Sunday, November 30, 2014

Celebrate... It's St. Andrew's Day!

Friends, family and strangers alike... rejoice. For on this day, November 30, we celebrate St. Andrew's Day!

In the same manner that Americans celebrate July 4 as our nation's birthday, St. Andrew's Day is the national day of Scotland. Both home and abroad, Scots all over the globe look upon this day as a celebration of Scottish culture, food, history, dance and music. For many people, myself included, we reflect on our Scottish ancestors and give thanks for all that Scotland has given to the world. All across Scotland, from Glasgow to Edinburgh, from Inverness to Aberdeen and everywhere in between, every Scot is happy to be from the land of tartans and thistle. Large, joyous dance events called ceilidhs are held. Friends and family dance circles and jigs together set to wonderful Celtic music. Many pints of brew are downed as well. Bottoms up!

Whether you've traced your ancestry to Scotland or not, everyone is welcome to celebrate. Today, we can all be a little Scottish!

I'd like to leave you with one of my favorite poems from the national poet and favorite son of Scotland, the prodigious Robert Burns.

The Fall of the Leaf (c. 1788)

The lazy mist hangs from the brow of the hill, 
Concealing the course of the dark-winding rill; 
How languid the scenes, late so sprightly, appear! 
As Autumn to Winter resigns the pale year. 

The forests are leafless, the meadows are brown, 
And all the gay foppery of summer is flown: 
Apart let me wander, apart let me muse, 
How quick Time is flying, how keen Fate pursues! 

How long I have liv'd-but how much liv'd in vain, 
How little of life's scanty span may remain, 
What aspects old Time in his progress has worn, 
What ties cruel Fate, in my bosom has torn. 

How foolish, or worse, till our summit is gain'd!
And downward, how weaken'd, how darken'd, how pain'd!
Life is not worth having
with all it can give- 
For something beyond it poor man sure must live.

"Lang may yer lum reek!"

Saturday, November 29, 2014

And the Rest is Video Game History.

Today is a fairly unremarkable day, much like any other. Yet, the 29th of November marks a special day on the calendar...

especially for Video Game players...

On this day in 1972, Atari released PONG!

An original Pong arcade unit, signed by Allan Alcorn

Pong was developed by Allan Alcorn, whom worked for Atari as a developer. While not the first video game to ever be released, Pong is certainly the most important in my opinion. Pong is generally considered to be the first widely successful arcade video game. At the time of its release, a Pong arcade unit cost around $1,200 and could easily pay for itself in just a matter of months. Atari became immensely successful in the years following the release of Pong and spawned an entire generation of video game fans. Without Pong, there would have been no Atari. Without Atari, there would have been no Nintendo. You can see where I'm going with this.

Like playing your latest Assassin's Creed game on your Playstation 4? You can thank Pong for that.

Look at those graphics. RADICAL!

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Black Friday Power Sword Debacle.

Tonight's blog is being written live from the road. I'm currently cruising along Interstate 85 southbound towards home. I am riding shotgun and Crystal is driving. Tonight, I was lucky enough to enjoy a fantastic Vietnamese dinner with my brother Joshua and his wonderful better half Niki. Today has been a day for the record books. From here on, it shall forever be known as THE BLACK FRIDAY POWER SWORD DEBACLE!

Many months ago, I tracked down an elusive birthday gift for Josh. As a child, one of his favorite toys was the He-Man Power Sword. It's electronic with flashing lights, sounds and a motion-sensitive blade. I wanted to find Josh one to replace it and bring back some of that childhood fun! Thankfully, I found a really nice one earlier in the year with the original box. It worked perfectly!

Jump to today. I was to meet Josh for a post-Thanksgiving meal, to which I was also going to give him his birthday gift. I tested the Power Sword this morning before wrapping it... and the electronics failed to work! I was totally heartbroken, to say the least.

I immediately scoured eBay for a replacement Power Sword. Luckily enough, I found one in Apex, North Carolina. I made a detour through Apex on my way to Richmond to visit Joshua. There was one small catch, though. The Power Sword I'd found in Apex had a corroded battery compartment. With Crystal driving, I did my best to clean the corrosion whilst headed north to Richmond.

Long story short, the impossible was accomplished. A replacement He-Man Power Sword was acquired in the nick of time and the gift was complete. All this was done while going down the highway and working under high pressure. Admittedly, I got extremely lucky finding a replacement in Apex. The He-Man Power Sword is a tough vintage toy to locate. But, all the hard work was worth it to see my brother smile. I love him to death.

Such a boss.

Also, a big thanks to Crystal, whom guaranteed the success of today's mission. Without her, I surely would have failed.

I hope you enjoy the sword Josh. BY THE POWER OF GRAYSKULL!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Please Pass the Cranberry Sauce!

A great big hello to everyone on this fine Thanksgiving Day! Hopefully, you have sat down on your couch, unbuckled your pants and are beginning to relax. It's been a long day! Now that the big feast is over with, I thought I'd quickly discuss one aspect of our annual Thanksgiving meal that might be easily overlooked...

the jellied cranberry sauce.

Back in the 1930's, newly developed technology allowed for cranberries to be harvested in a wet manner versus the traditional dry picking method. Bogs which held the cranberry bushes could be flooded, then easily harvested for the tart berries. Because of this, the life span of the cranberry was extended late into the fall. By canning the cranberries, they could be enjoyed a greater deal of time beyond their peak season. Hence, cranberry sauce became a fixture at the Thanksgiving meal all due to two simple factors - availability and marketing.

The Ocean Spray cooperative, which famously operates to this day by the same name, was founded around the same time as wet harvesting began to see use. With cranberries being available much later in the year, they put a crack marketing team to work and made sure folks knew to serve their jellied cranberry sauce at their next holiday meal.

How does the gelatinous cranberry sauce become jellied, you ask? Well, pectin is a naturally occurring component in cranberries. The cans are filled with a liquid cranberry slurry while still hot, which then turns to jelly as the mixture cools. That's why cranberry sauce molds itself to the shape of the can!

Having trouble getting cranberry sauce out of its can? Use a blunt butter knife! Insert it at the edge of the jelly where it meets the can and release the vacuum seal. It should then shake right out.

