Sunday, July 31, 2005

My Dog Could Be the Next Julia Child

Call me a crazy dreamer, but I'm convinced that my dog Tanner desperately wants to learn how to cook.

Every time I am in the kitchen, there is Tanner, a very bright sheltie, looking up at me with his pleading eyes, wanting to know what I know about preparing delicious meals. At the slightest indication I am in the kitchen ready to create -- the opening of the refrigerator door, the clank of the toaster assembly going down, the gentle purr of the can opener -- Tanner magically appears, hoping against hope that this will be the time my confusing and magical actions will finally make sense to him.

When I am preparing a dish that involves numerous steps and varied ingredients, Tanner is a faithful silent witness. He watches each ingredient being added, each mixture being mixed, beaten and folded, and I can just hear his mind asking, "What is he doing now? What is that ingredient he's adding? How much of that white powder is he putting in?" But, alas, he gets no answers to these questions. Oh, how this dog wants to LEARN.

Mrs. Muley can be quite the cynic at times. She says that Tanner doesn't want to cook, he just wants to eat. Just this morning she said, "Drop some raw hamburger on the floor, and see if he goes for a cookbook. He'll eat that meat within seconds. He's an animal. They do that."

When she says this, I can't help but remember that people once thought Helen Keller was an animal, too. Remember the movie The Miracle Worker? At the first, Helen was acting like an animal, eating food off the floor, throwing food at the wall, cramming food into her mouth with her bare hands. All it took was a determined teacher named Annie Sullivan to unlock the real Helen, the one who folded her napkin and ate with knife and fork. When Helen finally said "WAH-WAH" and realized it meant "water," a whole new world was opened up to her.

But how do I play Annie Sullivan to my dog Tanner in the kitchen? I have yet to come up with a way. I tried putting different ingredients down on the floor once and saying the name of each to Tanner, but in his excitement at finally getting to learn he ate each ingredient before I could finish. I'm thinking that I must develop some sort of language to allow me to communicate with him.

Sign language won't work because Tanner doesn't have fingers and thumbs. I have two ideas I'm chewing on. One is a modified form of Morse code, with short and long barks to represent letters. I could modify that to high- and low-pitched barks if it works better.

The other communi- cation method would be a pictograph system, where each ingredient, appliance and utensil would be represented by something else. For example, on the side of the blender I could attach a picture of a squirrel. Then, when I pointed to a picture of a squirrel, Tanner would know he needed to use the blender. A jar of spaghetti sauce could have a picture of a shoe on it, and when I showed Tanner a picture of one shoe, that would mean he should use a tiny bit of sauce, two shoes would mean use a little more, ten shoes would mean use a lot, etc.

If I can persevere and teach Tanner to cook, not only will I be comforted to know that this deep yearning in his heart will be fulfilled, but I could get filthy rich. There would be TV appearances, a series of Tanner cookbooks, and cooking classes for dogs based on whatever method finally works. This could be how I occupy myself during the last half of my life -- teaching America's dogs to cook.

But for now, I've got baby steps to take first. I've got to teach Tanner that when you drop an ingredient on the floor during cooking, you don't eat it, you throw it away. And after you throw it away, you don't come back later and eat it out of the garbage can. Such simple lessons, but my dog is smart and wants so much to learn. I just know it.

DISCLAIMER: No dogs or squirrels were injured in the production of this post. One jar of Ragu was slightly moistened.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

A Pre-Christmas Sinking Spell

I was out running errands today, and when I looked at the huge shelves full of 2006 calendars in one store, I had a sinking spell. I thought to myself, "I wish Christmas wasn't coming so soon."

You see, it's not that I don't love Christmas. Aside from it being the celebration of our Lord's birth, it's always been my favorite holiday of the year. Some of the best memories of life I have revolve around Christmas. But while I love Christmas as itself, I get more and more cynical and depressed about what we've turned it into.

Just the other day, Mrs. Muley and I were in the bookstore, and we saw a book on unusual Texas places (like our house) that I know my history-loving mother would love to own. "Let's get this for her for Christmas," we both said. It got us to realizing, with something of horror mixed with dread, that it is now the end of July and we do not have a single Christmas present bought. Between now and December 24, we must go out and buy gifts for a list of friends and relatives that fills the back and front of a typed sheet of paper.

It's not that I'm cheap, or hate giving gifts. But I know what labor, stress, traffic jams and hours of phone interviews will be required to purchase this haul. And I know that, despite my resolution to "get 'er done" by Thanksgiving, I'll again be one of those poor schmucks frantically running around looking for something "acceptable" on December 24.

The thought of all that work and hassle fills me with dread. I'd love to just get everyone a Barnes and Noble gift certificate and be done, but then I wonder, what would be the point? Come to think of it, what is the point of all this gift giving? When two people stand next to each other on Christmas Day and exchange identical $20 Wal-Mart gift certificates, what is accomplished?

A lot of times nowadays we still surprise one another with gifts, but all too often we ask someone in our family what they want, they tell us, we buy it, and then hand it over on Christmas Day. They have already in turn asked us to name a gift, we have complied, and they end up handing that over to us in front of the tree. This whole blind, crazy dance of commerce is getting me more and more cynical about the holidays, and I've even had the radical thought that we ought to just abolish this present business altogether, except maybe for the kids.

It's not that presents are bad in themselves, or that we shouldn't want to do something nice for those we love. It's just that the need to buy presents has not only changed the way we celebrate Christmas, but the way we think about Christmas as well. We see it not as a time of love and renewal, but as one of stress and obligation.

I dread the incredible, robot-like transformation that takes place the day after Labor Day. As if by magic, Christmas tunes start playing from store music systems, red and green cardboard cutouts go up, aisles of decorations and snow globes and candy canes and Santa dolls that dance to music sprout up overnight like mushrooms. The sales push -- which means Christmas music and Christmas commercials and Christmas sales fliers and Christmas contests -- never stops, and by Christmas Day itself, I'm so sick of it I'm ready to scream. Then, miraculously, on December 26, it all begins to melt quickly away like Frosty himself, as if Christmas had just been a big sales campaign for a just discontinued product.

If all those ads and commercials and sales were presented by Christians who really knew the true meaning of Christmas, and sought to honor that in what they sold or put on TV, then maybe it wouldn't be so bad. But I know that most of the people who are producing the irritating TV commercials and hawking the gaudiest geegaws and cramming Christmas down out throats don't know or don't care what the holiday is all about. To them it's just the mother lode, the time when Americans are pre-programmed to open their wallets and start throwing cash at anything that pushes the pavlovian buttons marked jingle bells, Santa, hearths and chestnuts and reindeer and eggnog and ho ho ho.

I know this is just a sinking spell. I know that I'll eventually suck it up, and do my duty as a good American to spend the money and put the lights on the roof and write the Christmas letter. But I wish once, just once, my family and I could celebrate Christmas in a part of the world that hasn't been taken over by commerce, where Christmas celebrations start maybe a few weeks before the big day, and consist mainly of baking special foods, seeing old friends, singing old songs, and reading the Christmas story from the Bible. A ride through the snowy woods on a sleigh, building a snowman, and I'd be done. And quite happy and content to boot. Does a place like this even exist anymore?

