the baroque cycle: a love story

Jack Shaftoe does what he does for the love of a woman. That would be Eliza. Eliza doesn't love Jack, so she says. She hurled a harpoon at him once, which would have seemed to drive the point home (pardon the pun).

Daniel Waterhouse is not doing what he does for love. Or is he? Daniel's good friend, one Isaac Newton, is in trouble. Daniel hatches an elaborate plan to bail him out or perhaps get him killed, or both.

Neal Stephenson
loves to write long, immensely complex, brilliantly conceived and researched historical fiction novels. The baroque cycle comprises three, no make that four such novels. There are three volumes but the middle one, The Confusion, is actually two novels which are sewn together, con-fused.

The final volume, called The System of the World (the title is lifted from a pusthumously published Newton book) brings the tale to a close. It is a wonder to read. The amount of work involved, not only in terms of crafting a story and writing it down, but in researching the situations Stephenson creates simply staggers the mind. There are sentences in the book that must have required months to be able to knowledgeably write down. Of course, there's plenty that Stephenson made up, as he says himself in an afterword.

Even though well informed (an breathtaking understatement), the Baroque Cycle, and in particular this final entry, is anything but dry. It is as entertaining a work of fiction as you are likely to encounter in modern literature.

My wife is about ready to give up on the whole thing, she's most of the way through book one, Quicksilver, and the story has failed to interest her. I think that the end of the book will grab her though and she'll need to read the middle one to find out what happens. Then, of course, she'll have to read System to finish it off. In other words, this is not a book you read on its own. If you want to enjoy the System of the World, you'll need to slog through the whole cycle, but it's worth it.

technorati tags: |

Posted to:

"two of my favorite people in the world talkin' to each other"

I'm not going to make you guess: the title is a quote from Silverado.

But that's not what this post is about. Jimmy Patterson of Sticky Doorknobs hosted a webcast today with Eric of the Fire Ant Gazette. Hear (and see) the famous Eric pronounce the word "gravitas."

And Jimmy, who forgot to shave... as did I! You're not alone Jimmy.

I dig the boots Eric, they're cool.

And Jimmy, I'm dismayed that you can't get into Cormac McCarthy, but I'll forgive you.

Posted to:



I actually put a lot of thought into what I might post today.

Then I saw this*.

And besides that, I have to be at my mail case at 5 am on Monday. You read that right. That's 5, as in F-I-V-E. So, goodnight.

*My big question about that post is this: What exactly constitutes a big deal Sunday after church lunch?
Posted to:



Today, a first. I drove into one of the many cul-de-sacs on the route (I did the whole route today, which makes two firsts, I guess). Some kids were playing ball in the street and they (sort of) made way for me. As I passed them very slowly, the kid with the ball in his hand looked at me and said what all of them were thinking, "Mailman."

It took me a moment to realize that he had spoken truthfully. I am a mailman.

Got through this day with no blown tires and no incidents. Delivered a couple of certified letters, a handful of parcels, and daily mail for about 500 residences and businesses.

This is what a regular carrier does every single day. Every day. (Actually, not quite. The route I'm on is the biggest of all the rural routes out of this office by a few stops).

Speaking of the regular carrier, he called me once but was comfortable enough that he didn't check in on me other than that phone call. The RD supervisor did call him however, at 10 minutes to 5pm because the truck was at the dock waiting to load the outgoing mail. She (the supervisor) chided him for leaving me alone on the route like that, and wondered if he knew where I was.

And where was I? I was out on the loading dock putting my outgoing mail into the sorting bins, right on time. When the suprevisor walked out she said, "Oh! You are here!"

That felt pretty good.

Tomorrow, I'll try to write some kind of post that's not... well, postal. There is other stuff going on in the world. Right?

Posted to:


flattened to the power of 2

Today, things were going great on the route... until I blew a tire in a new development with very very high curbs.

Thanks be to the Lord that the spare tire was actually a regulation tire, not a donut. SO I had that going for me... until I blew that one later in a development where there are no curbs at all. A storm drain got me.

I almost quit. Thanks to the regular carrier, the one who I will sub for and who is training me, all the mail was delivered, all the outbound mail made it to the post office before the truck came to get it, a new tire was purchased and installed on my car, and I was back at home by 5:20pm.

First rule when working for the postal service: tomorrow is another day.

Posted to:


quick, tell 'em about your day

Today I found out why the rural route I was assigned to is a killer.

Let me say simply that cluster boxes are the bane of my existence.

