Friday, August 31, 2012

The Comcast Experience...And Its Sequel

Pick A Number...a rule for all of us...the first rule. As a customer of our local cable company, the famous (or infamous...) cable boxes assigned to our account were performing at a less than stellar level, so today we decided to turn them in for new ones.

Our first trip to the local Comcast Customer Service location began at 10am this morning. It took a little more than 1/2 hour to complete our business, after which we came home with two new boxes (one that looked to be older than the one we dropped off). We brought them in, hooked them up, and we were good to go...briefly. The one box didn't work. 

After several calls to the Comcast Customer Service Call Center (which, I found out, was located in Washington State...) it was determined the only way to fix our "new" box was to return it and begin the whole process all over again.

Round 2 at the service center began around 3pm, and this time, the place was packed. I quickly grabbed a "Pick A Number" number. I found a place to sit down in the corner and I patiently waited to see which number would be called next. They had no customer service-esque number display on the wall, so listening for the next number was my only way of knowing who would be next. 

And then I heard the number called out for all to hear. "55," the clerk behind one of the desks said to the masses of humanity all awaiting their delayed entertainment. 55 and I held 70. Oh well...I had no other option but to ride it out.

Surprisingly, the wait was not that long. I escaped and left the many patrons--several colorfully festooned with a myriad of tattoos--waiting for their number to be called and I came home. Once the many cables were secured to the shiny new marvel of modern technology, we turned on the TV and visual nirvana was ours once again. All was right with the world, and it only cost me a couple of hours of my time...

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Think My Dad Would Have Loved It...

Tonight I was watching various things on both the computer and TV and a thought came over me. I think my dad would have loved to see 2012.

My dad was kind of a techno-nerd even back in the 1960's and 1970's. He was an engineer and his degree from Utah State (Go Aggies!!) was in tool engineering. I've been told the closest thing to that degree today is a mechanical engineering degree.

Even though I didn't have the chance to know my father very well, I do remember some of the stories. My father liked to build things. He even built our family television. Tonight I watched on my computer a college football game (Go Aggies!!) and the convention--both events streamed live. In addition, on our TV was another football game (Go Utes!!) on cable.

I wonder what my dad would have thought about having so much information at your fingertips. I've often thought of that. I think he would be amazed. Of course, with so many different things happening at once, not one thing had my full attention. I was sort of all over the place. On second thought, maybe my dad wouldn't like everything about 2012...

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Let The U of U Football Season Begin!

Last weekend, while braving the Saturday Costco crowds, we came across a puzzle, an Eric Dowdle puzzle. And the subject of the puzzle couldn't be better!

If you're familiar with Eric's work, it's wonderful. We bought a Christmas puzzle of his last year and had a blast putting it together over the holidays. The video game junkies (aka our kids...) even participated in putting it together. And so another college football season begins in a few short hours. I would love to stay home from work and try and put together the puzzle in the hours before the game. Unfortunately, I'll be at work.

At Costco, there were puzzles depicting other college football programs, Michigan, Boise State, even BYU. I think the BYU puzzle has only 480 pieces, 20 less pieces than the U of U puzzle (that's how many more times the U has beaten the Y in football...). It just might take a couple of decades, but the Y's program may one day catch the U. You never know...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Cub Scouts...It Begins Again.

You know the old saying that parents take a ton of pictures of their first child and exponentially fewer as each child comes along? I know that's true. I thought about this as my youngest son and I attended his first Pack Meeting. I thought about this because my youngest will be the last scout in the family, the last one to wear the same shirt his older brother wore a few years ago.

Of course, it's not just scouting. Our youngest will be the last one to do everything. He was the last one to learn how to talk and walk, the last one to learn how to read and ride a bike. The last one to be the baby of the family.

My son has seen his older brothers go to scouts and return with stories of having fun and making cool things. Tonight was a Pack Meeting so there were no activities. He turned to me and asked when we were going to do the activities. I told him we do that at the other meetings. I saw he was dejected that we weren't going to go on hikes or shoot arrows or learn how to build fires. He'd have to wait just a little bit longer.

My little cub scout...our last one.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Applying For Jobs...

Today I got the e-mail. I thought maybe I'd get a phone call like the last time I was informed that I would not be chosen for the position for which I had applied and interviewed. The phone call was from a friend--so was the e-mail. This was the third denial I'd received in the last four weeks. I'm still waiting to hear about another position for which I interviewed...I thought I would have heard about that one by now.

There's been several positions posted at work lately, hence, the interviews. I am chosen for almost any job I apply for because I have years of experience and more education than almost every other applicant. HR has to schedule me for the interviews because of these qualifications. I'm not saying this to's just the truth.

On the previous job, I was glad the friend called to deliver the news. She didn't have to, but it was a nice thing to do. I personally felt I had not had the best interview, but there was hope. Today's e-mail shocked me a little. I thought I had my best interview in years, but they chose someone else.

I hesitate to tell you exactly how many positions I've applied for since 2005 and how many of those jobs I've actually been hired to do. I apply because I want to benefit both the organization and improve my personal circumstances. Plus, I feel I can do a good job if given the chance. Of course, I know things could be worse and I AM so grateful to have a job when so many have none. I just thought if a person worked hard, picked up an advanced degree, and stayed with a company for several years, it wouldn't be this hard to improve one's situation.

Tomorrow I'll go to work and do what's asked of me. I may hear on the other job; I may not. I'll look at the job postings to see if anything else has opened, and if something opens up, I'll probably apply for it, too. Days like today make me question my actions--is it worth it to put myself out there like that? Sometimes, I wonder...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Pac Man Fever...A Short Story

The Weekly Writing Prompt Story!

Once again I've decided to participate in the weekly writing prompt from Nicole Pyles's website. You can find out more about her and the contest at her blog, "World Of My Imagination" which can be found: HERE. Again, the rules are, can't go over 500 words, must use a predetermined five words (listed below...), there's a week to complete the story and the story needs to be added to Nicole's site.

I really liked this week's picture...lot's of possibilities. Hopefully there will be several varied stories from the picture and these five words:
Tea Bag
So, here it is! Enjoy!

Pac Man Fever

            “Guys!” Ralph Phillips screamed at his three friends who had joined him for a late night drink at their favorite bar, “Mimie’s (except the neon “I” and “S” lights were burned out so the sign read “Mim e”…). “I swear to you, there’s a frickin’ Pac Man following me!” The distressed man had already downed several drinks before the friends could arrive after each friend had received an urgent and confusing phone call asking them for their help.
            “Wha?” James, Ralph’s best friend and fellow lawyer said after almost spitting his drink at a passing waiter. “What are you talking about, man?”
            “You heard me…Pac Man…following me.” Ralph took another drink.
            No one spoke but looked at the friend they thought they knew. Finally Todd, another friend spoke up.
            “Do you mean, like, a Pac Man from the video game? How is that even possible? It’s a digital little…you know…guy.”
            Ralph didn’t immediately respond, but only looked at the men who had come to his aid. “Look, I know it sounds crazy, but he’s out there, just waiting for me.”
            “Which one…the blue one, the red one, or the pink one?” This time Chad spoke. His question caused all three to bust out laughing, each man lost their own personal battle of self-control.
            “All right, all right. You laugh, but when you see those two electronic eyes starring at you, you’ll freak out, too.”
            James stopped laughing and turned to his friend. “I think the first thing you need to do is drink something else.” He put his hand on Ralph’s arm preventing another drink. “Come on, have some tea.”
            Tea…bag that!” Ralph said and lifted the bottle to his lips defying his friend’s thoughtful gesture. After a long draught, he continued. “This whole thing started after work. I stayed late at the office to work on that Planet Hollywood harassment case and I thought I’d stop off at Mimie’s for a drink. After I passed Harrison, I turned around and saw it…an electronic Pac Man. I thought it was the stress from the case, but after I crossed Park Ave, I saw it again. I practically ran to the bar. And then I called you.”
            The three friends looked first at Ralph, and then each other.
            “Look,” Ralph finally said. “If you don’t believe me,” Ralph stood and pointed to the front windows of the bar. “It’s back.”
            Each friend lowered their drinks and looked to where Ralph was pointing. “That demon thing is right there, peering around a corner. And it looks like he’s got a friend with him.” The three men almost fell over themselves trying to get outside to see the thing for themselves.

*Picture used without permission from:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Two Headlights Almost The Same...

I remember, when I told the car salesman in American Fork after I told him I wanted to buy his used car, that I wanted the headlights cleaned. The car was almost eight years old and the plastic headlight covers were oxidized and clouded. I had other requests--nothing too major--but using some chemical to clear away the film on the headlights is a small price to pay to help sell the car.

Fast forward six weeks. It was a snowy night and I had to go to the local Smith's Marketplace to pick up a Christmas gift for our team's office party. On the way back, a poor deer jumped in front of my car and I hit it. The car slammed into the deer and sent it flying. Thankfully the deer died quickly. The entire front right of my car was destroyed.

The shop that repaired the car did a fantastic job, and, of course, they replaced the shattered headlight cover. The cover on the left side was not damaged, and therefore, was not replaced. I noticed right away that whatever the car salesman used to clean off the cover was wearing off. Soon, the headlight was cloudy and the beam from the light was noticeably weaker than the other, so much so, I think it was a safety issue.

Today we bought a product at Target that claims to clean headlight covers. I followed the instructions and the stuff works pretty good. It's not 100% clear and I guess time will tell if it continues to work.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Driver's License Office...I Know What You're Doing!

Oh...I see how it is. I look at the big board of numbers on a wall at the Driver's License Office and I've figured out your scheme, your plan, your mission...and now I know.

I know that you have not one number to take from a "Take A Number" machine. You use multiple numbers beginning at a different spot. Then you call numbers and the masses (many sporting tattoos of various design and artistic variety...) wait and somehow the multiple numbers lull the above masses into a sense of complacency so that they don't riot due to the prolonged waiting times required to execute any transaction a the Driver's License Office.

Yeah, I've figured it out. Well played, Driver's License Office...well played.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The Tom Boy Cafe Now...

Like many things in my little town, change has come to the corner of State and 1st East where a diner called the Tom Boy Cafe once stood. Today it's called the Top Stop Chevron...same location, but so, so different.

We moved to Farmington, Utah maybe a decade after the section of Interstate 15 was put in west of town. Before that, all traffic had to pass the Tom Boy Cafe. I'm sure it did a good business in its day. The restaurant/gas station remained opened for a few years after we moved in. I remember going in there only a few times...mostly as I headed home from school. I don't think my family ever ate there. It had a long bar with red bar stools. Of course, there are many Farmington-ites who remember the place much better than I am so if my memories are incorrect, I apologize.

My scoutmaster bought the business and over time the Tom Boy Cafe ceased to exist. The business went through many different names and different owners. The original building is completely gone and it's been replaced by a modern gas station and convenience store. I'm sure it's for the best. Still, I would love to see that old building (along with other long-gone buildings...) just one more time. I guess I'll just have to close my eyes and remember.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Water, Or The Lack Thereof...

For the past two days, our house has experienced water shortages. A few blocks away a new school is being built and apparently they hit the water main that feeds into our neighborhood. That happened yesterday. I don't know why it was off today.

After being off for a few hours, a small trickle began to flow from the kitchen faucet. At first it was weak and then grew in strength until, at last, it was back to normal. Running water is just something we take for granted, like the electricity always being there when we flip the switch. Without water, you can't do the dishes, the laundry, or--perhaps most importantly--use the bathroom. It's like don't realize what you've got until it's gone.

Tomorrow I'll get up and take a shower so I won't be too offensive at work (and for other general health reasons...). I wonder if after sleeping all night I'll even think about the possibility that when I turn the handle in the shower, the water might not fall from above...probably not.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Guest Writer Time! The Second One...

Another Guest Writer Time!
I'm including a portion of a story from another guest writer. This is the second installment to showcase another writer. Like last time, I'm going to ask you for a favor. I would LOVE to hear your opinion on this and the other snippets of stories I will include.
 So, here you go!

Chapter 1
The Invitation

  Stacie Boulderfoot stood before the crowd, trying to calm them in this time of need.
     “Please, everything will be fine,” She said. Though she knew she was lying. The Great Magician, Daan Scorchbringer, had been assassinated. Now the land of Rockbuilt was unprotected and Stacie must find a successor. “Please, everyone, who here is skilled in witchcraft?” One of the members of the crowd raised their hand. “Yes? You in the back.”
     “No one in Rockbuilt has been skilled in witchcraft in over a century,” He said. “Daan hailed from Flamering.”
     “In other words, no one here can be Daan's successor?”
     “No, ma'am.”
     Stacie sighed. What were they going to do now? Blue moon season was approaching rapidly, Daan was gone, and the only replacement magician lived on the opposite end of the world. Rockbuilt was completely defenseless.
     “Coming through,” Someone in the crowd shouted. “Excuse me, Daily Letter coming through.”
     I don't know why the mailman calls himself that, Stacie thought.
     The Daily Letter emerged from the crowd with his cargo pants and “I Mail” tee-shirt.
     “Hey, Stacie,” He said
     “Good morning, Letter. Anything interesting?”
     “Actually, yeah.” He reached into a mailbag slung over his shoulder. “I got this from a guy in Frostbite.” He handed Stacie a letter.
     “Frostbite, huh? Oh well, probably just another attempt at war.
     “I don't think so. From what I hear, the Frostbitten aren't doing too good in the military department.”
     “Is that so? Well, some things only happen once in a lifetime, I guess.” Stacie tore open the letter and read it, her face twisting with confusion.
     “What's that?” The mailman asked.
     “An invitation to something,” Stacie said, making a beard with her hand like she does when she's thinking. She sighed. “I could use a vacation.”

     Dear Chad Firemind, Chad's fan letter read. I loved your act. I mean, the way you played Commander Iceblade was pure genius! I can't wait to see how you play Admiral Spellcaster. Sincerely, Amy Sparklung.
     “Aw, isn't that sweet?” Chad said. “Someone from Thunderstruck came all this way to see me.”
     “Charming,” The stage manager said blandly. He sat in his chair, half asleep. Like he does after every preformance.
     “Hey look,” Chad picked up a letter with a snowflake postmark. “It's from Frostbite.”
Dear reader(s), you are hereby invited to a get together this weekend.
Be sure to inform your parent/guardian/sibling/neighbor that you are leaving and inform them when you intend to return.
6:00 PM 394 E. 24 S. Alteration Lake, Frostbite.
Hope to see you there!
     “Looks like I'm invited to a get together. Wanna come?” Chad said.

     Amy Sparklung and her friend Beth Ampchain walked out of the theater after watching Chad Firemind preform. And would be quoting his work for the rest of the day.
     “'Sheila,'” Amy said, mimicking Chad's deep voice. “'I love you, but now I must defuse this bomb.'”
     Beth jumped in to be the damsel in destress. “'No, Commander Iceblade, you musn't!” She said. “If you defuse this bomb, you will blow up all of Frostbite.'”
     Amy and Beth burst out laughing.
     “That Chad,” Amy said. “He's the funniest guy in Flamering.”
     “I dunno,” Beth said. “That Marcus Flametaster's got some good material. Like that Blue Moon routine.”
     “Blue Moon routine?”
     “Yeah. It's when he's talking about his mutation.”
     “Oh, and he says, 'for some reason I keep eating fire during the BluMoon.' Okay, I remember now. I guess he is pretty good.”
     “Excuse me,” Someone behind them said, tapping Amy on the shoulder. Amy turned to see the Daily Letter.   
     “Are you Amy Sparklung of Thunderstruck?”
     “Yes,” Amy said.
     “I got something for you.” He reached into his mail bag and pulled out a letter addressed to Amy.
Amy gasped. “It's from Commander Iceblade!”
     Amy and Beth squealed. Amy franticly ripped open a the letter and read the invitation. Then she squealed again.
     “He invited me to a get together!”

     “Listen well, commander, for I have a plan,” Admiral Spellcaster said in his trademark low n' slow voice.
     “Not one of those again,” Commander Iceblade said.
     “Commander, silence yourself. Now, when the moon turns blue this century, we Frostbitten will use this opportunity to the most of our ability.”
     “How? We know as much about its power as the rest of world.”
     “You may only know as much as the commoners, but I have knowledge given to me by the great Daan Scorchbringer.”
     “The guy who was attacked by a Spark Plug?”
     “...Yes. He told me of a place where the changes of the BluMoon can become permanent.
Iceblade's eyes widened. “You mean we'll be–” Spellcaster nodded. “–We'll be invincible.”
     “I have recruited the guinea pigs you requested, and the Circle is ready for operation.”

Monday, August 20, 2012

Patch And Cheese...

"Did you know that poodles are, like, the third smartest dogs?" my friend Janna said to me a few years back. Janna grooms our dog, Patch (and she has some very smart poodles...). "Huh. So, how smart are Shih Tzus?" I asked. She smiled and said, "They're like one of the dumbest." To be honest, she wasn't telling me anything I hadn't already supposed.

Also a few years back one of my Facebook friends posted that her dog Moose (also a Shih Tzu...) led a charmed life. She said one of her dog's favorite activities was following her around while she was in the kitchen hoping she would drop some cheese on the floor. Moose loved cheese. Interesting, I thought to myself at the time. I wonder if my dog likes cheese.

Since that time, we've discovered that, not only does my dog like cheese. She LOVES it! We many times find ourselves grating some cheese for a meal and the dog knows each and every time we do. Of course, knowing of our dog's affection for the dairy product means that we have, many times, have allowed cheese to fall to the floor.

Now, remember when I previously pointed out the intelligence rating of my dog's breed? I love our dog, but this video speaks for itself.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The 7 a.m. Priesthood Leadership Meeting...

Driving past the church last night I wondered...was that 7 a.m. Priesthood meeting this Sunday, or next Sunday? A phone call a few hours later answered my's this Sunday.

So I set my alarm for 6:45 a.m. (I'll eat breakfast after...) and went to bed, but not before watching RedBox's newest selection..."Hunger Games." (read the book, never saw the movie...). Watching a film after the kids go to bed, and having to still deal with an occasional sick child means me and the Mrs. haven't been getting as much sleep as we normally do. When that happens, 7 a.m. comes very early--especially on a weekend.

I remember the alarm going off. I remember turning off the ringing alarm. I remember opening my eyes again and seeing my digital clock read: 6:56 a.m. So, I wasn't technically late...not yet. Still, I wasn't too worried. If I hurried and got dressed (I'll shower after...) and hop in the car, I may only be a few minutes late.

I jumped in the car and noticed the time. It was only 3 minutes after 7 a.m. Not too bad. I cranked the ignition, and the radio--already set to a station that plays religious music on Sundays--came to life. The song that greeted me as I was late for my meeting was "Nearer My God To Thee." I mean, come on! I'm trying to get there as soon as I can!

I turned my car on to State Street and there were no other cars on the road--none. Everyone else was either already at the meeting, or sleeping, like everyone in my family was doing.

I entered the church just as the opening prayer came to a close. As discretely as possible, I entered the meeting through a side door and sat alone in a pew. Amazingly, I remained awake through all of the talks that were given and was glad I did so. The talks were inspired and important.

So went my 7 a.m. meeting. I know why the are held at that hour. I know also that I've promised to dedicate all to the Work. Having said that, 7 a.m. just seemed too darn early for a Sunday.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

HTCO, An Afternoon At The Theater...

Over the past 20 years, I've seen a fair share of performances, and performed in a fair share of of them, too, but I've never seen a show at the Hale Center Theater in Orem...until today. Me and three of the kids drove sixty miles south and watched a performance of "Arsenic and Old Lace." What a blast!

If you're not familiar with our region of the country, community theater is big, big stuff. And those even more familiar with the area know about the Hales and the theaters they've built. It's amazing that the family has successfully operated several theaters for so long. When I first saw HCTO, the building looked like it was a restaurant, and it might have been at one time. But you go inside the door and enter the main stage, it's an amazing place. The best way to describe the atmosphere is "intimate." The actors are seriously only feet away from any seat in the place.

Just a few miles from the theater is Brigham Young University where many of the actors--according to the playbill--studied. Even though the"Y" as it's commonly known, is not one of my favorite places, the talent that is produced at that school is undeniable. The cast was suburb. 

The kids (and I...) loved the show. I have never seen it before. Too bad the theater is so far away. It's such a quaint place.

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Pillar...A Short Story

Spiritual Wheel

It looks like I've influenced a couple of writers to join me on submitting a short story for the Weekly Writing Prompt. And since they've already submitted their stories, I thought I'd better hurry up and submit mine.

If you'd like to join us, there's still time for this week's installment. Just write your story using these five words:


Make sure your story's less than 500 words, and submit it to this website: HERE! Come on! It's fun! Even if you don't submit a story, check out the website and read the other stories that are already there. It's a hoot! Here's my latest...


            “Honey, look at this!” Melissa Thomas said to her husband as the recently retired man checked his new Nikon to see if the photo he just took came out as planned.
“Ah, crap…” Ryan Thomas said to himself. “Another shot wasted.” Melissa smiled at her husband of 45 years and she wondered if the only man she’d ever loved would ever figure out what her grandkids called “technology.”
            “Ryan, come over here,” the patient woman said again to her husband who stood across an ancient courtyard in Raskgar, Tibet, as tourists and residents walked between them. Ryan looked up from the small lighted display on the back of the point-and-shoot camera, looked over his glasses at his wife, grimaced, then returned to the problem at hand.
            Wanting desperately to kidnap Ryan’s attention, Melissa changed tactics. Waiting until Ryan looked her way, she caught his eye by first, performing a mime. She pretended as if she held Ryan’s camera. With her husband watching, she placed the imaginary device into her fanny pack and pantomimed a figure walking back to her. She then turned her attention to the pillar, an object of discovery she wished to share with him. Reluctantly, Ryan pocketed the camera and walked to his wife.
            “What?” Ryan said, the dejection in his voice noticed only by his wife.
            “Look, Ryan. Look at these beautiful pillars!”
            “They’re nice,” Ryan said as he admired the obvious talent required to construct the columns that looked the color of a perfectly baked loaf of bread.
            “Nice…they’re beautiful! What do you think it is?”
            “Looks like some sort of wheel,” Ryan said as he extended his hand. The wheel rotated by his simple touch. A noise startled the couple and Ryan immediately withdrew his hand. Looking up, Ryan saw a cherubic face of a four or five-year old boy staring down at him from a balcony above the courtyard.
            “Hello,” Melissa said. The boy remained silent then disappeared above them. The couple returned to the pillar.
            “What do you think this symbol means?” Melissa asked as she gently touched the delicately caved emblem. “I don’t know," Ryan said. "Maybe something having to do with creation.”
            “You think?” Melissa said, her eyes twinkling, a look that reminded the mildly arthritic ex-civil servant of the time he first saw the woman who took his name.
            “Maybe,” Ryan said, and as the love of his life turned back to the pillar, he silently hovered just behind her ear and gave Melissa Thomas a kiss on the back of her neck, his lips barely dusting her skin.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is It Art, Or Is It A Weapon?

If you're downtown in Salt Lake City and you happened to be by the Capitol Theater, you may have seen...well, I don't really know what to call it. See for yourself. If you're planning on visiting the theater, just take a few steps west. Believe me, you can't miss it.

Hundreds, maybe a thousand of these things grew from the gravel. A thin sidewalk divided the sections of rising gray things. We could have walked around it, but hey...I'm in the big city! Time to experience life!

My fellow adventurers and I walked down the sidewalk. I was trying to walk and take pictures at the same time when one of the eerie gray things came swinging at my face. When you're walking by them, they look like they're made of steel, immobile, silent, cold steel. But NO! They're actually made of rubber and they can be manipulated until the become weapons to unsuspecting bloggers who are taking pictures. You've been warned! (and now that you know the secret, you too can freak out your friends!)

I'm not an art snob (at least, I don't think I am...). I'm sure someone, or many people, spent several hours, if not days, envisioning, creating, and installing this piece of work for us all to experience and enjoy. But for me on this particular day, it almost put my eye out...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Guest Writer Time--Please Tell Me What You Think!

Guest Writer Time!

Today I'm including a portion of a story from a guest writer. This is the first of what I hope to be several opportunities to showcase some of these writers. For those who follow this blog, I'm going to ask you for a favor. I would LOVE to hear your opinion on this and the other snippets of stories I will include!

I would appreciate your opinions because I know what I think of the writings and I'd like to hear what other people think. It's a little long, but please, give it a chance.

 So, without further adieu, here it is!

Chapter 1
     Astin peered down at the roads, watching for anyone to approach. The branch he stood on swayed in the wind, but he kept his gaze steady. If he fell from here, it'd take forever to climb back up. Not even the vines took people up here.
     “All right, Limb 8, what's out there?” called a member of the Limb Watch command. Astin couldn't see who, since he couldn't turn around. The gruff voice seemed reminescent of Captain Harisheth, though.
     “Nothing over here,” called a voice to Astin's right.
     “Empty from my sight,” Astin replied.
     “All is peace,” said a man on the left.
     “Very well,” The captain responded. “As you were.”
     The captain marched away to check the next limb, a thick thump accompanying every other step. Yep, that's "Peg-leg" Harisheth, Astin thought, remaining motionless. Any movement could be seen by an intruder, or so they said. How an intruder can see into the thick of a mile-high tree, I'll never know, he thought. And who attacks forests, anyway?
     Somewhere behind him, children swung around from the tree's vines, shouting and probably chasing each other in a game of Seekers. He allowed himself a small smirk. It was only two days ago that he enjoyed the same life, running around without a care in the world. But now that he'd turned sixteen, he needed to join the responsibilities of the other adults. I still don't know why, he muttered to himself. I’m not even a true adult yet. Father needs to finish the ceremony, and he won't be back for. . .
     A movement in the distance caught his eye. It looked like a box on wheels pulled by a horse, but Astin recognized it immediately. I can't believe he's here, he thought excitedly. He said he'd be busy for weeks still!
     “Unknown approaching from the North-East,” called the man on the right.
     “No, that's my father!” Astin shouted, grinning as he jumped off his branch.
     “Oh. Hey, where are you going?” the man said, barely in earshot now.
     “Tell the captain I’m going to see my father,” Astin hollered back, grabbing a vine. He loved traveling by vine, the air rippling his mottled-green Watch uniform, the smell of the forest so fresh and vibrant. This was life, not squatting on a branch for hours on end.
     He reached for another vine and closed his eyes, concentrating on the entrance to the forest and trusting the tree to send him down to where he wished. In seconds, or what felt like seconds, the vine became slick, and he landed softly on the tree's second-level platforms. A sizable crowd already gathered around the entrance platform, everyone eager to hear the news and see the wares Astin's father brought from around the world. Astin made his way to the front to watch the Stiota at work.
     Two people in flowing white robes stood at the edge of the platforms, with two others standing in the tree across from them. They removed the white gloves from their hands, revealing a large emerald imbedded in the back of their hands and smaller ones along their fingers. They closed their eyes and extended their hands, emeralds glowing as the vines followed their movements. The vines shot down to the wagon, wrapping around it and the horse. The wagon crept upward as the Stiota struggled against the weight, beads of sweat forming on their brows.
     Once the wagon came to eye level, the Stiota in the other tree started their work, forcing the tree's platforms to grow and spread beneath the wagon. The vines unwound themselves and slithered back into the treetops, and the Stiota stepped back amid cheers from the crowd.
     Dozens of children ran up to the wagon to view the exotic treasures while Astin's father climbed down to greet the adults, his gold Trader's sash glittering against his dark brown clothes. Everyone in the crowd shouted questions about the happenings of the world outside.
     “Has the feud in the west calmed down yet?”
     “What was the jousting tournament like?”
     “Delrith, did you see the dignitary from overseas? What was he like?”
     “Settle down, everybody,” Delrith called out, raising his arms. “I can't answer your questions right now. That'll have to wait until tomorrow.”
     Most of the crowd nodded at this, but a few people complained. “Why can't we hear it now?” someone asked.
     “I have family business to attend to,” Delrith replied. “My son's Sixteen-Year ceremony isn't finished yet, since I couldn't be there to finish the rites. I think it's best I do that as soon as I can.”
     Now everyone nodded, and a few were walking away, getting back to their lives. Delrith smiled and strolled over to Astin, scratching his gray-streaked brown hair.
     “You didn't mention that the last part of the ceremony takes place at sunset,” Astin remarked with a smirk.
     Delrith threw his hands in the air in mock exasperation. “After all these years, I still can't fool my own son.” He grinned again and pulled Astin into a bear hug. “It's good to see you, Astin.”
     “I still can't believe you're here,” Astin said, releasing the hug. “How'd you get here so soon?”
     “Let me tell you, it took a lot of rearranging,” his father replied. “Had to cut most of my appointments short in the rest of the country, and I still only have two days to spend here. So we'd better have a great two days, all right?”
     Astin nodded with a smirk as they leapt off the edge, grabbing a vine as they fell. Astin closed his eyes and focused on his cube-shaped home on the first level. This time, a minute seemed to pass until he landed on the house's platform, followed by his father. He seemed worried for some reason. “Is something wrong, father?” he asked, confused.
     The worried look vanished, replaced with another smile. “No, of course not. So, have you felt different being a Sixteen-Year so far?”
     “Definitely,” said Astin, walking through the door of the house. He explained yesterday's ceremony and how the Limb Watch signed him on to their team immediately after the Stiotan leader, Father Magun, finished his sermon of the Ancestors' acceptance.
     “Really? They didn't even wait for me to finish the ceremony?” Delrith asked, resting on the feather down sofa from Traelsing.
     “No they didn't. It was literally the instant I finished there I had to report to Captain Harisheth to start Watching.” Astin sat next to his father, who nodded as he fell asleep. Astin nodded to himself. He's been riding for hours, he deserves some rest, he thought.
     He let his eyes wander around the house, at the things his father brought from his travels. The windows came from Traelsing, made of fragments of multicolored glass. A steam-powered stove stood in the kitchen, beside a cabinet with Ikanoran spices and cured meats. Each one gained through adventure and trials, each bringing a tale worthy of legend. At least, Astin believed they were legendary. And I’m stuck here, he thought, drifting into sleep. Standing guard against no-one-knows-what while he gets to travel the world. What kind of life is that?
     He vaguely noticed himself slipping into sleep. That's not life; it's slow death.
     Astin jolted awake from a thunderstorm outside, shaking uncontrollably. His hair felt wet from cold sweat, and he almost couldn't breathe from his rapid heartbeat. Why am I so scared? he wondered, trying to remember if it was something he dreamed. He couldn't remember a thing, though, except that he'd been in some sort of danger.
     Oh well, he thought. Just a dream.
     “So you're finally up?” called his father from the kitchen. “Then how about you help me in here? I need a few vegetables chopped for the sauce.”
     “Yeah, I'll do that,” Astin replied, trying to calm himself down. A difficult feat during a thunderstorm.
     As he got to his feet, someone knocked on the door. “Actually, could you get that?” his father asked. “It might be Father Magun.”
     “Sure,” Astin called back, a little confused. Everyone knows you shouldn't go outside during a thunderstorm. It cancels all the safeguards the Stiota create against lightning strikes. Maybe he can work it out since he's the leader of –
     His explanation stopped when he opened the door to find Cadell, an old friend of his, standing in the pouring rain. “What are you doing here?” Astin asked.
     “The rainstorm started in the middle of my Watch time,” Cadell replied, brushing his chestnut hair away from his eyes. “This was the first house I thought of, so the vines took me here. Do you mind?”
     “Uh, no, come on in,” Astin said, stepping to the side as his friend entered. He felt a little embarrassed that Cadell would be there during his Sixteen-Year ceremony. Usually these only took place between the boy, his father, and the Stiotan leader. Even though the Stiotan leader didn't do anything except write down that the boy has technically become a man.
     “Is that Cadell?” called Astin's father.
     “Yes it is, Mr. Delrith, sir,” Cadell answered. Astin started to close the door, but stopped when he saw someone else outside. A flash of lightning lit up the outdoor branches, revealing the square jaw and wooden leg of Captain Harisheth. He stood on one of the waving branches, never losing his balance. He seemed to stare directly at Astin.
     Whoa, Astin thought. That's. . . kind of creepy.
     He closed the door and went into the kitchen, where his father shared a few stories with Cadell. “. . . I wasn't sure if I could do it, but I did. And not a drop of blood on the blade!”
     “Wow,” said Cadell, glancing at Astin. “Your father's telling me about a tribe of sword-swallowers who made him swallow one in order to trade with them. It's amazing!”
     Astin almost replied, but a foul smell reached his nose. “Um, father, I think your dinner is burning,” he said.
     “No, I finished the dinner,” his father said, sniffing the air as well. “So what is that smell?”
     There it is again, Astin thought as he searched for the odor; the feeling that I've seen this before. He couldn't tell where the smell came from, but it certainly smelled burnt.
     A crack came from his father's bedroom. “No,” shouted Delrith, racing past the living room into his own room. Astin stayed out with Cadell, who seemed thoughtful.
     Multiple rough voices shouted from the bedroom, and his father ran back into the kitchen, clutching a small box. “I've closed and barred the door to my room,” he explained, breathless. “That may not hold him back for long, so we need to leave.”
     Another flash of lightning streaked against the windows, throwing fragments of color against the walls.
     “No,” said Cadell. “You need to finish the ceremony, Delrith. And now.”
     Delrith looked at Cadell, his face a mixture of anger and confusion. “And who are you to tell me –“
     “I'm a Seeker,” Cadell replied, rolling up his sleeve. A blue compass seemed tattooed on his wrist, pointed at Astin. “This is what must be. Now, pronounce the blessing. Finish the ceremony.”
     Astin stared at the compass in utter disbelief. He'd always been told that Seekers weren't real, that they were only figments of hopeful daydreams.
     Because the Seekers were sent to find the Warriors.
     Astin's father looked flustered as well, but a crack from the bedroom door brought him out of his reverie. “Yes. Of course.” He took Astin's hands into his own and closed his eyes. “ 'I, Delrith, son of Fristin, do name you Astin, son of Delrith. At the sixteenth year of your life, I proclaim you ready to serve the Ancestors in all they require of you. Whether as Stiota to exercise authority over the elements of their choosing, as a soldier to fight for the lives of those you love, or another path beyond our vision at this time, I proclaim you ready.' ”
     Another crack sounded at the door, louder this time. His father went on. “ 'My son, the Ancestors know you well. Know that they will guide and strengthen you to accomplish your purpose, in the way best for you to grow. The road ahead will be hard, but know that the Ancestors will be with you to support and protect you. In the name of Axolbah, the High Ancestor, may this be as it shall be.' ”
     “It will be as it shall be,” Astin muttered, echoed by Cadell. Astin's father released his hands, as Cadell placed his own hands upon Astin's.
     “I, Cadell, a Seeker of Axolbah the High Ancestor, do proclaim you Astin Sarethon, after the Ancestor of –“
     A burst of fire broke through the barred door, and Captain Harisheth ran into the kitchen. Flame cloaked his arms as he glared at Astin, hatred radiating from his eyes.
     “It shall not happen!” he roared, throwing balls of fire at Astin. Cadell jumped between them and held out his hands, releasing a wall of light against the flame.
     “You must leave now,” Cadell said, sounding calmer than he looked. “The location doesn't matter, just leave. Another must finish the work I've begun.”
     “Take this with you,” Astin's father said, holding out the box. “It's a family heirloom, passed down from father to son. You might need it.”
     Astin absently grabbed the box and ran for the back door, utterly confused. What is going on? Why is this happening to me?
     He reached for a vine as he jumped, but a trail of fire followed him, slicing the vine. Flailing, he fell through the tree's smaller branches, unable to catch any of them. He glimpsed a small wagon on the ground before landing hard, collapsing into unconsciousness.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yes, I'm Judging A Book By Its Cover (And Other Things...)


Sometime last week, I noticed a Facebook post from another beginning author (to be honest, he's further along than I in the process...). He recommended a podcast , a podcast to help beginning--or even experienced--authors. It's called (and it's a great name for a podcast...) "The Other Side of the Story." I subscribed and have enjoyed the half-dozen productions that have been made. It's creator is Matt Myklusch.

And, as things go sometimes, on the latest podcast, Matt announced a book giveaway. His latest book, "The Secret War" was being released and so he gave instructions on how someone could come to win this book. I followed the instructions and, as things go sometimes, I was one of the lucky winners. A free book? Are you kidding? Of course I want a free book!

Today was the day the book arrived. Everyone's heard the adage, "You can't just a book by its cover," or maybe it goes, "You shouldn't judge a book by its cover." Either way, the message is not to do it. Well, I'm going to ignore this wise council and talk about my newly received prize.


Just check out that cover! Personally, I think it rocks. It's the second book in the Jack Blank adventure series and you can find out more about the podcast, the author, and the books here: OTHER SIDE SHOW.COM. The author was kind enough to autograph the book and even included a personalized note--things he didn't need to do. In fact, he didn't need to send the book (at his expense...) in the first place.


I hope to read the book soon. But, as many of you know, finding time to read is difficult. More likely than not, I'll have the kids read it first then give me their opinions. So, Mike--I've judged your book before reading it. And, I've also judged you, to a certain extent. Both, in my humble opinion, are first-rate.

*Photos of book and website artwork were used without permission.

Monday, August 13, 2012

How To Make Homemade Ice Cream...

First, go to the store and buy ice. You can pick up the seven pound bag, or the 20 pound bag. If you're making more than one batch, the 20 pounder's the way to go.

Next, fish out the ice cream maker from whichever nook and/or cranny the ice cream maker is currently hiding. Ours was behind several buckets of food stuffs in the pantry. We have a Proctor-Silex brand, which, I believe, is Portuguese for "Miracle Creator Of Deliciousness."

Once the unfrozen ice cream is in the chamber of coolness, add the before-mentioned ice in the machine, add a dash of rock salt, turn on the motor and bask in the sound of ice cream-making goodness. Once the cream and ice have fused together, place appropriate amounts is various serving dishes and enjoy!

Of course, the most important ingredient for making homemade ice cream is...a teenage son who's willing to do all the work for you. Trust me on this one, it makes the ice cream so much better!