But that's just a nice dream right now. I've gotta go pull out that shopping list.

Texas Postcard Gallery

Ah, this is life in small town Texas. After a hard day of blogging, we log off, ride out to the horse trough with a few fellow cybernauts, and soak our backsides as we sip bracing beverages. If there's a water moccasin in the trough, it's a short soak.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Blogging Celebration of Discipline: Chapter 9 (Service)

I have joined a group of fellow Christians who are blogging through Richard Foster’s classic book Celebration of Discipline, one chapter at a time. Each Friday, we post our thoughts and questions about the chapter we’ve read that week. Here’s my post on Chapter 9, "The Discipline of Service."


I want first to apologize to my fellow Celebration of Discipline bloggers for my extended absence. I did not weigh in with posts on Chapters 7 and 8. Two weeks ago, when I read Chapter 7 on "solitude," I was stuck in a van for seven days on vacation with five other people, all of them relatives, so solitude was a concept I just couldn't get my fevered brain to accept.

Last week, during the chapter on "submission," I was too busy submitting to demands on my time from just about everyone to allow me to sit down and develop a cohesive post. I'm still having trouble figuring out that chapter -- it has so far proven the hardest for me to understand, much less put into practice. I understand some of what Foster says about the "why" and "should" of submission, but as far as practical "how to" information, I felt the author was a bit lacking.

Anyway, here I am now at Chapter 9, on the Discipline of service. I must admit that before I read it, I thought I had this chapter all figured out. I just knew that Foster was going to repeat a lot of Bible verses about providing for the poor, and doing for the least of these, and then lay down a big guilt trip about how I and other Christians should all be quitting our day jobs to become missionaries in Africa and work unpaid in soup kitchens and missions, give our old clothes to Goodwill, recycle and join the PTA.

Well, maybe not, but I had a narrow idea of "service" in mind, and it centered around helping established organizations, such as churches or government agencies, do BIG THINGS for God. It turns out that this is not what Foster is really concerned about in Chapter 9 at all.

Foster says that the definition of true Christian service can be found in the story about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. Jesus called them to a life of servanthood, which he described as true leadership, and told them, “If I then, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:14-15) Foster also reminds us that Jesus said, “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant…even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve.” (Matt. 20:25-28)

This, says Foster, is “true” service, but he says that too often, we Christians substitute “self-righteous” service. I found that many of the things I thought were good deeds are considered “self-righteous” under Foster’s biblical criteria:

SELF-RIGHTEOUS SERVICE: Comes through human effort
TRUE SERVICE: Comes through promptings from God

SRS: Is impressed with “big” public acts of service
TS: Doesn’t distinguish between small and large acts of service

SRS: Requires external rewards for serving
TS: Is contented to remain hidden and unheralded

SRS: Picks and chooses whom to serve
TS: Does not discriminate, is willing to serve all, even enemies

SRS: Affected by moods and whims. We must “feel like” serving first
TS: Ministers simply because there is a need, whether one feels like serving or not

SRS: Is insensitive, doing good deeds even though they might prove destructive or counterproductive
TS: Can wait and listen, serving in silence if that’s what’s needed most

SRS: Fractures the community because it centers on the “glorification of the individual,” despite the religious trappings
TS: Builds community by quietly binding and healing

It’s somewhat obvious why our service benefits someone else – we see at least the exterior benefits they get – but what does true service do for us? Foster says possibly the biggest benefit seen by the servant is the strengthening of our humility by crucifying the flesh:
”Nothing disciplines the inordinate desires of the flesh like service, and nothing transforms the desires of the flesh like serving in hiddenness. The flesh whines against service but screams against hidden service. It strains and pulls for honor and recognition. It will devise subtle, religiously acceptable means to call attention to the service rendered. If we stoutly refuse to give in to this lust of the flesh, we crucify it. Every time we crucify the flesh, we crucify our pride and arrogance.”
Foster then spends a lot of time pointing out the types of small, simple, unselfish acts of everyday service that can help produce this humility in us. Many of these examples I had never thought of as constituting acts of “service”: the service of small things (doing small tasks or running errands for others); the service of guarding the reputation of others (no gossiping or slandering); the service of being served (allowing others to do nice things for us); the service of common courtesy (saying thank you and all the other kindnesses); the service of hospitality (welcoming people into our home without having to make a big fuss about cleanliness or what to offer them to eat); the service of listening (not to give our unsolicited advice, just to listen); the service of bearing each other’s burdens; and the service of sharing God’s word with each other.

If we do these kindnesses and aren't concerned about who we bestow them on, can’t we be taken advantage of? Foster says yes, most definitely, and says the key is to simply expect that we will be taken advantage of in this way. We should expect that we will do things for others and get no thanks or even acknowledgement in return. Once do, Foster says, we are free to serve, and move closer to acquiring the mind of Christ:
”The result, then, of this daily discipline of the flesh will be the rise of the grace of humility. It will slip in upon us unawares. Though we do not sense its presence, we are aware of a fresh zest and exhilaration with living. We wonder at the new sense of confidence that marks our activities. Although the demands of life are as great as ever, we live in a new sense of unhurried peace. People whom we once only envied we now view with compassion, for we see not only their position but their pain. People whom we would have passed over before we now ‘see’ and find to be delightful individuals. Somehow – we cannot exactly explain how – we feel a new spirit of identification with the outcasts, the ‘offscourings’ of the earth (1 Cor. 4:13)”
This is why Foster closes the chapter with an admission that he prays a simple prayer every day: "Lord Jesus, as it would please you, bring me someone today whom I can serve."

Let's Play Virgin Tag

Can I come up with a provocative headline, or what?

You can see how much of a naïf I still am in the blogosphere when, after almost three months of putting out Muley's World, I have gotten my first tag, or meme, or whatever you want to call it. I guess that means I'm no longer a tag virgin. The nice lady who deflowered me was Stacy of Not A Desperate Housewife. But she's innocent -- she didn't know it was my first time, and anyway, I started shaving early and have a deep voice, so anyone could have been duped.

The tag she has chosen to pass onto me is one where you must tell about your favorite movies at various points in your life. Okay, I'm game. Here goes.

EARLY CHILDHOOD: The Batman movie (the first one, with the wild colors and cartoon dialogue balloons where they said things like "Holy hand grenade, Batman!"), Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Yellow Submarine, Tora, Tora, Tora (I was a big WWII nut as a kid), Oliver!, and Jungle Book (my favorite Disney movie as a kid).

TEENAGE YEARS: My absolute favorites were hilarious and sometimes crude comedies that I would watch with friends, movies so funny we'd bust a gut, such as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Slap Shot, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, and Blazing Saddles and other Mel Brooks masterpieces. I also loved What's Up Doc?, the best screwball comedy I've seen (and one to almost make me forget Barbra Streisand's politics). On the serious side, I was a big James Bond fan, and especially enjoyed Live and Let Die, with luscious Jane Seymour and the cool Paul McCartney title song. (Of course, for my money, Sean Connery will always be the James Bond.) And seeing All The President's Men played a part in inspiring me to major in journalism in college, for better or worse.

