Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blogging "Celebration of Discipline"

I'm still relatively new to blogging, so I don't know if this is a common thing to do or if it's somewhat unique. A group of bloggers and other interested Christians, led by Messy Christian , will be group blogging the Richard Foster classic Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth beginning this week.

This is one of those books that gets raves from everyone I know who has read it. I bought it years ago, tried to start it, but stopped due to reasons I can't even remember now. It has sat on my shelves since then, and many times I've thought about picking it up and trying again. I hope that this group blog and the loving peer pressure it engenders will be the impetus to encourage me to finally read through it. Plus, I'm looking forward to the comments of others, which hopefully will shed some light on the various chapters.

The way I understand it, we'll read a chapter a week, then write entries each Friday on our blogs about that chapter. I'll hopefully make my first entry this Friday. For more detailed information about all of this, go here .

Thanks, Messy, for helping to get this together, and here's to a successful and enriching experience for us all.

Monday, May 30, 2005

A Clean, Well-Lighted Bushel

I've been listening in the car recently to an audio book featuring excerpts from first person accounts of historic events. I was especially taken by one account of the Black Death, the famous Bubonic Plague which killed off a significant portion of Europe's population between 1347 and 1350.

The account used to describe the event comes from Giovanni Boccaccio's classic book of tales called The Decameron. Boccaccio describes how it soon became evident that merely touching an infected victim, or even being in the same room with them, would likely kill anyone trying to help. This prompted a number of uninfected people to take a somewhat debatable course of action:

"Some thought that moderate living and the avoidance of all superfluity would preserve them from the epidemic. They formed small communities, living entirely separate from everybody else. They shut themselves up in houses where there were no sick, eating the finest food and drinking the best wine very temperately, avoiding all excess, allowing no news or discussion of death or sickness, and passing the time in music and suchlike pleasures."
That is, in fact, what The Decameron is, the fictional record of a group of uninfected people who hid out together in safety during the plague and told humorous and sometimes bawdy tales to each other over a 10-day period to keep themselves amused.

Why does this passage describing events more than 600 years ago speak to me now? Because I recognize myself in that group of people who basically gave up, who wanted nothing more than to hide themselves away from the horrors of the world and live the good life amidst the suffering and blackness.

Today, we're confronted not with a plague of physical sickness, but with one caused by moral decay. How should a Christian respond, and how should he not?

After giving the issue a lot of thought, I've come to the conclusion that there are two ways for a Christian to respond inappropriately to the evil in our world. The first, of course, is to embrace the oft-used philosophy, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em." Do it out in the open or behind closed doors, whatever you're comfortable with, but accept the supreme value of "tolerance." By all means, subscribe to the Playboy Channel, order the adult DVDs, drop by the strip club, visit the Internet porn site, meet the mistress, gamble away the paycheck, have just one more drink.

I have to confess that my record in past years of resisting these sorts of temptations is not pristine. But now, as a middle-aged family man, I find that it's another type of temptation I fight most against.

It starts with a simple wish for peace and order. I patiently endure the neighbors next door, the ones who play loud music (of a kind I don't like) for everyone to hear, whose foul-mouthed kids stay out unsupervised until all hours of the night, who leave trash in the street and beer bottles on my lawn, who seem to always be sleeping soundly on Sunday mornings, until one day I let myself think, "Lord, I wish they would move."

Then I realize that the neighbor across the street is not too hot, either, and probably just as pagan, and I think, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if good Christian families moved into both of those houses? What friendships and fellowship we could have."

I hear the constant drone of stories on TV about children being snatched from their homes by molesting monsters, or being beaten to death by hardened child playmates, or about increasing drug use or rampant cheating or infidelity or government-sponsored immorality, and I take the fantasy a bit further. I think, "Wouldn't it be great if there was a subdivision that I and my other good Christian friends could create for ourselves, a subdivision full of just Christians, where all the kids would be polite and reverent, and all of the adults would be respectful of each other? Think of how well everyone would get along! What neighborhood barbeques and Bible studies we could have!"

But as news of the evil world piles up, and it becomes clear that evil can penetrate any normal city or suburb at will, my fantasy gets more fantastic and frantic. What about our own gated little community out of reach somewhere, maybe up on a breathtaking mountaintop in Colorado? No, wait -- what about our own island? Yes, that's it. We'd have our own Christian island, with a Christian government, Christian schools, Christian businesses, Christian garbage pickup and Christian ice cream vans with loudspeakers blaring "Jesus Loves the Little Children" instead of "Turkey in the Straw." We'd be totally safe and secure and self-sufficient and happy, and think of the awesome Bible studies we would have!

As a 44-year-old man with a wife and two children I want to protect, this is the temptation I most find myself fighting when confronted with the reality of a lost world -- not the sinful urge to embrace its evils, but the equally sinful urge to flee it altogether. I'm seduced by the notion of giving into the temptation to just be left alone, to be able to sleep a peaceful sleep, wake up and read the Bible or whatever strikes my fancy, to listen to beautiful music, play with my wonderful kids, spend time with my sweet wife, congregate with like-minded friends, and never be bothered with inconvenient people who don't agree with or even respect or understand my beliefs, whose kids are growing up seemingly without any moral code or positive role models, whose messy lives I would really have to get right smack dab in the middle of to have a hope of changing for the good.

You might say, well, what's wrong with that? Doesn't God love us and want us to be happy? Is it so wrong to want nice things and to be around good people?

Well, no...but if we call ourselves Christians and claim to have read the Bible, we know the full answer. When it comes right down to it, we are called not to strive for comfort, not to flee the world, but are called to be vessels through which God can transform mankind.

We know how Jesus acted when he was on the earth, and yes, He spent many days in quiet, peaceful places with his disciples, teaching and fellowshipping. But after a time, He always walked straight into the gathering places of tax cheats and prostitutes and lepers and rebels, into the worst stinking hell holes Israel had to offer. And His purpose was never to indulge in the sins offered there, but to be as light unto darkness, and to rescue lost sheep.

I know that now is the place in this essay where I should place the personal turnaround "clincher" paragraph. You know, the one that says that even though I once avoided the lost world, I have fully reformed and now realize the extent of my responsibility to spread the gospel. I would tell of how I have begun reaching out to my neighbors, to strangers, to the homeless, the sick and the imprisoned, all in Christ's name. But I can't be honest and write that paragraph, folks. I admit with shame I'm not there yet.

Realizing what you need to do is only the first step -- doing it is the next. And I must pray for the strength to take that next step, to stop hiding in the warmth of my faith and begin using it like the sharp, piercing tool it was designed to be. I must not be seduced by those visions of the island paradise that constantly float into my mind, and instead realize that, while God wants only the best for me, I have a responsibility to make the best of my time on earth.

And if that means unlocking the doors and stepping out into the heart of the Black Death, then so be it.

Quote of the day:

"Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."

--Matt. 5:14-16 (KJV)

Saturday, May 28, 2005

100 Things About Me

1. I have blue eyes and brown hair. When I was born, however, my hair was a dirty blonde color.

2. I have lived in Texas all of my life, including stints in Houston, Austin, Friendswood and Waco.

3. I have traveled to 38 of the United States as well as the District of Columbia. I’ve got 12 more states to visit before I die: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, West Virginia, South Carolina, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota and Alaska.

4. Sadly, like many Americans, I have only been to two foreign countries: Canada and Mexico.

5. My favorite song as a very young child was “Puff the Magic Dragon” by Peter, Paul and Mary. I still love it.

6. The first LP I ever got my parents to buy me was the second album by the Monkees, “More of the Monkees,” the one with “I’m a Believer” and “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone." I played it until the grooves disappeared.

7. I have a habit of cracking my knuckles, which unnerves Mrs. Muley.

8. Since I was a somewhat fat child all throughout elementary school, I got the honor of playing Santa Claus in my first grade Christmas play. I didn’t need a lot of extra padding. I had to pantomime to “The Night Before Christmas,” including puffing my pipe and shaking like a bowl of jelly.

9. I became a Houston Astros fan at a young age, back when they routinely occupied the National League cellar. I would listen to the game broadcasts on a little AM/FM radio in my room.

10. I signed up for the “Astros Buddies” club one year, and listed my favorite Astro as Jesus Alou. I got a membership card with his photo on it.

11. Speaking of the Astros, the summer before my freshman year in college I worked in “food service” at the Astroworld amusement park in Houston. I sold soft drinks, made hamburgers and peddled Pink Things out in the blazing Texas sun.

12. I have three brothers, all younger than me. I’m the only one of them who has either married or had kids. One of them still lives at home with my parents. I don’t see them very often.

13. I once was urinated on by a lion in a zoo.

14. My favorite Charlie’s Angel when the show was on TV was Cheryl Ladd, but now I think I like Jaclyn Smith the best. I was never a big fan of Farrah Fawcett-Majors, especially after she started knocking around with Ryan O’Neal.

15. I played trombone in junior high and high school. At one point I was thinking of switching to trumpet, so I took lessons and learned to play that as well. As a result, I ended up being able to play trombone, trumpet, baritone and tuba.

16. I can also play the triangle.

17. My mother describes my heritage as “Heinz 57 variety.” My ancestors were German, Czech, Polish, English and even Native American. We got around.

18. One of my ancestors supposedly an early Texas settler. As a result, I was accepted into membership to the Sons of the Republic of Texas. I have never been to a meeting, but I’m a member.

19. When I was a radio and TV reporter, some of the famous people I got to interview or ask questions of in news conferences were President Jimmy Carter, Beverly Sills, Merle Haggard, Alexander Haig, Donny and Marie Osmond and Heloise.

20. When I was visiting New York City one time in my bachelor days, I saw novelist John Irving in Central Park. I was a fan of The World According to Garp and a few of his other books, and I thought about approaching him and introducing myself, but he was in a deep conversation with a young woman, and I didn’t think he’d enjoy being interrupted.

21. I started collecting coins as a young boy, and have continued to do so off and on since then.

22. I can name all of the U.S. presidents from memory, and in the order they served. I’ve known how to do this since third grade.

23. I have written one short story that I took the trouble to have copyrighted. It’s called “The Bloody Turnip Diet.” I wrote it in college, and it’s about a kid who hates having to analyze stories to death in English class.

24. I’ve been a Beatles fan almost my entire life, but during college and my 20s I was a huge fan. When John Lennon was murdered in 1980, I wore a black armband to work.

25. As a kid, I once owned a guinea pig named Sassafras.

26. Two foods that a lot of people seem to like (but I hate) are onions and mayonnaise. Two foods that a lot of people seem to hate (but I like) are lima beans and pork rinds.

27. I was a fairly good speech-type person in junior high and high school. I placed second in state in both debate and extemporaneous speaking different years.

28. The only time I’ve stayed overnight in a hospital is when I had my tonsils out when I was five years old. I was upset because I had asked my parents to get the doctors to put my tonsils in a jar that I could take to my kindergarten class for show and tell, but they didn’t come through. I did like all the ice cream, through.

29. I went through three schools and three majors in my tour of the Southwest Conference during college. I started out going for a year at Baylor as an accounting major, then went for a year and a half to the University of Houston as a Radio/TV major, then ended up at the University of Texas as a broadcast journalism major. I graduated with a bachelor of journalism from UT in 1982.

30. I started wearing glasses when I was 12 years old. I tried contacts along the way, but they always bothered my eyes and I gave them up. About 12 years ago, I got RK surgery so I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore. By that time, my glasses were almost Coke bottle size and kept slipping down my nose.

31. I got my first kiss in seventh grade during a spin-the-bottle session at a party. The girl’s name was Wendy. I enjoyed the spin-the-bottle concept because at that time in my life, it was the only way I was ever going to get a girl to kiss me without some sort of armed threat. The party might have been a little tawdry and all, but I remember it as a magical night.

32. I am a Dr Pepper addict. I believe they began putting it in my bottles soon after I was weaned from formula, and I’ve been drinking it ever since. If they figured out the volume of all the Dr Pepper I’ve drunk over the years, it would probably float a battleship. If they gave me back all the money I’ve spent on Dr Pepper over the years, I undoubtedly could retire comfortably.

33. I am a decent artist, but I never pursued getting better at it as I probably should have. I can’t draw people worth beans, but I can do graphics and landscapes fairly well.

34. I met my wife when we were both working for a small market television station. When we met, I was a news bureau chief and she worked in production. By the time we married, she had moved up to producer of the 10 p.m. news.

35. When I was being born (the natural way), my big head got “stuck” and I had my oxygen supply threatened. My mom has always claimed that if they hadn’t been able to pull me out with forceps when they did, I would have been born a mongoloid. Some people over the years have said this explains a lot about me.

36. When I was in college, I was in a “band” with some of my friends. We couldn’t play band instruments, and we couldn’t sing very well, but we knew how to use recording equipment. We’d find recorded instrumentals, write our own lyrics to them, then record our singing over the tracks. We even gave a few public “concerts” singing over these instrumentals, including one concert in a large airplane hangar. Youth has no shame.

37. I once entered a poem of mine in a contest run by some blue-haired ladies in a county literary society, and I won. I can’t even remember if I got any money, or if they just knitted me a potholder.

38. The singers or groups that I have seen in concert include Elvis (in the Astrodome as a kid), the Who, ZZ Top, Bruce Springsteen, the Marshall Tucker Band, the Blues Brothers, Amy Grant, Ronnie Millsap, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, and Weather Report.

39. I once was in the same room as George W. Bush. He was the governor of Texas at the time, and he met in his reception room at the Capitol with Abner McCall, the former president of Baylor University, who was being honored. I was there to take video of them shaking hands and talking. To my eternal regret, I did not attempt to shake GW’s hand myself.

40. I took four semesters of Spanish in college, but still can’t speak it.

41. I am a “Trekkie,” albeit the non-obsessive type.

42. From third grade until my junior year in high school I thought I wanted to be a doctor. When I went on a field trip to a hospital and saw the kinds of things I would have to do to learn to be a doctor, like cutting open cadavers, dealing with blood and doing intimate things to people, I changed my mind.

43. If you can believe it, I then decided to get an accounting degree followed by a law degree, and be a corporate attorney. I was thinking how much money I would undoubtedly make, but thankfully I also came to realize that I would end up gnawing through my mahogany desk in boredom.

44. I like to collect quotes and lists of vocabulary words I don’t know.

45. I write haiku for fun.

46. I was in journalism classes at the University of Texas with E.D. Hill, one of the co-hosts of “Fox and Friends” on Fox News in the morning. And when I working as a bureau chief for one station in Waco, she was co-anchoring at another. I seriously doubt she would remember me now.

47. I never owned a leisure suit, but I did once go to a high school prom wearing a white tuxedo with a powder blue ruffly shirt and a honkin’ big blue bowtie. I did it to match my date’s dress, but I felt like the pinch hitter at a gay escort service.

48. The first magazine I ever had a subscription to was Boy’s Life, since I was in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. The first magazine I subscribed to out of my own pocket was Mad magazine. I can still remember how I’d be so excited when a new issue, full of twisted humor, would appear in the mailbox.

49. My first car was a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle, which I outfitted with an 8-track tape player as soon as I could.

50. I had a childhood crush on Valerie Bertinelli from the “One Day at a Time” TV show, but then she went and married Eddie Van Halen. Oh, well.

51. I’m an innie.

52. My favorite Stooge is Curly.

53. The first Presidential election I was eligible to vote in was the 1980 contest. For some reason I only vaguely remember now, I couldn’t bring myself to vote for either Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, and ended up voting for Independent candidate John Anderson instead.

54. I have seen all of the James Bond movies except “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” which is considered to be one of the worst. When I was in kindergarten, I had a James Bond spy briefcase, which featured a rifle barrel that would appear from the side when you pushed a hidden button.

55. During our senior year in high school, my best friend and I were allowed to read the morning announcements over the school PA system. We loved to play jokes, such as reading a fake announcement instructing someone to report to a certain room number, which would end up being a girl’s restroom or a janitor’s closet.

56. I was in Boy Scouts for two years, attaining the rank of Life Scout. I bailed out before I earned my Eagle.

57. I’ve had almost all of the classic bad dreams before –- the caught in public naked dream, the tornado dream, the falling dream, the showing up for a big test totally unprepared dream (I seem to have that one most often). Actually, though, I rarely remember my dreams, and very few of the ones I do remember I’d classify as sexy or even as a form of wish fulfillment.

58. I have a mild to moderate fear of heights, depending on the place and the safety features. This has not, however, prevented me from flying in airplanes or standing atop such high creations as the former World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Hemisfair Tower in San Antonio or Pikes Peak.

59. I played Little League baseball for six years, basketball for one year in a church league, and football on my 8th grade school team. That’s the extent of my organized sports involvement during grade school.

60. The last time I shaved my upper lip was the day of my high school graduation, and I’ve had a mustache ever since.

61. I have never eaten snails, caviar, sardines, sushi, sheep’s eyeballs or any other nasty foods in the same general category.

62. When I was single and dating, I never had much of a chance getting women to like me through my looks or physique. If I had any chance at all, it was by making them laugh.

63. I have been keeping a daily journal fairly regularly since the early 1990s. I almost never look back and read it, unless my wife and I can’t remember the date of something and need to refer back to the journal to verify the date.

64. I am a big history buff, including family history, which I guess is one reason I keep the journals even though I never read them. They will give my kids and grandkids something not to read some day.

65. I know all the lyrics to the Texas A&M fight song, even though I never went to school there. At the same time, I don’t remember the lyrics to the fight songs of the schools I did attend.

66. I have never been bitten by a snake or stung by a bee or wasp. I have, however, lost gallons of blood to Southeast Texas mosquitoes over the years.

67. When you look at the shirts hanging in my closet, you will find a number of them with bright colors, including a Hawaiian shirt that makes my wife wince every time I get it out.

68. I had some pretty boring summer jobs, including working two summers in the men’s department of Weiner’s department store and stuffing advertising fliers inside newspapers. One summer, however, I got to be a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Pasadena (Texas), covering the city of South Houston. It was fun.

69. My middle name is Mark. If one of the radio or TV stations I worked for had ever insisted that I change my on-air name, I was going to choose “Mark Randall” as my alias. Luckily, I never had to do this.

70. I was big into racing Hot Wheels cars and building airplane models as a kid.

71. I’m told that I don’t speak with a Texas accent, although I do frequently employ Texanisms such as “fixin’ to” and “ya’ll.”

72. When I was quite young, my mom decided that she was going to make me try tomato juice, something I was determined not to do. One Saturday morning, she set a glass in front of me at the breakfast table and told me I couldn’t leave to go watch cartoons unless I’d tried some. I stubbornly refused, and eventually she let me go. I have never liked tomato juice, and I’m not going to try it to see if my tastes have changed.

73. I used to go tubing and rafting all the time in the Guadalupe River when I was younger.

74. I can’t really snap my fingers worth a darn.

75. My 5 o’clock shadow arrives each day about noon.

76. I have bounced a check or two (or three) in my time. It’s not something I’m proud of. For what it's worth, it was due to poor recordkeeping on my part, not a desire to defraud anyone.

77. Our family had a CB radio in the car back in the 1970s when it was all the rage. My handle was “Texas Tornado.” Copy that, good buddy? 10-4.

78. The stupidest, worst comedy I remember seeing is “Anchorman” with Will Ferrell. It’s one of the few movies in my life I’ve felt like walking out of.

79. I took oil painting lessons in 6th grade, and was getting much better when I had to quit because we moved to another town.

80. When I was in elementary school, my mother made me and my younger brother take etiquette lessons. We were taught how to introduce ourselves and others (“Mr. Jones, may I introduce Mr. Muley.”) We learned which fork was which, how to use napkins, how to insert cufflinks, what to do with finger bowls, and how to bow, among other things. I have forgotten most of what they taught, although I do remember that elbows on the table are a big no-no. Feet on the table, too, as far as that goes.

81. I think O.J., Michael Jackson, Robert Blake and Lizzie Borden are guilty, UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle are bogus, Elvis is dead and Paul McCartney is quite alive. However, I believe there could have been a second gunman in the JFK assassination, and that there are supernatural occurrences that defy human explanation. And the check sometimes is in the mail.

82. I spend more money than I’d like to admit each year at Half Price Books. I have been a customer since my college days, and I can easily spend two or three hours browsing without blinking an eye. My family has learned to drop me off and just arrange a time to meet me later.

83. I also try to periodically sell back books I’ll never read again (or have grown tired of) to Half Price Books. If I was rich and had rows of empty bookshelves I’d probably keep them all, but I have a finite amount of space, so I must purge every now and then to permit me to bring new treasures home.

84. I love to fish, although I don’t end up doing it much.

85. I don’t think there’s a sexier screen performance than that of Grace Kelly in either “It Takes a Thief” or “Rear Window.”

86. The first girl I ever had a crush on was Lisa Counts in the third grade. She was a beautiful Southern belle, and I knew she was something special when she invited me to her birthday party and I learned that she had invited only boys.

87. I have never watched a complete episode of the following TV shows: Alias, 24, Desperate Housewives, Lost, The OC, CSI (any variety), Stargate, The Man Show, Sex in the City, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Joey, Grey’s Anatomy, South Park, Greatest Race, Survivor...Maybe it would be easier if I just listed the current shows I have watched.

88. I’m jealous of people such as my daughter Rebecca and fellow blogger Jenn who are natural artists and can draw whatever they want so well. I am in awe of people who can draw or paint well.

89. I’m a huge fan of the comedy team of Bob and Ray. They are the kings of dry humor and wit, in my opinion.

90. I prefer books with a straight-on narrative style, and a good, event-filled plot if it’s a work of fiction or autobiography. Books where the author talks for pages about his memories of the smells of pickles and alfalfa on his grandma’s farm drain the life out of me and make me reach for the TV clicker.

91. I’ve had to dig holes to bury two dogs (they were dead at the time) as well as take one cat to the vet to be put to sleep.

92. Based on which TV show makes me laugh out loud the most, the Beverly Hillbillies is the funniest thing on the tube. I knew my wife and I would get along well when I learned she loved both the Beverly Hillbillies and Star Trek.

93. One of my literary goals is to read every book Charles Dickens ever wrote.

94. I accepted Christ as my Saviour during elementary school, although it wasn’t until college that I was baptized.

95. Two historical periods that interest me greatly are the Victorian Age in Britain and the 1920s, the “Jazz Age,” in America.

96. I always wanted to learn how to fly a plane, but my poor eyesight prevented me. Now that I’ve had RK surgery, my eyesight would probably be okay, but I have neither the money nor the time to learn. My dad learned to fly small planes when I was a kid, and he would take me flying with him across Texas. We used to touch down in small rural airports where you had to make sure the cows were off the runway before landing. I'm not kidding.

97. I am doing research for three eventual books right now, all nonfiction books about local history.

98. I celebrated the American Bicentennial on July 4, 1976, by watching a huge fireworks show over Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans.

99. As I’ve grown older, I have learned the value and wisdom of speaking less and listening more.

100. This last fact does not explain why I feel the need to keep a blog.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Let's Share: When Do You Get Your Best Ideas?

This whole new world of blogging has led me to think more about writing, and thinking about writing has caused me to revisit a question I have asked myself from time to time: namely, where does creative inspiration come from? And are there things I can do and specific places I can do them to encourage it to come more often?

One of the things I've noticed is that there are certain activities I can take part in that lead naturally to creative ideas flying into my brain. Since blogging at its best is an interactive medium, my primary reason for posting this today is to ask all of you readers -- when do you get your best ideas? What activities are likely to provide you with the inspiration for new ideas, plans, and dreams?

I'll tell you a few of the patterns I've found in my life, and then I'll leave the floor to you for your comments.

First of all, I don't know a lot of Freud, and much of what I do know I don't agree with, but I've bought into the idea of the constant battle between the conscious and subconscious parts of our minds. Our conscious mind is the stronger big brother, dealing with the minute-to-minute details and making the big decisions that allow us to survive. The subconscious is the dreamy little brother, shut up in his room, listening to Pink Floyd and lounging on his bed, but always thinking, thinking, thinking. He comes up with great creative ideas and long-range plans, but big brother rarely lets him get a word in edgewise.

The only times I've found that my subconscious can slip those wonderful creative ideas in where I can get at them is when I'm doing mundane, routine, repetitive, sometimes downright boring tasks. It's as if the conscious mind says, "This is so easy I can put this on autopilot and take a nap. Subconscious little bro, if you've got something to say, now's your chance."

(What a brilliant explanation of the conscious and subconscious mind! Nobel committee, send the check here.)

Anyway, here's the three mundane activities I engage in that best free my subconscious thoughts and act as the most reliable incubators for my strange whimsies:

JOGGING -- I tend to get my best, most complex ideas coming to the surface when I'm running. In fact, the idea for this post came to me and was fleshed out during a run, as a number of my other posts have been. The only problem with jogging is I can't really bring along a pen and notepad to write down ideas while I'm running, or I'd get no "running" done at all. And carrying a microcassette recorder and talking into it while running would be entirely too dweeby, even for Muley.

An aside: I've decided that if I ever try to write a book, the only way I'm going to marshal the creative brainpower will be to run up Interstate 35 from here to Minnesota -- that ought to do it.

CUTTING GRASS -- Talk about a monotonous activity. Same yard, same weeds, same mower, same pattern. Yawn. I get some great ideas when I'm out mowing, and I can stop and write them down without any problem. The only danger is that when I'm in the middle of a big inspirational riff, I get a bit distracted, a fact that's caused me to lose a few toes. But do we really need ten of them? I think not.

TAKING A SHOWER -- Given my druthers, I'd probably direct my brain to access my vast store of tunes while I'm showering so that I could sing to my heart's content, but my shower is next to our breakfast room, and my kids would hear every note I bleated while I got clean in the mornings. For their future mental health, I spare them this. Instead, I sometimes let my subconcious thoughts flow, but there's always the problem of writing them down. Is there a pen that works in the shower? Should I ask Mrs. Muley to come in and take dictation?

Anyway, those are my favorite places and activities to inspire new creative ideas. Please leave me your comments and let me know -- when and where do you get your best ideas? If I receive enough good responses, I promise to assemble them in a subsequent post and share them with everybody.

I can't wait to read your responses.

Quote of the day:

"Don't just pretend that you love others; really love them. Hate what is wrong. Stand on the side of the good. Love each other with brotherly affection and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy in your work but serve the Lord enthusiastically. Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble, and prayerful always. When God's children are in need, you be the one to help them out. And get into the habit of inviting guests home for dinner or, if they need lodging, for the night."

--Romans 12:9-13 (Living Bible)

The New "Wave" in Snacks

Let this one win the award for blog post about the most trivial subject ever -- see if I care.

I was in Wal-Mart yesterday buying groceries and a copy of the latest edition of the Weekly World News to see what Bat Boy was up to, and displayed on the little "impulse buy" shelf they have by the checkout stand I noticed what seems to me to be an entirely new product: microwave pork rinds.

Am I just behind the trends as usual? Has anyone else seen this stuff, or used it?

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not one of those "I would never eat dried pig intestine" snobs. I love pork rinds, flavored or plain. But I just can't figure out why someone would want or need to microwave them.

With microwave popcorn, it was an issue of saving time and energy. Instead of having to heat oil over a stove and contantly shake the pan while the kernels popped, half of them landing on the floor, microwave popcorn made it so quick, easy and non-messy.

But, do people prepare their own pork rinds at home? Is this the market for this new product? You know, "Gosh, I love pork rinds, but I hate having to catch the hog, kill it, rip its guts out, fry them up, then take all that time to dry them out on the clothes line. This is so much easier with these little microwave bags -- now I finally have time to read Proust!"

Uh, am I crazy, or aren't pork rinds already available ready to eat in bags? Is there a need to dry out the guts, then freeze dry them so they can be heated and re-energized in a microwave?

Can microwave peanuts, corn chips and beef jerky be far behind?

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Muley's Mailbag

Today I am introducing a new feature: Muley's Mailbag.

Now that I've been "on the blog" for a couple of weeks, I think it's time to try to answer a few of the letters, cards, telegrams and e-mails I've received from my small but very loyal group of readers. I'll do my best to try and clear out the mailbag every now and then, so please be patient if I don't get to you for awhile.

Okay, I've got time for two letters today. Here goes.

Dear Muley,

I was in the grocery store yesterday and on the vegetable aisle I noticed a can of something called "vegetarian beans." I'm confused -- I could have sworn that beans were already vegetables. Well, at least I didn't think they were meat. Please elucidate me.

Petaluma, California

Dear Wally,

I suggest you elucidate yourself, as I'm all thumbs when it comes to cutting things open. But as to your question: I thought at first that maybe regular beans were not "beans" at all, but the pickled corpses of some tiny creatures such as voles. But this didn't check out. I finally had to ask someone at the AAA (Abbatoir Advisory Association) to clear up the mystery.

It seems that regular beans can be fertilized by cows or other slabs of walking meat, but vegetarian beans have to be fertilized by decaying plant matter or dead bugs (although that last one is currently being hotly debated in some vegetarian circles). I've also been told that if you decide you want truly vegetarian beans, you have to make sure the decaying plant matter itself was not fertilized by animals, and so on and so on. Eat up.


Dear Muley,

I know that diesel engines are louder and stinkier and more obnoxious than regular engines, but is there a mechanical difference as well?

Spoor, Wyoming

Dear Charisse,

No. Diesel engines were originally created for use in large cities. It was hoped that the smelly exhaust and loud operation would discourage starry-eyed rubes from moving to the city and contributing to the overcrowding problem.

Now, diesel trucks and cars can be found just about everywhere. The engines (named for Rudolf Diesel, a German environmentalist) are used in 18-wheelers, and where I live, just about every other pickup truck is equipped with one. From what I can see, the primary sales targets are relatives of C.W. McCall and 16-year-old boys who love watching little old ladies in tiny import cars cover their ears in terror as they blow by, believing this makes them popular with chicks in vintage Camaros.

Big secret: the engines themselves are exactly the same as regular engines. They have one single additional feature, the patented "Smogbarfulator," which simply burns extra doses of gasoline through an odiferous filter to produce the loud noise and classic diesel smell. Diesel gas is actually the same as unleaded. It was given a new name so it could be sold at higher prices to diesel vehicle owners, and so sign companies could sell more of their product to convenience stores and truck stops.


Self-serving quote of the day:

"Grow up as soon as you can. It pays. The only time you really live fully is from thirty to sixty...The young are slaves to dreams; the old servants of regrets. Only the middle-aged have all their five senses in the keeping of their wits."

--Hervey Allen

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Weird, Whimsical and Wicked


As I have read through my favorite blogs each day, I have reluctantly kept abreast of the various outrages and horrors in the world, from fiends who snatch young girls and rape and torture them, to groups such as Planned Parenthood (chronicled with such vigilance by Dawn Eden and others) who seem to want to make sure my two daughters are initiated into the culture of sex as soon as possible.

Although the worst stories about the most terrifying horrors never fail to get to me, in another sense I am not as discouraged about long-term prospects by them as I am by other, less ghoulish stories. My reason? Let me see if I can get this to make sense.

Throughout history, there have always been psychos and sociopaths on the fringe, from the people who burned their children to death worshipping Molech on down. There have always been these monsters, but they remained a small percentage of the population, while most people seemed to be what I'd call "normal" -- people who tried their best to observe the same traditional moral codes and basic guidelines for polite discourse and cohabitation. Private intimacies and unusual variations were always there, sure, but most people tacitly agreed to either keep that stuff private, or at least not flaunt it in the public's face.

But now, more and more, the "normal" people seem to be the ones getting kookier and louder and more brazen -- maybe not murderous or sociopathic, but actively or tacitly approving of things that "normal" people 20 or 30 or 40 years ago would have strongly opposed or at least frowned upon. It seems to me to be a trend, and I worry about it in my most fretful moments.

So, when I come across some weird stories on the Internet, I'm not sure sometimes whether to laugh, or cringe, or cry. In this occasional roundup column, I'll try to share with you some of the examples I'm talking about.

First of all, I was a bit distressed to read how one of my favorite bloggers, Not a Desperate Housewife, was shopping in one popular children's store, and found a teddy bear outfitted in a way to inspire her child to call it "Hooker Bear."

This was bad enough, but then I found a thwarted (but still sleazy) teddy bear atrocity in Switzerland. Switzerland? I thought all they did there was breathe in the sweet Alpine air as they wound their cuckoo clocks and cleaned their nails with that little plastic pick tool from their Swiss Army knives. But no, when they decide to put on a simple street display in Zurich, the first thought is apparently to haul out the cat-o-nine-tails and fishnet stockings.

Thank goodness someone put down their chocolate bar long enough to realize the terrible import of what this whole display would mean, but how did this ever get to this point at all? Can't they keep this stuff behind closed doors, like they do Swiss bank accounts?

Because of the Internet, I have learned that not everything a Communist country does is necessarily bad. For example, China has outlawed the increasingly popular culinary trend of eating raw fish right off of a naked woman's body, with nary a sneeze guard in place.

What sleazy entrepreneur or joyless bon vivant first had the idea for this pathetic practice? Have we become so jaded with normal pleasures that we have to resort to this? What is next? Supplying a naked woman with a gallon of Blue Bell and a can of whipped cream for children's birthday parties?

It just makes me want to wait for The Andy Griffith Show to come on TV and then crawl into the set to Mayberry. I'd ask Aunt Bee to serve me a glass of milk and some apple pie -- not on herself, mind you.

NEWS FLASH: after scientific analysis of census data, weather reports and a poll of the seals at Fisherman's Wharf, they've discovered that the child population in San Francisco is dwindling. REALLY? I wonder why? Hmm. Hmm. I've got to think hard about this one. Hmm.

In dye and pigment news, it appears that so many people are getting tattooed now, it's become about as cool and rebellious as hitting the $4 flip flop sale at Wal-Mart.

My objections against tattoos are aesthetic and not moral, and if someone wants to get one, that's their business. I prefer the old ones like Popeye had, with the hula dancer on the biceps, but that's my personal taste talking.

However, it gets harder to tell your kids "wait until you're an adult" to get one of the dang things permanently applied to their epidermis if "everyone's doing it." And I just can't help but wonder about how all these 20-somethings are going to feel about the big multicolored eagle they've got on their chest now when they're in their 60s, and it looks like a big wrinkly chicken melting down their jutting yet wobbly gut.

Oh well, whether he's tattooed or not, it's good to know that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is feeling taller now.

And when all else fails, there's always the Badger Song to cheer us up.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

We Don't Talk Anymore

It appears that one day this past February, Muley had a quite a bee buzzing around inside his capacious bonnet. Looking through an old journal where I tried to collect loose scraps of thought, I find that I sat down and wrote out this little essay all in one gulp, apparently early one morning. I wonder now what set me off.


Much of what passes for conversation these days is not dialogue, but monologues politely thrown back and forth like a game of backyard catch. The goal is not discovery, but declaration; not enlightenment, but empathy.

Everyone who engages in polite social conversation seems to be playing a game which, when I was an inexperienced and not especially effective television news interviewer, I called Ten Questions. In college journalism classes, wannabe reporters are taught never to go into an interview unprepared, if at all possible, and to have a list of questions ready, either written down or in their heads.

I always tried to have at least 10 questions ready, ordering them as we were taught in school -- simplest and least controversial questions first, more complex and prickly questions toward the end when the subject is hopefully more relaxed and less expectant of an ambush. When I did interviews using the Ten Questions (which I usually wrote down somewhere), I would dutifully start with No. 1 and work my way down.

If time was short and question No. 10 was the $25 jackpot I was trying to lead up to, I might leapfrog over a few queries to make No. 10 my closer, but I rarely asked questions out of the order I had written down on my neat yellow legal pad. The problem with this method -- and I know from talking with other journalists that it was a somewhat common complaint -- is that the interviewer can end up being so fixed on asking his 10 questions in order, with no deviations, that his mind is engaged almost exclusively with determining how to work each new query into the "conversation." The interviewer is actually barely listening to the responses he gets -- he is only tracking lip movement and waiting for his chance to ask the next question on his list.

You probably have seen this phenomenon being played out, say, on a television morning show, where the hosts must interact with a large number of guests, on topics ranging from military weaponry to abortion laws to the latest cinema to ways to use discarded household products in craft projects. There's simply too much going on for hosts to survive without some sort of help from a list of questions written beforehand.

The danger is that, in the middle of demonstrating how to convert an empty beer can into an attractive rain gauge, the guest will let slip that they know all about beer cans (chuckle) because in a former life they were a raging alcoholic who once frolicked naked atop the press box at a college football game in a drunken victory dance, and the only response the host has, his expression unchanged, is to ask "So, can you use 16-ounce cans for this as well, or is the 12-ounce size preferred?"

It's not that the interviewer doesn't have an interest in inebriated shows of school spirit, or thinks that he'll get in trouble for pursuing an embarrassing topic. This is TV, after all. The truth is, the host didn't even hear the provocative statement being made -- his mind was a driver in 5 o'clock traffic, eyeing the highway and waiting for that break in activity to allow him to hit the accelerator and gun his next question into the flow.

Asking questions without caring about the answers is bad enough, but it's been my experience that when it comes to polite conversation these days, the participants have gone a step further by morphing the Ten Questions into the Ten Statements. We have done away with the tactic of listening to the other guy only so we can insert another question. Now we listen just to sense when the other guy pauses to take a quick breath, so that we can jump in with a monologue of our own.

If the other guy mentions he just saw a wonderful martial arts movie, we don't wait to ask what was so wonderful about it. We wait to weigh in with the observation that no martial arts movie can ever touch Enter the Dragon, and then proceed to list all the reasons why Bruce Lee never will be eclipsed.

If the other guy mentions how dreadful his childhood family vacations were, we don't ask for examples or question why he was so displeased. We simply wait for an opening -- a cough, maybe -- to jump in and assert that no one's childhood vacations could have been worse than ours, and then proceed with rolling out our well-worn, rambling narrative of how our parents took us on a five-day tour of the Dakotas over Christmas break which concluded with getting snowed in at the Lawrence Welk Museum.

If the other guy mentions he tried a new Italian restaurant the other night, we don't ask what he ate or what about the ambience was appealing to him. We talk about how we are an authority on Italian cuisine, or how we have a cousin living in Naples, or how we once went to that restaurant and found a bag of $20 bills in the rest room, or anything whatsoever except a question which would release the reins back to our conversational competitor.

I don't know when we started doing this, or why we're all so seemingly uninterested in what other people have to say. Is it that we've lost the skill of listening, truly listening? In a nation where more and more people seem to be trying to race each other for the lowest common denominator, do we just find each other too darn familiar and boring? Or have we all become narcissists on a scale never known before?

If so, we are on our way to creating the ultimate one-way circuit, a national soliloquy where everyone talks, but no one listens.

(I'm sorry, were you saying something?)