Tomorrow, I'm back at it starting at 6:30am.

Posted to:


stand (well, actually sit in my car) and deliver

You've been aching for me to say what my new job is, haven't you? Come on, admit it.

Well, here's the part where I tell you.

I'm now a Rural Carrier Associate... which is a fancy way of saying substitute mailman. When the regular rural carrier is on vacation, sick, or has the day off (1 day a week in addition to every Sunday), or when other subs are unavailable for their routes, I'm the guy.

If you've ever fantasized about being a letter carrier (and believe it or not, at least three close friends have confessed such fantasies to me when I told them what I was doing), you might want to stick with the fantasy. My illusions are rapidly being dispelled. Today was only the second day that I handled live mail. This after more than two solid weeks of full time training. In fact, technically I am still in training. Today I delivered about two thirds of my assigned rural route. The whole thing is 31 miles long and has over 500 stops. It apparently has a reputation as a monster. The work isn't especially hard but it's no picnic either, and these past two days have been very light. I shudder to think what's in store on the first heavy day, which will probably be either tomorrow or Friday.

If you pray, keep praying for me. I've enjoyed both the last two days quite a bit, but it is work. And one other thing: be nice to your letter carrier, you have absolutely no idea--none at all--what they do for you every day.

Posted to:


ear worm legalist

Kato at WITFITS accomplishes much with a little humor at the RIAA's expense.

And I can't get it out of my head,
no, I can't get it out of my head.
Now my old world is gone for dead
'cos I can't get it out of my head.

technorati tag:

driving test results: gray hairs and need for maalox

I mentioned that the new gig involves driving. So much driving in fact that a special driving course with a pass/fail test is required. If you should fail, yer done (I believe one retake may be allowed, but don't quote me on that).

The course and test was today. My training buddy (the same guy who's gone through the previous two weeks with me, training for the same position) and I were in Philadelphia again at 7 am. Another guy joined us as we waited for our instructor. This new guy, call him Bob, had already served in the same position for two years but needed to take additional training.

We learned and practiced through the morning, then broke for lunch. Then the road test, on real roads in center city Philadelphia.

For a number of reasons which I hope to reveal very soon, this was a non-trivial experience. You might be thinking, "City driving? Tense, but no big deal. What's all the fuss about?" Suffice it to say, for now, that everything about the driving experience in this position is new. It really is like learning to drive all over again.

So, back to the road test. It was easily the most nerve wracking thirty minutes I have ever spent behind the wheel. The instructor was teasing me the whole time, it was like going through hazing for a fraternity. Woah. He was hard and he meant business.

When we got back, he said, "See, that didn't hurt." I had no idea what that meant and didn't know the results until he handed me a sheet of paper and told me to report my hours to my supervisor at my office.

I passed. The other two guys did not.

Can you say "Grace of God?" I know I can.
Posted to:


no, you may not have my number

The new work I will very shortly be doing requires me to work by myself, unsupervised in various locations throughout the day. I will be driving a fair amount to reach these locations, some of which are about as rural as you can get in this part of the country.

So I did it. I can't believe I did it and I'm not proud of it, not at all.

Today, I purchased a pre-paid wireless phone.

The number of this phone will be jealously guarded. In fact, I don't even know it yet, I'm still trying to figure out how to work the thing.

Don't worry, I will not be like the person described here*. In fact, the biggest risk with this particular cell phone user is that my service will expire before I remember to buy some more minutes.

*The real purpose of this post is to get you to read the linked article in wired, which I think is very good, especially this paragraph:

"In public places, you have an obligation to hold up your end of the implied social contract by not imposing yourself on those around you. This is crucial to a civilized society and just because technology allows you to act like a braying ass in public doesn't mean you should do it. Quite the contrary, in fact. You need to be more aware of your surroundings than ever."


the cost of honesty

In the last two weeks in the new job I've been made to look like an idiot three times by acting on information received by others that was incorrect. In all three instances, the information was given to me and then confirmed by another person. And in all three instances, the information was wrong.

I'm an honest person. The main reason for this is that I can't lie to save my life; so I don't bother. And also because I think honesty is just plain better. I don't cheat on my taxes, fib to my wife or my supervisors, etc.

Today, I submitted a mileage reimbursement form for the travel to and from the various training sessions I've attended. The supervisor I will soon have to work with on a regular basis questioned the mileage rate I put down, the rate that I was told to use during the training. It turns out the supervisor was right and now I have to fill out the forms again with correct rate and resubmit them. That doesn't bother me at all. It doesn't bother me that the error was in my favor so I will now get less money for my travel. What bugs me is it looks like I was traying to milk more reimbursement than I was entitled to.

