Thursday, September 22, 2005

It's Looking Like Rita's Moving East

It's 5 p.m. here in Waco, and the latest news reports make it sound as though Hurricane Rita is going to hit further east of where the experts once predicted. Mrs. Muley just told me that she heard the eye of the hurricane is now projected to hit Lake Charles, La., instead of Galveston. This means that the Houston-Galveston area would still get rain, but nothing like they would have gotten with a direct hit.

Of course, the people in Lake Charles can't be too happy, and I've got to think a Louisiana landfall will bring enough rain to New Orleans to endanger the repaired levees. There really isn't a good alternative at this point. The good alternative would have been if this thing would have headed south and hit in a remote section of Mexico, where only some goats and lizards would have been affected.

Now the questions in Waco are a bit different than they were this morning. No. 1 is, "Will we get any rain at all out of this?" A little rain would be welcome, since we've had 100-degree temperatures and no rain for weeks here. Question No. 2 is, "How many refugees will pour into town looking for shelter?" Already, I've heard that Interstate 35 here is one big traffic jam, with people trying to head north toward Dallas. Colleagues at Baylor were gathered this afternoon, trying to figure out the best alternate routes home so they wouldn't have to get on the highway.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow or Saturday, things have changed around here. Scads of events have been postponed or canceled, including a big balloon glow and Christian concert at Baylor, a Heart Walk Saturday for the American Heart Association, and a church conference at Truett Seminary. Lots of high school football teams decided against canceling their games, so they're having them tonight instead of tomorrow night. I even heard that Texas A&M University decided to have their game tonight instead of Saturday.

Both my parents and my relatives in the Houston area tried to leave this morning to come to Waco, but after hours sitting virtually still in traffic, they turned around and came home. It's not as though they want to wait the storm out, it's just that, lacking helicopters, they have no realistic way of leaving that won't leave them exposed on a highway somewhere when the rains and winds hit. The news this afternoon told of one woman from Houston who's been on the road an entire day -- 24 hours straight -- and she's traveled only 150 miles along the Interstate. That's how bad it is, folks. Other news reports I've heard say drivers have gotten out of their cars on the Interstate and have created impromptu tailgate parties, throwing frisbees and sitting in lawn chairs. If you're stuck and can't move, why not?

I'm glad for everyone in Waco that we seem to have been spared the brunt of Hurricane Rita (the forecast only calls for a 50 percent chance of rain now on Saturday), but I realize that the ol' girl could turn back west and hit us bad anytime she chooses. And I know many others won't be this lucky, so I will continue to pray for those in her path -- wherever that ends up being.

I'll check in tomorrow when I have more news. Hope all of you are safe.

We're Riding Out Rita

Here in Waco, Texas, we're getting a closer view of what those poor people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama suffered three weeks ago when Hurricane Katrina blew in. As I write this, Hurricane Rita is making a beeline for Galveston, and there's a decent chance that it will hit Waco on its way through Texas. Let me take a few moments to describe some goings on here.

First of all, speculation is rife. We've been hearing one disaster scenario after another for tbe past three days on local news. The latest scenarios have the main part of Rita going up through East Texas, which means that Waco would get only heavy rain and higher than usual winds. But no one really knows for sure except God.

If it wasn't so serious, some of the speculation would be hilarious. The other day, my wife and I were listening to the local morning news, and one excitable weather personality came on to describe what "might" happen to Waco if we got hit head on with Rita. He decribed an almost apocalyptic scene with water and power out, trees uprooted, food supplies cleaned out, and no help for days. I swear, I was expecting him to end the report with either an alien attack or Jesus coming again through the parting clouds.

We did the things that they recommended -- went to the store and stocked up on things we might need (like bottled water, which was cleaned out by Tuesday morning), contacted relatives in harm's way, and prayed.

My parents live in Friendswood, which is almost halfway between Houston and Galveston on I-45. Residents of Friendswood and surrounding towns are under a mandatory evacuation order to leave by noon today, so my parents are leaving this morning to try and make it to Waco, where they'll stay with us. I have no idea how long it will take them to get to us. Interstate 45 is pretty much jammed between Houston and Dallas, and I've heard that the trip from Houston to Waco, which normally takes 3 1/2 to 4 hours, is now taking as much as 12 hours to make. Cars are on the side of the Interstate, stranded, because they ran out of gas waiting in the unmoving traffic.

My brother, meanwhile, who still lives with my parents in an upstairs garage apartment, has decided for some reason to stay and wait it out. Maybe he thinks he'll be there to get started on any needed repairs after the storm hits, I don't know. He's a grown man, so there's little chance of persuading him to do what he doesn't want to do.

Meanwhile, my brother- and sister-in-law and their family live in Humble, which is a northern suburb of Houston. They have been battling traffic trying to get loaded up and leave town since yesterday. It took my brother-in-law four hours just to drive home from work across Houston yesterday, a trip that normally takes him just 45 minutes to make.

They must also head out north on I-45, which I hear that officials are about to make one-way most of the way to Dallas to get more lanes in use. I imagine the wait on that road will be maddening.

Their teenaged son -- my nephew -- works in the local HEB grocery store, and he described a scene of pandemonium a few days ago as people came in and quickly cleaned out much of the stock. (I'm not sure if the sauerkraut sold out -- does anyone ever really eat that?) The bottled water went first, but my nephew got to unload a truck delivering new bottles, so he was able to buy some for his family.

Here at Baylor, the university has cancelled classes tomorrow, but I'm not sure yet whether staffers such as myself will be required to come in. There's also a good chance that some of the university buildings could be used for refugee shelters, but I'll know more after an announcement they're making at noon today.

So, for now it's wait and see. I was at my childhood home in Friendswood when Alicia hit there in 1983, dropping more than 20 inches of rain in a very short time. Our house was in the 100-year floodplain, but it still managed to get about six inches of water. We did much better than the houses across the creek -- the water was up to the roofs. So, I've lived through this before, and know how vulnerable the Houston-Galveston area is to a hurricane and the flooding and destruction it causes.

Hopefully, everyone has had enough notice to allow them to get out of harm's way in time. The lessons taught by Katrina have been invaluable in this sense. I'll keep my eyes and ears open and let you know what happens in a later post (assuming that Jesus does not come. If he does, I won't be posting).

By the way, speaking of Jesus, I must throw in a joke I heard recently to introduce a little levity.

Two men, Harry and Fred, were ardent church choir members who often discussed whether there truly was a choir in heaven. The men made a pact that the first one of them to die would come back and somehow tell the other if a heavenly choir did indeed exist.

Well, as luck would have it, Harry died suddenly a few months later. The night after the funeral, Fred was awakened by the sight of his deceased friend hovering in his bedroom like an angel.

As soon as he recovered his senses, Fred said "Harry, it's good to see you! So tell me, is it true? Is there a choir in heaven?"

Harry said, "Fred, I have good and bad news. The good news is that there most definitely is a choir in heaven, and it's a doozy -- the most wonderful choir I've ever heard."

"What's the bad news?" Fred asked.

"You're scheduled to sing a solo in it tomorrow," Harry said.


Thursday, September 15, 2005

I've Lost That Blogging Feeling (Part Two)

In yesterday's post, I detailed how I backed into a place in the blogosphere. Today, I'll look at those heady first months at the helm of Muley's World, including a development that left me challenging some of my earliest assumptions about blogging.


After I had taken the plunge and started Muley’s World, I had to sit down and try to figure out how I wanted to use my new toy. Remember, I didn’t know much at all about the blogosphere, its characteristics or unwritten rules, so I was flying blind. Here are some of the things I resolved to do with my blog when I first began:

1. I decided to view my blog as my own personal online magazine. Forget trying to get some snooty magazine or literary journal to accept my stuff – I had my own! I was publisher, editor, writer, layout artist and circulation manager. I could print what I wanted, when I wanted.

2. As far as the content of my new magazine went, I decided I would concentrate almost exclusively on printing the essays, short stories and poetry I produced. Again, I viewed Muley’s World as my own literary journal. Or, if you like, it was my own free art gallery, open to the public 24/7, with endless wall space, allowing me to hang whatever pictures I wanted the public to see.

3. Knowing that one of my failings as a writer has always been the inability to write and produce finished works on a regular basis, I resolved to give my powers of self-discipline more muscle by committing to posting something every single day, with the exception of Sundays and times of illness, family emergency and vacations.

4. I would wait about a month or so to compile a “back catalog” before letting anyone else know about my blog (Mrs. Muley excepted, of course). When I did start getting the word out, I would begin with my closest friends, then include family, then -- maybe many months out -- include people I did not interact with every day, such as friends from church and kids’ sporting events. I thought that if any “strangers” ended up seeing my site, they would be friends of the friends I personally told about Muley’s World.

5. Because the place I work for doesn’t have a blog policy for employees, and because I was unwilling to have people I work with commenting on my daily posts, I decided to remain as anonymous as I could, without being too anal retentive about it.

6. I didn't really care how many people saw my blog site, as long as I could write the stuff I wanted and have a permanent home for it.

Alongside these early resolutions, I also had some early misconceptions about the blogosphere:

1. I pictured blogging as basically a one-way circuit. In other words, you put material out there, someone else read it, and that completed the circuit. The idea that as much time and effort would ever be spent in commenting on someone else’s blog -- or responding to comments someone else wrote on your blog – didn’t even enter my mind.

2. I thought that the blogosphere was a great home for all types of writing -- from the shortest quips to the longest, most detailed essays. I also thought it was most likely a great home for fictional work, where blog owners would post their short stories, poems and novellas for others to see.

3. I had no idea of whether the blogosphere was primarily liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican. I didn’t know and I didn’t care, because getting into any kind of discussion online about politics was the last thing I felt like doing. I wanted to write and create and be whimsical and funny and lyrical.

It’s no surprise, then, that my first posts were either humorous essays I came up with on the fly, such as a piece where I imagined what the mystery element Retsyn might be, or pieces I had dreamed up years ago but had never written, such as an evaluation of great sleepers of the Bible. I was having great fun, but almost overnight I began spending a lot of time with my new hobby. I was combing through old notebooks, writing first drafts, editing, then tapping out finished versions. I would post long pieces sometimes twice a day, often written late into the night after everyone else had gone to bed.

I could tell at first that Mrs. Muley was unsure if my new mistress was going to take me away for good. Looking back now, I was so excited about finally having this creative outlet available that all I seemed to talk about to her was blogging – my previous posts, the posts I was working on now, the post I had planned for tomorrow. I started taking my lunch hour off at work to spend it either writing posts, or reading the posts of others.

I should have known it was bad when at least two or three people who read my earliest efforts said, “You sure have a lot of free time on your hands, don’t you?” To some extent I did, since May and June are very slow months for me, but in another way, no, because I was stealing time away from family and other important tasks to blog.

An entirely unexpected event happened less than a week after I had begun Muley’s World. The one blog I had discovered and become a faithful reader of prior to becoming a blogger was Dawn Eden’s “Dawn Patrol.” She was my cyber hero. I so admired her writing skill, her humor, and her passion for great causes such as the right to life. Well, lo and behold, one day that first week I was checking Dawn’s site, and there was a mention of Muley’s World! Not only a mention, but Dawn praised me and my site far more than I would ever deserve. I was flabbergasted for two reasons: one, that she would have such good things to say about what was clearly a neophyte’s attempt to blog, and two, that she knew about me at all.

I was thrilled and giddy as a schoolgirl, but a bit shook up as well. What did this mean? I had never contacted Dawn by e-mail or commented on her site, so how in the heck did she know about Muley’s World? I knew nothing about things like trackbacks and site meters, so unless you left some sort of message, I figured you remained anonymous when you looked at other people’s blogs. I didn’t know what the little “Next Blog” button at the top of Blogger sites would do if you punched it. How did Dawn find me? How?

This meant, of course, that my original planning about having no one look at my site until I’d had a month or so to tweak it and build up a library of postings was now useless. People – strangers to me – were looking at my site, now. My art gallery’s doors were opened, so I’d better have something for them to see.

I kept on writing furiously, but I also spent more and more time looking at new blogs, trying to see how others were doing things. I found indexes of conservative and Christian blogs and visited many of the sites listed. And it was these visits that started turning me away from my first plans for Muley’s World into something quite different.



Wednesday, September 14, 2005

I've Lost That Blogging Feeling (Part One)

Okay, let’s clear up a few things right away:

1. I am not dead. Really.

2. I am not, thank the Lord, a refugee from Hurricane Katrina who’s been without a computer for weeks.

3. I have not had extensive plastic surgery, requiring me to recuperate, swaddled in bandages, in a secluded spa somewhere.

4. I am not holed up in a love nest with Jennifer Aniston, trying to make her forget Brad Pitt.

5. I have not been abducted by aliens. Or if I have, they have a heckuva reality simulation room in their spaceship.

No, I have none of these exciting and nifty explanations available to explain why I have been AWOL from the blogosphere for more than two weeks. This was an unplanned vacation, I assure you. If you’re wondering if I’ve decided to abandon Muley’s World, the short answer is no, at least not now. But I find it hard to come up with an equally short answer to the question of why I have seemingly disappeared into the twilight -- at least a short answer that makes sense. So, I‘ve decided to treat you few regular visitors, my patient and supportive friends, with a long answer that will hopefully suffice.

For new visitors to this site, especially those new to the blogging scene, maybe this will serve as both an entertaining cautionary tale and a look behind the scenes at “the rise and fall” of an average American blog site, with all the embarrassing parts left in.

Since I feel the urge to ramble a bit, I’ll divide up this post into three or four sections, each posted on a different day. That way, it won’t be like asking you to swallow a bowling ball all at once. And maybe some of you will even manage to read the whole thing.


Maybe my story is a lot like yours. I got into blogging – became the owner and creator of a blog, in fact – before I truly knew what blogging really was. It was akin to learning how to swim by jumping off the high dive and seeing what happens next.

Of course, I had been hearing about the blogosphere for quite awhile before I joined it. About a year or so ago, I decided on a slow day to see what these “web logs” were all about. I typed in “blog” on a search engine, came up with a directory or two of blog sites, and started looking around.

Frankly, I was not impressed with what I found. Most of those first blogs I looked at were the type kept by whiny, self-obsessed teenagers (are there any other types, you ask?) who filled page after digital page with gossip, ruminations on what clothes they were buying and wearing, observations about friends and the opposite sex, cynical analyses of the latest hot shows on Fox and the WB, and minute-by-minute accounts of their seemingly boring and, like, you know, uh, tedious days. After reading a dozen or so of these, I jumped to the conclusion that blogs were simply online journals of the “Dear Diary” type, a new fad that bored teenagers had taken up after instant messaging was no longer cutting edge.

At the same time I was pooh-poohing the blogosphere, I was yearning for someplace to display my writing talents. I’ve been a writer ever since I learned how to put pencil to Big Chief tablet, and in the last five years or so I have filled about a notebook a year with poems, haiku, and detailed ideas for short stories, essays (both humorous and serious) and even a children’s book or two. A few essays I even managed to write, filing them away in a folder when I was through.

I knew very well what the fate of the average wannabe writer is when he decides he wants to be in print, and I realized I just didn’t have the heart or the stomach to send out 5,312 unsuccessful query letters before finally getting a small piece accepted by South Dakota Bovine Digest and Literary Journal for the grand sum of $10. I just wasn’t up to it, but I wanted to get at least some of the stuff I was writing (and could one day write) in front of a reader or two I wasn’t related to before I died.

The best idea I could come up with was a sort of “e-digest,” where I would ask close friends if I could e-mail them some sort of collection of prose and poetry every few weeks or so. But I knew this was problematic. It would put my friends on the spot –- how could they politely decline my offer if they weren’t interested? –- and, if they got the e-mails but soon grew tired of them, how would they ask me to take them off the mailing list without offending me?

So I was stuck. I did think about a blog, but I seriously thought that anyone with a blog site had designed it themselves, and that before you could get a blog you had to know Web programming well enough to some up with templates and headers and all that stuff, as well as being fully versed in html. Some day, I thought, when I have the time to take a Web design class, maybe I’ll get into that. But not now.

I told you I knew next to nothing about the blogosphere.

So, imagine my surprise when, in mid-May of 2005, a friend of mine here in Waco, someone who didn’t know Web design, sent me an e-mail saying “check out my new blog.” I did, and was amazed by what I saw. Here was a professional-looking web site, with daily entries and links and all sorts of wonderful things. I called this person and complimented her, saying I wished I could one day learn how to do that. “It’s easy,” she said. “Go to the Blogger web site. You choose a template, answer some questions, and push submit. It took me about five minutes to set mine up. And it’s totally free.”

That same night, after thinking more and more about this great new toy, I decided to jump off the high dive. I went to Blogger, chose a template, and came up with a name – Muley’s World – which was the name of a fake, satirical radio show I came up with and hosted during my radio station days, featuring me introducing songs and doing comedy bits with an accent that sounded quite rural Texan.

I didn’t know what to say in my first post – hadn’t thought about it, really – so I ended up tapping out a few sentences which basically announced “Here I am!” and pushed the submit button. Muley’s World was delivered kicking and screaming without the use of forceps.

Tune in tomorrow for


Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Testimony in the Sand

Here's some amazing photos of Christian sand sculptures sent to me in an e-mail. They're done by Chuck Ritchey on the beach at Ocean City, Maryland.