Friday, January 8, 2021

It’s Time To Start Living Again

I think 2020 has been a rough on all of us (unless you’re in the top 1% in which case it’s apparently been very good to you financially). I’ve been working from home in my basement. It’s cold, dark, and isolating. But I’ve loved being closer to my family and being more of a part of their day. And at least I still have a job and never missed a paycheck (although I did miss my annual 3% raise). 

But anyway. 

Early on I watched a video where a pastor urged us to use this time to draw closer to God and indeed, I’m pleased that this has happened. My favorite place for prayer is out in my yard on a porch swing early in the morning. For some reason it just seems easier to connect. But it’s winter now and so I’ve been inside on a couch, smelling a litterbox and looking out the window instead of inhaling tree exhaust. 

After Christmas I got outside went for a little walk and returned though a field behind my house. As I walked past the porch swing I received the words “It’s time to start living again.” I didn’t audibly hear those words but the thought was very clear. I realized that I had spent most of the year waiting. Waiting to go back to my office. Waiting for the most recent governors restriction to be lifted. Waiting for election results. Waiting for things to go back to normal. 

It's time to stop waiting. It’s time to move forward, whatever that looks like. While this past year wasn’t completely bereft of creative endeavors, it was pretty slim. I’ve decided to record four songs in 2021 (probably without lyrics) and to write two short stories, along with finishing the bass guitar I’m building. And maybe starting another guitar? I also decided to stop waiting for homeschool field trips and activities to start up again for my wife and kids. I’m a natural organizer. I’m hardly extroverted but I’ve found that I’m usually only invited to things that I put together. Sad, I know. What it seems to me is that people are quite glad to attend an event as long as they don’t have to be responsible for it happening. At least that’s what I tell myself. Part of the issue we’ve encountered is that you don’t know who is afraid of whatever the media tells them to be afraid of (or what their media-infused friends and family say) and who believe in science. 

It occurred to me that my wife and I are in a, um, “free faced” group online so I posted something to see if there were other homeschoolers in the group and if there was any interest. BAMMO! So I made a different group and there are about twenty members. Our first event is in two weeks. 

One thing of note is that right after I made the group I was emotionally sunk for a few days, just feeling like I don’t contribute anything to anyone, wasn’t worth anything and was completely unmotivated. Then something my pastor said at church made a light go off in my skull and I realized that I was under attack. The enemy attacks you where you are the most gifted and effective and I believe an attempt was being made to neutralize my efforts to form this new support group, a group that would encourage and benefit not only my wife and children but apparently many others. 

So take THAT, dark spiritual forces!

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Top 100 CCM Albums of All Time - Introduction

That's all I've got.  Just a title.  Well, perhaps a little more.  

I read about Burlap to Cashmere's debut album on someone's top something list and my local library didn't have it.  Sure, I could listen to it on UberTuber but I'm old skool and don't have a streaming service.  "Put that one in the ol' failing memory banks," I told myself.  But a week later I saw a physical CD for $1 at a thrift store.  Why not?

Now this entry isn't about Burlap to Cashmere.  I've only heard it once and I doubt it's going to scratch my sonic itch, but since it is two days away from 2021 it started me reviewing my creative output from (wretch) 2020 and what I might want to do in 2021.  To that end, I decided to make a top 52 list of albums from my CCM collection, one a week to keep me on task.

Except when I started reviewing my nerdy database and this here blog I realized that I had already kind of started it.  Whoops!  At this point in time I have 108 albums that rated a 9, 10, or 11 and I've already reviewed 28 of 'em.  In looking at the list I find myself asking "Where's this album?  Why did I rate that album a 9 and this one an 8?  What happened with my life?" and other things.  So the remaining 80 might get condensed, with a few others sprinkled in.  It will be a surprise for both of us, and if there's anything 2020 has taught us is that surprises are always a good thing.

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Great Pizza Adventure #3 - Hungry Howies

Despite it being around for years I've never had a pizza from Hungry Howie's so I was, well, excited isn't quite the word.  I mean, it's just pizza.  How about "I was hopefully curious"?

Ordering via online was pretty straightforward, except that once it seems to skip back and I had to reclick on the cart icon to finish my order.  The pie was ready in the stated 20 minutes and there was no problem with me getting the pizza despite me not wearing the required mask.  The employee, I should note, WAS wearing a mask and we were separated by a piece of virus-killing plexiglass, so all is right with the world.

My pizza of choice was the $7.99 ($8.63 with tax) single topping carry out special with half pepperoni and half sausage. And here it is!