And this was just the latest instance. The worst part of all this is every one of these three mistakes was caught by my supervisor. That speaks well for her performance, but not necessarily for mine. And I'm not even out of training yet!

Posted to:


i don't often say this about movies

My daughters are in the living room right now watching Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I'm sitting in our office which is entirely too close to the living room.

My goodness, this film is unwatchably bad! My sincere apologies to those who seem to have enjoyed it. I mean no offense whatsoever.

But, gaaaaahhh! The acting: bad (except for Alan Rickman's voice work). The script: bad. The production: ham-fisted, second rate, TV serial quality. And that music! What in the world were they thinking? I feel like someone's going at my ears with a cheese grater.

When the movie came out, a few bloggers made reference to Sam Rockwell's performance as a sort of sendup of George W. Bush. Rockwell himself, in the DVD's special features, says he based his character partially on Bill Clinton but doesn't mention GWB. But I dunno, Rockwell's Beeblebrox seems more like a sendup of Owen Wilson. In fact, the producers should simply have paid megabucks to Wilson to play the part. That would have ensured one decent performance anyway.

Eric, in that post I linked to above, mentioned the similarity of this movie to Time Bandits. I believe he is absolutely correct in that comparison. Time Bandits, which I sooooo wanted to like, was every bit as unwatchable as this movie.

And finally, Mos Def should not act.

Posted to:

it's probably too late...

...but as far as birthday presents go, better late than never right? With that in mind I present to you the USB Coffee Warmer from Chows Industrial (China).

It claims to keep your coffee warmed to a pleasant 40 degrees C, that's 104 degrees, which most people would probably consider lukewarm. To me, it would be tepid.

And, after reading the comments on Gazotto's post, I'm thinking maybe it's not such a great gift idea after all.

Posted to:


Last year, when I "celebrated" my fortieth birthday I thought, "this year is gonna suck but maybe next year will be better." I still hope that as tomorrow and another birthday approaches, but only because hope dies last.

Incidentally, I share a birthday with Edgar Allen Poe and Robert E. Lee. Draw whatever conclusions you wish from that information.

Posted to:

wjim: the hits just keep on comin'

Got my car back yesterday from the million dollar brake job and it drove wonderfully today, and a good thing too!

So I get home (still in new job training mode, believe it or not) and find my oldest daughter lying on the couch sniffling, sneezing, with a sore throat and a temperature of 101. This is the same daughter who was sick with something else a little over a week ago, if you recall.


Posted to:


number one reason not to teach your parrott to talk

The future is highly uncertain, when it's not downright bleak. But I got a much needed laugh from reading this.

Alas, poor Ziggy had to part with his owner because, once he began squawking out the identity of her illicit lover he couldn' stop, even after the girl got her walking papers.

Now it's he said, she said, parrot said...

Him: "I still can't believe he's gone. I know I'll get over Suzy, but I don't think I'll ever get over Ziggy."

Her: "I am surprised to hear he got rid of that bird. He spent more time talking to it than he did to me."

Zig: "Hiya Gary"


frozen calipers for lunch

Took my car in today because the brakes were making noise. At noon they called me: calipers frozen. Seized. Sayonara!

The whole brake assembly needs replacing. All for the low, low price of about $900.

Couldn't come at a better time, either. It's looking to be a lean year here in PA. I'd better start writing that breakout novel.



sorry for the dearth of posts. it may continue for a couple of days yet. All I can say for now is this, the transition is not really going smoothly.

Posted to:


the end of suffering

You may remember this post from a few days ago, which made reference to Jimmy Patterson at Sticky Doorknobs. If you followed the links I posted, you would have read Jimmy's moving account of what he knew to be his mother's final days.

Yesterday, Jimmy's beloved Mama passed away. Today he has posted a lovely remembrance, including the details his father made him promise to include:

Betty made the best chocolate pie in the world and crocheted the most beautiful afghans ever made. She loved Christmastime, when every year 35-40 family and extended family members would crowd into “Nana and Pawpaw’s House” for dinner, a reading of the Christmas story and a gift exchange.

It's difficult and sad to lose a parent and Jimmy has handled it with grace and dignity. But as others are pointing out, a death is not an ending, and may in fact be considered a form of healing. I hope you will continue to remember Jimmy and his family as God walks with them through their time of mourning.

