Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Three Quick Things, or Links Links Links!

One.  Brandon Sanderson and Tor are hosting a giveaway contest for his next book, the highly anticipated The Way of Kings, on GoodReads.  There are 40 ARCs up for grabs.  You can read all about it from Sanderson here, or go straight to the entry form here.  Tor also announced the book tour for this one, which you can find here.  If any of these cities were close, I'd definitely go.  I'm very excited about this book.  Oh, and in case you didn't know, Tor has up the prelude, prologue, and first three chapters of The Way of Kings on their website (here).  It's worth the read.  (You'll need to join Tor.com, but that's free, and it entitles you to the awesome stuff generally found there.)

Two.  It's no secret that I'm a Harry Potter fan.  Watching the previews to the final movie gave me chill bumps the first time.  It's so much darker than the previous ones.  I can't wait until November.  The 3-D thing kind of saddens me, but I suppose I'll watch this one in 3-D.  You can watch the video below, if you've not seen the preview yet.  I kind of want to re-read The Deathly Hallows before then.  Hopefully I'll find the time.

<a href="http://video.msn.com/?mkt=en-US&from=sp&vid=f2822d1e-af61-45f5-b674-f3f697170e3d" target="_new" title="'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' Trailer">Video: 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' Trailer</a>

Three.  My all-time favorite singer-songwriter, acoustic mellow, bluegrassy folk artist has released his eleventh studio album, 4th of July.  I'm talking about Joe Purdy.  I've mentioned him plenty here on the blog.  Anyway, like all his other albums, the new one is up on his website, available now for purchase or free streaming.  Definitely check it out.  The guy never disappoints.  I've got all of his albums, and I'll be getting this one as soon as I get home from work today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Nothing Important

These past two weeks have been nothing but busy.  I've just been trying to stay in front of the wave, but I'm worn out.  I was in a wedding over the weekend, so that pretty much took up my free time.  The wedding was fun, though, and it's always a pleasure hanging out with old friends that I don't get to see as often as I'd like.  Now Spense is on his way to Cancun, hopefully before Tropical Storm Hurricane Mess Alex arrives.

I'm progressing steadily through my multiple books I'm reading.  Hopefully The Eye of the World will be reviewed by Friday.

I've got another Monday Night Tennis match scheduled for tonight.  Hopefully the storms stay away, cause I really enjoy playing every week.  (Excepting last week.  It was fun to be playing, but the guys we played were jerks and cocky.  One of them was very good and talented, but he was so full of himself that it wasn't really that fun.  We wound up winning and that guy acted like he was unfamiliar with losing.  Then he whined.  What a load o' crap.)

I got all the DLC for Fallout 3 over the weekend.  I'm not going to play any of it until I've progressed in my new game, but I've got it, so that's fun.  But I've been playing Dead Space.  I just love that game.  I'm playing through on Impossible mode, and it's quite difficult if you're not careful.  Once I beat Impossible I'll have everything beat, 100%, and be done with it.

Dave's back.  Good.  Reading your blog is always a highlight of the workday.  Did you get the package I sent you?

Not much else to offer other than Keisha and I are starting to watch Monk and she's fallen in love with Glee.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday: The Joiner

He could see no other way out of the situation.  No where else to go.  No turning back.  After all these years they had finally caught up to him.

He stood at the edge of the building, towering stories higher than anything else in sight.  The wind blew strong and fierce, flapping his coattails noisily behind him.  Black cotton swabs of saturated clouds hung low enough that he could almost touch them.  The air was charged, erratic bursts of electricity dancing all around.  Soon, the clouds would break and give way to the forecasted deluge.

The door behind him busted open, flying off its hinges into a ruined mess of steel.  Eliza appeared, gun held at the ready, aimed directly at him.  "Give it up, Thom.  You're busted."  She came forward, her white leather coat a stark contrast to the rest of the gloomy scene.  He glanced at the S&W P-12x aimed at his chest, the legendary stun gun that had been around since the dawn of modern weaponry.  Not the most state-of-the-art tool, but still effective.

He licked his lips and smiled.  The wind blew and the clouds crackled.  Thom shook his head.  "Eliza.  Have I ever made it easy for you?"  He took a gentle step backwards, his heel hanging over the edge. 

"What are you thinking?  It's a long way down.  Too far for you.  Just turn yourself over and nobody gets hurt.  Don't be a fool."  She slowly took another step.  More goons were now pouring through the door, all heavily armed and armored.  They filed into ranks behind Eliza, steadying their aims.

The first spatter of rain hit him in the cheek, cold and stinging.  It was time.  "Tell Blake I'm sorry," he said.  Confusion crossed Eliza's face followed immediately by recognition.

"NO!" she screamed, but it was drowned out by an explosion of thunder.  Thom threw his hands up over his head.  He felt the hair on his arms raise and tingle.  Lightning flashed.  Thom threw his hands down, toward the crowd.  Eliza jumped away, firing a wide shot off the P-12x.  White hot light engulfed the goons, illuminating them like birthday candles.  The clouds broke and the rain fell in a sudden downpour.  Eliza was aiming for another shot.  He looked at her and smiled apologetically. 

Thom stepped backwards and let the wind carry him.  He fell quickly, curled up like a giant hailstone.  Far above he saw Eliza looking out over the balcony, mouth open in disbelief.  She disappeared from view behind the thick veil of fog.  He slowly turned and saw the ground rushing closer.  He reached inside himself and tugged on the heavy winds, pulling them sideways and upwards, letting them wrap around him like a cocoon.  It wasn't enough to stop him from hitting--no, he thumped into the concrete like a heavy sack of grain-- but it was enough to keep him alive.

He winced as he rolled painfully, flipping over himself and coming to a stop.  His left shoulder and arm were broken.  Both legs were rubbery.  A group of bystanders gasped in shock.  A man began screaming.  It wouldn't be long before Eliza was out and looking for him again, and he didn't have enough left in him to pull off another Joining.  He was still surprised that the first one had worked.  Thom rose quickly, painfully, and headed off down the walkway, limping as he dragged himself away into the electric city lights.

