to coffee houses and sandwich shops because they need the bustle of business that doesn't concern them. One screenwriter in California writes on his portable manual typewriter at the beach or in a park because fresh air and sunshine make the words flow.

Some writers rent office space or lease a studio while others are okay with a converted bedroom or the space under the stairs. Some write before their families awake in the morning. Some write after the spouse goes off to work and the children to school. Some wait until everyone's asleep.

Agatha Christie plotted while soaking in her bathtub, eating apples.

The point is that a writer needs what that writer needs. Anything else, whether it's from ignorance, misguided good intentions, a misunderstanding, or presuming to know what a writer needs better than the writer does, is a hindrance, an obstacle, or downright sabotage. By the latter, I refer to reneged promises and assurances. I know people whose family and friends say they support their writers and wannabees, but what they actually do exposes them as unsupportive, self-centered, disloyal, liars.

For example:

The wife who said she'll keep the children quietly occupied elsewhere after dinner so he may write who then invited both next-door neighbors, with their children, over for dinner to socialize for the evening.

The parents who promised their unpublished adult son a laptop as a birthday gift, then bought a desktop computer that he still can't take to the library when he does research.

The mother who called her writing daughter several times during the day despite knowing that she was trying to finish a book while her young girls were at school because her agent already had a publisher lined up who was eager to see it. The writer insisted that her mother call only after 2:30 P.M. then quit answering the phone and let the answering machine take the calls when her mother persisted in interrupting her work just to chat.

The friend who wanted to go to lunch every day like they used to do when they were in college, who got angry when the writer said no, only once a week.

Please examine what you've been doing, not only to the creative people in your life, but to everyone you know. If what they're doing isn't illegal, immoral, or ungodly, what do you care how they live their lives and achieve their goals? It's their lives, their dreams, and their goals, not yours.

Go get your own.

John 21:22. Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me.