Category Archives: Everything Else
Ornaments are one of the many bits of wonderful that make this Christmas season special. Many of us share in the tradition of hanging these little gems on our trees every year. Perhaps, like me, you made a few ornaments as a child, and even though they may not be the most attractive pieces of art, they’re full of heart and memory. Every year they have to go up, or it simply wouldn’t be your Christmas tree. I want to share with you another kind of Christmas decoration that must hang on my tree. It wasn’t made by any hands I know, and it wasn’t a gift from someone special. Store bought and unattractive, Evil Santa is a Christmas tradition in the Lavallee household.
He comes from New York City in the year 1973. My parents bought him while on their honeymoon. Though we can’t know for sure, witness accounts seem to point to an origin of Macy’s Department Store. I believe he was actually purchased from a mysterious street merchant, but that’s conjecture. Wherever the true origin, my parents took him home and hung him on their first Christmas tree. It’s this meaningful origin that solidified Evil Santa’s position on the Lavallee tree, and it’s what granted him his decades long tenure. That being said, we all hate him.
Evil Santa goes up every year, but he goes in the same spot: at the back of the tree. He needs to be there, but no one wants to look at him. He creeps us out. Beyond the troubling gaze and an undeniable devil-may-care approach to grooming, Evil Santa is completely naked under that red suit. His makers decided to include an anatomically correct butt and exclude appropriate undergarments. It’s bizarre and highly suspect.
Despite all of these undesirable qualities, I have to admit that I do have a tiny bit of affection for the dirty old man. It has become family tradition to hang him on the back of the tree as we remark how much we dislike him. But really, I don’t think we hate Evil Santa. He’s ours after all. Just another one of the many bits of wonderful that make this Christmas season special.
I have always enjoyed a good compost pile.
I will venture to guess that most people in the world don’t get as excited about decomposing plant matter as I do. Recent interest in “going green” and buying local has likely turned more onto the pleasures of backyard farming life, or at least the idea of it, but how many can say, “I love compost!”? The idea of worms and small organisms feasting on rotting vegetables makes me happy. Throwing away used coffee grounds and egg shells, and then turning the soil over them causes a thrill. And how wonderful it is to grab a handful of black gold, the rich end product of all good compost, in the spring. I’ve always loved it, but why?
I’ll start with the most obvious reason for my compost obsession: it’s practical. Every year we throw away tons of food waste. Some of it doesn’t belong in the compost, like meat, fat, salt, and anything heavily processed. Many other items can go in the pile without a second thought: fruits, vegetables, egg shells, coffee grounds, and pretty much anything that rots. Think of how much waste you can reduce by starting a compost pile. And the best part is that it is being put to good use! That once useless garbage can now turn into fertile soil for your future plants and flowers. Isn’t that cool!? And I don’t even drive a Prius.
The role of my father in shaping my interest in gardening and composting cannot be overestimated.
If you can see past the shorts and snow boots you’ll see a substantial compost pile in the background. Growing right next to it is a pumpkin plant. This is a serious garden. My father, in his younger days, went all out. I remember huge piles of corn at the end of the season, and 30+ tomato plants. I grew up with this kind of garden, and from that very young age I wanted to be there. Compost is part of who I am.
Now, and finally, I want to take you down a more philosophical path. What is compost but a collection of dead things? These dead things have seemingly lost all use. They are to be thrown out, cast aside and forgotten. But compost reveals something deeper about life and death, that death isn’t the end. In the same way that a seed must be buried in the ground before it can sprout, organic matter must be broken down to unleash its life-giving energy. Compost gives second life, and speaks to a great truth about this world. It’s not just dirt.
I love compost, and I will continue to love it for the reasons I’ve spelled out, and also for reasons yet known to me. So I encourage you to start a pile of your own, and play a role in this great symphony of life.
I used to accept sickness without struggle. When my throat got that scratch and my nose started to run, I curled up into a ball and prepared to endure as a victim. Viruses can’t be fought with medicine, I thought. Head colds just have to pass through in their own time. That’s how I lived for over twenty-four years. That might be how you live. Well, I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be this way. You can fight. You can win.