Posted to:


delurking week: now you tell me

Thanks to Mike Todd, I have lately found out that this week has been delurking week.

Great. So delurk yourself, provided you've been lurking in the first place here at serotoninrain. I'm hoping that those frequent visitors I see in my statcounter stats will step from the shadows. Share a blonde joke while you're at it.

But hey, if you don't want to, that's okay. I'm just glad you're here.

Carry on.

technorati tag:

Posted to:


the day that almost wasn't

I still don't feel right about telling you where I'm working, but I believe that day will come. For now, I'll remind you that it's a rather large organization that is part of the much larger ogranization known as Our Federal Government.

Before I relate what happened today, or more specifically, at the beginning of this day, I'd better say this... because of the heroic efforts of two people who I can't name, this sow's ear was actually made into a silk purse. All's well that ends well, and all that. To those two people, who probably won't ever see this, I salute you.

I'm still in orientation and will be for at least another week. Not only that, but there is a test I must pass at the end of that period in order to keep this nice new job. They didn't tell me that before this week, but hey... I'm not worried. Yet. By the way, a link to my resume is in my profile section.

So today, I had to go into this federal agency's Philadelphia office for a specific training module. For those of you not familiar with Phila, PA and environs, Pottstown is about 30 miles from the city. Access to the city by car is not a problem (except for traffic that will make a 40 minute trip into a 3 hour one) but parking for a full day will set you back at least $20. So my orientation buddies and I were encouraged to take the train.

We had to be at the training site at 7 am. So I got up at 4:45, was in my car at 5, pulled into the Paoli station on the Main Line at 5:30. I picked the Paoli station because there is a Starbucks adjacent to the parking lot, and it opens at 5:30am. Sweet.

I was on the platform waiting for the train at 5:37am. The train arrived right on schedule at 5:51 and I got off at the appropriate downtown Philadelphia station in time to make it to the training center by the appointed 7 am time. I ran into another guy from orientation on my way into the building. We rode the evlevator together, found the room we were supposed to locate, walked inside and the person there said...

"There is no training scheduled for today."

Us: "..."

Her: "Where are you supposed to be?"

Us: "We were told to come to room xxx at 7am."

Her: "For training?"

Us: "Yes."

Her: "There is no training scheduled for today."

After saying this she went into another room to check with what must have been her superior. She then called us into the room saying, "Come in here so you can talk to Mrs. Alpha (not the real name of course) and you will see that I am giving you accurate information." (Yes, those were her exact words)

Mrs. Alpha: "There is no training scheduled for today."

Me (a little curtly): "Please call Mr. Beta at such and such a facililty, he's been handling our orientation so far."

Mrs. Alpha (leaving a message on Mr. Beta's line): "Hi Mr. Beta, this is Mrs. Alpha. There is no training scheduled for today..."

Mrs. Alpha, despite her early reluctance, did manage of her own initiative (befor Mr. Beta even returned her call) to pull it together so our training module did occur today. She is one of the two people who deserve credit. The other is our instructor, who despite being called away from a busy schedule, spent his entire day with us without complaining. He was capable and good natured all the while and we learned a lot.

Posted to:


israel to pat: go home

I think forgiveness is in order for Pat Robertson. We who believe in a God of Mercy should leave all judgment to that God, who will deal with Mr. Robertson.

Nonetheless, it is hard for me to read a story like this one without smiling. Our words have consequences. They can build up or they can tear down. I'll recycle a quote from Andrew Solomon which helped to inaugurate this blog:

I believe that words are strong, that they can overwhelm what we fear when fear seems more awful than life is good.

How about if we all, including Mr. Robertson, major in words of that kind.

And besides, the whole idea of a Christian theme park (thanks to Kevin for pointing this out, I had no idea until he referred to it in a comment) in Israel is... well, too dumb for words, in my opinion.

look away

There's this thing I often do when someone is talking to me. A dear friend or colleague will be sharing something with me, a personal problem, a crisis, something that requires a response. And while they are sharing, often as they are getting somewhat emotional, I will without warning look up at the ceiling.

I don't know that I'm doing this but I know the reason for it. When I look up at the ceiling it is a sure sign that I am deeply involved in what my friend is sharing and am listening attentively, thinking hard about it.

To the other person however, it looks as if I'm searching for an escape hatch in the roof.