13 pepperonies and 44 of what looks like burnt rat turds.  That exceeds the mediocre Dominoes.  It weighed in at 37 ounces and spanned a mighty 13.5 inches across, or 143 square inches of lunch.  The proof is below:

Hungry Howie's "thing" is their flavored crust topping.  I picked herbed garlic and it was indeed a nice addition... quite flavorful!  The cheese didn't seem cheap and there was plenty of it.  The meats had a mild flavor with a tiny extra ZING of flavor on the tail end of the sausage but neither were anything to text home about.  The crust without the seasoning was just okay.  It wasn't soggy or crispy, just seemingly there to hold the toppings.  And the sauce was in good proportions, although it gave me slight heartburn both on the day I bought the pizza and on the following day when I had the leftovers... but that's probably just because I'm staring 50 in the face.

Overall it was better than Dominoes but still a fairly average pizza.  It didn't have any kind of magic crack seasonings that had me pushing aside old people to reach for another piece. 


So how about those stats?

Weight: 37 oz
Diameter: 13.5" 
Cost: $8.63

Crust:7 (would be a 5 but the ridge crust flavoring saved it)
Toppings: 6 (quantity) + 4 (flavor) / 2 = 5
Value: 7 (23 cents per ounce) / 6.0 cents per square inch

                  Overall Score:6.2

At least I'm on the upswing with this pizza adventure!  Who knows what 2021 has in store?  Wait!  Er, after 2020 I'm not sure I want to know.

Note: I've seen coupons that would take this down to $6.99 plus tax, which would make it an amazing deal.  If I can overcome the heartburn dilemma I'll definitely patronize Hungry Howie's again.


Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Biscuits and Gravy Review : Wendys

After many years of internal recipe development and market testing Wendy's recently decided to get into the breakfast game.  AND biscuits and sausage gravy is on the menu!

Eventually I skeedaddled to the nearest Wendy's and said "GRUB ME UP!"

And they did.  Pricewise it was on par with Hardees, without the $1.99 Hardees coupon.  The biscuit was decent, about one point lower than Hardees.  The gravy was creamy and of a decent amount and there were actually nice sausage bits in there.  Flavorwise it was once again trailing Hardees by a point.  The biggest problem, though, was the tray.

Look at all that wasted gravy stuck in those crevices!  I was tempted to try to lick it out but it wasn't THAT good.  Based on this serving I'd definitely get this again... unless there was a Hardees nearby.

Which is what I did a few months later.  I was on the south end of town and needed a quick breakfast when I spied a Wendy's.  Alrighty then!  I was in luck!

Not.  So.  Quick.

The biscuit and gravy that I got this time was a completely different beast*.  This was a few months ago and I'm going from memory but I remember the gravy being thinner, there was barely any sausage and, I kid you not, the biscuits had a faint scent of cigarette smoke.  On a normal day I would have tossed them or gone back for my money but I was going to be doing a decent amount of physical labor that morning with no access to food... so I'm ashamed to say that I choked the whole mess down.

I live in a part of town that was developed in the early 1970s.  It's not well-to-do but it once was and it's decent and relatively safe.  The south end of town has a reputation of having problems so it's likely the Wendy's there can't get good help and yes, someone was probably smoking when they made my biscuits.  But last week I was on the west end of town which, while not as lah-tee-dah as the north end of town is still pretty ritzy and about twenty years ago was the hot spot of the city.  So when I found myself with time and hunger one morning I decided to give Wendy a chance to redeem herself.


This was much more like the Southtown Wendy's than the Georgetown Wendy's by my house.  The gravy was thin, the sausage sparse, and the biscuits... the biscuits were dense, flavorless sponges.  Well, there was a kind of odd aftertaste... This time I didn't finish even half of the serving even though there was no trace of cigarette smoke.  Lucky me!

Because of the inconsistent quality I don't think I can assign numbers to these.  I also don't think I'm going to risk getting breakfast at Wendy's, even at the one by my house.  Go ahead... compare the first and last pictures.  Do they look even remotely like they were made from the same recipe?

Oh Wendy... whatever did I do to you to deserve this?

* Sorry kids... no pictures of this one.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The Great Pizza Adventure #2 - Domino's

When I get a hankerin' for take-out pizza Domino's is not my choice.  I don't have any political axe to grind against them, it's just not what my taste buds crave.  However it's been a number of years since their pizza graced my mouth so let's see if anything changed.

I ordered online after 12:30 on a weekday and found the website to be a bit clunky.  It was easy to order my pizza but I had to click through an annoying number of pages where I had to decline add-ons or donations to organizations.  Then it wouldn't let me order as a guest so I had to put in my personal information.  Not cool, pizza dudes.