Cranberry sauce - some people love it, some people hate it. Either way, it's a marvel of Twentieth Century food science!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Angels Among Us.

'Elijah Fed by an Angel' by Ferdinand Bol (painted between 1660 - 1663)

I often hear on television and in the news folks talking about angels. Whether as guardian spirits, protectors or holy interveners, angels exist as heavenly beings of pure joy that look out for our well being. They stop someone from dying, or losing a valuable possession. Perhaps they keep a child from being injured... or worse.

For those of you that know me well, you might be asking yourself...

"Why is Jared talking about angels? He's not even religious!"

You'd be correct in your query. I'm not religious. Normally, I wouldn't discuss a matter such as angels, but an event from today compels me to break from the norm.

While taking care of a business-related matter today, I crossed paths with an old, helpless woman. She called out to me from her dilapidated vehicle. "Sir... Sir... Can you help me?" She spoke with a tinge of desperation. I approached and asked what I could do to assist her. Apparently, her vehicle would not start and she hadn't been able to get someone to help her for a while. I raised her car's hood and could immediately see the issue -- her battery was covered with acid corrosion and the engine wasn't getting enough electricity to turn over. Thankfully, she had a soda pop in her car, which I used to clean the corrosion off. From that point, I pushed her car into a position where I could link my battery to her's and try to jump-start it. After a long bout of pushing her boat of a vehicle (a Grand Marquis to be exact) and giving her steering directions, we got things worked out just right. A few minutes later, her engine was running and she was ready to go.

Before she could pull off, she profusely thanked me and offered up $5 for my help. No matter how much I said no, she wouldn't take the money back.

"Young man, God put you here today for a reason. You were my angel."

With that, I smiled, wished her Happy Thanksgiving and she pulled away.

She didn't know anything about me, even my name. Nor did I catch her name. She didn't know where I came from or what my personal convictions were. Yet, her words got me to thinking.

What if angels are real?

Now, I don't mean that in a feathery wings and halos sort of way. But... what if angels walk among us all the time? What if they're sitting next to us on the subway, or standing in line behind us at the checkout register? What if we're the angels we've been looking for?

We can be good to our fellow man. Our actions reflect how we view ourselves and others. We can choose to value each other as equals and provide a hand when asked. We can choose to be the angels we seek, whether you're a Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist... or anything on the spectrum of personal belief.

As we enter into the Thanksgiving holiday (my most favorite of all), I want to take a moment and show my gratitude to the nameless woman I met today. She taught me an unexpected lesson...

Within each of us is the power to be an angel. We just have to hear the call when asked to be one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Hanging In There.

Just a small update before I turn in for the night. Mellow is hanging in there, but he's in quite a bit of pain. He has spent most of his time resting on a fluffy bed with ice packs to alleviate the swelling. He's in good spirits, but I can tell he's feeling pretty down and depressed at times. Mellow is not one to spend a lot of time laying down. Seeing the poor man hobble to use the bathroom is upsetting to say the least. Either way, Mellow is getting all the support he can. Even Echo has shown some concern over his condition. Let's hope tomorrow brings more improvement.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Man's Best Friend.

Mellow saw the vet today. Thankfully, he doesn't have any broken bones. From what we can gather, he must have severely twisted or jammed his leg. This is good news, but he's going to be out of commission for a few weeks. Looks like Mellow's age is finally catching up with him.

I must be frank, though. This reminder of my fluffy friend's mortality is not pleasant. The thought of Mellow not being with me for a lifetime is unsettling at best. Canine he may be, Mellow is family. I hold him in the same regard as a child. For those of us that welcome dogs into our lives... this is the weight we must bear. Our dogs can't stay with us forever. We must contend with the burden of burying our friends; we must shoulder the grief that comes with losing a member of the family. With my other dog Echo pulling through mammary cancer earlier in the year, it's been a wild ride of emotions when it comes to my dogs.

Mellow (left) and Echo (right)

All dogs descend from the gray wolf. Their evolution from wolf to dog dates as late as nearly 38,000 years ago. Skeletal dog remains have been discovered with humans at nearly all major archaeological dig sites of ancient civiliations around the globe - Siberia, China, Persia and so on. The dog has been with us for as long as we've been human. When folks state that the dog is man's best friend, it's quite literally a true statement. Without the dog by our side, mankind surely wouldn't have flourished quite as proficiently. Whether in the role of guardian, hunter or friend, dogs have walked the same path out the prehistoric caves of antiquity as humanity has. We collectively owe a great deal to the dog.

And to think... all dogs want in return is a little bit of love.*

*Maybe some table scraps every once in a while wouldn't hurt, either.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

One of Those Days.

Today has just been one of those days. There simply isn't enough time in the day. Seems like one thing after another just goes wrong. And look at me... my blood pressure goes up, I get testy and yell. GAH!

Between trying to do double-time on my business inventory and get it prepped for sale in time for the Black Friday / Cyber Monday sales rush... managing a sick dog, cooking, cleaning... it just gets to be too much.

I wanted to cook pork ribs for dinner. Of course, I open the package and they're spoiled. The rotten odor hit me as soon as I peeled the plastic back and incurred a gurgle in my gut. Food Lion will be hearing from me!

Mellow's bum leg is unfortunately not improving, so an unexpected visit to the vet in an already busy week will be attempted tomorrow.

I still have to clean and prepare for dinner guests this week. I'm happy to host Thanksgiving visitors for once, but I am grossly unprepared and not accustomed to such a daunting task.

Of course, when I get aggravated, I inappropriately yell and argue with Crystal. She's under just as much stress in trying to prepare for the holiday... probably more so than I. What do two bull-headed, domineering people do in a relationship when things get tense? They argue. BLAH! I hate the thought of fussing... really makes me feel like a piece of crap. I always vent and say things I don't mean.

Either way, I've got work to do. Tomorrow's blog post may be reported from an asylum.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Workin' Hard for the Money.

This is what my office desk looks like at the moment.