Years ago, a supervisor of mine was completely convinced that I despised her. She said when she left my office she often had this running monologue in her head, "He hates me. I know it. He thinks I'm micro-managing him. He hates me." After she tentatively confessed this and caused me no end of anguish and guilt, I developed a habit of explaining my ceiling stare in advance at the beginning of almost every serious conversation. "By the way," I would say, "if I suddenly look up at the ceiling while you're talking, it's not because I'm not listening, it's because I am. I'm thinking deeply about what you're saying."

If you didn't know, the ceiling stare is classic introvert behavior; one for which we are commonly misunderstood.

Well, guess what? The BBC has vindicated me and thousands, nay, millions of other ceiling oglers! In fact, we are vindicated retroactive to our childhoods. Read it here.

This is such good news:

The experiment, conducted among 20 children aged five, backs up other studies carried out by the Stirling researchers, which suggest that by the age of eight, children instinctively avert their gaze when considering a response to a question.

And you thought we were ignoring you. Now you know better.

"So when we are trying to concentrate and process something else that's mentally demanding, it's unhelpful to look at faces."

technorati tag:

Posted to:


it couldn't be because the music stinks

A study cited by the BBC says that the popularity of downloading is leading to a decreased involvement in and appreciation of music.

So in general, we appreciate music less now than we used to.

This could not possibly be due to the fact that 95% of what is heard on the radio SUCKS. No, that couldn't be it.

I don't download music but I'll tell you what: when I turn on my car radio I don't hear much that I appreciate. Now, I don't know if most people who download music are going for stuff by people who practice music as a craft. But I'll bet that's not the case.

I'll bet the bulk of downloaded music is the same dreck you hear on most commercial radio stations.

So while the study's data may be interesting, I'm not sure about its conclusion. Oh, I agree that there's a definite lack of appreciation for good music out there, I seriously doubt it has anything to do with the popularity of downloading.
Posted to:


tear it all down

Michael Spencer speaking from the Boar's Head reminds us what it's about. He says, "Tear it all down."

Anyone who calls him or herself an evangelical Christian (or any other kind for that matter) should think on his words.

Think on these too, while you're at it, from Phil Keaggy:

Oh I can't wait to see you Jesus face to face
Nothing in this world could take your place
All the pride of man laid low
And all his works of gold
Nothing can compare to what you are
Let everything else go.
Let it all go.

A good old tavern-ish toast to: Randy McRoberts.

Posted to:

i promise i won't blog about the new job ever dang day

But today was the first day, and I guess that merits a short post.

Here's what happened today...

...yep. It was like that.

Seriously, the new job requires orientation and lots of it and that's what we started today. It was eight hours of a guy talking to us (he was a nice guy and a half decent presenter but he was the 2d string, the A-lister had laryngitis). We got to watch a couple of cool videos though.

I'll share more about the who's and why's and watever's I'm now doing as time goes by.

Oh, and we got to leave 20 minutes early too. I felt like a kid at school again! So I went to Starbucks, then I came home.

Posted to:

hi ho, hi ho...

thanks to those who have prayed and are praying.

I've made it to Monday without being sick. Now... it's off to work.

Posted to:


wifi all over the place

Washington Monthly's lengthy article "Let There Be WiFi" is thought provoking, especially if you live near Philadelphia, as I do. I had heard previously that the communications giants successfully lobbied to block municipal wifi in most of PA, and almost succeeded at stopping the Wireless Philadelphia plan. This article discusses that and much more.

Americans like to think of themselves as leaders in just about every field. McChesney and Podesta argue that this is simply not the case in terms of generalized broadband access:

"While about 60 percent of U.S. households do not subscribe to broadband because it is either unavailable where they live or they cannot afford it, most Japanese citizens can access a high-speed connection that's more than 10 times faster than what's available here for just $22 a month."

They suggest that...

"The countries surpassing the United States in broadband deployment did so by using a combination of public entities and private firms."

"But of particular note, the Japanese government also encouraged municipalities to build their own networks, especially in rural areas. Towns and villages willing to set up their own ultra-high-speed fiber networks received government subsidies covering approximately one-third of their costs."

And then quickly point out that "the United States has pursued the opposite policy." This is certainly true in the case of Pennsylvania, except for Philadelphia where Verizon and friends were too late to stop Wireless Philadelphia's momentum.