Word Count: 577

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

[Insert Creative Title Here]

Blogger and artist Greg Peltz has created three awesome Star Wars masterpieces.  If you like the picture of the suave Boba Fett above, check out the rest of his blog.  There's some neat artwork there.

the tingling in my foot
is spreading up my leg
it has been so for nigh a fortnight now
if i dwell on it for long
it almost sends me into madness
but i may flirt for a moment
with the gentle electric shock.
the bundle of nerves and veins below
skin and muscle and fat
pulsates and throbs up,
up my leg and through my twitching eye,
out with all the slime.

Had some music practice with Alex last night.  Put to music a song I wrote that sounds okay.  I hear it one way in my head, with drums, harmonica, electric stuff, piano, and guitars, but when we play it we have only a bass and an acoustic.  Not quite how I envision it, but maybe I can figure something out.

I'm considering canceling my DirecTV account.  Neither of us really watches it enough to warrant the cost.  Unfortunately, I signed a two year contract, and I've still got 12 months to go.  Canceling early charges a $20 fee per month for each canceled month.  However, if I stay with the satellite I'll be spending around $75 per month, so in the long run I could either waste $240 or $900.  How I hate wasting money.

as it travels up the body
it lingers around the heart
the beat beat beat is a kettle drum,
burning with life and indigestion,
a wildfire in the esophagus 
with tendrils reaching into my soul.

Too much going on right now in life.  Monday night tennis league keeps my Mondays busy.  Tuesday night is practice night with Alex.  Wednesday night is church night, wherein the full praise team plays until around 9:00.  I finally get a chance to see Keisha on Thursday, but come the weekend things roll on down the hill a bit too swiftly for my liking. 

Sigh no more.

unsettling to stare off
and have one eye dancing erratically,
feet slapping at its own tune.
hard it is to choose between
the tingling feet and
the twitching eye
but my choice would matter not,
as i'm gifted with both.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Toy Story 3, a Review

Toy Story 3 I should preface this post by saying that it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Toy Story or Toy Story 2.  I do remember that I enjoyed them both, finding their stories entertaining and their humor satisfying.  Plus, the characters are memorable and iconic.  That said, I had a certain expectation for Toy Story 3, namely that I would laugh and that I would get a good story.  Did the movie achieve these things for me?

Toy Story 3 takes place several years after the first two films.  Andy is getting ready to head off to College (not some unnamed university or college, but College).  His childhood toys—Woody, Buzz, the Potatoheads, etc.—have all been left behind and stored in a toy box for years.  As Andy grew up, he stopped playing with them, and now that he’s going off to College he no longer needs them.

The film opens with a glorious battle between the toys in their play universe.  All the favorites are there.  The action is high.  The fun is great.  But then when real life hits, when we find that the toys are desperate for attention once again, all the fun seems to stop.  By accident, the toys end up at a daycare where things aren’t as happy as they seemed.  The kids there are rough and hard on toys, uncaring that they break or are damaged.  The daycare serves as the main plot for the movie, introducing new characters with exciting potential. 

A lot of stuff happens, things that test friendship, loyalty, and self-importance, and the toys (namely Woody) end up changed.  The conclusion was a sappy, probably unrealistic scene that tried to jerk at tears that I didn’t feel like shedding.  Am I heartless?  No.  It succeeded in that it had me thinking about my childhood, waxing nostalgic, but I never had a favorite toy that I cared deeply about, let along a sack full. 

Don’t get me wrong.  Toy Story 3 offers a great adventure story.  There were times when I was unsure how the toys were going to manage.  The plot is fun and original.  But what was missing was the humor.  Long has Pixar been a studio that produces films of exceptional stories and high comedic values.  I laughed once or twice, but nothing like I’ve done with past Pixar films.  And that is where the film suffers.  If there was more clever humor, more oddball funny situations, I might have enjoyed it better, but sadly there was not.

On a plus note, the animation was beautiful.  The junkyard scenes were fantastic.  The characters are seamless and smooth.  Even the human characters are better looking, still maintaining their CG animated characteristics but looking more realistic while not crossing the line into Realism.  And the toys were all well crafted and created.

Toy Story 3 let me down.  Perhaps it’s because it’s been a while since I’ve seen the last ones.  Perhaps it’s because I had my standards too high.  Maybe I’m not the target audience?  Whatever it is, I can only recommend this movie to diehard Pixar fans (I’m a fan, but I don’t think diehard is a word I’d use to describe my devotion) or Toy Story fans.  Of course, I couldn’t expect Pixar to never mess up, and after a dozen mostly-fantastic films, this one blip isn’t going to change my opinion of them.  I’m sure they’ll be back with a new, grand story, and when it’s there, I’ll watch it happily.

(Note: I saw the 2d version.  I still don’t understand the fascination with 3d cinema, and I hope by not purchasing the 3d tickets I’m sending a small message to somebody that I don’t want that technology to stick around.  Sadly, I’d say I’m in for a rude awakening.)

Friday, June 18, 2010

Friday Things

It's Friday.  That must mean that it's time for a list or something.

  • If you've not ordered Pat Rothfuss' The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle, then you've still got two days left to get in the preorder and get free shipping.  The book will be shipping out soon, and I for one cannot wait.  Click here for more info, or here to order.
  • The new preview trailer for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows looks promising.  Should be another fun movie.
  • I can't get "D'yer Mak'er" out of my head.  It's been a Zeppelin kind of week.
  • I've only got the finale left of Avatar: the Last Airbender.  I'm sad to see it ending.
  • Bachelor party tonight at my house for Spenser.  I think we're going disc golfing as soon as I get home from work, then we'll probably go out for steaks or something.  When that's finished we'll head back to Stewartland for poker or board games or PS3.  Then tomorrow morning Spense and I have a tennis match at 8:30.  Should be fun.
  • I'll be picking Keisha up from the airport tomorrow afternoon sometime.  She's nervous about flying.  Since I haven't seen her in a week, I'm going to take her out on a date tomorrow.  We may even go watch Toy Story.  And I think I'll swing by Gamestop and put my pre-order down on Fallout.
  • Thanks to James at Speculative Horizons for pointing out this great write-up for Neil Gaiman's The Sandman.  Just reading that makes me want to read the series again.  If only I had money to buy the beautiful Absolute editions.  And if you've ne'er read The Sandman, DO IT NOW.
  • Driving out to My Old Kentucky Home on Sunday for an afternoon wedding.  Yes, it's Fathers Day and yes MOKH is three hours away, but still, a wedding is in order.  Plus, I don't really celebrate Fathers Day...
  • Oh oh oh oh oh oh... you don't have to go oh oh oh oh oh...
  • Hahahahahahahaha
  • Well, I guess that about does it.  Happy pleasant weekend, friends.  Steer clear of the alpaca cages.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Things I Think About

I think about what it would feel like to take some jagged piece of metal, perhaps the inner lip of a soda can, and rub it around on the bottoms of my top teeth, letting the spaces between bones and gums brush up against the destruction of the can.  Would bone powder scrape off? 

I think about how it would feel if the city bus hit me.  Would I go flying backwards or would I get squashed under it, perhaps being dragged a bit down the unforgiving asphalt until the bus driver stops.  Or mayhap I'd get stuck in the grill, mangled and twisted.

I think about about my personal limits, how far I'd go in order to do something or experience something.  How can I accurately describe something that I've not endured?  The best I can do is guess.  But how accurate is the guess?  How accurate does it need to be?

I think about blood.  It makes me sick, seeing the red liquid of life pouring from our fragile bodies.  Guts splayed open, purple and blue and white.  Flesh carved, slender grooves or wide scars.  I can't begin to imagine seeing it in real life, working as a surgeon or a serial killer or a hematologist.

I think about how bad it would hurt to cut off a finger with a pair of scissors, or cut that little piece of paper-thin flesh beneath my tongue.  Would the pain be numbing or would it result in extreme anguish?  Would I pass out?  It would only take a second to find out.

How can a writer write about something he's unfamiliar with?  If he describes a small rural town in central Nebraska that happens to exist but he's never seen it, invariably he's going to do it injustice.  Someone will be offended.  So if he describes a kidnapping or a murder or adultery, and he's never experienced these things, then he's going to miss the nuances in the emotions.  Inevitably, someone will be offended.

I think about pain, how feeling it brings out the life in us.  The sore on my hand that hurts when I press it, yet for some reason I press it over and over again.  Is something that hurts me different from something that hurts you?  Does a scratch here feel good to me, but on you causes a grimace?  And the people who feel no pain, physical or emotional, are they even human?

I think about love, how something so simple can even exist in our world.  It's desired by all, but many are so hesitant to give and share it that the world is full of people searching for an unfound treasure.  I found it.  I cling to it every day of my life.  But I share it, too.  With anyone that'll have it.

I think about the flotsam and jetsam and lagan and derelicts in life.  How many people have been abandoned, cast away and left floating in the mire of the world?  How many promises have been broken?  Lies told?  Hopes dashed and stomped to the ground?  Who gets stuck with all these broken people?  What do they become?

Imagination is the key, I suppose.  An writer mayn't have lived through things he writes about, but that does not stop him from trying to capture it.  An artist mayn't know what love is, but can paint a picture that captures its essence to someone else.  Perception is a strong thing.  Truly, without the experiences, it's all guesswork; some may be spot-on, and others could be completely wrong.  We are, after all, a rather unpredictable lot.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword and Pat Rothfuss Contest

Nintendo unveiled the next game in the powerhouse Legend of Zelda franchise yesterday at E3.  The new game, dubbed Skyward Sword, looks promising and unique.  Using the precision from the Wii's Motion-Plus device, the player has quick controls of Link and his arsenal.

I've always been a Zelda fan.  From an early age I've played the games and I've always enjoyed the challenges each game offers.  The main reason for me buying my Wii was for Twilight Princess, and really the big reason I've kept my Wii is for the next Zelda game.  By the looks of it, Skyward Sword will be true to the series, filled with a beautiful world, complex puzzles, and a fun gameplay experience.  I personally like how the screenshots appear to blend the realistic Twilight Princess graphics with the cell-shaded style of The Wind Waker.

You can find several articles about the preview/demo from E3, or you can check out this one or this one if you want to ramble on immediately.  The game is scheduled for release next year.

Everybody's favorite Pat posted on his blog last week a new contest, similar to the amazing photo contest of yore.  He's having a t-shirt design contest, and the winner can get some sweet swag as well as have the self-smugness of having designed the winning shirt.  The contest ends soon if you're interested in submitting something.  I sent in two ideas.  Whether I win or not, the entries should be cool to look at whenever they're posted.

I finally got the Internet re-established at Stewartland last night.  My switch from cable to DSL was not very smooth, mostly because dealing with my cable provider always puts me in a sour mood.  I guess they have to be rude and uncaring if they're going to talk on the phone and work there.  Plus, they cut off my cable 16 days before it was scheduled to be cut off.  Anyway, I'm done dealing with them and now I have my DSL connection up and running.  I think when Keisha gets home we're going to start a free Netflix trial and see how well that goes on the slow speeds, and if we like it, well, hey, who knows?

I started a new book yesterday.  (I mentioned my excitement about it here.)  It's a short story anthology edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio titled Stories.  Several prolific authors are featured in it, and after having read the first two stories, I am very excited to read the rest of it.  It basically puts aside all of the norms in the genre and focuses on the important part: the story.  So far, so good.  That makes three books I'm currently reading at the moment.  Hmm.

I still can't get my trophies to activate in Fallout 3.  I don't know what's going on there, but I don't want to keep playing and not get any of these trophies.  Grumble grumble.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Those Awkward Times

You ever have one of those times when you get up from your desk and head to the bathroom but along the way intersect your boss who also is headed to the bathroom?

And the bathroom has only one stall and two side-by-side urinals.

And you’re not sure whether he’s going Number One or Number Two.

And you’re no longer sure whether you’re going Number One or Number Two.

And you strike up a meaningless conversation in the hall, cause bathroom conversations are just awkward.

So you finally choose one urinal and your boss chooses the stall and you both opt for Number One to prevent the dreaded side-by-side peeing.

Conversation is replaced by strange silence and the peaceful streamflow of urine.

And you both finish at the same time, which results in another logjam at the sinks, but conversation resumes.

And you make it back to your desk and struggle to understand what just happened, wondering if you both made a self-sacrifice or if you both really just had to pee.

Ever had one of those times?

Yeah, me too.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Weekend Account of Firefly, Tennis, Beer, Church, Shoes, and Avatar


Keisha left for a week on Friday at noon o’clock, heading down to Daytona with her family while I stay here in beautiful, warm and humid Kentucky.  My friend Adam came over Friday afternoon and we hung out until last night.  It’s always enjoyable hanging out with friends you don’t see too often.