As you can see, it is literally covered in Transformers, a few Ghostbusters, a Godzilla and some other really awesome odds and ends. Folks, this is how I make my money. I hit a large toy and collectibles show today and CLEANED IT OUT. There's a certain thrill from wheelin' and dealin' that I can't get anywhere else. It'll take me many hours on end to match each and every piece together correctly, but it's so worth it. What you can't see in this photograph are the many multiple bags of items I still have to go through.

Old toys are my passion. That being said, if you're in the market for an old toy or collectible this holiday season, let me know. If I don't already have that special gift you need, I can probably locate it!

Godzilla says "Rooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr!"*

*Translated - Jared knows what the hell he's doing.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Poor Old Mr. Mellow.

Poor Mr. Mellow...

He's nursing an injury at the moment. The pitiful fellow... he can barely walk without limping his front right leg. It's believed that he may have landed wrong on a fence while jumping over it, or perhaps even tripped over a log. I'm just not sure. He did it Wednesday night, that's for certain. He was stiff yesterday, but has shown a slight bit more movement today. His leg isn't broken and he can put weight on his foot. He's got full range of motion, but I can feel a small lump on his ribs behind his shoulder. There's a skin abrasion there, but no puncture wound or cut. I suspect he bruised himself quite badly, or even cracked a rib. There's not much that can be done for that, short of a good diet and plenty of rest.

He's been quite calm these past few days. Those of you that know Mellow understand how excitable he can normally be, so calmness is a break from the norm. Either way, I suspect his pride could be hurt more than his body. As it stands, Mellow sure does love the extra special attention he's been getting.

I love the big, fluffy Old Man, as he's come to be known. Mellow will turn eight years old on April 26, so he's getting on up there in age. I hope I get many more years with the nervous fluff-ball, but either way... he's the best friend I've ever had. As much as Mellow drives me bananas sometimes, I love him with all my heart.

Please excuse the poor quality of the selfie pictures. Mellow isn't one to hold still for very long.

Ramblings from the Checkout Line.

I'm blogging this live from register #5 at Harris Teeter. I've been waiting in line for ten minutes, with no end in sight.

Oh look, it's that quack Doctor Oz staring at me from the candy rack!

Seriously... the woman in line ahead of me is buying a dozen containers of pimento cheese, three big packs of bacon and a half dozen bottles of tonic water. Something tells me this broad knows how to party! Harris Teeter is a mad house... and of course only half the registers are open. That's just how rich corporations roll! They make you WAIT on their dime!

The funniest part? My register attendant got snippy when we tried to bag our own groceries. If you don't like it, then actually have a bag boy come over and do their job!


Okay, I'm out. Back later with something more well thought out.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Absurdity of Book Censorship.

If there's one hot-button subject that really stokes my fire, it's the concept of censorship. Specifically, the banning of books.

Out of all the methods of content delivery available to us -- film, television, music, digital content, print -- I see the censoring of a book as the most egregious. Why?

It's simple - the book operates on a few key principles:

  • No one can force you to read a book (short of putting a weapon to your head).
  • The content within a book is "witnessed" with the Mind's Eye; it's all theater of the mind.
  • One can choose to close a book at any time, or continue to read it.

A book is not something that can force its way into your life. Only you can pick it up and open its cover. Only you can read the words. Only you can envision what the words are describing. Don't like it? Close it and move on to something else.

Yet, even in 2014, books are still being banned. What are the top reasons submitted as justification for banning a book?

  • Sexually explicit material
  • Offensive language
  • Material 'unsuited' to an age group
  • Violence
  • Homosexual activity
The chief defense against such absurd excuses is the matter of personal subjectivity. What constitutes sexually explicit material? What about offensive language? What's offensive to one person is not to another. How can you deem material unsuitable for an age group? Did you speak with the group? Did you ascertain as to their maturity level? What about violence? Wouldn't banning on the basis of violence deem nearly all religious texts and historical novels as guilty? As to the homosexual activity, isn't that a matter of personal choice?

Let's just cut to the heart of what book censorship is all about - forcing your own agenda upon a large group. That's it. Folks whom are afraid of other ideas entering the public domain are absolutely terrified of books. The knowledge contained within books can't be controlled, much less presented in such a way that the Mind's Eye will "watch" it in the "proper" manner.

Nope, in the opinion of the one whom censors, banning a book is the only way to achieve total control of the populace.

In 2013, the top banned books were:
*Data Pulled from the American Library Association
  1. Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey
  2. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  7. Looking for Alaska by John Green
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  9. Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  10. Bone by Jeff Smith
Of this list, I've read three of the novels (and/or series) -- Captain Underpants, Looking for Alaska and Bone. I can assure you - none of these books need banned. In fact, all three are wonderful novels (Bone is a graphic novel series) that assert comedy, introspection, bravery, deep thoughts on life and what it means to be alive. I'm certain the other novels on this list reach similar heights of achievement.

I'm thankful I read Fahrenheit 451 at a very early age in life. Perhaps one of the most banned books in the history of censorship, Ray Bradbury's novel about a hollow utopia bankrupt of intellectual enrichment is an annual must-read for me. Fahrenheit 451 paints a future where books are completely outlawed, through which the populace has become dim and without merit. Books are burned for the greater good, supposedly. Mr. Bradbury, beginning with this novel and continuing through so many other stories, helped point me in the right direction in life. I can never repay him in full.

Censorship is wrong on all levels, no matter the medium. If you don't like something... turn the channel, shut off the television, silence the radio, leave the theater, close the book. Not all content is intended for every person. If it were, then what sort of society would we live in? One void of character and uniqueness -- a pale landscape of mediocrity and blandness...

A society absent a soul.

There is no good to be found in burning a book. In the ashes of the written word, only fear can be found.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

You Can Do What With Chapstick?

How awesome is lip balm? I keep a tube of Candy Cane flavored Chapstick on my nightstand because I like having minty fresh lips when I sleep. It also keeps my lips from drying out while I'm unconscious. Ohhhh... kissable and comatose!

There are other great uses for lip balm that you may not be aware of.

Cuts and Knicks From Shaving - helps relieve pain and swelling

Desk and Dresser Drawers - great for greasing the rails

Mosquito Bites - greatly reduces itching

Dry Elbows and Knees - works just as well as it does on the lips

Fuel Source - can be used to start a fire if rubbed on cloth or cotton; lip balm is flammable

Wind Burn - rub under the eyes to keep from burning your cheeks in high wind

Beards, Moustaches and Eyebrows - perfect for taming wild hairs

Do you know of any other surprising uses for lip balm? Please share!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Post Office Doesn't Suck.

Why are people so quick to curse and slander the United States Postal Service? Often times, we hear "the Post Office sucks" or "the Post Office is slow". How often have we heard that the Post Office "lost my mail"?

In my opinion, far too often.

The United States Postal Service is the backbone of American life, just as it has been for hundreds of years. Benjamin Franklin headed the first incarnation of the Postal Service after the Second Continental Congress. The Pony Express insured delivery as America expanded west. Every step of the way, the Postal Service has been there with us. They've delivered our packages, greeting cards and letters for HUNDREDS of years. I know of no other American business that can make a similar claim.

Each and every day, the Post Office delivers nearly 434 MILLION items.

In 2013 alone, they moved 158.4 BILLION letters and packages.

Step back and think about this for a moment. Out of all those BILLIONS of packages they deliver, you want to get upset about the rare piece that gets lost? Do you really expect perfect efficiency with BILLIONS of items being moved all across the globe?

If so, you're a nitwit.

Another common misconception is that our tax dollars support the US Postal Service. BZZZZZZZT! Wrong again. The Post Office is a constitutionally-mandated independent organization. It only operates upon the revenue it generates.

The US Postal Service is a valuable organization that keeps America operating. Much like the circulatory system of the human body, the Post Office moves vital information, supplies and valuable objects all around the world. Without it, our nation would shut down. Think about life without the Post Office. The world as we know it would face constant gridlock. The next time you want to curse the day the Post Office ever started operations, take a moment and reconsider how valuable of a service it is. For the mere cost of a postage stamp, you can send a letter thousands of miles away. That's a good, cost-effective service as far as I'm concerned.

Think about what the Post Office has done for you each and every day... and be thankful.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Origin of the Transformers.

Transformers... they absolutely consumed my childhood.

Interestingly enough, they still do.

If there's any sort of starting point with Transformers, then it has to be with Optimus Prime. Everybody knows the name. As far as fictitious characters go, Prime has withstood the test of time. Thirty years later and kids still know who he is. The same certainly can't be said about Skeletor or He-Man (which makes no sense to me, but that's another story altogether). As a whole, Transformers are perhaps the most successful toy line in history.

Optimus Prime

The story of the Transformers actually begins in 1980, a full four years before the first Transformer toy was ever released. Takara, a Japanese toy manufacturer, created a new series of toys called Diaclone. The toys were all based on real life vehicles that could change into robots. Many of the original Transformers toys from 1984 and 1985, like Optimus Prime, Thundercracker, Jazz, Hoist and Grapple, were released as Diaclones in their original forms with no names or backstory. In fact, many were in different colors that would eventually be changed for the Transformers toy line. For example, Ironhide as we all know is a red van. But, when he first came out as a Diaclone toy, Ironhide was a black van.

Pre-Transformers Diaclone "Ironhide"

In the time between 1980 and 1984, the Diaclone toys had mild success in Japan. Takara even began to export some of the Diaclone toys to the United States and Europe, where they were met with a lukewarm reception. At the time, the Masters of the Universe and Cabbage Patch Kids dominated the toy market. Diaclone was no match!

In 1983, Takara also released a smaller toy line in Japan called Micro Change. These toys were smaller than the Diaclone toys and had designs based on household objects, guns and tools. These toys would later become Transformers characters like Soundwave, Reflector, Megatron, Blaster and the cassette tape Transformers (Ravage, Eject, etc.).

Soundwave and cassette Ratbat


At the 1983 Tokyo Toy Show, representatives from American toy company Hasbro encountered the Diaclone and Micro Change toys for the first time. They negotiated a deal with Takara by the end of the year to license their toys and sell them in the United States. To make the toys more easily accessible and memorable, Hasbro decided early on to sell them under one brand name with a unifying story. To develop that story, Hasbro turned to Marvel Comics. Hasbro had already achieved remarkable success with Marvel through their development of the G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero toy line, cartoon and comics. Essentially, Hasbro figured they could make lightning strike twice... and they were right.

Marvel's Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter, writer Dennis O'Neil and editor Bob Budiansky all contributed to the Transformers story and generated character biographies. To go along with the upcoming toy line, they began publication of a Transformers comic series which surprisingly ran for eighty issues. Hasbro also hastily ordered production of the original Transformers cartoon. By the holiday season of 1984, the Transformers were on store shelves and ready to surprise eager kids as gifts. Though, they didn't remain on toy shelves for very long -- most stores sold out of Transformers very quickly. Kids had already gobbled up the comics and watched the cartoons; now they desperately wanted the toys for holiday gifts (to which parents eagerly obliged).

The Seacons merge to form the giant robot combiner Piranacon

The rest, as they say, is history. Transformers became a huge phenomenon and are still in production to this day. Through countless cartoons, movies, comics and toy lines, Transformers have remained in production or for sale consistently for thirty years. The 2014 Holiday Season will be the thirtieth time kids (and adult collectors like myself) will receive Transformers as gifts. Oh, how lucky we are!


Pretender Skullgrin

*All photos are from my personal archive.*

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Try a Little Tenderness.

This week in the year 1966, one of the finest soul songs ever recorded was released as a single by the sorely missed Otis Redding -- "Try a Little Tenderness".

Redding tragically passed away a little over a year later on December 10, 1967. He was involved in a mysterious plane crash, which to this day has gone without any solid explanation. Within the music industry, Redding was known as a hard-working, honest, philanthropic and all-around friendly guy. His legacy has only continued to grow since his passing. I wish he was alive today, still pumping out heartfelt tunes that awaken the spirit. It's a shame he's gone -- just think of what he could have done with modern music! Soul music would have surely fared far better had he been around to take part in shaping it.

Yet, we have Otis' music to remind us of how great a man he truly was. The music is something that can never be taken from us. Music has made Redding and many other artists sadly taken away too soon immortal.

"(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay" was released a month after Redding's death and went straight to number one on the Billboard charts. It was Otis' only number one single, as well as being the first song to ever reach number one after the death of the recording artist.

I like to think that somewhere out there, Otis is still making music.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

More Exclamation Points!

Oh wow... boy did I have a great day!

Not only did I find a massive ton of complete LEGOS for only $30 at a liquidation sale this morning (SCORE!), but I also got to hang out in an arcade for a few hours (DOUBLE SCORE!!) and beat an old school Golden Axe game with Crystal (TRIPLE SCORE!!!).

On top of that, Crystal made me a royal dinner -- steak, okra, Brussels sprouts and macaroni and cheese, plus nachos and a killer chocolate cobbler!


This needs more exclamation points. Please, indulge me...




Okay, I think I'm goooood.... no wait... oooooohhhhh...


What a most excellent birthday I've had today. I can't be more thankful. So many of you wished me well  -- THANK YOU! It's nice to know my friends and family think about me. Perhaps I'm not such an unlovable curmudgeon after all.

My spirits are riding high this evening. I've got some great jazz playing from the Holiday Jazz Radio channel I manage over at Pandora. You're welcome to listen in and enjoy the jazzy tunes all season long. I've started my spiral into the Holidays on a better note this year than in the past. You -- my family and friends -- are the reason for that.

Now let's celebrate! Thanksgiving, here I come!

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Greatest Gift.

I'm writing tonight's blog post from the comfort of my bed. It has been a very long day and I'm bushed to say the least. I want to say thank you to two wonderful people whom thought about my upcoming birthday today.

Brooks, thanks again for the birthday card. We've known each other for many years. Through the highs, lows and miles in between, you've been my friend. For that, I am ever grateful.

Julie, I really appreciate you taking time out of your schedule to come see me today. Your gifts were wonderful and I'll get much use out of them. You're the best little sister a big lug like me could ask for.

Not many people have stuck by me through my life, but I've always had a close-knit group of friends and family that have loyally supported me. Your dedication does not go unnoticed. Admittedly, I am not an easy person to contend with; I am fully aware of how difficult it is to know me.

Loyalty is the greatest gift I can offer. Your kindness to me will always be repaid in excess.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Miss Kagawa - ミス·香川.

In celebration of my birthday this week, I was lucky enough to visit the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences today. Oh, what a wonderful place it was. Full of exquisite exhibits and interactive displays - it really was a treat. Thanks for the trip, Crystal!

While there, I happened upon this unique display.

This doll is known as Miss Kagawa. It was one of fifty-eight friendship dolls given to the People of the United States by Japan in 1927 and 1928. The dolls, also known as Torei Ningyo (Ambassador Dolls) went to different locations around the country. Miss Kagawa came to the state of North Carolina. Japanese Friendship Dolls were a token of peace and gratitude given by the citizens of Japan to ease international tensions and foster amicable relationships.

Unfortunately, by World War II, the American perception of Japan had fallen into ill-favor. All of the Friendship Dolls given to the United States were either destroyed or hidden away -- except for Miss Kagawa. Miss Kagawa was the only Japanese Friendship Doll to remain on display throughout the entirety of World War II. A placard near the doll read at the time during World War II...

"The Japanese made an insane attack upon the American Territory of Hawaii on December 7, 1941. With a grim determination we now are committed to stop for all time Japanese aggression. This has no bloodthirsty implications to destroy peoples as such. We still believe in peace and good-will, to live and let live.

Men, women, and children of Japan have this good-will but they have now been dominated by ruthless leaders. Proof of such latent good-will are the Friendship Doll Exhibits exchanged between children of the United States and Japan during 1926 and 1927 and shown as here in Museums in both countries."

It seems that out of all the locations in the United States that hosted one of the Japanese Friendship Dolls, only the administration of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences had the foresight to realize one key point. The People of Japan had no quarrel with Americans during World War II. Their intent to promote friendship was just as true then as when the dolls were originally gifted.

War is the action of aggressive governments, not good-natured citizens. Wars are fought between governments, not people.

Miss Kagawa stands as a symbol of eternal hope in the face of despair. After World War II, the Japanese Friendship Dolls that survived took a long time to return to the public eye. Yet, Miss Kagawa stood vigilant through it all, on display for everyone to see. 

In 1998, Miss Kagawa made a homecoming trip to Kagawa Prefecture in Japan. She spent a year there, where some restoration work was performed. Many commemorative ceremonies were also held in honor of Miss Kagawa, colloquially referred to as the "US-Japan Peace Envoy".

I highly suggest that you see Miss Kagawa for yourself if you have the opportunity!

For further information on Miss Kagawa's homecoming, visit:

For more information on the other Japanese Friendship Dolls, visit:


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Magnificent Pipe Organ.

I'm not sure I've publicly disclosed this before, but I adore pipe organ music. Though I may not be religious, I can always appreciate a church or cathedral that has an actual, playable organ. Organs have this haunting quality that deeply appeals to me. If I had the coordination (and smaller hands) to play a keyboard-like instrument, the pipe organ would be my go-to music maker.

The world's oldest pipe organ which is still in use resides in Switzerland. Dating back to at least 1435, the organ housed within the church of Notre Dame de Valere at Sion is a marvel of construction. While many parts have been refurbished or replaced over the centuries, some components are still original. Imagine it - an instrument that's much older than anything else we can actually put our hands on still makes enchanting music! It has outlived our forefathers and will probably outlive us. Many other organs spread all across the globe are nearly just as old, dating to the mid to late 1400's.

Even with modern technology, constructing a new pipe organ is a daunting task. It first takes years of planning and conceptualization. The type of music being played, as well as the acoustics of the housing location, are taken into consideration. After that, the process to complete the organ takes very precise and exacting steps. Everything must be tuned properly for the organ to sound correct. From there on, the organ will need regular cleaning and maintenance. As such, the pipe organ was long considered mankind's most daring and complex achievement. It took the advent of the modern telephone network of the late 1900's to engulf that position!

Pipe organs originated in Ancient Greece around 300 BC. In the beginning, they were simple water organs known as the hydraulis. Over many centuries, the organ evolved with more pipes, increased air pressure, bellows and refined timbres.

Surely you'll agree - the pipe organ is one of mankind's boldest triumphs. From houses of worship, to concert halls, to the early years of cinema with silent films, the pipe organ has entertained all of humanity. With that, I consider the pipe organ as the most important of all musical instruments.

And now, for your listening enjoyment, here's Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor on the world's largest pipe organ.

For a little bit of fun, here's the Doctor Who theme performed on a pipe organ.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Going Home.

I wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to write about today. A few potential subjects popped into my head - the dinosaur ankylosaurus, celtic music, robots, even how glow-in-dark items work. While I do want to write about these things, today just didn't feel like the day. Though, in my heart, I knew I had to write. Nay, I am compelled to put words down.

So here I am. I'm letting the words lead me to where I need to be.

While trying to decide where this blog post would go, a certain piece of music started playing that reminded me of a feeling. Remember when you would get dressed in fancy clothes as a kid and take a trip to see family at the holidays? I know for me, the most exciting part about Christmas was going to see my maternal grandparents. Even though it was not my own, the sensation was like going home for me. The cookies, the turkey, the PRESENTS! Oh my... the entire season was just so wonderful. It goes much deeper than silly gifts and stuffing my face, though.

I realize the holidays aren't quite here yet, but bear with me in this moment.

If I sit here very still and concentrate, I can remember even the smell of my grandparents' house during the holidays. It's a memory I certainly can't describe to you with mere words, but I'm positive you can appreciate the invocation. Even better was the glow of ornaments and decorations.

A series of silver bells hung over a large mirror in the living room. They would light up and give this strange, but comforting aura as they rested above the mirror's reflective surface. 

My favorite seat in the house was Grandpa's chair. In my mind, I can still feel it.

To the left, a small coffee table with a beautiful lamp. The base of the lamp was bulbous and had an internal light, which was great for use as a nightlight. A beige rotary telephone sat underneath. Oh, how I miss rotary phones. The table itself was always full of great catalogs and magazines to browse through. To the right was where the Christmas tree would always sit on glorious display.

Curled up next to the Christmas tree, with the lights turned down low... that sensation of being at home is still with me.

The shine of the tiny light bulbs on the tree would echo and bounce across the room, making everything sparkle in the darkness. Little wooden ornaments adorned the tree, representing all manner of creatures and people. You just don't see old wooden ornaments like that anymore.

As we grow old and change, I think we all try to copy that feeling of home in our own lives. It's a very difficult feeling to copy, much less copy well.  Even still, if we are able to capture the aesthetic of home, many of those we love so dearly can't be there with us. Sure, they're there in spirit, but to be able to speak to them? To hug them? To get grandma's big sloppy kisses? To feel grandpa squeeze on you one last time?

Times change. People come and go. Memories are all we have.

I must admit -- I'm slightly teary-eyed as I finished that last sentence.

We spend our whole lives in search of going home. For each of us, it's a different road, a different destination. Yet, what we want is the same. The unfortunate part? Some of us get there and some of us don't. What a terrible thing it must be to never get back home again. The empty faces we pass on the street, huddled under soiled blankets and boxes. Surely, those poor souls just want to go home, but somehow lost their way in the fog of real life. What about the lowly inmate, locked behind bars for crimes against their fellow man? Did he or she not start out with good intentions? Did they not want to just feel loved a little bit longer? To find a little bit of solace in the storm? No matter their crime, they too were at one point in their lives just an innocent child. What happened to lead them away from home?

The journey back home is about finding those things that make us feel whole again.

One more meal with those we love. One more hand shake. One more toast to the cook. One more bottle of wine. One more Christmas carol. One more hug. One more moment of knowing the outside world doesn't matter.

As much as it can hurt at times, I'm thankful I've never forgotten these things.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Not a Single Photo.

For a reason unbeknownst to me, I've just felt ho-hum today. Nothing triggered it; today has just been one of those days. That's what it is to live with depression. Sometimes, you eat the bear.

Sometimes, the bear eats you.

To work myself out of my funk this afternoon, I went to a local park to try and shoot some photos. I walked the trails, bobbing in and out of trees, standing on rocks, hopping over logs, squatting next to the water's edge. I photographed a big fat nothing. No luck finding anything of interest to take a picture of. Shooting film is expensive, so I try not to waste my pictures on common place scenes and things I can witness all the time. The sun had crawled lower in the sky, so I'd hoped to get some great light reflecting off the autumn trees. Alas, that didn't happen.

No matter what I tried, I simply couldn't get anything to work right.

Taken in perspective, I handled myself today much better than I would have a few years ago. Sure, nothing worked out as I planned today, but that's okay. I returned home having not taken a single photo. Yet, tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another chance at having a great photo shoot. Tomorrow is... well... tomorrow!

Many of you whom read this blog are photographers. Tell me, how do you handle days where you just can't seem to snap a decent photo? I couldn't be the only one whom has experienced this phenomena. Would you rather shoot a bad picture versus no picture at all? Or, would you rather wait until a better photo opportunity comes along?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Why I Love Bar Soap.

Let's cut right to the chase. I love bar soap.

Sure, you can get soap in a supposedly more convenient liquid form, but it's just not the same. You push a button, you drip it into your hand, you push the button again because the first squirt wasn't enough, and so on. Blah! Good riddance!

Liquid soap simply does not afford the same feeling of cleanliness as a good old classic bar does. It also takes more liquid soap to accomplish the same job as bar soap. Plus, bar soap provides a rush of aromas that liquid soap can't. And to think -- I haven't even ventured into the realm of the shower, where bar soap is definitely king.

Let's step back and understand the origin of soap, shall we?


In it's most basic form, soap is produced from fatty acids (whether from plants or animals) reacting with an alkaline solution. This process is called saponification. Of note, glycerin is a byproduct of this reaction and is usually left in the batch for personal-use soaps. Industrial-grade soap typically has the glycerin removed. The recipe for soap is very exact, requiring specific temperatures and alkaline levels throughout to produce usable (and commercially viable) results.