Podesta and McChesney make a compelling argument for encouraging community sponsored broadband initiatives, suggesting that "Without real competition or innovation, broadband deployment in the United States has stagnated." Of course a more democratic approach to widespread, community sponsored Wifi isn't going to make corporate telephony happy, but in the end maybe that's okay. Verizon at least could certainly use a little grassroots competition. It might force them to actually serve their customers.

technorati tags: |

Posted to:

a transmission of rain from singapore

Today, or is it tomorrow? Or maybe it was her tomorrow when it was my today yesterday. Anyway, in the quite recent past the estimable Singaporean blogger/marathoner/mountain climber mis_nomer wrote a post full of creative link love that sets a new standard for giving props to your blog peers and proteges.

At the end she asked the recipients of her outbound links what their screen names really mean... well, my initial post on this blog is still my story and I'm stickin' to it (though I'd try to do a better job writing it if I had it to do over again).

Be that as it may, I like mis_nomer's interpretation too. And even though I've never played golf in my life, I'm satisfied with the title, "Master of Links."

I feel so... global.

Posted to:


for your reflection

I'm adding a new blog to the roll. Most of the time I don't post about that but this time it's different, because of the events of the past few days.

Jeff McDonald's ArcheoTexture is yet another Texas blog (I think this makes 4 on my roll). Jeff is apparently a former Pennsylvanian, so he's got that going for him. Today, Jeff pointed to another blog on my roll, Sticky Doorknobs. The author of that blog is Jimmy Patterson and he has a lot going on in his life right now.

It will take a while, but you really should read a few of Jimmy's recent posts. Then read the current one, and also read Jeff's reflections. Then perhaps you should do what Jeff suggests, I know I did.

Peace to you.

Posted to:

bread and ashes

D--'s funeral was today. It was tough.

I don't often cry at funerals. I don't know why this is but it's true. Some years ago a good friend of mine, a volunteer in my church's youth ministry died of a massive heart attack while playing racquetball. He was 49. More then six hundred people attended his funeral. I think we all cried at that one. And I cried today. Sitting in the chancel waiting for my parts to come around, I kept looking over at D--'s husband in the front row with their son. His handkerchief was now in one hand, now in the other, but always dabbing at his eyes beneath his glasses. He tried to sing the hymns but couldn't get the words out. They stuck in my own throat as well.

Great is thy faithfulness O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with thee
Thou changest not thy compassions they fail not
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be

It was a simple service. A few flowers, nothing too ornate. The rosewood box with D--'s remains* placed between two pictures of her on the communion table, which had been moved down to the floor in front of the chancel. Will placed the communion elements there.

I broke even before the service began. Upon entering the sanctuary I joined a line of people inching toward the front to greet J-- and say their last respects to the pictures on the table. When it was my turn, J-- extended his hand. This time it was me pulling him into an embrace. "Thank you so much for everything," he whispered. I moved toward the communion table. And then J-- said the words that got to me. "Look," he said nodding toward the pictures. "She's smiling."

Posted to:


day off or off day?

It had been my intention to make today a day off. That all changed when elder daughter walked into our bedroom at 12:22am and said "I just threw up."

Now that we're into the new era where both of us are working full time, this had about the same effect as someone yelling "the house is burning down." Both my wife and I knew what this pronouncement meant: that she would be up in the night and that I would be stuck at home all day trying to get a fever down. My daughter doesn't handle fevers well.

As elder daughter headed back to the bathroom, my wife got out of bed and administered necessary treatment along with compassionate understanding. When she came back to bed I asked, "Why did she throw up?"

"She had a fever of 102," she said matter-of-factly.

"I'm a dead man," said I. I assume that I'm a a goner for two reasons:

1. We had pizza for dinner on Thursday, the night eldest daughter became sick and I, as is my custom, helped said daughter by finishing off the pizza crust that she did not want. Some of you who have no kids may think this is odd, and perhaps it is. But that's the way it goes at our house. Good pizza crust should never, ever be wasted. So I ate this daughter's leftover pizza crust, meaning, in retrospect, that I'm doomed, healthwise.

2. I start my new job on Monday, so it goes without saying that I'll get sick between now and then.

Did I mention that I'd appreciate whatever prayers you might choose to say on my behalf?

I did? Good.

Posted to:


litany of the lasts

Every Thursday at 8am for the last year and a half, I have led a bible study at a diner here in town. Today was the last of those. We finished the book of Genesis. They gave me gifts: a gift certificate to the best little coffee/pastry shop north of the Schuylkill river plus a monetary gift large enough for my wife and me to enjoy a decent night out. I don't remember the last time we had one of those.