For most of my life, I averaged two colds a year and they remained for weeks at a time. When I got sick, I drank a little more orange juice and got some more sleep. But no matter what I did, the cold lingered for too long and left me with a nagging cough. My old roommate in college even gave it a nickname, Mr. Cough. I felt helpless and frustrated. “Do I have a weak immune system?” I wondered. Is there anything I can do?
Have you ever heard the saying, necessity is the mother of invention? Oftentimes we need an external motivator to spur us into action. About two years ago I began to date a wonderful woman named Nicole. Nicole lived about six hours away from me, which meant that our meetings were usually separated by weeks, if not months. In that situation, you really don’t want to cancel a meeting, or have your time spoiled by feeling like death. So, when a time came that I was to drive to New York while I was coming down with a head cold, I finally decided to do everything I could to fight it.
Here is what I did.
- Took a regular Vitamin D supplement – I had started taking vitamin D earlier in the winter. There were two main reasons for this. The first was that I kept reading about the benefits of vitamin D (including immunity) and the second was that vitamin D is made when we stand in the sun, so I figured it must be important.
- Started on Zinc right away – I bought both a spray, Zicam, and a lozenge, Cold Eeze, right at the onset of symptoms. Zinc is shown to reduce the severity and duration of a cold when taken at the beginning. I went back and forth between these products for the three days I felt ill.
- Chewed on Airborne – Airborne is loaded with vitamin C and other vitamins, herbs, and minerals that are supposed to boost immunity. You take up to 4 at a time, and I did this at least twice a day.
- Shot my sinuses with saline solution – This is another method that has been shown to reduce the length and severity of the common cold. You mix a saline solution with water and shoot it up your nostrils. It flushes out the gunk and brings down some of the irritation to open up your nasal cavities.
- Drank plenty of fluids – This is obvious, and you hear it all of the time, but you have to drink a lot. I drank orange juice, water, Odwalla juice, and ginger ale.
- Used Thera-flu to help me sleep – I understood that as my cold progresses, it becomes more uncomfortable to sleep. So, I made an effort to get as much sleep as possible early in the illness. I bought Thera-flu in packet form that I mixed with hot water.
- Prayer – I prayed for myself, and others prayed for me as well to get over my illness quickly. After many years of suffering through the winters with coughs and colds, I was fed up. I asked God for help.
This is my regiment. I got better after only three days. That had never happened to me before. Most of my previous head colds lasted for one to three weeks. I share it with you so that you can have hope. There are things you can do to fight the common cold. There’s a way to win.
UPDATE: I got another head cold on 11/7/12 and applied this regiment. On 11/10/12 I am over it. It works.
I needed a change.
For those who have been following this blog from the start, you might remember that in the beginning (around March 2010) it had the heading of, Thoughts of a Post-Grad English Major. This lasted for about a year, until a friend explained to me why WordPress was better than blogger. It was also at a time when I felt that “English major” wasn’t the best label for myself a year after graduating. For those reasons I switched to WordPress and changed the heading to, Thoughts of a Post-Grad Twentysomething. This served me well for a time as I was indeed a twenty-something and I was very much adrift in the waters of post-graduate life. But now, at this stage in my life, I understand that it is appropriate to change things again.
The new heading reads, Thoughts of a Man Named Dave. Now, it isn’t as descriptive as the other two, but I think that’s just fine. It also doesn’t serve the purpose of telling people what this blog is really about in any creative way, but that’s also fine. I’m not trying to aim for a niche in the blogosphere (not now anyway) by writing about cooking or gardening (though I love gardening and will write about it). Most of the people who read this already know me, and those who don’t will hopefully come because something I write catches their eye. I have not been willing to focus on one topic, since I want to write about multiple topics. The new tagline for my blog does a good job of encapsulating my interests and some semblance of focus.
“Getting at the big picture of Life in America through faith, politics and other things you don’t talk about at the dinner table.”
I have written about gay marriage and abortion multiple times. I have also written about Bill Cosby and why Baby Boomers love Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Sometimes it is light and fluffy and other times it is heavy and serious. It can be the kind of thing you wouldn’t discuss over dinner, but I suppose that depends on who’s eating. I seem to have a keen interest in American culture in general, so it’s a safe bet that I’ll be writing about things that relate to it. I also have strong feelings and a clear position on many political matters. But the overriding thing, the deeper current that steers this ship, is my belief that Jesus Christ is who the Bible says he is. Anyone who recognizes that God is real and knowable will also understand that it affects everything about them. Think about it.