ADULT YEARS: Some movies I loved as an adult were teen movies, but they came out when I was older, such as Sixteen Candles, one of my all-time favorites. Other adult favorites: Airplane (and all of its spinoffs, such as Top Secret and the Naked Gun series), more James Bond, Local Hero, My Favorite Year, The Gods Must Be Crazy, The Straight Story, Brazil, most Tim Burton movies, and a contender for my favorite movie of all time, Amelie.

RECENTLY: Like Stacy, I haven't seen a lot in the theaters lately that has wowed me. Some that have include The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Cinderella Man, The Incredibles and anything else by Pixar. I'm hoping that Batman Begins and The War of the Worlds are as good as everyone says they are.

ALL-TIME FAVORITE: There's not one movie that hits all of the high spots for me, so I'll do it a different way. Best comedy: Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Best drama: The Straight Story. Most enchanting movie: Amelie. And, a bit of an alternate universe thing here, my all-time least favorite comedy: Anchorman.

Now, the hard part. What three people do I dump this on next? I'll have to look for some kind-hearted types who won't hate me forever. How about Mike of The Nightfly, Katalina of Katalinaz Place and Michelle of Right in Texas? I don't think any of them would hit me if we were in the same room together, and they're all interesting people. I look forward to their choices.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Meet Darwin

Say hello to a new semi-permanent visitor to Muley's World -- a big ape named Darwin.

Darwin is a large statue owned by a family in Waco, and he's displayed in the front yard of their beautiful home on Austin Avenue, which is the street in Waco where most of the big, grand mansions of days gone by are located. I love to drive down Austin, under the boughs of the big oak trees that form a canopy over the road, and fantasize about living in one of those gracious, elegant homes.

The family that owns Darwin paints him a new costume as the season -- and their whims -- dictate. At Christmas he's Santa Claus, on St. Patrick's Day he's a leprechaun, and on Easter he's a bunny rabbit. Now, of course, he's still in his Fourth of July uniform as Uncle Sam.

Much of this spring and summer, as Baylor's women's basketball team marched toward the national title, Darwin was painted up as a Lady Bear basketball player. I'm told that one of the "cutest" outfits he's ever worn was that of a debutante, or more specifically, a princess in Waco's Cotton Palace Pageant.

Darwin has become a cherished Waco landmark, with people driving by every now and then to see how he has "evolved." I plan to do the same, and when I notice that he's changed his getup, I'll snap a photo and post it here. Hope you enjoy the big ape.

My Brilliant Career

Your Career Type: Artistic

You are expressive, original, and independent.
Your talents lie in your artistic abilities: creative writing, drama, crafts, music, or art.

You would make an excellent:

Actor - Art Teacher - Book Editor
Clothes Designer - Comedian - Composer
Dancer - DJ - Graphic Designer
Illustrator - Musician - Sculptor

The worst career options for your are conventional careers, like bank teller or secretary.

This doesn't surprise me, although it once again prompts the question, "If this is indeed my ideal career, then why am I in a job that resembles it very little? And why did I submit an application for that vacant bank teller's position last week?" Maybe it's all the free coin purses with the bank's logo they have stockpiled that I would be privy to. Or maybe it's the idea of being on television during all of my working hours.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Hospital Humor

These are supposedly actual notes made by doctors or nurses on patients' hospital charts. Real or not, they're funny.

1. The patient refused autopsy.

2. The patient has no previous history of suicides.

3. Patient has left white blood cells at another hospital.

4. She has no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband states she was very hot in bed last night.

5. Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.

6. On the second day the knee was better, and on the third day it disappeared.

7. The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.

8. The patient has been depressed since she began seeing me in 1993.

9. Discharge status: Alive but without my permission.

10. Healthy appearing decrepit 69-year old male, mentally alert but forgetful.

11. Patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.

12. She is numb from her toes down.

13. While in ER, she was examined, x-rated and sent home.

14. The skin was moist and dry.

15. Occasional, constant infrequent headaches.

16. Patient was alert and unresponsive.

17. She stated that she had been constipated for most of her life, until she got a divorce.

18. I saw your patient today, who is still under our car for physical therapy.

19. Both breasts are equal and reactive to light and accommodation.

20. The lab test indicated abnormal lover function.

21. Skin: somewhat pale but present.

22. The pelvic exam will be done later on the floor.

23. Patient has two teenage children, but no other abnormalities.

Hat tip: Mrs. Muley

Polly With a Potty Mouth

LONDON (AFP) - A foul-mouthed parrot previously owned by a lorry driver has been banished from public areas in a British animal sanctuary after repeatedly embarrassing his keepers, they said.

Barney, a five-year-old Macaw, is now kept indoors at Warwickshire Animal Sanctuary in Nuneaton, central England, when outsiders visit after abusing dignitaries with swearword-littered insults.

"He's told a lady mayoress to f..(expletive) off and he told a lady vicar: 'And you can f... off as well'," sanctuary worker Stacey Clark said.

Nor did the forces of law and order escape, she added. "Two policemen came to have a look at the centre. He told them: 'And you can f... off you two wankers'."

Clark said sanctuary workers believed Barney either picked up the phrases from television or was taught them by his previous owner, a lorry driver who emigrated to Spain.

"He does say 'Hello, big boy' and 'Thank you' when you give him a biscuit," she added. "But it's mainly naughty words and always to the wrong people. We're trying to teach him not to swear. Macaws are very intelligent birds."

Hat tip: Mrs. Muley

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Wal-Mart Widowers

I went to Wal-Mart yesterday at lunch to do a little window shopping (I’m currently without credit cards, so there was no big danger I’d go wild with impulse purchases). In the foyer between the sidewalk and the actual shopping space, there are two large benches, and when I visited yesterday, four elderly men were occupying them, two to a bench.

These gentlemen had weathered faces, and all wore some sort of cap or hat. They sat silently, staring ahead at nothing in particular, much like Patrick Leahy. I knew what they were waiting for. They waited, minute by minute, hour by hour, for their wives to emerge from the bowels of the store, loaded down with spatulas and shelf paper and frozen dinners and Capri pants and Golden Girls DVDs.

These men, looking like hardscrabble farmers from an old Norman Rockwell painting, preferred sitting in a drafty foyer on hard benches to following their wives around. I instantly dubbed them the Wal-Mart Widowers.

My Muley imagination caught fire, and I got to thinking -- why don’t more stores that cater primarily to women have areas where boyfriends and husbands could cool their heels? I’ve seen very few businesses, large or small, with such a feature. One I do remember was a huge clothing store at an outlet mall, which had a “hubby room” stocked with a few ratty chairs and an old TV. Nevertheless, it was packed every time I saw it.