The gifts were folded into a card. It was presented to me by the one Unitarian in the group who said, "with great honor and much love we present this to you with our thanks for your efforts to enlighten us about God's word."

Okay, maybe I didn't get it exactly, but that's pretty darn close to what he said.

Also this week, my last visits to homebound parishoners and, as I mentioned earlier, my last funeral.

Say! Early Monday morning (or late Sunday night) if you think of it, send up a prayer for me. I could use it.

Posted to:

somebody get a muzzle, this dog's barkin' again!

Okay, be on whatever side of the Israeli/Palestinian withdrawal/settlement debate to which your conscience moves you.

Either way, Pat Roberston is still an idiot.

Mr. Robertson, be careful. You never know when you might be next in line for the judgment you so liberally declare.

Update: Eric's written a more thoughtful post about this than I can.

technorati tag:


a movie of me summiting a mountain...

would have to include intercut shots of my digital camera, left inconveniently at base camp. The final scene would find me reaching the peak and futilely scratching and clawing at every pocket of my gear for the camera. Finally there would be a shot of the earth from space with muted screaming, then a close up of me with much louder screaming of the word "NOOOOOOO!"

Such was not the case when mis_nomer climbed Mt. Ksomethingorother recently. Go and look at her phenomenal photo essay.

this is not interesting. see, i told you.

First off, let me apologize in advance to those who came here looking for something interesting (that was your first mistake, I'm sorry to say).

What's a blogger to do? I have not felt like posting anything for the past two days. What I've wanted to do is read Stephenson but it's been a struggle to find time to do that. And when I sequestered myself at Starbucks today for that purpose, I ran into a friend and we got into a conversation about the penultimate interest of my life, so I didn't do any reading.

So now I'm looking at the date for my last post, 1/2/2006 and wishing I had something to say, but all I have is...

"Five days to career change. The whole world changes for me on Monday."

Okay, Neal Stephenson awaits.

Posted to:


netvibes almost better than serotonin

It must be said. Netvibes absolutely rocks.

They've been mentioned on this blog before, twice. The folks at netvibes are responsive, polite, personable, and even better, indisputably comptetent. They consistently develop their Ajax-y-web-2.0-ish personal homepage. And when they don't get it right immediately, the fix comes muy quick.

I've tried some other pretenders, but Netvibes leaves them in the dust.

Highly recommended, as if you couldn't tell.

technorati tag:

Posted to:

so concentrated they're almost poems

Some of the winning entries in the New Times of San Louis Obispo 55 Words Or Less Short Story Contest are terrific...

...but this one is my favorite:


I began writing my 55 Fiction story when suddenly a loud humming arose outside. I opened the door to find–a space ship!

Four tiny creatures emerged. I invited them in for tea. I told them my story idea. They said it was boring and that I should write about them instead, so I did.

Nathaniel Nauert

Santa Maria"

via Reddit.

Posted to:

one more before i go

The new career begins in a week, but this afternoon I learned that there will be one more funeral to do before I leave.

Two and a half years ago, when I came to this congregation, I met a remarkable couple. They came every week to our early service, though sometimes it was only J-- since his wife, D-- often had to work on Sundays. It was a thirty minute drive for them from Reading every week. And even when snow was drifting in the streets, there they were at the early service.

I invited them out to lunch and D-- said, "No. We will take you and Pastor Will out to lunch. Do you like Chinese food?" J-- and D-- came here from China some years ago. Both of them spent time in camps because of their belief in Jesus. I wish I could remember the whole story as they told it but there were spots where their accents made it hard to understand.

Neither D-- nor J-- ever said a complaining or unkind word. They were supportive of both Will and I and of what we were trying to accomplish in this congregation. They even gave us gifts every once in a while. The other day I wrote about my twelve books of Christmas; two of those were purcahsed with a gift card from J-- and D--.

She was a lab technician at a hospital, he was retired. "Retired?" I asked. J-- said he was almost seventy years old. I was shocked. I thought he was in his late forties.

They smiled, a lot. Sometimes it was that Asian "I don't understand what you're saying," smile. But even then, there was not an ounce of insincerity or disingenuousness or duplicity in either of them. And if that's not rare, I don't know what is.*

Doctors discovered cancer in D--'s kidney two years ago. It wasn't her first time; it wouldn't be her last. Whatever treatment she had made her terribly sick but it destroyed the cancer. In the summer of last year (2005), more cancer was found. This time the tumor was in the pancreas and it didn't respond to treatment. Nevertheless, on the Sundays following D--'s release from the hospital after each round of chemo, there they were in church. Everyone was delighted to see them. The last time, D-- wore a bandana on her head and still, that smile.