Quote of the day:

"The opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting."

--Fran Leibowitz

Monday, May 23, 2005

Candy Striper Surprise

I just heard this story and have to pass it on. It's a true story that happened to a friend of a brother-in-law, and it goes to show that sometimes...well, I'm not quite sure just what it goes to show. Maybe that our fate is a mystery known only to God.

Anyway, the friend told my brother-in-law that in her school days she got the notion that she might want to pursue a career in medicine, and so she obtained a volunteer position with a medical facility. This would enable her to get her feet wet and see what "real" medicine was like.

On the girl's first day, the head nurse told her that she could help by feeding a female patient who was not able to feed herself. The woman couldn't speak or move her arms, and needed help with meals. The girl took a bowl of oatmeal into the woman's room and started trying to feed her. At first, she was hoping the woman would cooperate with her efforts, but it appeared that she would not or could not. The girl tried again and again to get the woman to swallow the oatmeal, but each time it ended up running out of her mouth, down her chin and onto her gown.

Finally, the frustrated girl went to get the head nurse and told her, "I need help. Nothing is working." So the head nurse took the bowl of oatmeal and headed into the woman's room.

Moments later, the head nurse came back out into the hall. "There's a reason why you didn't succeed in there," she told the girl. "That woman is dead."

The friend told my brother-in-law that after this experience, she decided maybe she wasn't cut out for medicine after all. Today, she is happily serving as a children's minister at my brother-in-law's church.

It's the Wisdom Teeth, Stupid

I just got back from my first visit to the dentist in seven years. Yes, you heard right, seven years. I know, I know.

I blame my early dental experiences for my reluctance to receive regular oral care. My childhood dentist modeled himself on the Laurence Olivier character in Marathon Man ("iss eet SAFE? iss eet SAFE?") and as a result, my dentist thought Novocaine was only for sissies and enemies of the Reich. If he asked me to "spit" and didn't see a little blood in the bowl, he would smack me with a Mr. Toothy doll in frustration and rage.

So, I have always hated going to the dentist, even though I've been assured countless times that they are kinder and gentler now, big cute liddle biddy fuzzy wuzzy teddy bears, and that the days of whirring metal drill bits spraying bloody enamel chips around the room are a thing of the past. Regardless of whether I truly believed this or not, a persistent pain in my upper chompers told me that I'd better go in for a visit unless I wanted even more painful problems down the road.

For those of you who have read my piece on waiting rooms, I didn't even get to spend time in this one. I checked in, and as I was perusing the well-stocked magazine racks they asked me to come sit down in the dreaded curvy chair.

One thing that's changed with my dentist since my last visit is that he's ditched the piped-in 101 Strings music as a patient soother in favor of a huge TV mounted on the wall. This morning, it was tuned to NBC's Today show, so I not only had the soothing presence of Katie Couric to help me calm down (yeah, right), but I also got to sit through an interview with a mom whose daughter was solicited by a pervert on an Internet chat room, and was treated to scenes of destruction from the upcoming War of the Worlds movie. I was calm as a little lamb by this point.

The dental assistant came in and took enough X-rays to make me glow like a lightning bug. The final x-ray was one of those 180 degree jobs where they stand you up, have you bite down on a stick while two probe thingies clamp your cheeks, and then a curved plate makes futuristic whirring and beeping noises as it glides around your head. I was waiting for HAL 9000 to intone, "Hello, Muley. It's been a very long time, hasn't it? We've been a very bad boy, haven't we? Know what we do to bad boys?"

As Kelly Clarkson was baring her midriff and belting it out in Rockefeller Center on the TV, the dentist gave me the bad news. The most pressing problem I had was that one wisdom tooth had broken off and become infected, meaning it needs to come out asap. This is a job for an oral surgeon, he said, especially because when this particular tooth is pulled, it will almost likely leave a gaping hole in the bottom of my nasal cavity. (What?) "We don't want this, because when you sneeze it will come out your mouth."

Does that mean I'd also be able to drink milk and have it come out my nose? Cool!

Two of my other wisdom teeth are gamey and also need to come out, so Muley will be bringing a sleeping bag and change of clothes to the oral surgeon soon and getting three wisdom teeth yanked. Then, after a three week recovery period, I have to go back to the dentist to get nine "tiny" cavities taken care of, followed by another visit after that for a cleaning and assuredly another oral hygiene lecture.

So, how are you spending your summer?

I must do my responsible adult duty and exhort all you boys and girls out there to do as I say and not as I do. Keep brushing, start flossing if you aren't already, and get a dental checkup before the end of the Bush Administration if you don't want big problems. Oh, and if you want a peaceful way to ease into your morning, I suggest buying a 101 Strings album.

Poem for the day:

Some tortures are physical
And some are mental,
But the one that is both
Is dental

--Ogden Nash

How We Saw War in 1939

One of Muley's pastimes is looking through old copies of Life magazine at the library, especially issues from the 1940s and 1950s. By looking at what Americans were saying and doing then, as well as what magazine features seemed to interest readers, I can get a picture in my mind of just what our country must have been like, and how things have either changed or stayed the same.

Recently, I was looking through the issues of Life from September 1939. This was just after Hitler and the Nazis had invaded Poland, and in response, England and France had declared war on Germany, setting World War II into motion.

One of the Life articles mentioned a recent poll conducted by Fortune magazine on what Americans thought about entering the war. Here are the responses to the two questions asked in that September 1939 Fortune poll:

Who do you want to win the war?

Neither side or don't know...........16%
What should the U.S. do?

Fight with Allies now......................................3%
Fight with Allies if they are losing...................13.5%
Send supplies to Allies but not Germany...............20%
Sell to both sides cash and carry........................29%
No aid to either...........................................25%
Help Germany............................................0.1%
Don't know and others.....................................9%
I wonder how the responses would have changed if this poll had been taken again on Dec. 8, 1941...

Quote of the day:

"If we are ever to enjoy life, now is the time -- not tomorrow, not next year, nor in some future life after we have died. The best preparation for a better life next year is a full, complete, harmonious, joyous life this year. Our beliefs in a rich future life are of little importance unless we coin them into a rich present life. Today should always be our most wonderful day."

--Thomas Dreier

Friday, May 20, 2005

My "Alien vs. Predator" Sequel

The first Alien movie came out in 1979, and boy, was it scary. I think there's still a part of my scalp on the ceiling of the theater I saw it in. I'm talking, of course, about the scene where the little multi-incisored baby Alien that's been incubating inside that poor schmo on the table suddenly bursts out through his chest cavity like a jack-in-the-box from hell.

Alien spawned a number of successful sequels, including one where star Sigourney Weaver was as bald as a Chia Pet just out of the box. But after awhile, the series seemed to grow a bit stale, and the creators needed something new to revitalize it.

Enter 2004's movie AVP: Alien vs. Predator. This was an attempt to revive the franchise by giving The Alien an opponent a little more formidable to spar with -- Mr. Predator, the extraterrestrial bad boy from the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick, which hatched a sequel of its own. It was kind of like that old commercial when a guy eating peanut butter rounds the corner and bumps into a gal eating a chocolate bar, and voila!, they create Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Put the Alien and Predator franchises together, and watch the equally tasty cash flow in. Which it did, to the tune of more than $80 million in the U.S. alone.

Soon, Hollywood will undoubtedly make a sequel to Alien vs. Predator, but what worthy opponent is there left for Alien to battle? Since Muley is a helpful sort, I offer the producers a number of ideas, free of charge:

Alien vs. HARRY POTTER: Talk about a marriage of franchises! Hagrid, who loves raising dragons from eggs, gets one that looks a little different. When it hatches, break out the wands! Alien will have all the dark nooks and crannies of Hogwarts to hide in, and if we're lucky, we'll get to see him chew up Malfoy like a Slim Jim. Might need J.K.'s approval on this first.

Alien vs. JOHNNY COCHRAN: This was my first idea, made moot by the untimely death of the legal legend. It would have featured great courtroom battles (with lots of masticated television news reporters) and a catchy tag line: "If this alien bites, read him his rights!"

Alien vs. THE GODS OF OLYMPUS: Eighty-four-year-old Ray Harryhausen hasn't made a boffo full-length feature film since 1981's Clash of the Titans. This could be the vehicle to bring the master of stop-motion animation, as seen in such classics as Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts, back into the spotlight. Instead of Athena springing fully formed from the forehead of Zeus, in this picture it's the Alien who pops out. Imagine the fight scenes between Alien and Hercules! Watch Bacchus and the Alien tie one on! Wait till Ol' Chomper gets a taste of Neptune's trident! Added bonus: in this movie, the Alien will speak! -- but in Italian, with a poor English dubbing inserted for U.S. release. Anthony Hopkins as Zeus.

Alien vs. POPEYE: Alien kidnaps Swee' Pea to use him as an after dinner snack, and brings Olive Oyl along for a toothpick. The nefarious plan backfires when Popeye uncorks the green stuff and gets swingin'. Added bonus: for the first time ever, Popeye and archrival Brutus band together to defeat Alien, after which Brutus smashes Popeye into a human hubcap, which wobbles down the road as the credits roll.

Alien vs. JACK THE RIPPER: In this inventive twist, Alien is sent back into time and meets Saucy Jack in Whitechapel. When Jack realizes that Alien is eviscerating all the choicest prostitutes before he can get to them himself, he decides he must kill his rival to be allowed to act out his own evil obsessions in peace. Anthony Hopkins as the Ripper.

Alien vs. SCOOBY DOO: A bit of a deceptive title. The "real" Alien doesn't appear in this movie, although it seems that way at first. Something fitting the Alien's description is disembowling holiday visitors to the Happy Santa Christmas Tree Farm. Scooby and the rest of the gang investigate, and find out it's just Mr. Petersen, the caretaker, who's dressing up in a rubber Alien suit with mechanical jaws. He wants the bad publicity so he can buy the farm cheap and turn it into a singles resort. Added bonus: Mr. Petersen mutters "You meddling kids!" before he's hauled off to jail.

Alien vs. BABY GENUISES: We want this, don't we? Don't we? If he eats them all, will that prevent another Baby Genuises sequel?

Alien vs. THE UNITED NATIONS: After the Undersecretary for Alien Affairs is filleted on a goodwill visit, the U.N. suffers three days of heated debate before voting to employ limited sanctions against the Alien, including requiring him to surrender his conditional world passport. When news of the sanctions reaches the Alien, he comes to New York and proceeds to ingest the entire U.N. membership, country by country. An eleventh-hour resolution calling for full "we mean it, we really, really mean it!" sanctions fails because a quorum is not alive to vote.

Alien vs. COLONEL SANDERS: The final scene is so haunting -- the vanquished Alien, being fried alive in a vat of Extra Crispy. Not a whisker of Harlan's goatee is even nicked. Anthony Hopkins as Colonel Sanders.

Alien vs. JACKIE CHAN: I would definitely pay to see this. Admit it -- you would pay to see this.

Quote of the day:

"Write without pay until somebody offers pay. If nobody offers pay within three years, the candidate may look upon the circumstance with the most implicit confidence as the sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for."

--Mark Twain

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Muley's Lexicon #1

Another of Muley's unorthodox hobbies is searching for obscure or defunct words and phrases and finding out their meanings.

I plan to start sharing a bit of what I've found with you. Here, then, is the first installment of "Muley's Lexicon."

DEAD SEA FRUIT (n) I found this word, which apparently isn't used much anymore, by browsing through my huge dictionary at home that weighs more than some people I know. The word isn't in any of the "normal" desk or student dictionaries I have seen.

The quick definition of Dead Sea fruit is "a thing that appears to be, or is expected to be, of great value but proves to be valueless." It refers to a fruit, the apple of Sodom, that was thought to grow on trees beside the shores of the Dead Sea. It was beautiful to look at, but fell to ashes when touched or tasted. Kind of like a lot of things in the modern world, don't you think?

Here's the word used in two quotes:

“Ambition is a Dead Sea fruit, and the greatest peril to the soul is that one is likely to get precisely what he is seeking.”
(Edward Dahlberg)

“Power? It’s like a Dead Sea fruit. When you achieve it, there is nothing there.” (Harold Macmillan)

HOBSON'S CHOICE (n) I've actually heard this one used recently. A Hobson's choice is the choice of taking what is offered or nothing at all. One of the most famous examples was provided by Henry Ford, who is supposed to have said something to the effect that his Model T car would be available “in any color so long as it’s black."

That's what a Hobson's choice is –– a choice by definition only. Another way of of saying it is "take it or leave it," or "my way or the highway."

Who, you might ask, is Hobson? He was Thomas Hobson (1544-1631) an Englishman who kept a livery stable and required every customer to take either the horse nearest the stable door or none at all. That's supposedly how the term originated.

Look for more interesting words in the next installment of Muley's Lexicon.

Quote of the day:

"I really am one of those I-don't-know-anything-about-art-but-I-know-what-I-like people. If there's no pleasure for me in it, I feel no obligation to a work of art. I cherish certain paintings, books, and films for the pleasure of their company. When I get no pleasure from an author, I feel no duty to consult him. My interests and enthusiasms are pretty wide; and I do keep trying to stretch them wider. But no strain. No. I am, indeed, quite shameless, as you say, about not straining to encompass what doesn't truly speak to me."

--Orson Welles
from This is Orson Welles

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Leaving the Waiting Room

One thing about me: I like metaphors. They help me to get my thinking into an accessible, familiar package, and when they work best they provide me with insights into my own actions or feelings. Metaphors also make explaining things about me or my life to others a lot easier because they provide us all with a shared frame of reference.

I will first craft a potential metaphor to apply to any of the various challenges, people and mysteries in my life, then pepper it with all sorts of situational "what-ifs" to see if it rings true. When I find a metaphor that passes the tests, and ends up working for me most of the time in real life, I tend to hold it close.

One such "keeper" metaphor I've discovered is that of the waiting room, and I'd like to share it with you now, in case it might be of use to you as well.

We all visit waiting rooms, whether it's to see the doctor or dentist, to apply for jobs, to make sales calls, or to get our cars fixed, our taxes done, our dogs groomed, or our pizzas picked up.

Just as we can be stuck in waiting rooms for varying lengths of time, the waiting rooms themselves can differ greatly in their comfort and quality.

Everyone has their waiting room horror stories. You know how they go. You make your first appointment with a new doctor, drive to the clinic and step into a nightmare. The hot, humid room is crowded with coughing hackers, sneezing sprayers, mumbling droolers, squalling red-faced infants, and people having loud conversations on their cell phones about their domestic squabbles or their lunch plans or their chilblains.

You sit down in the one unoccupied seat -- next to a runny-nosed tot who proceeds to wipe his gelatinous hands on your new pants -- and then you rush off to the restroom to clean up, only to find that you're in the bracing wake of the guy with the gastrointestinal disorder. On your return to the waiting room, you sit down and look on the coffee table at your choice of exactly three magazines: Advances in Hernia Repair, Eczema Illustrated, and Pustule News and Comment. On the blaring TV mounted just above your head is a medical channel documentary on "Yeast Infections and You."

You are there 30 minutes, an hour, two hours, exposed to all sorts of diseases, your back pained by the uncomfortable chair, and when it comes time for your name to be called, it's discovered that they've lost your records, and you spend another 30 minutes filling out piles of insurance, medical history and other forms.

By the same token, we all have our dream waiting room stories. One time, I was scheduled to have some minor reconstructive work done by an oral surgeon I had never met before. When I entered his waiting room, it was as if I had come to the country club to meet guests for brunch and a game of tennis. Mozart played softly in a room that was tastefully appointed in the finest fabrics and colors. Along one wall, a large glass cabinet held the doctor's porcelain figurines and bric-a-brac collected from around the world.

The receptionist treated me as if I was the doctor's oldest and most generous patient. She offered me tea and soft drinks, insisted that I choose one of the imported chocolates in the bowl at the window, and bade me to sit down on one of the overstuffed couches and relax. I had my choice of a wide range of magazines -- everything from People and news magazines to the New Yorker and movie magazines and Sports Illustrated and more, all in the most recent editions. I remember being genuinely disappointed when I was soon called into see the doctor because I was unable to finish reading the fascinating article I had begun.

Now what is my point? It's this -- whether terrible or wonderful, both extremes of waiting rooms are just that, waiting rooms. Their only purpose is to give you a place to park your behind as you wait to fulfill the real purpose of your visit -- to have the disease treated, the job won, the sale made, the car repaired. They are not destinations in themselves, and whether tasteful or tasteless, none of us intends on spending more time in them than we have to.

Now, that seems so obvious that it's almost silly, but I find that when I treat the waiting room as a metaphor for a period in my life -- my work life, my love life, my spiritual life -- it sometimes shows me things I hadn't realized.

For example, I have had a number of jobs in my life that were not the jobs I was meant for -- not jobs which put to use the special talents and abilities and loves that God blessed me with. They were waiting rooms, jobs I took to pay the rent and keep the lights on while I looked for the real thing to come along.

I've been lucky in that almost all of my waiting room jobs have been in extremely nice waiting rooms. My fellow companions were intelligent and funny and friendly, there was lots of intellectual stimulation if I wanted to avail myself of it, I suffered no want of warm clothing and good food while I sat there, but I did sit there. And sit there. And sit there. Those jobs weren't what I supposed to be doing, and I either knew that at the outset, or realized it eventually.

By the same token, I once found myself in a waiting room romantic relationship. I pursued her because I was lonely, and because she was smart and funny and seemed to like me. We spent many wonderful hours together in that waiting room, watching TV and laughing, reading the travel magazines and planning trips we'd take together one day, and making friends with the other people who would come in and out. But I think I knew all along that it was just a waiting room, that although we had fun together, we weren't meant to be together as husband and wife, and that one day I'd meet a woman in the waiting room and leave immediately with her through the door marked "matrimony." Which I did.

Right now, I must admit that I'm in a sort of waiting room in my spiritual life. I know that God has something for me to do, but I'm not quite sure what it is yet. So I'm flipping through magazines and reading the book I brought, hoping that I'll get the call soon.

That's one reason I think Rick Warren's book The Purpose-Driven Life hit such a chord with so many people. It was addressed to people like me, sitting in life's waiting rooms, wondering if this is it, or if God has something bigger, something better, something more meaningful planned.

Don't get me wrong -- I believe that sometimes God wants us to spend a little time in the waiting room, to build up strength after a defeat, to learn a new skill, to let our hearts heal, to rest, to have a quiet place to listen for new instructions. But in the end, He doesn't want us staying there any longer than we should. He wants us to move on and keep our appointment with destiny.

Muley, the doctor will see you now.

Quote of the day:

"Don't let others spoil your faith and joy with their philosophies, their wrong and shallow answers built on men's thoughts and ideas, instead of on what Christ has said."

--Colossians 2:8, Living Bible

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

More Reasons to Be Happy

Fifteen years ago, a short but squat little book titled 14,000 Things to Be Happy About hit bookstores. In the book's opening pages, author Barbara Ann Kipfer said that the work was the fruit of a 20-year effort to write down the "little things" that made her happy.

The compact, simple volume has proven to be quite a welcome counterpoint to the public flow of information over the years, seeing as how just about every newspaper and TV news program nowadays could be subtitled 14,000 Things to Feel Crappy About.

I have passed by this book many times in the bookstore, but yesterday I finally decided to take it off the shelf and have a look. The way I figured it, if push came to shove I could only name maybe 2,000 things to be happy about, and I thought, why am I missing out on 12,000 others?

I found a lot to agree with in Kipfer's choices. Who among us doesn't have happy thoughts about making love, music, nature walks, rereading a good book, singing old hymns in church, small at-home dinners, opportunity, doing something against all odds, and "this thing called love?" For my personal taste, I was glad to see that Kipfer included such favorites as the Hallelujah Chorus, the Art Institute of Chicago, Bob and Ray and KahlĂșa chocolate torte.

Of course, we aren't all made happy by the same things. I guess Kipfer is a different sort of person, or maybe she was running out of obvious ideas and had to stretch, but I find it hard to hop on the Happy Bus for salespeople, the ring of the telephone, loud radios, "morning mouth," listening to the news, cold hands, "food debris under a high chair after an attempted feeding," planning your future with the help of an Ouija board, grass stains, spittoons, Spam, sour milk, seeing a grown man cry, or Gene Shalit's mustache. Especially Gene Shalit's mustache.

A few entries just had me puzzled. Are we supposed to feel emotional one way or the other about brake fluid, isosceles triangles, dial tones, Naugahyde or "the suck of a pump?" And aren't a few of the items a bit dated? Is anyone truly made happy anymore on a consistent basis by mood rings, the Senate Watergate hearings, Senator Howard Baker, Polaroid Land cameras, shower microphone soap, Montgomery Ward, Tab soda commercials, 3 1/2" computer diskettes, AMC Pacers or "boogie dancing?"

In case Ms. Kipfer ever wants to release an updated and expanded version of the book titled 14,030 Things to Be Happy About, I offer her these potential additions free of charge:

* No TV series planned starring Pillsbury Doughboy
* Pouring hot oil on enemy combatants from high atop castle walls outlawed by Geneva Convention
* Barney show no longer inserted between features on U.S. to Asia flights
* Despite rumors to contrary, Jerry Mathers, Paul McCartney and Abe Vigoda still alive and well
* Euell Gibbons televised appeals to begin eating pine trees fell on deaf ears
* Scurvy eliminated in most North American fishing fleets
* Only 71 years until U.S. Tricentennial
* Proposed leisure suit revival killed because of high oil prices
* Treaty of Oregon setting U.S.-Canada boundary still preventing bloodshed after 159 years
* Country singers dying slow, lyrical deaths from TB a thing of the past
* Metric system and Esperanto never caught on in U.S.
* Thanks to commentary translation track by marine biologist on DVD set, Flipper's words now understandable
* Last insurance claims from Krakatoa eruption finally settled
* Despite decades of wobbling, Weebles still do not fall down
* "Dark Side of the Moon" now distributed to all world people groups, including prehistoric tribes in Asia
* Haggis still banned from most U.S. restaurants
* Cloning of zoo pandas will prevent embarrassing public ridicule over mating failures
* Widespread notoriety of classic "pull my finger" prank has greatly decreased its use
* Constitutional ammendment to add Millard Fillmore to Mount Rushmore failed
* Charlie Tuna's death wish still unrequited
* Lakehurst, N.Y., relatively free of fatal blimp accidents since 1936
* William Shatner finally has decent hairpiece
* Slow tectonic forces still centuries away from ripping Florida from U.S. mainland
* Goofus' behavior still considered bad example in "Goofus and Gallant" cartoons
* Reverse of Colorado commemorative quarter will not feature John Denver in granny glasses
* Cancerous test mice denied legal standing by lower courts
* General Francisco Franco still dead
* Banana Splits reunion postponed indefinitely
* Loss of U.S. control of Panama Canal has not prevented timely shipments of Yu-Gi-Oh cards to East Coast
* New series "Star Trek: Shore Leave Tiki Lounge" killed at pilot stage

Quote of the day:

"Once, craftsmen of all kinds were referred to as artisans, people who considered their work to be an art. There's no reason we can't create a life that allows us to approach our work and our lives in this way, as artisans –– people who, in the words of George Bellows, 'make life more interesting or beautiful, more understandable or mysterious, or probably in the best sense, more wonderful.'"

--Paul and Sarah Edwards
from The Practical Dreamer's Handbook

Monday, May 16, 2005

The Death of "Said"

I toil on an American university campus, so I have a front row view of the latest permutations of the English language. As a result, I can confirm what most of you already know –– the word "said" is almost defunct among the next generation. As the leaders of tomorrow stroll across campus with their cell phones seemingly screwed to their heads, their conversations reveal how the word is disappearing:

"I talked to Brad, and he's like, 'whatcha doin?,' and I'm like, 'Nothin' much,' and he's like, 'Really?,' and I'm like, 'Really!,' and he's like 'So whatcha doin' later?,' and I'm like, you know, 'I don't know,' and he's like, uh, 'Really?' and I'm like..."

You get the idea. This observation is nothing new –– all of you can verify this phenomenon from personal experience –– but I had a thought today that the death of "said" will eventually have larger ramifications. I picture a Broadway theater 10 or 15 years in the future, as the next generation mounts a musical revival. As the lights dim and the audience's hearts beat faster on hearing the first of the old familiar notes, the cast launches into a modernized version of the Gershwin chestnut...

You're like, eether
And I'm like, eyether
You're like, neether
And I'm like, nyther
Let's, like, just call the whole thing off, you know?

Quote of the day:

"Journalism largely consists of saying 'Lord Jones is Dead' to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive."

--G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Muley Says Thanks

Even though I'm long past giddy childhood (at least in the most obvious sense), I still can be incredibly naive at times. Take this blog, for example.

A week ago on an absolute whim, I decided to do this to have some sort of public outlet for the little thoughts that went through my head and sometimes got jotted down in notebooks, only to be pulled out again "sometime." Well, thanks to a web-savvy friend showing me how easy it was to blog, "sometime" arrived before I knew it.

My early thought process went like this: I'll write some stuff for a few weeks, when no one will even know I'm doing it, just to see if I can actually create prose the way I want it, and see if I can be faithful to some sort of production schedule. Then, maybe in two weeks, I'll tell my closest friends about the blog and see if they want to read it. Then, maybe a couple of weeks later, I'll tell other friends.

I thought that maybe in a month or so, if one of my friends liked what I had written, they perhaps might mention it to a friend, who also might mention it to a friend, and I'd get a few readers I didn't know personally. However, all of them would still be tied to me in some fashion, in a Kevin Bacon "Six Degrees of Separation" sort of way.

Now do you see what I mean about being naive? Sure, I knew that the Internet spans the globe, 24/7, and that lots of people surf a lot of sites for a lot of different reasons (I know I do my share). But it never really hit me until this week just how widespread -- and FAST -- the Internet is.

Within days of making my first post, I had two comments -- both from total strangers. I wondered, how in the heck did they even know about me? I thought I was still under all radar, and I was flabbergasted, to say the least. I later figured out there's listings on blogger.com of newly posted sites, so I guess that's where these readers found me. But I still was amazed -- especially when one of the comments came from a nice woman all the way across the Atlantic Ocean from me.

Then, a few days later, my mind was really blown when Dawn Eden, one of my blogger heroes who I've been reading for months, said some nice things about Muley's World on her great blog, the Dawn Patrol. This was totally unsolicited by me, let me tell you, and it blew me away that within four days of beginning a blog, I had someone of her stature I respect saying good things about me.

Now, you may think I'm just using false modesty to fish for further compliments, or being faux-naif, but I'm not. I'm still a bit taken aback by what an amazing contraption this Internet thingie is, and I remain so thankful that there are people out there who would actually want to read something I wrote without being threatened at gunpoint.

To those of you who are reading this, and those of you who have commented, I appreciate your interest so much. This is the last time I'll be this flat-out gushy --- I promise -- but I wanted to pause on a busy weekend and say thanks for some great experiences I was not expecting.

I hope to see you in Muley's World again soon.

Quote of the day:

"Many just want life to return to normal when 'normal' –– designer religion, materialism, crass sensuality and relentless entertainment –– is precisely what God wants us to repent of."

--Douglas Grouthius
in Moody, Jan./Feb. 2003

Friday, May 13, 2005

Muley's Mysteries: Retsyn

Does the word "Retsyn" ring a bell with you? If so, do you know what it is? Before today, I didn't.

I see lots of hands up. Before I choose one of you to answer, let me tell you what Retsyn is NOT:

* The Soviet leader who succeeded Gorbachev
* Meg Ryan's original name
* The Starship Enterprise redshirt who was killed by the Horta
* An aphrodisiac made from dried walrus whiskers
* That rock group that sounds a lot like Coldplay and sings songs about extraterrestrials
* A tiny principality between France and Germany known for exporting horseradish
* The word "sunset" in Norwegian
* The rockets which powered early U.S. attempts at space flight
* A Buddhist term for the spirit of someone who died owing you money
* The scientific term for the sap that holds bark to a tree
* The Swedish composer who refused to use B-flats because of a fortuneteller's prediction that he would die after something heavy fell on him

No, as many of us know from endless TV commercials, Retsyn is that stuff added to Certs breath mints. But I got to thinking today –– just what is Retsyn?

My first stop was the Certs web site, where Retsyn (a registered trademark, by the way) is described as "a combination of partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, copper gluconate and flavoring." This by itself is not a concoction I would want to shove in my mouth, so I knew there must be more to the story.

I next visited a web site where there was a posting by someone identified only as "Madison Avenue Steve," which leads me to believe he considers himself an expert on advertising, not science. Anyway, Steve's posting has its own definition of Retsyn:

"Copper gluconate. Put in there entirely because it's green and gives little green flecks. Does nothing else. Now, don't you feel silly?"

The only thing in common with both of these definitions seems to be that something called copper gluconate is a major element of Retsyn. But what is that?

Another web search, this time to the site of someone named David A. Cushman, who has lots of scientific-sounding data and drawings under his entry for copper gluconate. He defines it as "the copper salt of D-gluconic acid." Mmm, getting tastier by the moment.

D.A.C. says that copper gluconate is a "blue-green fine powder" which by both "F.C.C. III" and "U.S.P. XXII" standards contains "not more than 0.0003%" arsenic and "not more than 0.0010%" lead, among other substances. D.A.C. says it's "very soluble" in water, but after reading his description, I still didn't find anything to prove or disprove Madison Avenue Steve's assertion that Retsyn "does nothing else" except provide green sparklies.

On to yet another web site –– this one at www.nutritional-supplement-info.com. Here, copper gluconate is described as "a readily absorbable form of copper often used in quality copper supplements." So far, so good. But what about its purpose? Is it indeed just a way to color breath mints green?

These folks don't seem to think so. According to their web site, copper gluconate is "one of the most important blood antioxidants and prevents the rancidity of polyunsaturated fatty acids. It also helps keep cell membranes healthy and is active in the storage and release of iron to form hemoglobin for red blood cells."

Wow –– this substance pooh-poohed by some for its ability to add "little green flecks" to breath mints is apparently some desirable stuff indeed. I mean, I for one don't believe in letting any part of myself go rancid, even if it is my fat deposits.

But wait –– there's more. After pausing to take a breath, the folks at www.nutritional-supplement-info.com up the ante. They say that copper gluconate "may act as an immune system booster, and help keep nerves and bones healthy." And in a final flourish, they tell us: "Other potential benefits of copper gluconate include: helping with high cholesterol, osteoporosis, wound healing, benign hyperplasia, cardiac arrhythmia, hypoglycaemia, peripheral vascular disease, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis."

"Silly," indeed! Why hasn't someone won the Nobel Prize for isolating this stuff? Why isn't all my food covered with little green flecks of this, me who shies away from rancid fat, enjoys having red blood cells to burn and prefers wounds that heal over constantly running sores?

The answer is in the next two lines: "Copper can be toxic if taken in large excesses. Average adults need about 2 mgs." Now that's undoubtedly a LOT more than is in a package of Certs, so I don't think there's any danger there. But it does give me pause.

I've decided I'll just stick to chewing my delicious Certs and leave it at that. No trips across the border to Mexico to buy mass quantities of copper gluconate to store in my basement in hermetically sealed containers. No late night trips downtown to the seedy "Retsyn district" to score a pound bag.

So, thanks to the Internet, I've learned something today. Retsyn appears to be some pretty interesting stuff –– beneficial at best, harmless at worst. And now when those Certs commercials play, I'll at least know what the heck they're talking about.

Quote for the day:

"The power of a glance has been so much abused in love stories that it has come to be disbelieved. Few people dare say nowadays that two beings have fallen in love because they have looked at each other. Yet that is the way love begins, and only that way. The rest is only the rest, and comes afterwards. Nothing is more real than the great shocks that two souls give each other in exchanging this spark."

--Victor Hugo
from Les Miserables

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Lost in Transaction

Now and then I hear someome lament the fact that "Americans don't make anything anymore," that all of the fine products we used to produce at home are now made overseas, usually by cheap sweatshop labor.

I decided that one way to test this theory was to take a quick inventory of the products I had on my person today –– what I am wearing and what I have in my pockets. I was surprised, to say the least, at learning the provenance of my possessions:

Shirt: China
Belt: China
Pants: Mexico
Underwear: Pakistan
Socks: Pakistan
Shoes: China
Wallet: Italy
Pen: Japan
Pocket notebook: China
Reading glasses: China
Comb: USA
Watch: Japan

Except for my body (which rolled off the assembly line in Houston, Texas) and my $1 Ace comb, the only things I have on my person today that were made in the USA are the coins in my pocket and the bills in my wallet. If we suddenly banned all imports, I'd have to walk around naked, relentlessly combing my hair and trying to decide on an orfice in which to stash my money.

I'm for free markets in general, but this is sad all the same.

Feel free to replicate my experiment. Take a quick inventory. How do you fare?

Quote of the day:

"Produce! Produce! Were it but the pitifullest infinitesimal fraction of a product, produce it in God's name! 'Tis the utmost thou has in thee: out with it, then."

--Thomas Carlyle

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Awake, Ye Sluggards!

If there's one complaint that's common to just about everyone in my immediate orbit, it's that nobody gets enough sleep anymore. In fact, nobody has apparently gotten enough sleep since 1989, or when they had their first child, whichever came last.

Sleep deprivation is a condition that you can complain about all you want, but it will get you absolutely no sympathy –– zip –– because everyone you talk to is in the same boat. It's akin to griping about losing a toe in a leper colony: been there, done that.

That having been said, I've realized that lack of sleep in the Muley household has been even more pronounced the past week or so. Me and the missus haven't been getting to bed until after midnight most nights, and when we get up at 6-something each morning, we're depriving ourselves of at least two hours of needed shuteye each day. Sadly, the rare occasions when we can "sleep in" on Saturdays don't seem to erase the overall deficit very much.

Being a Christian and a reader of the Good Book, I would normally check to see what encouragement the Bible might have for my condition –– my desire for more sleep, more often –– but I know already that I'm not going to find much there. From what I can tell, anyone who sleeps or even grabs a quick nap in the Bible is not sinning, really, but nevertheless is in danger or something bad happening to them. To wit, here's a short summary of my research into famous snoozers of the Bible:

ADAM: He went to sleep alone, then woke up with stitches in his sore abdomen and a strange woman standing over him saying, "Get up, you lazy lump, let's go get lunch." And we all know where that led.

JONAH: This guy never learned. First, he fell asleep in the hold of a ship and ended up getting tossed overboard and swallowed by a fish. Later, he went to sleep again outside of Ninevah, only to find that the shady plant he'd been napping under shriveled up and left him baking in the sun.

SAMSON: Another guy who never learned. Every time he floated off into dreamland, Samson's tramp girlfriend Delilah got busy. This resulted in Samson awaking from a refreshing sleep to find himself bound in ropes or scalped with a debilitating haircut. It probably was a lot easier to fall asleep once they put out his eyes and threw him in prison.

JOSEPH: "Mr. Rainbow" was one of the many Bible figures who was troubled by wild dreams during sleep. In his case, his sleeping gave him dreams which caused his enraged brothers to throw him in a well and sell him into slavery. Later, while in prison, Joseph helped a baker who had also gone to sleep only to have a puzzling dream. Joseph told his new friend the baker that his dream meant the baker was bound to die, which he did. Thanks, Joe.

SISERA: This was a good thing, since he was an enemy of God, but nevertheless, Sisera went to sleep and never woke up, all due to a righteous woman named Jael who snuck in the old boy's tent: " Then Jael Heber's wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died." Oof! I hate when that happens.

HOLOFERNES: A very similar story to Sisera's. Another tent in the middle of the night, another sleepy enemy of God's people (Holofernes), another righteous, weapon-swingin' woman (Judith): "[Judith] went up to the post at the end of the bed, above Holofernes' head, and took down his sword that hung there. She came close to his bed and took hold of the hair of his head, and said, 'Give me strength this day, O Lord of Israel!' And she struck his neck twice with all her might, and severed his head from his body. Then she tumbled his body off the bed and pulled down the canopy from the posts; after a moment she went out, and gave Holofernes' head to her maid, who placed it in her food bag." And my question always is, why the food bag? Where did it finally end up?

All the guys I have mentioned so far were Old Testament figures, but the risks of courting sleep continued on into the New Testament. Probably the most famous example was the disciples, who tried but failed to stay awake to be with Jesus in His time of need in the Garden of Gethsemane, and were called on it. Ironically, it was the disciples who earlier had chided Christ himself when He dared to take a much-needed nap on a boat crossing the stormy Sea of Gailee.

My favorite evidence of sleep=danger in the New Testament is when that poor soul fell asleep during one of Paul's long-winded sermons and fell out of a high window –– SPLAT! -- onto the ground below. As we know, Paul was nice enough to use God's power to restore the boy to life, but the underlying message seems to be not that Paul needed to use an hourglass, but that one should never fall asleep in church. If death were always the punishment for this crime, I'd have been gone long ago.

Of course, I don't mean to imply that everyone in the Bible who slept had something bad happen to them. John, a New Testament author who hadn't had anything published in quite some time, fell asleep on the island of Patmos, had a great dream, and turned it into a bestselling book called Revelation. Despite the fact that Peter was asleep, the Lord allowed him to escape from jail unnoticed. And even though Elijah was sleeping off his pity party under a broom bush, he was touched by an angel and awoke to find bread baking and water in the jar.

The refreshing "rest" most often mentioned in the Bible, from what I can see, is the eternal rest we will find with Jesus in heaven after we're dead. During our time on Earth, on the other hand, I sense we're supposed to be awake as much as possible, because that's when the work gets done, the Great Commission gets fulfilled, and the potluck dinners get thrown. Dedicated sleepers are called "sluggards" -- not a compliment, I take it -- and in Proverbs we're told we're supposed to model ourselves not on sloths, slugs, or hibernating bears, but on ants, who are indeed always busy, usually digging in my yard or my garbage cans when they aren't biting someone.

But the Lord's yoke is an easy one, and I know He wants us to get sleep; otherwise, He wouldn't have invented it, would He? After all, didn't the author of Psalm 23 get to finally lie down in those green pastures after the feasting and hiking?

So, I've concluded that I need to get myself to bed earlier, get more exercise, and quit whining about how exhausted I am most of the time. I am truly thankful that what sleep I do get doesn't leave me with a piece of metal through my brain or scalped or made into fish food. Thank you, Lord, for my warm bed. And if it doesn't go against your plans for me, may I see just a bit more of it in the near future.

Quote for the day:

"Blessings on him who invented sleep, the cloak that covers all human thoughts, the food that satisfies hunger, the drink that quenches thirst, the fire that warms cold, the cold that moderates heat, and, lastly, the common currency that buys all things, the balance and weight that equalizes the shepherd and the king, the simpleton and the sage."

--Miguel de Cervantes
from Don Quixote