We drove up to Evansville on Friday night.  There are two nice used bookstores up there that I had a coupon for and wanted to look for some graphic novels.  Sadly, neither had what I was looking for, though I did get Keisha an Anne of Green Gables book for her collection.  When we were done with that we came back to Owensboro and stopped by the comic store, spending an hour basking in the glow of geekery.  I fully admit that I’m a geek.  I’m weird.  I’m odd.  But walking into the comic store on a Friday night when there are different role-playing games and Marvel Clicks events unfolding on the tables makes me feel a bit more normal than I normally do.  Though, honestly, I think I could relate to those people more so than I could to the other end of the social classes.  I’ve never really been one to fit into a clique.  Cliques are scary.  Anyway, I picked up the latest issue of Star Wars Legacy (#48) and we headed to Stewartland. 

At home I wanted Adam to watch Firefly, as he’d never seen it before and I just got my blu-ray in the mail.  So we started the ill-fated, beloved show that night and wound up staying awake until 3am watching Mal and the gang.  I still don’t understand why the show got the axe, just like Arrested Development, and I never will.  Nevertheless, Adam enjoyed it.  At some point Stella started yelping and barking in agony and it scared me pretty bad.  At first I thought Sofie had bit her, then we thought she might have been stung or bit by an insect.  She was limping and quite pitiful.  So I rubbed on her leg and she finally calmed down after several minutes of tenseness.

Saturday morning I woke up early and decided to play Heavy Rain while Adam slept.  I wound up beating the game and was mostly satisfied with my performance.  There are a few things I’d do differently, but overall the game was fun and the story was certainly intense.  The temperatures soared to the hundred degree mark and over with the heat index around lunch time, but that didn’t stop us from playing a little tennis and disc golf.  I think this was my first disc golf outing since January or February, and I pretty much sucked the entire course.  Still, it was fun.  We watched some more Firefly that evening and wound up talking about different things.  I had never had a beer or an ale before, and Adam wanted to take me to a bar and buy me one.  I agreed, but if I didn’t like it he was going to drink it.

The bar was nice.  Very clean.  Well-lit.  Excellent decor.  Beatles music was playing.  Charlie Chaplin was on the big screen.  He picked me out a drink (he wanted me to try Blue Moon, but the bar didn’t have it, so instead I got Indian Pale Ale) and the bartender put the foamy beverage in front of me.  I have to admit, the smell was much more pleasant than I was expecting, something akin to apple juice and white wine.  Unfortunately, the flavor tasted like drinking carbonated water, of which I am not a fan.  His drink also tasted like crap, though again the smell wasn’t that bad.  I sampled one other thing, some sort of really dark-like-Coke drink, and did not like it either.  I guess I’m just a wine and liquor kind of person if I’m to drink.  I wound up just drinking water, something much tastier than all that other junk I tried.

We were getting ready to leave when Adam struck up with a loner sitting beside him.  The man was from New Zealand, currently living in Kentucky working for a farm entrepreneur.  We wound up talking to this guy for three hours.  The man, Matthew, was hilarious.  We talked about the differences between New Zealand culture and American culture.  Differences between words we use.  Life in the country and life in the cities.  All in all the conversation was fun, funny, and pleasant.  Plus, I’d never met anyone from NZ before, so that was cool.

After midnight we headed home and finished off disc two of Firefly, finally falling asleep near 2am.  Stella had another incident like Friday night, though this time I was watching her when it happened.  The dogs were playing and Stella moved somehow that popped her knee out of place.  (Her other back knee used to do this, but it never pained her.)  I’m guessing this knee joint is tight and the thing is hurting her more than the other leg did.  I put the thing back in place and he immediately quit yelping, though she walked timidly.

Sunday morning Adam went to church with me.  Our normal pastor, Bro. James Dean, is gone on vacation right now, so the youth pastor led service.  Bro. Will preached a strong message on faith and church and the mediocrity of most American Christians.  It was an exceptional and challenging message.  At the end of the service he untied his shoes and placed them at the altar, telling the congregation that Christianity is a challenge to be active.  He was walking out without his shoes and invited the rest of the congregation to do the same.  The shoes would be collected and taken to the local shelter (which happens to be the one me and Alex lead worship at). 

How many pairs of shoes do we have and how many do we need?  How many people walk around without them, or with shoes that are held together by a thread?  It’s odd.  That morning, before church, I actually took the time to think about wearing my favorite New Balances or just some simple sandals.  I opted for the tennis shoes.  And then during the service I remember crossing my legs and thinking, I like these shoes.  They’re in good condition and look pretty good.  Then we get the challenge at the end of the service and I put my shoes at the altar.  Truly, how many pairs of shoes do I need?

Worship at the shelter was a bit disheartening.  No one showed up, music practice was rough (I forgot my thin pick and had to use some horrible thick thing), and it was hot.  They were thankful for the shoes, though.  Three garbage bags were collected.  That’s around 50 pairs of shoes.  In some ways that’s impressive, that fifty people would remove and give away their shoes for someone else who needs/wants them.  On the other hand, there were between 200-300 people at the service, and the 50 pairs is rather indicative of our good ole American Christian Culture.

Sunday night service was equally impressive and more moving.  Instead of a normal song-prayer-preach formulaic church service, we had a time of prayer and worship.  We played music continually, lifting up songs and praising God for His majesty.  We prayed with purpose, with passion, with determination, with faith.  I felt worship, in my heart.  It’s hard to play and pray and sing and keep an eye on the worship leader.  The service lasted around an hour, and I loved every minute of it.  To me, that is what church is.  Desiring God, longing to bring Him glory and honor, desperate to give Him praise.  He is worthy of it all, and I don’t think our church (or many others) truly worship Him on Sundays.  We get into familiar patterns and repeat familiar songs and pray familiar prayers.  This is not worship.

After the night service I went and ate with Alex and Rachael and then went home.  I was exhausted.  Staying up late like that is something I rarely do.  I’m usually in bed by eleven or midnight, so I guess I was just groggy over the lack of sleep.  Nevertheless, I had my final season of Avatar: The Last Airbender to start, and I couldn’t go to bed without watching at least one episode.  I popped in the DVD and snuggled up on the couch with the dogs.  Episode One, “The Awakening,” was great, and I’m eager to finish the series.  It’s definitely joined the ranks of being one of my favorite shows.  Hopefully the show ends on a positive note, but I’m expecting dark things for the future. 

So the weekend was long, but it was fun.  I was busy, but in a good way.  Throughout the days we worked several crossword puzzles, watched some good television, played some humid tennis, and glorified God.  All in all, a very good weekend but for one thing.

I miss Keisha.  Her absence hit me Saturday night when I lay down with the dogs.  I couldn’t begin to imagine not having her in my life.  I love her more than I love any other living person, and I know I don’t tell her enough.  She truly is my best friend, and I’m ready for her to get home again.  Of course, with her gone down to Florida, I can play all the video games I want to and not worry.  Woe is me.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Flash Fiction Friday: The Choice

Which one?  They’re both flashy and expensive!  But only one is correct.
    Jenson can’t decide which engagement ring to choose. 
    Emily has no real preference and would be happy with either.
    He picks up the small ring on the left.
    Princess cut.  White diamond.  1.1 carat weight.  White gold band.  Elevated setting.  A very pretty ring.
    “A very beautiful ring,” offers the jeweler.  “Sure to make any girl proud.”
    Jenson smiles, trying to hide the frustration from his face. 
    Why do they always accost?  All salesmen are professional annoyances.
    “Yeah,” he says.  “But I want to pick out the perfect ring, y’know?  My girlfriend doesn’t know I’m getting this, so I want it to be special.”  He holds the ring up to the light and looks at the prism of colors refracting off the tiny stone.
    He tries to picture the look on Emily’s face.  She’s shocked.  She’s smiling.  She’s crying.  She’s holding the ring in her hand and tentatively sliding it on her finger.
    He picks up the other ring.  It’s smaller in every way.  In its simplicity, it is beautiful.  A single, round stone, blue-white in color.  It sparkles even more so than the princess cut.
    Jenson agonizes over the decision, trying to justify his choice.
    The jeweler’s eye twitches slightly, his brain calculating the smaller profit from the cheaper ring.  “Also a beautiful ring,” he says crisply.  “Perhaps you’d like to look at these over here?”  He’s moving to a side case.
    “No, no.  It’s going to be one of these definitely.  I just can’t decide which one, though.”  Jenson painfully laughs, shaking his head at his indecisiveness.
    The salesman nods.  “Hmm.  Well, what do you like about each of them?”  His voice is excited at having the possibility of the more expensive ring back on the table.
    “This one,” Jenson says, holding up the first ring, “is very nice and I’m sure Emily would love it.  It’s the kind of ring she could show off to her friends.  Make ‘em jealous, y’know?”  The salesman smiles wide, knowing exactly what Jenson means.  “But it’s a little out of my price range.”
    He holds up the other ring.  “This one looks simple at first, but there’s something, I feel silly saying it, but there’s something almost magical about this one.  The brilliance in its reflection just draws my eyes back to it.”  He laughs again.  “Does that make sense?”
    The tight smile is back on the jeweler’s face.  “Yes.  That ring does command you to look at it, doesn’t it?”
    The salesman sighed.  “I can’t choose for you, son.  I’m sure the girl will be happy with either one.”
    “Yeah.  Ha, it’s not the ring that’s the most important part of a marriage, eh?  If I pick the wrong one it’s not like God’s going to strike me down or something.”  He laughs again.  “But…”  Jenson sighs heavily.  A sigh of finality.
    Jenson pays on a payment plan, signing his life away, as it is.  I see it happen all the time.  The wrong choice.  It’s almost comical, really.  Some of the choices I’ve seen are absurd.  Sometimes the consequence is immediate; sometimes it’s a lifetime of regret and a slowly breaking heart.  The boy has just made the single most important decision in his life, and he chose incorrectly.  A shame, truly.
    Jenson steps out of the mall, holding the ring box tight, and hears a strange, whistling noise piercing through the afternoon air.  He looks up just in time to see the wayward space rock barreling towards his body.  He doesn’t move.  His hand opens and the jewelry box falls.  His pupils shrink in fear.  He gasps. 
The meteorite tears through his body, burning up as it collides with the sidewalk.  I pick up the ring and shake my head.

Word Count: 635

*I wanted to write a story with a weird and unexpected ending.  The narrator thinks in italics.  I’m sure there’s some sort of metaphor in it, if you look hard enough, but I’m still trying to work out exactly who the narrator is.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Home Made Animated Video, Mortal Kombat, Fallout 3, and Free Brandon Sanderson

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions of this post in no way reflect the thoughts and opinions of the site but are the sole property and ideals of the author.  Please direct all concerns to the appropriate places.

I recently found this awesome website that lets you animate and create your own movies.  It's pretty simple, too, so I made one.  Give it a watch and enjoy.  The script is a little weak, but I think it's a tad humorous.  Good enough for a spur of the moment kind of thing.  You can check out the site here.

Remember those Mortal Kombat movies?  I try not to, but they're there, taking up useless brain space.  The Geeks of Doom put up this amazing discovery of what a Mortal Kombat movie should be, complete with a dark and gritty trailer.  Check out the article and watch the video here.  The embed is too big to post.

Looks pretty cool to me.  Too bad the likelihood of it actually being developed is rather low, but if it ever did, I'd definitely watch it.  I have too many fond memories of playing MK.  I've played practically every one of them up to Deception, and most of them have always been enjoyable.  Sigh.  They just don't make wantonly violent games like they used to.

"I don't want to set the world on fire..."  Clint and I started a new game of Fallout 3 last night.  I haven't played in a long time (and never on my PS3), so it was fun to start.  I transferred my saved game file from William's system and the thing loaded right up on my system.  I really wasn't expecting that.  However, I didn't unlock any of the trophies I was supposed to unlock from when I started a new game, so I'm wondering if the transfer has anything to do with it.  Anyway, the last time I played through Fallout I ended up being the Scourge of Humanity, but that was the plan all along.  I just couldn't help myself when it came to Megaton's fate...  So this time I'm on a path of righteousness, trying to do things good for the most part.  So far, so good.  Of course, I only just started last night and I've still not beat Heavy Rain (which will happen either this weekend or next week while Keisha is gone), so I have a long road ahead of me.

I think my friend Adam is going to hang out with me this weekend.  Maybe we can get in some disc golf or tennis if it doesn't rain.  I still don't have internet connection at home (it's been gone since 5/26), but that's supposed to be remedied by this weekend or next.

Ooh.  I think my Firefly blu-ray should be arriving today...

Finally, Pat from the Hotlist posted up a link that Tor.com is offering the Prelude, Prologue, and first three chapters of Brandon Sanderson's epic work The Way of Kings.  Read 'em all right here and get excited with me.  I can't wait for this series.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

sinus clouds

i imagine
little clouds
of mischief causing trouble
getting bored
growing old
swelling.  how they double
in their size
beyond normal comfort
out the nose
down the eyes
a leaking ship at port
in my skull.
o what joy
'tis gulping down the air
what a pain
to eat it up in spare
bits.  o how
i want these
sinuses to clear up,
mischief managed,
clouds disperse,
am i asking too much?

Is it obvious?  Usually these sorts of things only attack me in the early spring and fall, but this year they decided to make a return.  If I remember correctly, I missed a day of work earlier in the year because of sinus joys, but I could be wrong about that.  I know I was definitely out for the food poisoning thing for a day or two.  I still haven't managed to eat at Subway since then, and I'm quite sure that Subway is not to blame for my sickness, but still.

Behold, the glorious return of congestion and omnipresent pressure.  I can't find my danged Vick's Nasal Spray, and I really want it.  The first time I ever used it I sprayed one shot up my nose and shrieked like a little girl.  I dropped the stuff, grabbed my burning nose, and waited for the intense cooling fire-spray to die down.  Now I spray it happily, relishing in the openness of the nasal passages.  I hate it when one nostril is impenetrable and I'm trying to get comfortable so I turn one way to clear the nostril and soon the stuff all drains to the other side, causing me to turn the other way and start again.  Eventually I just lay on my back and glare angrily at the ice cold air coming down from the ceiling vents and try to keep the dogs off my face.

Playing tennis last night did clear me up a bit.  Plus, it worked out my back a bit, too, and I'm not as stiff and immobile as I was yesterday.

We've got Clint all week.  Keisha is teaching a VBS class and he's in her class.  Then, on Friday, everyone is abandoning me and heading down to Daytona Beach.  Turns out Keisha got invited to spend a week with her mom and everybody at a time-shared condo.  Yes, she just in from a cruise vacation, and not a month later she's going on another week-long break.  How awesome.  She's going to ride down there with them and fly back from Orlando to Owensboro.  The regional airport runs excellent deals, and her ticket is going to be less than $100.  (Sometimes you can even get a one-way ticket for $9.99.)

Monday, June 07, 2010

Tennis Anyone?

I think I’ve mentioned it once or twice here on the blog, but I enjoy a rousing game of tennis from time to time.  In high school I played on the tennis team for three years, though I had been playing long before I decided to join the team.  I started playing tennis as a youngster when we [my brother, my step-brother, and I] found some old tennis rackets in the garage.  At the time, we had no idea how the game worked, so we mostly just hit the balls back and forth to each other, occasionally bouncing them on the blacktop.  We made up our own rules and enjoyed the game.

Eventually we learned the actual rules of tennis and decided to play at the Bremen tennis courts.  When our parents were young these tennis courts were used often, equipped with nightlights and court maintenance.  Sadly, the courts fell to disuse and over time they turned into a nightmare.  The pavement cracked and split, many places wide enough for a grass and weeds to grow in.  The nets disintegrated and sagged to where they lay practically on the ground.  The lights were turned off and no longer worked.  And this was the state of the Bremen tennis courts when we decided to play.

We slowly brought the courts back to life, weed-eating and spraying herbicides in the cracks, buying new nets to replace the destroyed ones.  Mostly satisfied, we played on the courts many days in our teen years.  Nearly every Sunday in between church services a throng of us would show up and play doubles or singles, happy to be playing together and fellowshipping.  And the courts, while not perfect, were something we were proud of.

College came and the Bremen tennis courts fell back into disuse.  The nets were stolen.  The grass and weeds returned.  The gang that played—me, Jake, Adam, Chris, Jordan, Spenser, and a few others—all grew slowly apart, heading down their own paths.  I didn’t know anyone at UofL that played tennis (not until several semesters had passed), so my playing faded to a bittersweet memory.

Fast-forward to now.  I found out that Owensboro has a summer tennis league that begins tonight.  For people that know how to play, you pay your money ($15) to sign up for the league and games are arranged for you up until August or September or something.  For those that don’t know how to play (Keisha), you pay your money ($15 still) and get 4-6 weeks of professional lessons and then you’re assigned your own individual league for new players.  This has got me terribly excited to play my first love again.  I sincerely hope the league turns out well and that I can meet fellow players that are looking for somebody else to play with.

To me, tennis is a sport I’ve loved for years.  I’m not great by any means, but I’m not awful, either.  I play to have fun, to enjoy the sport and the sportsmanship.  Sure, I’d like to win, but winning is not my primary objective.  I’d rather play a match of great rallies and lose than play a boring match and win.

Wish me luck.  Hopefully my dumb back holds out tonight.  It’s been quite bothersome these past two days, leaving me mostly in constant pain and agony.  Combine that with my sudden sinus attacks and I’m not in the best of moods.  Still, a little sickness and pain is not going to keep me away from the tennis courts tonight.  Now, where did I put my racket?

Friday, June 04, 2010

A Slight Change in Plans and an Important Update

So, I’ve gone and done something quite unexpected.  Rash, even.  I’ve… well.  I should build the suspense, eh?

When I make an important decision, I usually always follow a similar pattern.

1.  Agony

This ones pretty simple.  Say I want to buy something that costs quite a bit of money (a tv).  I know I want one, but how badly?  What are my other options for spending the cash?  Is the trade-off worth it?  I agonize over ever trivial thing in my decision making process, weeding through my options to find the best choice for me.

2.  Logical Thinking

As an engineer, I’m kind of a nerdy person.  I like logic.  I like things to make sense.  Likewise, I like my decisions to make sense, to fall into the rational thinking category, not the spur-of-the-moment kind of thing.  I think about my options, carefully narrow them down to their results, and try to figure out how my life would play out if I followed one path over another.

3.  More Agonizing

Did I mention I’m pretty good at this internal debating thing?  When I decided to buy me an HD tv, I committed to buying one.  Then, after nearly two months of research, price hunting, and internal agony, I finally purchased the thing.  See, two months after a decision is made I act.  I’m just a patient person.

4.  Choose

Usually I choose my actions by the weighing of several things, but sometimes, after days/weeks/months/hours of internal debate, I finally just give up and just go with something.  Ultimately I hope my choice is for the better, but it’s not always so.

These past two weeks or so I’ve been doing some logical thinking about something.  On one hand, it’s not really anything important or life-changing, but on the other, it’s something I’ve somewhat dreamed of. 

With encouragement from Keisha and self-satisfaction, I’ve submitted a short-story to an online magazine.  I don’t really expect it to get picked up, but just actually committing and doing it is taking a huge step for me.  (Granted, an even bigger step would be if it were a novel to a publisher or something, but that’s a different story.  Think small, Logan.)  Sadly, for any of you that were interested, that story is “The Bombing of Morrta,” which I now cannot post on my blog until I hear back from the magazine, which could take up to 70 days.  This means no posting of the new Writing Wednesdays that I planned.

However, if any of you would like to read this story, I’d be more than happy to send you a copy of the thing for your pleasure.  It’s almost 9200 words, so really not that long.  It definitely needs more editing, but I did what my little eyes could do in two go-throughs.  And if any of you were feeling exceptionally foolish and perky, you could even add some editing notes yourselves and send ‘em back to me.  Also, I still plan on recording an mp3 version for you Mattson, just cause, well, I enjoyed it last time and I wanna do it again.  If anybody else would like the mp3, let me know that, too.

So, like I said, I’m not really expecting the story to get accepted, but I’m insanely proud of it for some reason.  Maybe it’s because I’ve actually finished something in my writing.  Yes, there are mistakes aplenty, I’m sure, but I’m taking baby steps here.  You can get in touch with me through email (see the contact page at the top) or in the comments below.  Facebook friends can message or comment likewise.  And many thanks to each and every one of you, especially the one that mailed me the carrot cake this past weekend.  Mmmmm.  Tasty!

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season Two

AangKitaraSokka Last fall, one of my friends let me borrow Avatar: The Last Airbender, Season One.  He thought it would be something I would like, and he was spot on.  The show is about a young boy, Aang, who is the reincarnated Avatar, master of all the elements—water, earth, fire, and air.  Aang seeks to understand his awesome power and master the elements so he can finally stop the war that has raged across the world for over a hundred years.  With help from his friends Katara and Sokka, he travels abroad, uncovering mysteries and getting into frequent trouble.

It did not take very many episodes for me to like the show.  For one, the cartoon is beautifully animated.  It’s obvious that the artists are very skilled in what they do, and watching the show is rather cinematic.  Another thing that makes the show great is how funny it is.  The ill-luck some characters have (Sokka) and the clever script has me laughing nearly every episode.  The show also juggles other emotions quite well.  Shame and guilt, longing for something more, love, all of these are infused in this cartoon, and this makes it something more than just a basic toon.  Finally, the show has an excellent plot.  While not necessarily all original, the episodes are tight and all fit together snugly, never leaving the viewer curious for too long.  Plus, it borrows from many Eastern religions and cultures (mysticism, Buddhism, Taoism, etc.), and this cross-culture type of show is both educational and perfect for setting.

I write all of this because after I finished Season One, I had no way to watch the last two seasons.  My friend only had Season One on DVD.  So, I put in a request to the local library that they get the DVDs, and finally, they have got Seasons Two and Three. 

I’ve been watching Season Two this past week or so, and I still find myself laughing and mesmerized like I did for Season One.  The depth of characters for a cartoon show is amazing, and the cast is large.  Season Two deals with Aang, Sokka, and Katara traveling to find an Earthbender to teach Aang, and after they find one, learning to Earthbend.  Along the way, Sokka discovers a clue that will help bring down the Fire Nation, something happens to Appa, and one particular character has a metamorphosis that was long in the making.  With the last episode of Season Two, “The Crossroads of Destiny,” I was excited to see how all of the characters would interact together.  By the end, I was flabbergasted and slightly angry.

I’m looking forward to checking out the concluding season from the library and seeing the rest of the drama play out.  If you’ve never watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, do yourself a favor and rent/Netflix (I guess Netflix has them.  I dunno, I don’t have Netflix, either.)  them right now.  There’s a live-action film coming out sometime based on the series, and hopefully it’ll turn out okay.  Right now I’m a bit perturbed at the casting choice, but from what I’ve seen so far, it will hold true to the show.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Dog Walks in the Night by the Light of the Moon

Do you ever just let your mind roam around in the expanse of the brain?  Lop off the stem, give it a shake, and see what happens.  It could be magic.

Did you see who took my seismograph?  It was laying out on the coffee table, next to the seven bottles of whiskey and the stack of unused ipads that I keep for emergencies.  I wrote on it:


I hope the culprit is sufficiently shamed.  Without my seismograph, things could be bad.  And my pet rabbit, Count Flopsy, would grow very angry.

Do you ever catch a whiff of your deodorant and think, man, that smells pretty good?  I do.  I use Axe deodorant.  It must work, cause I'm constantly attacked by girls who always wrestle me to the ground and lick my face.  Or, sometimes, they jump in my lap and nibble on my hands.

When does the transition from childhood to adulthood take place?  Is there any sort of physical changes in the homo sapiens that marks this stage in life?  Do young males grow protuberances from their arms and legs, like little praying mantises?  Are the females still turning color when their change happens?

I really need to get my seismograph back.  I've pretty much narrowed down the suspects to a reasonable few.

1.  Millard Filmore, everybody's favorite president of the United States of America.  I believe he developed some sort of time traveling device and spends his days slipping throughout history, dabbling in petty thievery.
2.  The Harlem Globetrotters, as they seem to be making random appearances at odd times.
3.  Brian Tucker, a noted seismologist, though I cannot understand why he'd want it
4.  Wolfie, the neighbors dog and prime suspect

Is there a particular order to the teeth-brush/floss/mouthwash combo?  Should one floss first, then brush, and finish it up with a mouthwash gargle?

And really, who eats sugar on their grapefruits?  That's absurd.  Alfondo Montpelier, my newest assistant, informs me that this is a common trend among the peasantry and ruffian class, but I refuse to believe it.  Surely no one civilized would do such a thing.  Why, is that not the reason salt was invented?