On Saturday morning J-- sent a desperate sounding email... "We need your help," was one of the things he wrote. At the hospital he pulled me into an embrace. D-- lay on her bed, jaundiced and with eyes closed, but alert and responsive.

"Pastor Jim is here," said J-- tapping his wife's shoulder. She made a recognizable attempt at a smile. J-- pulled the covers away from her arms, exposing her hand. I took it and she gripped back.

"Pastor Jim is here to pray for you."

After the prayer, I commented on the hat D--' was wearing, an ancient looking fishing cap. "It is my son's hat," said J--.

D-- grunted and turned slightly. J-- leaned over and tapped her more urgently than before. "Do you know that Pastor Jim is here?"

"I know, J--!"

They were the last words I would hear from her.

As J-- walked with me toward the elevators, he said, "The cancer is everywhere." Will verified this later on; it was in her pancreas, kidneys, lungs, bones.

She died this morning.

The memorial is Saturday at our church. The service will be a celebration of her life and a rejoicing over her eternal destiny as a servant of the Lord. Yes, there is much to rejoice about, I know this. But I'm still downhearted. When Will called with the news at about 12:45 today I looked heavenward, through the ceiling, through the roof, through the dome of gray sky overhead, and through to wherever God was surely listening and said, "This is not right!"

And though it's no place of mine to tell God what is and isn't right in His own world, I still feel the same way.

*It occurs to me that this paragraph could easily be interpreted as an implied racial slam on people of Asian extraction. Far from it! Because I have a number of Asian friends and spent all of my 6 years of higher education with Asian roommates, some of whom were bi-lingual without having mastered english, I've seen that look of confusion many times after using some idiomatic English expression. It is particular to my Asian friends, and I saw it on J-- and D--'s faces a few times as well. My sincere apologies if anyone took offense.

Posted to:


That's the sound I was making until just a few moments ago. I don't know why but for the last few days I was getting an error message every time I republished the index to the this blog. Today, after republishing the whole thing I got large red type that said "THERE WERE ERRORS" but in true Microsoft inspired fashion, the "details" were so obscure as to be opaque to my non-developer eyes.

So what did I do? I freaked out. Then I thought, maybe it's my template! So I spent maybe an hour and a half trying out a new template design from blogger and transferring a bunch of customizations to it, and fiddling with them. Then I tried to publish and got the same "THERE WERE ERRORS" message. So I went over to my other blog (if you're overly curious, there's a link in the sidebar, you'll know which one it is, no doubt). I hadn't been getting any error messages on that one previously. So I tried to post. No dice!

By now I was thinking maybe it was blogger being nasty. So I went to our desktop unit and tried publishing a test post from there... no problem. That's when the aaarrghhh! became an AAARRGHHH!

In a panic/fugue state, I erased all my greasemonkey scripts cleared every bit of history and form information and cookies and cache from Firefox, closed it, restarted it. And now it seems to work.

Whew. That was not good for the heart. Nor did it do anything for the number of grey hairs on my head.
Posted to:


10 years ago today

It was the eve of 1996. For the past three days my mother had been watching the developing weather situation. A winter storm threatened to spread over the eastern half of the United States, raising the likelihood of sloppy, dangerous travel between her house in New Jersey, where we were staying at the time and Cleveland, where we lived. We were supposed to make the trip back on New Year's Day, but on December 31st it looked like we'd better leave sooner. This proved to be a good decision in more ways than one.

My wife was a few days past eight months pregnant. Her doctor had told us to be very careful about traveling at this late stage, but it was Christmas. She said we would probably be okay.

We travelled to Cleveland ahead of the storm and went to bed ahead of the ball drop. We've never been much for New Year's Eve. Last night was no exception to that rule, especially since I'm a pastor for one more week and today is Sunday.

At 12:45 on January 1, 1996 my wife nudged me awake. I recall a hazy awareness of my name being spoken, "Jim... Jim."

It was time. The baby didn't come out until late in the afternoon. She was three weeks early, and small. But she slept through the night almost from day one and she has a New Year's Day birthday. This one is the tenth.

Happy Birthday Amy, our preemie New Year's girl.

Posted to:

olives on the fringe

Stephen is changing hosts. He's moving to blogsome and starting a brand new blog thingy called Out On The Fringe, his explanation for that title is here.

Check it out.

Posted to: