Between Books

I finished the fourth book in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series a few nights ago. I have the fifth installment waiting for me on my bookshelf. Why haven’t I picked it up yet?

There are a few reasons.

  1. Martin’s books are long, which means that it will be a while until I am able to pick a new book.
  2. If I finish the fifth book in the series, I’ll have to wait for the sixth book to be released anyway, so why rush? After all, it took Martin a few years longer than anticipated to release book five.
  3. There are at least three other new books that I have sitting on my book shelf that I also want to read.
  4. I keep thinking about the advice that C. S. Lewis gave on reading books: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.”  Maybe I should pick up a book that I’ve read before.
  5. Being between books is akin to having all possibilities open before me, and I don’t know if I want to give that up.

Those are my reasons. Well, except for the last one. That one should probably be interpreted in that I have trouble deciding between two or three good options. But that just seemed too honest to say outright.

So I turn to you, Reader.


Basement Editorial | Children’s Book Project with 4th Graders, Part 1

j008I’ve been finding all sorts of good stuff in the basement. My latest find was hidden amongst my notebooks from high school. Why did I keep my notebooks from high school? Good question. Maybe it was just so I could find this and chuckle all over again.

Anyway, what I found was a project that I did during my senior year at Thornapple Kellogg High School. My AP Lit class partnered with a class of 4th graders to produce children’s books. Once we paired off, we were given some criteria to cover in creating the book together. The story had to be a joint effort, as well as the illustrations. Throughout the project, we wrote letters, pen-pal style to our younger partners. It was a good time.

My partner then was a cool kid named Chris. Chris was the little brother of a girl who was in Jazz band with me, so we already had some common ground to work from. I look forward to posting the different parts of our project, because I think our story was pretty good and the interactions we had even better.

Hopefully you find it interesting as well.

The Hobbit in 5 Installments

As you may know, the creators of the film, “The Hobbit” have decided to split the single, slim volume into multiple cinematic events. What you may not know is that it takes my family multiple sittings to finish even the first installment. Five sittings, to be exact.

The movie is about three hours long. And once you set aside the fact that the creators of the film stretched and added to the original story of the book, you’ll probably agree that it is a great film. But being as long as it is, people with small children/limited amounts of discretionary time/small bladders/etcetera find that the film is just too long to enjoy in one sitting. Fortunately, there are some great scene breaks, perfect for pausing for short periods to stopping to enjoy the next day.

This is one of the things that you need to consider when you are planning on having kids. I spoke the other day about the difficulty in planning/executing a get-together with another family, but you also need to consider how adding children will affect your consumption of media. In most cases, this means less feature-length films (at least, watching them in one sitting) and more books or short television episodes (Netflix is great while babies are nursing, as long as your baby doesn’t want to watch too). Another skill to hone when you become a parent is the ability to create mental bookmarks, so you’ll know where you left off in any kind of book/movie/episode and can pick it up again quickly.

Does is bother me to have to watch movies like this? Not really. With the Hobbit, the story is developed enough that I can pause it for hours and days without losing the thread, which cannot be said about movies that are wholly special-effects driven. Is it worth it to watch movies like this? Sure thing. Not only because it is a good movie, but because it gives me an excuse to sit still and snuggle my wife. And I’ll take all the excuses that I can to do that.

Basement Editorial | Middle School Yearbooks

As I unearth relics of my past in the ongoing basement cleanup project, I’ll share some of the interesting findings here.

The most recent discovery was that of my 7th and 8th grade yearbooks. Looking through them brought back quite a few memories, many of them positive.

j0017th grade was a year of massive change for me. I hit puberty in the summer between 6th and 7th grade, so when I showed up for the first day of class, I was like four inches taller, thinner, and more gangly than my classmates remembered. It was in seventh grade that I got school sports out of my system, because that was the year that I wrestled. This was the year that I took up baritone because I broke my arm while wrestling and couldn’t hold my trombone. This was the first year that I got straight A’s. It was like puberty finally initialized my brain so I could start processing data correctly. I asked a girl out this year, who said yes, then promptly told me she made a mistake two days later.

8th grade had fewer changes than 7th. I was still trying to work out who I was and what interested me. I got my first (and only) detention that year, given by a substitute who thought that I couldn’t pay attention and talk to my friends at the same time. She was wrong though. I totally could, but she wrote me up anyway.

I know some people remember their middle school years with dread. They were times of change, physically and socially, and change can be downright traumatizing. But I remember those years fondly. Sure, I’ve probably blocked out the truly horrific stuff, but either way, I remember enjoying those years.

It’s funny now to flip through these yearbooks and look at the faces of the classmates, many of whom I see on Facebook with their own families, and think about how much (and how little) has changed.

I am thankful for understanding friends.

Until you’ve had children, you cannot hope to understand the amount of planning that goes into something as simple as joining friends for dinner. This past weekend, my family was invited over to my friend Bob Evenhouse’s home to share dinner and playtime for our kids.

lasagna-margherite-2Since they were hosting, my wife and I opted to bring dinner (homemade lasagna with store-bought garlic bread) and the Evenhouse clan made a delicious salad and dessert. Bob and his wife, Cindy, have two girls near the ages of our two girls, so we enjoy getting together and watching the chaos that is small children at play.

Dinner went wonderfully. Conversation went great. But then, when it was time to leave so we could all get our tots in bed, things went wonky. Now, you have to understand that we are working with our eldest, the two-year-old, on potty training. She is a pro when it comes to telling us that she has to go potty when we are out in public. For some reason, she really enjoys the sight of my wife or I kneeling in the most disgusting public restrooms available. At home, she is improving, but most of the time, we end up changing dirty diapers and pull-ups. At Bob and Cindy’s house, somewhere that was both home-like and foreign to her, our two-year-old went in her diaper, but then insisted that she go to the bathroom before we left. I mean, as we were getting our coats on to go home, that’s when she wanted to be changed.

In the background, our youngest, the cutest eight-month-old girl you’ve ever seen, is bawling her cute little head off since she has been placed in her car seat and made to wait even longer for her next feeding and chance to sleep in her crib. So DeAnne is in the bathroom with our oldest, our hosts are trying to entertain our youngest, and I am quickly packing the car with the various baby accessories and dinner equipment that we brought over.

Long story short, the exit could have gone better. But I am thankful for friends like the Evenhouses who have children of their own and understand that there are times when you cannot control the volume, smell, or appropriateness of your kids. Thanks Bob and Cindy for a great time together!

Jokes at My Expense

I love my old roommate, Adam. I do. But when I went to visit him a few years ago, he made fun of my disability. Maybe he didn’t even mean to do it, but he did.

He wore this shirt.


You see, I am colorblind. I had no idea that there was a message in the circles. I just see a bunch of circles within a larger circle. Adam ended up telling me that it had a message on it, but he refused to tell me what it said.

I hadn’t thought of that shirt in a long time. That is, until I saw this.

I can see the message in this shirt. It says “Secretly Loathe” inside of the heart. Funny stuff.

And since I could read this shirt, it made me think of the other one, the one that Adam wore. I thought, why did I never try adjusting the colors on that shirt to find the message? Good thinking, Self! Only a few years late.

So I did.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANow I can see that it says “I ♥ Color”. Finally.

The Words of House Mosey

house_moseyI’ve been reading George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. In the book, each House (prominent, land-owning family) has a crest and the House words. For House Stark, the crest is a direwolf and the words are “Winter is Coming.” For me, for House Mosey, the crest would be a rat standing on a pile of stuff and the words would be “We Can Always Get Rid of It Later.”

My wife and I have embarked upon the project of prepping our basement for a remodel. Currently, our little home has three bedrooms and one bathroom. It has sufficed. But we’ve doubled the population of the house since we bought it, so we’re thinking that it would be good to double the bathrooms as well. The easiest place to accomplish this feat is in our unfinished basement.