So here I am, and here is the latest incarnation of my blog.
More to follow.
P.S. For those who follow my blog or know me, you should understand why I chose this image of a man punching a gorilla. The Tiger/Gorilla Question
There is a belief, or at least a generally agreed upon assumption, that it takes about 10,000 hours to truly master something. A man named Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called Outliers which discusses this very thing. “Ten thousand hours is the magic number of greatness”, Gladwell writes. He then goes on to write about The Beatles performing in Europe over twelve hundred times for periods often exceeding four hours, and all before they ever came to the U.S. He also cites Mozart and Bill Gates as people who, more than being brilliant, simply spent hours, days, and years practicing something. Basically, if anyone ever wants to be a master they have to put in an enormous amount of time. This all makes me wonder, how many hours have I devoted to the mastery of the written word? Am I even close to the magic number?
I first want to break down ten-thousand hours.
10,000 hours = 416 and 2/3 days
That means if all I did was write, it would take over a year to reach my goal. To put it in perspective, consider that a person working forty hours a week clocks-in about two-thousand hours a year. It would take five whole years of working forty hours a week to reach the magic number. Even with a lot of practice it is difficult to hit ten-thousand hours in less than ten years.
Now that you understand that ten-thousand is hard to reach, I will attempt to calculate my hours.
Since we’re already here, let’s begin with the blog. This will be my 185th post. I figure it takes between 45 and 120 minutes to write most posts. There are some that have taken nearly 4 hours, but they are rare. As a conservative estimate I will choose 80 minutes as an average.
185 * 80 minutes= 14800 minutes
That’s only about 247 hours! It would take me 10 and 1/4 days to re-write all of these posts.
The next thing I want to look at is the number of hours I invested in college writing. I went to school for 4 years, which is a total of 8 semesters. As an English major I had many courses that featured a significant amount of essay writing. I took about 5 courses each semester. A very conservative estimate for the number of essays in each course would be 4. So that’s 20 essays per semester. The average length of an essay is between 4 and 8 pages, or 6 pages. Figuring an hour per page it took me 6 hours to write. Some quick math tells me that is 120 hours each semester.
8 * 120 hours = 960 hours
And since one of those papers took 40 or so hours to write I will increase it to 1,000.
1,000 hours of writing in college.
Throughout the last 10 years of my life I have written a few stories. They have ranged from 3 to 25 pages, and I’ve written about 20 of them. I’ll estimate that 15 hours is the average time it takes to write them.
20 * 15 hours = 300 hours
I did a fair amount of writing in high school as well. There were speeches, essays, and a creative writing class. I think 500 hours over the course of 4 years is a reasonable estimate.
I also need to include miscellaneous writing from my life. Things I have typed or written down that weren’t blog posts, essays, or short stories. Journal entries, movie scripts, emails, love letters, IMs, Facebook messages etc. I think all of these can account for 150 hours a year. And let’s make it span the past 14 years since it was in 5th grade that I discovered a passion for writing.
14 * 150 hours= 2,100 hours
So how many hours have I devoted to writing?
That’s about 173 days.
Unfortunately this means that I am only about half way to ten-thousand hour mastery. I’ll see you when I’m 50.
I need to write about reading. Any good writer understands that reading is a critical component of writing. I didn’t include the hours spent reading in my calculation because I wanted to focus on the specific act of writing. It becomes much more complicated when reading is factored into the mastery of writing. That being said, the amount of time I’ve spent reading is probably between 3,000 and 4,000 hours.
I received yet another precious gift of Cadbury eggs today. Thank you to those who have responded to the cause. (See My Cadbury Egg Campaign and The Far-Reaching Consequences of a Shrinking Egg) The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That step was awareness, and we will continue to spread it, but now we must prepare to move forward. Now is the time for action!
If you’ve been following my posts you will know that Cadbury is not actually to blame for the shrinking of their egg. In England, the home of Cadbury, the egg has remained 39g and will likely stay that size. The true culprit is The Hershey Corporation, who makes and distributes Cadbury products in the United States. In 2006 Hershey decided to drop 5g off of the classic 39g egg, and they had the audacity to mock the American people with the line, “They haven’t gotten smaller, you’ve gotten bigger.” Clearly this was a shot at the growing obesity epidemic. What monsters.
Though Kraft Foods bought out Cadbury a few years back, I still believe that the brunt of the blame rests with Hershey. And who can blame them for selling a reduced-size product at the same (or increased) price when the public still eats it up? They believe that we won’t care enough to notice, and we certainly won’t care enough to stop buying their product! That is why my mission has always been to get the word out. I believe many people simply don’t realize that they’re being swindled, and if they saw the truth perhaps more and more would rise to resist.
When Netflix threatened to raise their prices, people spoke out in large numbers and the giant was forced to retreat.
When Bank of America threatened to charge $5 a month for simply having a debit account, the people spoke out in large numbers and the giant retreated.
We forget that they need us. If we exercised a little power in numbers I am sure that we could get their attention.
We can change the world.
Don’t be discouraged by the fact that 6 years has already passed since the change in size was made. Consider all of the injustices that people of the past stomached for decades or centuries before they couldn’t take it anymore.
Change happens when the people decide it must happen.
Join us by complaining to Hershey. Contact them here Tell them that you are not satisfied with the 34g egg and you will no longer purchase their product for any reasons I listed or that you come up with.
When you speak out, please comment or like this post so others can see strength in numbers and decide to act.
We’ve been 5 Grams From Justice for too long…
Good authors develop their themes through various creative processes designed for easy absorption into the reader’s mind. If my life were a book, and these past few months were the latest chapter, the author of my story would be trying to show you the tremendous importance of the ability to say the word, “No”. It seems a small thing and an even smaller word, but it is essential for life. It is essential for teaching.
My current role in the school that I teach at is Instructional Aide to the Special Education teacher. This means that I assist students with special needs throughout the day. Regularly, I go into five or six separate classrooms to provide whatever service is required. It is quite the learning opportunity to observe the same students responding to different teachers and their particular styles. These three months have taught me many invaluable lessons, but chief among them has everything to do with the thing that distinguishes a good teacher from a bad one. It has to do with classroom management and respect. The best teachers understand it, and the others either lack the knowledge, or the fortitude to act. I am referring to the ability to stand firmly by a proclamation of, “No!”
My favorite classrooms to enter are ones in which I know the teacher will maintain order. If I understand this, surely the students do as well. And since I also understand that certain classrooms lack the promise of order, students know this as well. I have witnessed as structured rooms grow more orderly, and I have witnessed as unstructured rooms grow more chaotic. Certainly, all (at least most) teachers want a peaceful environment in which to educate, but some get swallowed up in ever increasing noise, disrespect, and misbehavior.
Once again, I have seen clearly the difference maker, and it is the boldness to declare how things must be, and the integrity to see that things operate according to that standard. Students need to know what is expected of them. Teachers must communicate their expectations very clearly. Once this standard is established, students then choose to follow or disobey. If a teacher has failed in this first step, they must either rely entirely on their imposing presence to ensure order in the classroom, or they will find themselves fighting a losing battle as the students experiment with pushing the boundaries of behavior. If the structure is established successfully, which means the teacher has communicated clearly their expectations for work and behavior, the teacher then has only to stand firmly. When a student breaks from the structure, the teacher either allows it or corrects it. If students learn that a teacher can’t stick by their “No”, disorder will likely be the result as more students stray from the standard. Without an adult to hold the line, immaturity triumphs.
Unfortunately, I’m seeing that it is becoming harder for teachers to stand by their “No”. I’m sure there are many reasons for this. Could any of you argue me on the point that we as a people are growing weaker in our ability to say “No” to ourselves? On the one hand we have more conveniences and freedom through technology (iPods, smartphones, social media etc) which encourage greater selfishness by giving us more direct control of how we interact with the world. On the other hand we have a culture driven by pleasure, materialism, and a growing acceptance of moral relativism. If we view the world with no moral absolutes, how can we teach children effectively by standing firmly by our “No”? If we can’t identify a clear standard of right and wrong for ourselves, how do we expect our children to behave?
If the adults can’t say “No”, if the standard isn’t firmly established and maintained, if there’s no one to hold the line, what results can we expect?
I’ve seen many movies. I’ve seen too many movies. It is impossible for me to justify how much time I’ve spent watching them. It has been said that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become a master at something. Well, I don’t think I’m quite there but I’m close enough to claim some authority on the subject of film. For today’s purpose I will write on the subject of judging the quality of a movie: a topic I have pondered much.
Do you believe movies, or any form of art, can be judged objectively? Can two people with entirely different tastes watch the same film and agree upon the value of its content and structure? Or are they entirely at the mercy of their individual interpretations, feelings, and opinions? Could it be both?
When I watch a movie many things occur inside of my head. I become a part of the viewing experience and allow myself to be subject to the unfolding drama. Perhaps I am deeply moved, or maybe I am irritated. One or more characters might resonate with me, and I feel connected. Inversely, I may not feel any connection to either the story or the characters. The movie does nothing to reach me, and I walk away unaffected. All of these reactions have to do with my personal experience with the film. This is one of two ways that we can judge a movie, and this is likely the way that most people judge them.
The second type of judgement is more detached and objective. Objectivity is best exemplified, in my opinion, in math. 2+2=4 no matter what any crackpot philosopher says. When you plug a concrete value into a concrete equation you get a concrete result. If I challenged the answer of 4 in the equation of 2+2 I would be either a fool, an intelligent fool, or a brilliant fool. No quantity of words and abstract explanations could change the answer. It is accepted as truth. So can a film be objectively good, even if I don’t particularly enjoy it?
An artist is an intentional and purposeful being. Even those artists who say they are making something strange and undefinable operate due to some knowable motivation. Consider the Terrence Malick film, Tree of Life. I have heard that even he doesn’t have the words or knowledge to describe what it all means. And one could argue that any good piece of art can’t be easily defined. Even so, he understood that to make a movie he needed a plot and some characters. He needed a setting and some themes. It is clear in watching that grace and truth are themes, as well as life and death. The conclusions of the film are abstract, but it doesn’t take away from the necessary and concrete pieces that all stories must contain. You must have character, plot, setting, theme, and a structure that serves them all. Tree of Life was nominated for best picture because it can be judged along the same lines as The Artist. They are very different in content and effect, but the academy understood that both were masterfully constructed by artists who understand the core makeup of a good film. Movies must follow the rules of good storytelling, and for that reason they can be judged objectively.
Think of a house. It has been designed by a master architect. The woodwork has been crafted by a master carpenter. The plumbing has been installed by a master plumber. This house is designed to stand and function properly. It serves the purpose of a house. No one intentionally builds a house to have leaky pipes. Now, you might love this house. You think the layout suits your tastes and needs. The color scheme is fantastic. The tiled bathroom seems to call out your name. Then again, you might not like this house at all. It’s too big, or too small. Maybe you don’t like the neighbors. The house is well-built, but it just doesn’t feel right for you. It is the same with a movie. It could be well put together, following the crucial building blocks of a good story, but you don’t find yourself captivated by it. You don’t want to spend much time living inside of it because it doesn’t speak to you. Of course another scenario might be that the movie isn’t well put together, like a house that’s falling apart, but you find some special charm about it that makes you want to stay a while. A movie can be objectively bad, but subjectively satisfying. Face/Off and Independence Day come to mind for me.
I hope this has cleared things up for you. This is how I judge movies; on two levels. I think it allows for much freedom, to like a bad film and to dislike a good one. It also distinguishes between the realms of the heart and the mind without putting up a wall between them. So whether a movie touches your heart, your mind, or both, take some time to admire the fine craftsmanship.
175 isn’t exactly a special number. The thing is I didn’t feel like waiting until the 200th to make a big deal about it. Also, my first blog post occurred almost two years ago on March 25, 2010. And if anyone’s keeping track, I reached the 100th post on November 29, 2010. I’ve got some catching up to do.
Part of the reason I’m thinking about this blog now is that I recently came across an older version. This older version was from Livejournal.com and I called it “A Country Bear Jamberoo.” Truthfully, I haven’t thought of it in ages. Only after a recent moment of nostalgia did I search online for the ancient text. It’s strange to look back at what I wrote when I was 17, in the year 2004. Back then I was a Junior in high school and filled with angst. The 141 entries span from 2004 to 2008, but the vast majority are from the first two years. I am surprised to see how differently I wrote and thought as a teenager. If you feel like taking a look just click here. 175 + 141= 316 I guess I’m out there for the world to examine.