If I were a do-gooder, big government, tax-and-spend type of guy, I think I would propose that all businesses above a certain square footage be required to provide lounge areas for men to use when their female partners are shopping. I’d require at least a 60” plasma screen HDTV, equipped with all the sports, news and business channels, and a library containing all editions of Big John’s Bathroom Reader, as well as current subscriptions to magazines such as Field and Stream, Sports Illustrated and Reader’s Digest (for the non-sports types).

Furthermore, business owners would be required to provide a refrigerator stocked with soft drinks and snacks, as well as a large coffee urn always filled with regular and decaf coffee. There would need to be comfy couches and recliners, and by law there would have to be one TV remote provided per visitor to discourage fistfights. In large facilities, I’d also require a few cots with fresh linens. And in states that allowed it, maybe a table where games of Texas Hold 'Em poker would be dealt.

Think how much longer women would stay in stores (and buy) if they knew their men were taken care of, and wouldn’t be nagging them every 10 minutes, “Aren’t you through yet?” The men would instead be asking them, “Are you sure you looked at everything, cupcake?”

Of course, to be fair (and legal), we’d have to require stores that cater primarily to men, such as sporting goods stores, tobbaconists, and building supply and auto parts stores, to provide waiting areas for women as well. They could stock these with women’s magazines, women’s drinks and snacks (such as those little sandwiches with the crusts cut off), a TV equipped to receive shopping channels and the Lifetime Network, and we’d also require a masseur/masseuse and manicurist to be on site during operating hours to offer complimentary services.

What do you think? Any other features you'd like to see mandated?

Midweek Poem

Song To Be Sung by the Father of Infant Female Children
by Ogden Nash

My heart leaps up when I behold
A rainbow in the sky;
Contrariwise, my blood runs cold
When little boys go by.
For little boys as little boys,
No special hate I carry,
But now and then they grow to men,
And when they do, they marry.
No matter how they tarry,
Eventually they marry.
And, swine among the pearls,
They marry little girls.
Oh, somewhere, somewhere, an infant plays,
With parents who feed and clothe him.
Their lips are sticky with pride and praise,
But I have begun to loathe him.
Yes, I loathe with loathing shameless
This child who to me is nameless.
This bachelor child in his carriage
Gives never a thought to marriage,
But a person can hardly say knife
Before he will hunt him a wife.
I never see an infant (male),
A-sleeping in the sun,
Without I turn a trifle pale
And think is he the one?
Oh, first he'll want to crop his curls,
And then he'll want a pony,
And then he'll think of pretty girls,
And holy matrimony.
A cat without a mouse
Is he without a spouse.
Oh, somewhere he bubbles bubbles of milk,
And quietly sucks his thumbs.
His cheeks are roses painted on silk,
And his teeth are tucked in his gums.
But alas the teeth will begin to grow,
And the bubbles will cease to bubble;
Given a score of years or so,
The roses will turn to stubble.
He'll sell a bond, or he'll write a book,
And his eyes will get that acquisitive look,
And raging and ravenous for the kill,
He'll boldly ask for the hand of Jill.
This infant whose middle
Is diapered still
Will want to marry My daughter Jill.
Oh sweet be his slumber and moist his middle!
My dreams, I fear, are infanticiddle.
A fig for embryo Lohengrins!
I'll open all his safety pins,
I'll pepper his powder, and salt his bottle,
And give him readings from Aristotle.
Sand for his spinach I'll gladly bring,
And Tabasco sauce for his teething ring.
Then perhaps he'll struggle though fire and water
To marry somebody else's daughter.


I don't know about other fathers of young girls, but I look forward to their dating and engagement years with a bit of both excitement and dread. This poem by my favorite poet, Ogden Nash, pretty well gets the dread part down.

Beleaf It or Not

This is me (on the left) with my younger brother Matt, circa 1967 or so. It's fall, and we're in the backyard of our home in suburban Houston.

Even though we lived in a nice middle class neighborhood, we were often cash poor, so we were forced to resort to some unorthodox practices to make ends meet. Here, you see Matt and I with our harvest of leaves for that night's dinner. My mom would soak them in water for hours to make them tender, and then she'd steam them and baste them with a little butter and salt. Boy, were those leaves tasty!

Usually, Mom would serve the leaves with sticks, which were dipped into a paste made by crushing acorns and then mixing up the paste with spices, and with milk we'd get from the squirrels we could catch. If it was a big occasion, like Christmas or the day the Publisher's Clearinghouse contest application arrived in the mail, Mom would serve fried pine cones dusted with brown sugar for dessert.

Even though we were poor, those were good days, let me tell you.

Monday, July 25, 2005

I Am Reassured By My Stupidity

For awhile yesterday, I thought I had reached one of those milestones that only a few people can claim in life. I thought my credit cards had been stolen.

It was lunchtime, and I was at the checkout, ready to pay for my club sandwich. When I examined my wallet, I saw that the credit card I use 95 percent of the time was not in its usual slot. I then looked for my backup credit card, which I rarely use, and it, too, was not there. All other items - including cash, a debit card and my library card -- were accounted for.

My first thought was that I had misplaced them, because I couldn't imagine when they would have been stolen. I had used card #1 as late as the afternoon before, when I ran out of gas for the lawnmower and ran up to the station in my grungy yard work clothes to fill up the can. Since then, I had done nothing more than gone to bed and gone to work, wallet nearby at all times.

But I remembered that when I got home from getting gas, instead of trudging through the house in my messy clothes to put up my wallet, I had laid it on a shelf on the far wall of the open garage while I finished cutting grass. Hmmm. Could that have been when the cards were stolen, if indeed they were?

I couldn't take any chances -- the thief might have already booked a Hawaiian cruise or bought a Harley, courtesy of yours truly. I got my card numbers, called the respective card companies, and was overjoyed to find out no unauthorized purchases had been made. I went ahead and canceled the old cards and got new ones ordered.

The thought of someone stealing the cards from my garage while I was not 20 yards away was troubling. To do this, they would have had to have been casing the joint, watching me, maybe from a car parked down the street, and looking for the exact moment when I was around the corner from my wallet. If this didn't happen, it meant that someone had snuck in the house overnight, quietly cleaned out my wallet, and left unnoticed. Both scenarios seemed far-fetched, but...

Searches of the house and cars came up dry. Later, though, I did one more search of my wallet, and...SHAZAAM!...there was card #2, hidden in a fold I didn't even know was there. And when Mrs. Muley and I talked through my actions the day before, she asked me if could have left card #1 at the gas station. "That's where it had to be," she said. "Surely you wouldn't have left it in your yard pants."

Oh yeah? With a sheepish look, I slid my fingers into the pocket of those pants, and...guess what? There was card #1, all rested from its daylong nap. Boy, did I feel stupid.

Even though I'll have a few administrative updates to make, I feel glad knowing that some lurking sneak thief is not watching my house with binoculars. I wish now I had waited to cancel the cards, but I couldn't risk getting a bill for a time share in Florida.

Cash, anyone?