As it turns out, salt was not invented for grapefruits.  Julius McPeasy, my newest assistant after the firing of that lazy Alfondo, pointed out that salt was used as a preservative for meats.  "Pah," I said when he told me.  "It's true, oh wise and terribly Great Somnambulist.  I read it here on Wikipedia."  And after careful consideration, I was inclined to believe him.

The Globetrotters and Brian Tucker are now out.  Tucker is not in a nearby geographic region to have need of my seismograph, and the Globetrotters gave me an autographed basketball as a token of their innocence, and I believe them both.  So it's down to Fillmore and the dog.

Do you sometimes start a book and sigh, knowing that it's going to be a long one and you're ready for a break already?  You know it'll probably be good, but getting into the world, into the worldbuilding, takes some time and some effort, and sometimes you just want something easy to read.

Do you ever smile when you finish a story, satisfied with how it ended, or do you always want more, something else, something different?

I found it.  The missing seismograph.  I could not sleep last night, and so I decided to take a midnight stroll around the Victorian estate on which I live.  There I was, walking down the stately sidewalk, wearing only my deep purple robes and my tight, white underwear.  The robe was undone and I was enjoying the feel of nighttime on my brazen chest when I heard the laughter and the barking.  I crept closer, bringing up my slingshot in case I needed it, and suddenly came upon two figures.  One was definitely Millard Fillmore.  I'd recognize his handsome face anywhere.  The other was not Wolfie, as I had suspect, but my own precious Count Flopsy, holding the seismograph and blinking uncharacteristically.

"Bah!  What's going on here?" I cried.

Fillmore looked at me, the blurry gaze of time travel in his eyes, and looked down at Count Flopsy and shrugged.  "I'm outta here," the old President said, and turned a dial on his bowtie.  He shimmered and blurred and soon vanished into thin air, heading out to whenever he was going.

"Flopsy, how could you?"

The rabbit blinked again, this time slowly and deliberately.  "I'm sorry.  I needed it for some private research that Millard was helping me with.  I didn't think it was going to take this long."

"Well," I say a bit too harshly, "next time you'll just have to ask.  Now let's get back to the house.  Julius should have us some eggnog and grapefruits at the ready.  What do you say?"

The rabbit smiled and followed me back to the house.

Do you ever long for something more, something greater than what you have?  Are you satisfied?  Are you content?  Did you stop dreaming when your skin turned colors and the protuberances grew?  Did life turn boring when somebody told you to eat sugar on your grapefruits?  Do you misplace your keys as much as I do?  Does it ever snow in Ecuador?  Do you find yourself doodling on important papers?  Why is coffee a love and hate relationship?

If you made it this far, congratulations.  If you didn't, congratulations.  Your prizes are buried beneath the third and fourth trees of 42 Sycamore Lane, Hartfordshire, CT.  Bring a shovel and a backhoe, respectively.

Next Wednesday should begin "The Bombing of Morrta."  I'm excited.  Gotta do some final editing and record the audio.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Memorial Day Well Spent

Memorial Day is a special holiday to me for two reasons.  First, my brother is in the army, currently serving on his second tour, this time in Afghanistan.  His job is dangerous (though he assures us that it’s not really that bad), as he is constantly on the road, driving as an armed escort to and from places.  This puts him in harm’s way more than I like to think.  Thankfully, he’s never had any problems, and prayerfully, he never will.  He will be returning to the States for a two week R&R in August, and then ending his tour next January or March.

The second reason Memorial Day is special is really more of a bittersweet reason.  Keisha’s dad passed away shortly after we started dating.  She was sixteen.  I was a freshman in college.  I remember getting that frantic phone call and I dropped everything and sped home, making the two hour trip in almost half the time.  The loss of her father was life-changing for her and her family.  Keisha still struggles from time to time with it, and it’s painful to go through something like that. 

On Memorial Day, I think about these things.  I remember the people that have given up their lives for our country.  I thank God that we live in a place where we do have freedom.  And even though we like to complain and bicker and argue over our rights, at the end of the day, our country is still far better off than many other places in the world.  I also like to remember the loved ones that have gone on.  Many of them are in a better place, and these thoughts are things that truly bring a smile to my face.

Yesterday, on Memorial Day, Keisha and I got up early and drove to a flea market.  We spent the surprisingly cool morning shopping around for deals and bargains (I bought Joe Hill’s Heart Shaped Box for fifty cents! and Fallout3 for $15!).  We enjoyed just looking at the odd things people try to sell.  We enjoyed our time there, and afterwards we went to Keisha’s mom’s house to spend some time at home.

Keisha is teaching a VBS class next week, and the theme is western.  Keisha grew up with horses, though the desire to ride them stagnated after her dad’s death.  He was going up to the barn to shoe some horses, and on his way there, he had a heart attack and collapsed near the barn.  The horses were kept up until just a few weeks ago, when they finally were sold.  I went to help Keisha get some saddles and other things from the tack room.  The room was dark, dusty, musty, dirty, and all-out undesirable.  I bravely ventured inside, armed with a pitchfork, and slowly procured the few things she wanted.  After all was removed, we headed down to sit under a shade tree and clean the stuff.  It took all afternoon, wiping down and oiling the leather saddles, washing away years of dust and grime.

The whole time, I’m sure Keisha was thinking of things years back, when things were simpler and life hadn’t yet been disrupted.  I know I was.  I would do anything to be able to have her dad back, but I know there’s nothing I can do.  Hope for the future is the only reassurance I can offer her, a faith that promises a reunion in heaven.

At the end of the day, we were both exhausted and filthy.  Memorial Day was filled with a business that wasn’t restful, but at the same time, it was fun to be home with family.  It was nice to work outside on things.  It’s easy to see that life slows down in the country, and this is one of the things I love about where I grew up.  Rural life is more pleasant than I can describe, and simplicity really does rule the day.  While I don’t consider my current home to be rural, ultimately Keisha and I both want to move back to the country. 

Once again, I want to thank all of the men and women who have served our country.  They deserve honor and recognition for what they do.  I, for one, will never slight them, and I pray you never will, either.  And for those who have lost loved ones, I offer you my condolences.  I truly believe God knows best, and that’s a faith I will die believing.