The first step of the process is to clear out the stuff and see what he have to work with. Now, just so none of my readers think that my wife has contributed to the mess that now needs cleaned, she didn’t. My wife is a paradigm of organization. There are very few things that she keeps for sentimental reasons, all of which fit in one small box. No, the mess that we are now sorting through is mine.

I am a collector of things. I learned it at an early age from my father, who built a garage that was larger than our house. I have actual valid collections, like Lego sets and Dr Pepper knock-offs, and I have false collections, like piles of old wood that maybe someday I’ll be able to use in some project or other. I have always been a collector of things. My messy room growing up was a constant source of parental grief to my poor mother. In college, when I claimed half of my parents’ basement as my living space, I used to pile things in chairs. When company came over, I would throw blankets over the piles and call them “art”.

Since being married, I’ve come a long way. All of the habitable places in the house are very tidy, and thanks to our avoidance of leaving anything of value where either dog or child may destroy, sparse. But as tidy and sparse as the main rooms are, my piles have been building in the darkness of our basement.

In a way, the project to reclaim the basement from the disorganized mess that I’ve allowed it to become is a lot like the editing process of any book ever written. When writers write, we are encouraged not to edit until our work is complete. Only then, can we allow ourselves to step back and see what we have created, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be cut altogether. And in writing, as in real life, the cutting process is difficult.

I am no fan of the editing process. But I look forward to the final, published draft.

Here’s to the project, the process, and the end product!

How is your personal editing going?

100 Word Challenge | The Unseasonal Weather Meant…

The cold snap was almost enough to make Frank Lumly give up on the orchard altogether.

Since his was just a family farm, without all of the expensive equipment the larger outfits had, the unseasonal weather meant that most of this year’s crop would die.

Frank looked out over the frost-covered buds and saw a vision of his own frosty corpse.

“What are we going to do?” asked Harriet, Frank’s wife. “Cut down the trees and sell firewood?”

It was her joke, the one that she always said. But this time, it didn’t sound as funny.

“How do you feel about retirement?” asked Frank.


On the Origin of Mortgage

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy wife and I bought our house just before the housing bubble burst. At the time, we thought we were getting a pretty good mortgage rate. Oh, those were the days.

Since then, we’ve been chipping away at the mortgage, suffering through PMI, and hoping against hope that we might qualify for some sort of refinancing miracle to bring our rates down. Now, we aren’t struggling to make ends meet or anything, but the more we can apply to the principle of our mortgage, the faster we can pay it off, and that is just good sense.

At a recent visit to the bank, we brought up the question of refinancing to the bank employee. Things still don’t look great for the miracle mortgage reduction, but the whole process got me thinking about the word “mortgage” itself.

When you trace it back to its Old French and Latin roots, mortgage is a compound word that is literally translated as “dead pledge”. The pledge part is understandable in reference to the modern use of the word. When we take a mortgage out from a bank, we are pledging, or promising, to pay the money back to the bank. So where does the dead part come in?

Simply stated, if you die before paying off your debt, the bank retains full ownership of the property. And if you pay off your debt to the bank, the debt is considered dead. Either way, something dies.

Just like I did a little inside when I heard what our house is currently worth according to the bank’s estimates.

I am resurrecting Ivor.

I have decided to start donning my Russian alter-ego again, Ivor Klinkinov. If you remember, I first used a Russian accent to my advantage when I was a waiter at Big Boy. The tips were bigger, the customers more patient; it was beautiful. Thanks to comedian, Dan Soder, I just figured out why everyone was nicer to me.

They were scared!

It all makes sense now! Anyway, since I am not alone in my belief that using a fake Russian accent is a good life-hack, I am bringing back Ivor. Obviously, it will be useful in potential mugger-related situations, and I already know that it is good for customer service. But how else should I use my skills?

What are your suggestions? Maybe I’ll grab a video camera and test one out.