Some interesting facts about my blog that I want to share with you are:
About 50 people are directed to my blog every day because of google images that I have posted. The majority of those are from my post on Pokemon from about a year ago. Maybe I should post some Twilight and Justin Bieber pictures if I want more traffic.
The impetus for my first blog post was a desire to say more than was allowed in a Facebook status update.
I started on Blogspot and then switched to WordPress after Tim Teal suggested that WordPress had more features. I am much more pleased with WordPress.
There have been about 40 “almost posts”. I write a good chunk of something and then for any number of reasons I don’t publish. Some examples include my feelings on zero tolerance policies, the significance of the thief on the cross next to Jesus, an analysis of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, and a personal story about an incident in 5th grade that involved me defending the honor of my crush. Maybe someday.
By far the number one commentator for this blog is India Pearl. I thank you, India, for your longtime devotion to this blog. I really do appreciate how much you have responded. Most of the time I am looking for a response from the people who read this, and to have someone respond so regularly and thoughtfully is wonderful. Thank you again! And here is a link to her blog, Tactless Truths of My Crazy Life.
If you want to get an email when I write something new all you have to do is subscribe by typing in your email address in the box on the right. It’s quick and painless.
Well, that about does it. Looking back on what I’ve written in the past, I am glad to say that most of it is still readable. Whether I’m discussing a movie, book, political issue, or Christianity, I try to make things entertaining and meaningful. If it’s worth taking the time to write, I hope it is worth taking the time to read. I hope so.
Thank you to those who read on a regular basis.
It’s my pleasure to keep on writing.
If you know me, you know this story.
In 2006 Cadbury eggs shrunk in America from 39g to 34g. At that time Cadbury of America hid behind the slogan, “They haven’t gotten smaller, you’ve gotten bigger.” Of course this was just a ploy and the lid was eventually blown off on the Conan O’Brien show when B.J. Novak (Ryan from The Office) held up the 2005 egg next to the 2006 version. The difference in size was obvious. Fortunately, the egg remained the same size in all other countries so any true connoisseur could obtain them with just a little extra effort. Then in 2008 Canada shrunk their egg to match the American version, and by 2010 only England, the home of Cadbury, held true to the 39g classic. In just a few short years only one bastion remains. England is the final stronghold.
A bit of detective work, some would call an obsessive crusade, has revealed to me that Hershey is the true culprit in this crime against humanity. They are the ones who distribute Cadbury products in America, and they were the first to experiment with the reduction. I have to believe that when most people didn’t even notice the difference, or when they did notice didn’t care enough to boycott, the power players around the world saw an opportunity to save buckets of money. If people are going to spend the same amount for less egg it only makes sense to produce more of the smaller eggs. I can’t say I blame them, but I can’t say I don’t despise them deeply.
So what are the implications of this Hershey/Cadbury (Now Kraft owns Cadbury so they are included as well) power play? What happens when a people grow apathetic to the growing influence of their governments and corporations? Liberty is traded for ignorance. Freedom is traded for a false sense of security. The powerful become stronger while those subjected to them become weaker.
We’ve settled, people. We’ve settled for a smaller Cadbury egg. When Netflix went crazy with arrogance and decided to raise prices and make their service less convenient by breaking it into two entities, people jumped ship by the hundreds of thousands. This forced Netflix to keep their prices low and ditch that lame “Flixster” idea. When Bank of America said they were going to start charging a $5 debit card fee, people revolted and forced the banking giant to drop that scheme. The American people have the power to change policies. We are the ones who give these corporations power. We are to blame for the 34g Cadbury egg.
As long as the same nerds who hate George Lucas keep giving him money, George will keep ruining Star Wars. As long as people keep seeing bad 3D movies, Hollywood will keep making them. As long as we keep watching the new terrible episodes of The Simpsons, they will keep animating them and ruining their once great legacy. As long as we keep eating these false 34g Cadbury eggs, they will keep feeding them to us.
This Easter season, don’t settle for less. Purchase your eggs from England and take a stand against tyranny. Another American Revolution is coming, but this time our freedom comes from the British.