Humans have produced soap for at least five thousand years, but probably for much longer. The Babylonians, Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and ancient Celts all have recorded historical evidence showing formulas for making soap. In fact, a large soap factory was just discovered in the ruins of Pompeii, which was destroyed (and inadvertently preserved) by a volcanic eruption in 79 AD. These methods typically relied upon fire ash for the alkaline element. For the fatty acids, scraps from animals (deer, pigs, cattle) or fibrous plants like hemp were used.

Let's vault ahead to 1791. A Frenchman by the name of Nicholas LeBlanc further refines the soap making process and makes it much cheaper to produce. LeBlanc determines how to create soda ash (sodium carbonate) from widely available salt, which reduces the cost of soap production drastically. Soda ash could then be used as the alkaline reacting agent in the saponification process. Shortly thereafter in 1811, another Frenchman named Michael Chevreul analyzes and determines the exact procedures, ingredient amounts and temperatures for making the optimum soap. The cost of soap drops even further!

By the end of the 1800's, widespread soap production had moved out of the home and into the commercial realm. Bar soap has been sold in one form or another since the Industrial Revolution. Pears Brand Soap, which has been in production consistently since 1807, is the world's oldest continually-produced brand. It began operations in London, England and now sells its wares globally.


You see, bar soap isn't just something that gets us clean. Soap is a connection to our past. For as long as we have records of human civilization, soap has been right there with us. The essentials of soap production have changed very little in that time frame. Every time you hop in the shower to lather up, you're repeating a ritual shared over many thousands of years. Your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother did the same thing you're doing right now. How many other aspects of your daily life can you say that about?

There's just something refreshing about rubbing my hands together with a nice chunky bar of soap that makes me feel better. I don't get that same feeling with liquid soap... and I doubt I ever will. Liquid soap wasn't even widely commercially available until the 1970's. Since then, it has unfortunately surpassed bar soap in sales. Perhaps the most shameful aspect of many liquid soaps, body washes and shower gels is that they're not soap at all. In fact, they're detergents!

That's right - the body wash you put on your skin is the same chemical format you use to wash your laundry.

I want you to go into your bathroom, pick up your bottle of shower gel or body wash, flip it over and read the ingredients on the back. See all those long chemical names that are hard to pronounce? Yeah... that means it's not soap at all. If you pay close attention to the product labels and their commercials, you'll also notice that they never actually call their product soap - it's merely implied. The Food and Drug Administration dictates that only actual true soap can be sold as such in the United States. Thank goodness for that!

If you look on a package of bar soap, the first ingredient will always say 'soap'. The other ingredients will be shorter and much less imposing.

With all this being said, what are my favorite widely available commercial soaps? In no particular order...

Dial Gold - My classic go-to soap. I love how bright and thick it is. Lathers up quite well and makes my hands smell great. Never dries them out.

Lifebuoy - Another great classic soap. Used to be available in the United States up until the early 1990's, but sadly isn't sold here readily anymore. Has to be ordered. The smell is something you'll never forget (I know I haven't). The red glow is charming and comforting. Remember that classic scene in "A Christmas Story" where Ralph has to put a bar of soap in his mouth? Yep, that's Lifebuoy.

Yardley of London Oatmeal & Almond - Talk about a smooth soap that really smells nice. It goes on clean and doesn't leave any funky after-shower odors.

Shugar Soapworks Oatmeal & Verbena - These bars are HUGE! The smell is also very intoxicating. The aroma is similar to a tasty glass of fresh lemonade. I can't suggest this soap to you enough!

I also love goat soap. Handcrafted soap is most certainly better for your skin anyway!

There's one villain to be had in all this soapy festiveness - Irish Spring. I'm terribly allergic to it!

This dreadful stuff gives me hives. Be gone demon!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

How I Missed the Boat on "Bob's Burgers".

Have I ever mentioned how much I like "Bob's Burgers"? I mean I REALLY like it. At first, I didn't believe I would. When "Bob's Burgers" premiered, "King of the Hill" had just been canceled, which happens to be one of my favorite television programs of all time. How could the Fox Network attempt to replace such a classic with a show about a greasy burger shop? It just didn't make any sense to me.

I really miss the Hill Family.

Jump ahead to last year...

A few years had passed since "King of the Hill" was canceled. I'd not attempted to watch "Bob's Burgers" in that time. That was soon to change, though. Late one night, I happened to catch an episode on Adult Swim. Half asleep and not thinking clearly, I somehow found myself chuckling at the odd Belcher Family of "Bob's Burgers"! Before long, I was asking myself...

"Why in the hell am I not watching this show already?"

One of the most genuine families on television. They've got PROBLEMS.

When it comes to missing out on great television programs, this was perhaps my biggest mistake. For two years, a great comedic program was airing right under my nose. My anger over the cancellation of "King of the Hill" had clouded my judgment. I should have known all along that "Bob's Burgers" would be fantastic. It was created by Loren Bouchard, whom also developed the highly superb and perpetually flying-under-the-radar cartoon "Home Movies".

Side Note - Home Movies was ironically co-created with Brendon Small and based upon his childood. Small went on to create the crushingly awesome Metalocalypse!

Side Side Note - I know my cartoons. The web of cartoon animation is a dangerous place to traverse. I came prepared! *cracks whip*

Could the quirkiness of the Belchers ever replace the straight-laced Hill Family? Of course not. But, that doesn't mean I couldn't find a new place in my heart for such a lovable cast of characters. "Bob's Burgers" truly is an achievement in animation... perhaps in televised comedy altogether.

If you haven't already given "Bob's Burgers" a try, I highly suggest you do so. Pro tip - keep an eye on the chalk board behind the counter in the restaurant. There's a different gimmick-themed burger every episode (and sometimes between scenes)!

I'll be discussing the phenomenon that is "King of the Hill" in a future article!

"Bob's Burgers" and "King of the Hill" are both owned by Fox. Images used are for illustrative purposes only and do not attempt to infringe upon the copyrights of the owner.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Another Story Hidden From View.

While browsing through the book section of a local thrift store, I happened upon a copy of Moliere's masterful Seventeenth Century comedy "The Misanthrope". I've wanted a copy for quite a while because I rather enjoy this farce. Obviously, I was overjoyed.