Batter Up!

Muley, circa 1964 or so. Looks like I was golfing instead of batting.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Suggestions For the New Lakeview

I'm sure that by now most of you have either read a news account or watched one on television about Lakeview Church, the Houston megachurch with 30,000 members which bills itself as "the largest and fastest growing congregation in America."

Lakeview just moved into its new home, a large multipurpose arena that used to be called The Summit, and most recently Compaq Center. It was home to the Houston Rockets (basketball), the Houston Aeros (ice hockey) and any number of special events, including rock concerts and circuses (was there ever much difference?) The newly renovated facility can hold 16,000 church members at a time for a service.

I can remember going to The Summit for a number of events, including at least one concert by ZZ Top, and taking my kids to Compaq Center a few years ago for "Disney on Ice."

Mrs. Muley and I watched a bit of Lakeview's inaugual service in their new facility on television, and the sheer size and technical sophistication of the worship center was impressive. My imagination got frisky, as it is wont to do, and I started thinking about how Lakeview could keep a few old traditions from the Summit and Compaq Center days while at the same time conduct proper church services. Here's some ideas I came up with.

1. Distribute foam fingers with "Jesus #1" to members as they enter.

2. Have special services where the first 5,000 members in the door get bobblehead dolls of the Apostles and other biblical figures.

3. Before the service gets rolling, have restless audience members do "the wave."

4. During breaks in the service, instead of having audience members try to sink three -point shots for prizes, ask them Bible knowledge questions instead, with restaurant coupons as prizes.

5. No need for candles during candlelight services -- members will hold up lighters instead.

6. Water in the large baptistry can be frozen and smoothed over with Zamboni for use by church hockey teams.

7. During sports and music events, vendors used to roam the aisles with boxes slung around their necks offering popcorn and drinks. Those same boxes can now be used by deacons to distribute communion materials.

8. Scalpers, as usual, will try to sell unauthorized T-shirts in the parking garage, but this time, the shirts will have slogans about Jesus or photos of pastor Joel Osteen on them instead of "Led Zeppelin Rules."

Friday, July 22, 2005

Texas Postcard Gallery

If you happen to cross the border at El Paso, Texas, and enter the city of Juarez, Mexico, I hear you can get into a lot of trouble with booze and other vices if you have a hankering for that sort of thing. I'm betting, though, that these mildly racy vintage Juarez postcards were most often bought by tame male tourists who wanted to give their pals back home the idea that they had walked on the wild side while across the border, or had at least got somewhat potted on tequila.

Screwtape on the Blogosphere

I'm sure that many of you are familiar with C.S. Lewis' classic work titled The Screwtape Letters. It's one of my absolute favorite books, something I've read and enjoyed since I was in grade school.

In the book, Lewis deals with a number of Christian topics and concerns "through the back door," i.e., by having an experienced demon tempter named Screwtape give lessons in confronting "The Enemy" to his young nephew Wormwood. He does this through a series of letters written to the young demon. Screwtape's advice on how to trick and lead Christians astray becomes a warning to us of how not to fall into such traps.

Let's play "What if?" What would happen if Lewis were alive today, and still authoring letters from Screwtape to Wormwood? What would Lewis' take be on this newfangled trend toward blogging, and specifically toward Christians on the Blogosphere?

In this interesting post on his blog Two or Three, Aaron imagines what such a letter would talk about. Basically, he has Screwtape advise Wormwood to make his neophyte Christian blogger fall into one of two traps: either not mentioning Christ at all on his blog, or mentioning Christ, but doing so in a prideful way that places more emphasis on winning cyberspace arguments than in being an example to the lost.

I found it interesting reading, especially since I have recently been strugging with the topic of whether my blog is truly Christian or not.

Quote of the day:

"A man who is eating or lying with his wife or preparing to go to sleep in humility, thankfulness and temperance, is, by Christian standards, in an infinitely higher state than one who is listening to Bach or reading Plato in a state of pride."

--C.S. Lewis

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Early Christmas Gift Tip: Nesting Dolls

I know, I know, Christmas is five months away, but I've heard rumors that some super-organized, anal retentive types begin their holiday shopping weeks, even months before the big date (instead of 11:30 p.m. Christmas Eve at the Snack-N-Pak convenience store, like yours truly. Or should that be yours Muley?)

Anyway, in case you need some ideas for unique Christmas presents, there's a number of nifty Russian nesting dolls available online. These are wooden dolls that open up to reveal a smaller wooden doll inside, and so on and so on, ad infinitum.

Here's just a few available designs to please a wide variety of tastes. If there's a budding Socialist on your gift list, or someone who is sympathizing with those poor maligned terrorists who were forced to kill innocent people in New York, Washington, D.C., and London, how about this inspiring collection of great dictators of history?...

But maybe you've got some music lovers on your list. How about getting them these adorable nesting dolls to spruce up the mantle? The Osbournes...

The Boss...

Those wild guys from Kiss (I think the tiny black doll is actually their makeup case)...

And finally, you not only love her music, but her kooky politics as well. Here's Barbra (although I think the one in the middle looks more like Helen Hunt)...

Political afficianados on your list might appreciate this collection of Bill's gals...

I think John Kerry had this set of nesting dolls created before the 2004 votes were counted...

If you're a movie fan, get this set while it lasts. I hear Angelina Jolie already has one (but it got broken, somehow)...

Finally, if you're married to a hunter who needs some target practice, try these...

There's even more to choose from if you visit this website. And no, I don't get any commissions on sales.

UPDATE: The Nightfly, his Jersey brain wheels always spinning, provides this suggestion: "They should make a set of Elvis, where he goes from Old Elvis to Young Elvis as the dolls get smaller and smaller. Or Blog Babe dolls based on traffic: Michelle Malkin, Dawn Eden, the Cotillion, and so on..."

What about it, Cotillion gals? I definitely think Stacy at Not a Desperate Housewife should be one of them.

Ever Had a Day Like This?

"Perfectionist" by Sarah Hobbs

Should We Outlaw The "F" Word?

Before you click out, thinking I'm going to start using profanity, let me clarify my provocative title. The "F" word is not the one you expected, but "Failure."

I'll pass on this wire story as it ran. This doesn't surprise me. Nothing much does anymore, when it comes to modern educators and their desire to elevate self-esteem to a place of deity.

(Jul. 20) LONDON (Reuters) -- The word "fail" should be banned from use in British classrooms and replaced with the phrase "deferred success" to avoid demoralizing pupils, a group of teachers has proposed. Members of the Professional Association of Teachers (PAT) argue that telling pupils they have failed can put them off learning for life.

A spokesman for the group said it wanted to avoid labeling children. "We recognize that children do not necessarily achieve success first time," he said. "But I recognize that we can't just strike a word from the dictionary."

The PAT said it would debate the proposal at a conference next week.

Muley's Trivia Quiz

I love trivia questions. Here's 10 I came up with, based on finding the item that's not like the other entries.

1. Which person listed below did not have his or her image immortalized on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album?

a) Tyrone Power
b) Louis Armstrong
c) H.G. Wells
d) Shirley Temple
e) Tony Curtis
f) Diana Dors

2. Which college is not a member of the Ivy League?

a) Dartmouth
b) Cornell
c) Rutgers
d) Pennsylvania

3. Which of the following celebrities is not a native Canadian?

a) Donald Sutherland
b) Pamela Anderson
c) Jim Carrey
d) Kirsten Dunst
e) Neil Young

4. Which animal is not used in the Chinese zodiac?

a) Rat
b) Rooster
c) Monkey
d) Rabbit
e) Dog
f) Cat

5. Which colorful malapropism was not attributed to baseball legend Yogi Berra?

a) I don’t think anybody should write his autobiography until after he’s dead.
b) You can observe a lot just by watching.
c) If you can’t imitate him, don’t copy him.
d) A nickel isn’t worth a dime today.
e) It gets late early out there.
f) Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.

6. Which famous old-time baseball player did not hit at least 500 home runs in his career?

a) Frank Robinson
b) Jimmie Foxx
c) Lou Gehrig
d) Ernie Banks
e) Mel Ott
f) Harmon Killebrew

7. Which movie did not win an Oscar for Best Picture?

a) Mrs. Miniver
b) Oliver!
c) A Man For All Seasons
d) The Greatest Show On Earth
e) Doctor Zhivago
f) Broadway Melody

8. Which famous person did not commit suicide?

a) Brutus, assassin of Caesar
b) Edwin Armstrong, inventor of FM radio
c) Diana Churchill, daughter of Sir Winston
d) Cliff Edwards, voice of Jiminy Cricket
e) Hannibal, warrior who brought elephants over the Alps
f) George Eastman, inventor of the Kodak camera

9. Which famous person did not change their name?

a) David Letterman
b) Albert Brooks
c) Michael Caine
d) Randy Travis
e) Winona Ryder
f) Jodie Foster

10. Which baseball team has never made it to the World Series?

a) Chicago Cubs
b) Arizona Diamondbacks
c) Houston Astros
d) Milwaukee Brewers
e) Kansas City Royals
f) Cleveland Indians


1. b
2. c
3. d
4. f
5. a (attributed to Sam Goldwyn)
6. c (Gehrig hit 493 home runs)
7. e (lost to The Sound of Music)
8. d
9. a
10. c (sad but oh so true)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Goodbye, Scotty

James Doohan

James Doohan, who played the loveable "Scotty" on the original Star Trek, died today at age 85. He will be fondly remembered by all Star Trek fans, including yours truly.

I hope you got beamed up, Scotty, if you know what I mean.

Way To Go, Ladies!

At the White House today, President George W. Bush congratulated Waco's own 2005 NCAA Women's Basketball champion Baylor Lady Bears. I have it on good authority that, unlike recent visitors, none of the Lady Bears were wearing flip-flops.

First of all, everyone gathered in the Rose Garden for a photo:

During the Rose Garden ceremony, Bush said, "It is my honor to welcome some highly successful women from the neighborhood. (Bush's home in Crawford and Baylor are about 20 miles away from each other). First, I want to congratulate the Coach. She obviously knows what she's doing. But I love her spirit. I love her can-do spirit that says we're going to win, and we're proud to win." Then, Bush invited everyone into the Oval Office for a quick looksee and a few more photos:

Way to go, Lady Bears. What a great end to an incredible season.

A Little Blue to the Rescue

Take heart, America. There is hope on the horizon for your wounded, battered soul.

In just three short years, you will finally be able to go to a theater and see a full-length Smurfs movie. All those fervent prayers have been answered.

Are Harry Potter Books Christian?

A number of fellow Christians have attacked the Harry Potter books because of their favorable portrayals of wizards, magic and the like. Personally, I've never been convinced that the Harry Potter books (which I enjoy very much) are anti-Christian instead of possibly just non-Christian, like a lot of modern literature.

That's why I was interested to read about the take on Harry Potter from Baylor University professor Scott Moore. He believes the Potter books are "rich with Christian allusion," according to this Baylor news release. The news release includes a reprint of Moore's article "Why I Am Looking Forward to Harry Potter."

Excerpts from the release:
"'The books are rich with classical and medieval Christian allusion,' (Moore) says. 'J.K. Rowling relies for instance on images of the phoenix and the unicorn in the early books. Both are commonly appropriated by the medieval Church as images of Christ.'"

"In addition, Moore says Harry and his friends are being schooled in classical and Christian virtues (courage, prudence, temperance, justice, faith, hope, and love). Yes, they attend a school that ostensibly teaches spells and potions, but they get that all wrong. When any student can consistently make a spell work, they are as surprised as anyone. (In fact, they initially don't like Hermione because of this.) What they are learning is courage, friendship, and the value of the truth consistently from the school's headmaster."

"'Albus Dumbledore's insistence that one call [the book's villain] Voldemort by name is a reflection of his courage and his commitment to calling things by their proper names -- truth-telling," Moore says. With a name meaning "willing death' -- which is how Lucifer is frequently described in medieval theology -- Voldemort cannot kill Harry because of the power of self-sacrificial love ('agape' -- his mother died loving him)."

Midweek Poem

by Amy Lowell

I have been temperate always,
But I am like to be very drunk
With your coming.
There have been times
I feared to walk down the street
Lest I should reel with the wine of you,
And jerk against my neighbors
As they go by.
I am parched now, and my tongue is horrible in my mouth,
But my brain is noisy
With the clash and gurgle of filling wine-cups.


After pondering a comment from Stacy that she usually doesn't "get" poetry, I realize that I can say the same thing, especially when it comes to modern poetry. The few poems I think I do "get" somewhat I have begun posting here. Thanks to Stacy's comment, I've decided that if I'm going to keep posting these "Midweek Poems" (and I am), I should add a short tag at the end to explain what about the poem attracted me, and/or what I think it means.

Regarding "Anticipation," I get the idea that the author is so in love (or in lust) with her beloved that it's as though she's actually drunk in his presence. She's normally a very reserved person, but her beloved causes her to lose all inhibitions. And it ends by her saying that although at the moment she's parched (lonely and reserved again), in her mind she's busy "anticipating" the next time see can see him and get "drunk" with his presence again.

If that's what she is saying, then I know that feeling. It's powerful, and indeed intoxicating, don't you think?

By the way, Carly Simon would later go on to make a great ketchup commercial with this same theme

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Dr. Quinn Shows Some Skin

I must admit that I have become somewhat used to the ever-increasing displays of public exhibitionism in American society. But every now and then, a few examples come together at the same time and create a sort of critical mass in my mind. Today was one of those times.

I read the story on Drudge about the latest tempest in a teapot over John McCain appearing in the R-rated movie "Wedding Crashers." The outrage about the story I picked up on other blogs seemed to center on the fact that McCain, who has called on Hollywood to clean up its act, appeared in an R-rated movie, and on his response to criticism that he participated in a "boob fest." He replied that hey, he works with a lot of boobs in Congress.

I agree with the sense of mild outrage about all this, of course, but what really got my eyebrows raised was this paragraph from the news story:

"In one scene in the film, veteran actress Jane Seymour goes topless in an attempt to seduce Owen Wilson, who plays a divorce attorney trying to pick up women at weddings to which he has not been invited."

Excuse me. Did they say Jane Seymour, one of my favorite actresses, who played Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, and writes books about genteel, romantic living and raising cute twin boys, has performed topless? Am I reading that correctly?

Who's next to bare their breasts? Angela Lansbury of "Murder She Wrote"? Barbara Walters? Aunt Jemima? Judge Judy?

I guess I should have seen this coming. Once Julie Andrews popped her top in the movie "SOB" and received kudos for her "courage" instead of the loss of future movie roles, I guess the door came off the hinges for good.

The same day I read about Jane, I also saw in Drudge that the first "live billboard" has debuted in Times Square. Yes, a huge multi-level billboard, looking like open windows in an apartment building, features about 40 models walking around as they live in the building where the billboard (for Calvin Klein, of course) is located.

The article says, "Young models on the billboard have been instructed to create an illusion of a big party 24 hours a day. The billboard features music as well. The models will work through shifts through Wednesday night. They were reportedly told not to drink on the billboard or perform risque behavior." Rats.

I imagine there are great crowds looking at this. To be perfectly honest, if I was in New York City, I'd have to take a gander myself. But I just wonder how far we'll go to show off our bodies and ourselves to each other. Is there no boundary line we won't eventually cross? I'm not so sure anymore.

Boy, don't I sound like a wheezy old fogey prude...

I had another thought. If this live billboard thing catches on, what other products will use it? I feel sorry for the poor little Coppertone girl, who will have to stay bent over for hours at a time while a dog pulls on her swimsuit. But hey -- maybe they'll put her in "Wedding Crashers II."

UPDATE: I am a bit naive at times, and usually the last to know. I just did a quick Yahoo image search for "Jane Seymour," and there's a bunch of nude photos of her on the index page, readily available. I guess this Wedding Crashers stunt was old hat for her. Probably a mid-life career move.

Monday, July 18, 2005

For Whom Do I Blog?

I have seen other bloggers post essays about themselves titled something like "Why I Blog." In this post, I am attempting to do the same thing, but from a different angle. Instead of why I blog, I want to explore who I'm blogging for. In other words, what characterizes the unseen audience at the other end of the computer cable that I'm hoping to reach with my words?

For whom do I blog?

I blog for the world’s misunderstood goofballs, those lovers of rubber chickens and funny hats, who make bad puns and stinker jokes, and patiently endure the rolling eyes of friends and family after they have committed yet another public embarrassment.

I blog for those who refuse to be easily categorized or compartmentalized, who like both country and classical music, Elvis Presley and Elvis Costello, highbrow foreign art films and Mel Brooks movies, Jane Austen and Mad magazine, Masterpiece Theatre and Spongebob Squarepants, Handel’s Messiah and the Jingle Cats, barbeque and Chinese food, being introverted and extroverted, cats and dogs, the city and the country, dressing up and going grunge, and who enjoy the world yet look forward to leaving it one day.

I blog for struggling Christians, who love their Lord with all of their hearts, minds and souls, and seek above all to grow closer to Him, but who still have problems properly digesting any spiritual food stronger than an Ovaltine shake, who continue to study the Bible although still unable to name all 12 apostles or all 10 commandments in proper order, and who secretly suspect that everyone else in church is more biblically literate and spiritually mature than they are.

I blog for suffering Houston Astros fans (and this includes all of them), who, like Wile E. Coyote, have been brought to the brink of ultimate victory many times, only to be flattened by the 10-ton anvil of fate.

I blog for those who were excluded from the popular groups and cliques in high school, who were burdened with acne and big glasses and braces and poor posture and social awkwardness, and had to endure ridicule as nerds, wimps, dorks, Einsteins, Poindexters, band queers, drama queers, mulletheads, greasers, rednecks, freaks and losers.

I blog for the intellectually curious, who always want to know “why?,” and who never believed the lie that studying and learning should end when you pick up a diploma.

I blog for biblioholics, who keep buying books they can’t afford and don’t have room to store, who endure years of questions such as “Are you ever going to read all of those books?,” who love even the smell and the feel of books, who will read anything, even classified ads or the back of cereal boxes, in a pinch, and for whom passing a large, unfamiliar bookstore without stopping is like an opium addict passing up a fresh pipe.

I blog for dyed-in-the-wool sentimentalists, who love old movies and old books and old ways and values, who reject the idea that something is better just because it’s newer, who believe that slower and simpler is often better than faster and more complex, and who still get misty-eyed at the end of “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

I blog for incurable romantics, who believe in leaving notes and flowers, who rarely pass up a chance to hold hands or smooch, who like all but the sappiest “chick flicks,” and who still cherish spending time with the one they love, no matter how many years have gone by.

I blog for the sensible sensualists, who do not desire to be ruled by their flesh, but nevertheless appreciate the smells and tastes and textures of the world, and can luxuriate in the warmth of a hot bath, the feel of cool cotton sheets, the smell of fresh baked bread, the beauty of a fiery sunset, and the sound of purring kittens and distant trains.

I blog for unabashed patriots, who never tire of singing the national anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, who can still visit Washington, D.C., and feel a sense of awe and excitement, who know that, for all its faults and missteps, the United States of America is still the greatest country in the world and the last, best hope for freedom in an increasingly hostile world.

And finally, I blog for the blogless, who might read my simple attempts at collecting my thoughts online, and then think, “Hey, if he can do it, I can too.”

If I Believed in Reincarnation

In a Past Life...

You Were: A Mute Mathematician.

Where You Lived: Egypt.

How You Died: Decapitation.

Instead of decapitation, don't they mean division?

This information solves one mystery, but creates a number of others. Did they make the traditional offer of giving me a few last words, which I would have had to scratch out on papyrus because I was mute? Or did they just offer to let me solve a few last quadratic equations before the ax fell?

And why was I killed? Did I mess up the calculations on building the Sphinx, causing the nose to fall off? That would undoubtedly tick off the Pharoah and prompt an execution. Or was I just out joy riding on a fast camel when I had a head-on collision with a sword salesman on a souped-up water buffalo?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Twenty Things I Learned About Branson

Having just returned from my first trip to the Midwest entertainment capital known as Branson, Missouri, I have been struggling with how to write about what I found there. I want to avoid two errors: a) boring my readers to death with a series of "and then we went here, and after that we went there" entries, and b) going off on a few long, detailed cultural critiques that also would risk boring my audience, making me sound like a high hat, and prompting the dreaded reader exit.

So, I've decided the best way I can put the Branson trip to bed, blog-wise, is just to share a few random observations I picked up along the way. In no particular order, here goes.


1. Branson's official population -- the one listed on all the city limits signs reflecting the 2000 Census -- is just a tad over 6,000. I find this almost impossible to believe, seeing how many hundreds of hotels, motels, condominiums, resorts, fast food places and shopping centers are there. The only thing I can guess is that almost everyone who is actually in Branson on any given day is someone who is just visiting, and the 6,000 people who got counted in the census are all maids and burger flippers and store clerks. But I doubt any of these humble workers can afford the pricey housing in town - they probably all live in the suburbs.

2. Even though we drove all over town during our four-day stay, none of us saw a single school. Not a preschool, not a grade school, not a college or university. We also never saw a traditional residential neighborhood. Everything seemed built for the tourist industry. The "normal" part of Branson must be hidden away in the surrounding hills somewhere.

3. Instead of trying to dispel the hillbilly stereotypes that have been bestowed on the Ozarks, people in Branson seem to be trying to have fun with them. I submit as evidence the following postcards, just two of a series of hillbilly-themed works:

All the postcards in this series show the same central image: a lazy, moonshine-swilling man, sleeping while the women do all the work.

At Branson real estate prices, this is probably all I could afford, too.

4. So far, it sounds as though I'm down on Branson. But there are many things about the city I liked. For example, even though the stories you might have heard about the nonstop traffic jams on the three-lane main road through the heart of town are accurate, it's a much better situation than you'd find in a big city. In big cities, almost no one is inclined to be kind to other drivers. In Branson, drivers routinely wait to let cars in and out of traffic, even if it puts the kind person back in line. People don't seem obsessed with getting places at breakneck speed. I found myself adopting the same courteous driving habits after I was treated kindly a few times. Drivers are friendly towards one another, something I thought went out with the Model T.

5. I guess now that I've been there, I could buy into the broad characterization of Branson as "Hillbilly Vegas." The main strip in Branson is lined with theatres, music halls and hotels, just like the Vegas Strip. But there's a big difference. Vegas is sex-obsessed and seedy; Branson is not. There are no transvestite pageants, no massage parlors, no scantily clad showgirl photos on billboards, no one standing on street corners handing out cards advertising sex shows or escort services. There's virtually not a place I saw in Branson I would hestitate to take my kids to, except the liquor stores.

6. There's another big difference. Unlike Vegas, there's no gambling in Branson. In Vegas, the shows and the few kiddie attractions are just bait to lure people to gamble. In Branson, the shows and the fun activities are the entire point of visiting. They're not just a carrot on a stick.

7. It's hard to start or stay on a diet in Branson. The big things there are all-you-can-eat buffets, HUGE buffets, and it seems as though every other restaurant offers one. Even the KFC places have small buffets. Before we got back home, we had hit four buffets without even trying. I gained a total of five pounds on the trip as a result. AAAGHHH!

8. Branson is a very patriotic town. Everywhere you look, there are flags and signs saying thank you to our troops. The two performers were saw -- Yakov Smirnoff and Shoji Tabuchi -- are both naturalized Americans, and their shows were full of patriotic songs, including the Star Spangled Banner. They talked movingly of how America is the freest, most giving, best country on the globe. Except for Wayne Newton, I doubt there's many performers in Vegas who put any such patriotic elements into their acts. Can you see George Carlin, without irony, asking his audience to join him in the Star Spangled Banner? I can't.

9. The performers here also seem to be friendly to we common folks. In both shows I saw, the stars came out at intermission to pose for photos and sign autographs with the audience. In fact, Yakov came out a second time after his show just to accomodate everyone who didn't get an autograph during intermission. Does George Carlin do this? Celine Dion? Cher?

10. In the shows we saw, while they don't allow audiotaping or videotaping, they welcome people coming right up to the edge of the stage during the show and snapping photos. I'd never seen that before. Usually, a security guard would tackle you if you even got within 10 feet of the star.

11. There are three groups of tourists in Branson, and three only: retired people, parents of school-age children, and school-age children. The only single 20- or 30-somethings I saw there were working.

12. There is a very noticeable lack of racial diversity among Branson tourists. I estimate that -- no kidding -- about 98 percent of the tourists I saw were white. A few blacks, a few Asians, virtually no Hispanics. At least that's what I saw while I was there. I thought that maybe I was just seeing something no one else saw, until my mom out of the blue made the same observation. I would look around at the audience at the shows we attended - virtually all white.

13. What extra feature attracts tourists to Vegas hotels? Free comps? Loose slots? In Branson, the big attraction is cobbler. I'm not kidding, every other hotel and restaurant has signs offering either "free cobbler" or "the best cobbler in Branson." At the hotel we stayed at, guests were treated to free cobbler and ice cream every night between 9:30 and 11:30. You would go to a show, then come back to the hotel and eat as many servings as you wanted of either peach or blackberry cobbler. It's a Branson thing.

14. I lost track of how many of the singing acts advertised around town are singing families. One I remember had eight members, and their advertising slogan was "80 fingers, 80 toes." The billboard also said they were from Salt Lake City, which I'm sure meant they were likely one of those traditional big Mormon families, like the Osmonds, who have played in Branson themselves.

15. Singers who dress up and sing like dead superstars don't advertise that they are doing "impersonations" or "imitations." They all say their shows are "tributes" to the dead star in question. The week I was there, I saw advertisements for "tributes" to Elvis, Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Red Skelton and John Wayne. There was even someone imitating Don Knotts doing Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show. Excuse me, paying tribute to Barney Fife.

16. The hills and valleys around Branson are gorgeous, and there's a wonderful man-made lake that borders the city. If I ever go back, I want to spend more time in the surrounding countryside instead of in the city.

17. There are more tourist trap souvenir shops than you can shake a stick at in Branson. In one of them, I had fun trying on hats that resembled a hamburger, a birthday cake and a rubber chicken. Sadly, my family is used to this.

18. The entire Ozarks area seems to be unashamedly religious. I don't know how many motel marquees I saw with sentiments like "Our Savior Lives" or "God is Good" written on them. There are churches everywhere, as well as Christian bookstores and religious retreats. I felt very at home there.

19. They don't scrimp on the cornpone or the hokey in Branson. You need to be able to digest a lot of both, or at least put them out of your mind, to survive even a short visit.

20. Finally, as a general rule, Branson is a town built to entertain retired people and families with young children. If you're in either group, you'll find things to enjoy. If you're not in one of those groups, you might very well be bored to death. Unless, of course, you like to wear chicken hats while eating cobbler.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Texas Postcard Gallery

When it comes to problems with burrow-digging rodents on Texas farms and ranches, our solution is, "If you can't abide 'em, ride 'em."

Friday, July 15, 2005

Back Home

After seven days on the road, the extended Muley family is back home in Waco. I've got too much cleanup and putaway work to do right now to blog anything more than this, but during all that time away, I've had the chance to think up some post topics, so I'll hopefully get back to the keyboard soon.

It's good to be back. I've got to catch up by checking all of your blogs to see what I missed. I feel a bit disconnected.

I'm also very sick of the Disney Channel. If I see one more episode of "That's So Raven," I will shed innocent blood.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Tuesday, July 12, 2005