Sure, I could buy a new copy from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, but what fun would that be?

Anyway, upon bringing the book home, I discovered that within it's pages was another story hidden from view. Not one of laughter or whimsical satire, but of a journey by someone whom was in love.

A few pages deep, I found this boarding pass.

It seems the previous owner of this book flew on Air Canada. Their last name was Brown and they went from Vancouver to Calgary. No date was provided, but I could say within reasonable certainty that it was no older than five or six years. On the back, more clues were to be found.

The first ticket appears to be linked to Calgary Transit, which is a bus and rail service. Finally, I had a date of travel! Looks like they arrived in Calgary and traveled further on June 5, 2009 (Canadians and the rest of the world typically reverse their date format from the way Americans do). We know the traveler was an adult based upon the price of the ticket.  There's another ticket related to Air Canada as well, which seems to confirm that the trip took place in June of 2009. The Brown name is also repeated again.

The plot thickens from this point. We're obviously dealing with a fan of poetry here.

About halfway through the book, I found a transcription of Amy Lowell's "The Taxi". Lowell is a Pulitzer Prize winning poet whom broke against traditional expectations of women during the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century. Her works are wrought with love and fiery passion. As evidenced by the poem itself, it speaks to leaving behind a loved one and how much it can hurt the soul. Based upon the handwriting, we can tell that the transcriber was a woman. The neat vertical strokes indicate the writer was logical and a thinker. The shortness of the letters reflects a person whom is introspective and shy. Being that it was printed and not written in cursive, we know the writer has a tendency to be patient, but also versatile.

But we're not done yet.

Towards the end of the book, one final poem was found.

The final poem is "I Carry Your Heart With Me" by E.E. Cummings. Known by readers of poetry the world over, Cummings is considered a champion of Twentieth Century literature. His works are known far and wide. This poem is famous for being used at weddings -- which makes sense considering the content. Read it for yourself and see. If you were to look love poem up in a dictionary, you may just see "I Carry Your Heart With Me". Obviously, our transcriber Brown is in deep love with someone, though we know not who.

I almost resigned myself to never knowing the end of the story, until I flipped the previous poem over. On the back, encircled in a heart, was the name Gregory Brown.

Ah-hah! So the target of our love is Gregory Brown. We know our traveler was also a Brown, so it must have been Gregory's wife! Alas, her name is lost to time.

I'm inclined to believe that Gregory Brown is from Vancouver, British Columbia. His wife took a trip away from him, but surely experienced much heartache in doing so. For someone to write such sweet, passionate musings and carry them in their book as a reminder, that bond must have been very strong. Why did Mrs. Brown travel to Calgary? Did she come back? Much less, how did this book wind up in North Carolina? That's quite a journey from Canada to here.

I'm always thankful to find a piece of the previous owner in a used book. It tells me that the book I'm taking home had a life before me. These little pieces tell a bigger story, one that you and I are now a part of.

Gregory Brown, if you're out there... you're a lucky man. I hope your love with this mysterious woman has only grown stronger with time.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Magnetic Warmth of Art Nouveau.

One of my favorite artistic styles is Art Nouveau. I thought I would share some of my favorite pieces with you. Perhaps you'll see something you recognize. If not, then hopefully I can open your eyes to this wonderfully charming manner of creative expression.

Art Nouveau is totally encompassing -- it can be seen in drawings, paintings, sculpture, architecture and functional design. In essence, Art Nouveau is about natural elegance. Curves and corporeal shapes are drawn upon to give the impression of authenticity. Works are filled with an alluring magnetic warmth, with some subjects appearing as if they will suddenly spring to life.

Most prevalent during the late 1800's through the turn of the Twentieth Century, Art Nouveau has maintained its stature and importance amongst appreciators of art. It's ability to capture the natural grace of the world, especially in the portrayal of the human form, is second to none.

Easily one of the most recognizable examples of Art Nouveau is this Absinthe Robette advertisment by Henri Privat-Livemont. And to think, this gorgeous image was produced just to sell an alcoholic beverage! A large print of this masterful work hangs in my home office. It's haunting green glow and ghostly maiden give it a strange, but exhilarating radiance.

This work by the famed Art Nouveau artist Alphonse Mucha is entitled "The Seasons". It captures the four seasons of our world in human form. From left to right, we have Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. Mucha actually produced multiple versions of "The Seasons" over the course of his career, but this one from 1895 is my most favorite. The ethereal quality of the four subjects hooks me every time I gaze upon it. For more information about the amazing career of Mucha and a large gallery of his works, visit this comprehensive page at Artsy!

Photo Credit - laurent.bardin

Jules Lavirotte is probably my favorite Art Nouveau architect. His work is scattered throughout Paris and was highly acclaimed in his lifetime. Seen above is what's known as the Lavirotte Building, located at 29 Avenue Rapp, 7th arrondissement in Paris, France. It features one of the most famous of all doorways in the entirety of Europe. Check this out!

This lush and sensational facade won Lavirotte the prestigious Concours de facades de la ville de Paris award in 1901. He designed it with Jean-Baptiste Larrive, whom is another champion of the Art Nouveau style in his own right. The content of the sculpting is risque and erotic in places, with the biblical Adam and Eve stationed on either side. A wolf appears to leap from the face of a haunted visage at the peek of the doorway. If you look closely at the door, you'll notice it contains some rather blunt anatomical imagery. With wispy curvatures and intricate webs of detail, you can see why it won such praise.

Illustrator N.C. Wyeth captures glowing imagery in his masterpieces like few artists since. Shown above is the front cover to the 1924 first edition of Thomas Bulfinch's "Legends of Charlemagne" (which was originally written in 1863). Wyeth provided full illustrations throughout for this edition, which has become quite rare and sought after. I'm very lucky to own a copy. This scene depicts the heroic St. George attacking the mythical dragon. Wyeth was not only influenced by the Art Nouveau style, but also the Art Deco style (which I aim to discuss in a future article).

I hope you've enjoyed this very brief journey through the Art Nouveau style. Let's visit it again at a future date!