My pizza was ready about ten minutes after I ordered.  El yeah!  Actually picking up the pizza was quick and easy, so that offsets the wonky web site just a bit.  The best coupon I could find was a two topping pizza for $8.99 ($9.62 including tax).  Methinks it was advertised as a large.

So... what's in the box?  It looks pretty yummy and smells good.  Without the box it weighed 29.2 ounces and was 11.5 inches across, about 104 square inches of pizza.   

There wasn't much sauce (I like a lot of sauce) and what there was didn't have much flavor.  Still, the pizza was far from dry and far from greasy... a very nice middle.  The crust had a good crunch but again, lacked any strong character.  It was about this time that I remembered that the reason why I didn't usually order from Domino's is that the pizza is merely two steps away from bland.  It's good, mind you (better than almost every frozen pizza) but not even close to "party in your mouth" great. 

As best as I can count, my pizza had 22 pepperonis and around 30 pieces of sausage.  Adequate.  The flavor of these was the highlight of the pie but even though it was not mind-blowing.  I ended up eating half the pizza for lunch (with the last piece sprinkled with garlic powder for more taste-bud happiness) and my belly was happy.

So how about those stats?

Weight: 29.2 oz
Diameter: 11.5" 
Cost: $9.62

Toppings: 5 (quantity) + 6 (flavor) / 2 = 5.5
Value: 5 (33 cents per ounce) / 9.3 cents per square inch
Overall Score:5.5

Congratulations Domino's... you beat Pizza King.  That's not really something to brag about but there you go.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Great Pizza Adventure #1 - Pizza King

Yeah, it's about that time again... time that I find another series with which to occupy my time and give me a reason to write, no matter how triffling.  And so, being sent permanently home to work (they closed my physical office) I decided to see if I could find the best pizza in my zip code.  It turns out there were only a couple in my zip code so I expanded it to the immediate area, just because I'm nice that way.

As with the Great Gravy Adventure (post-named) I need to come up with some criteria, which shall become apparent as I ramble on.  Plus I'm sure it will change as I think of more things.  In fact, I've already had regrets on my first pie.  Well, the very first regret was the pizza place itself.  Pizza King.  Next to Little Caesars, this is the place I most dread.  I've only been to Pizza King a few times in my life and I've been disappointed every time.  But for you, dear reader, I shall soldier on.

Why start low?  Now there's (almost) no place to go but up! Plus I had a coupon!  Yes, part of my criteria is to get the cheapest pizza they have on special and see how they all stack up.  Pizza King had an 8" PIZZA FEAST for $7.09 (plus tax, of course).  If possible my intent is to get a small size pizza from each place with half pepperoni and half sausage but apparently the Pizza Feast is a supreme.  No biggie... I've liked supreme pizzas ever since I started paying on a mortgage.  For the record, a small (10") one topping pizza would have been $8.69.

I ordered at 12:20 and was put "on hold" for three minutes, meaning the guy set the phone down and took care of someone in the store.  The order was then taken and it was indeed ready 15-20 minutes later.  I think he was the only employee working.  Did I mention that this particular Pizza King is half of a gas station so it's small?  I mean, uck from the outside but inside the place was actually very nice and you wouldn't know you were sharing a roof with a petrol dispensery.<

When he brought my pizza at first I thought it was a joke.  I mean, I knew it was 8" but it seemed much smaller than that.  

Of course I had my handy dandy l'il scale.  Press the Tare button, later subtract the weight of the packaging, and you have a pizza weight of 11.3 ounces.  Just... 11.3 ounces... for seven bucks.  A Tombstone pizza is $3 and it's durned near 21 ounces... but it's just a frozen pizza.  However a Freschetta, on sale for $5, is 26 ounces and I KNOW that's good.  Alright, Pizza King, show me what you've got. 

Looks like what you've got comes up a little short.  I was hard pressed to find a measurement of 8" so once again, disappointment reigns at Pizza King.

In my shock I forgot to take an unobscured picture of the pizza so this, and the next photo, will have to do.  So let's talk about this pizza... the crust was crunchy, though it did have some chewy bits.  Honestly it was like a Jeno Party Pizza.  The sauce was underwhelming, like it wanted to have flavor but just didn't know how.   The amount of toppings was quite good and they kept up to their motto of "good to the edge", or at least they had toppings to the edge.  But this also gave it a Party Pizza vibe... not a good thing.  As for the flavor of the toppings, well, like everything about this pizza it just seemed to fall a bit short.  Maybe it I had put some garlic powder on top or parmesan cheese or even some salt it would have fared better.  'Tis a pity.

As for the "Feast", I ate the entire thing on my short drive home and immediately made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  If I spend $7.66 on lunch I'd better be blown away by the flavor or I'd better be very full.  It's probably a good thing I didn't end up with a larger pizza because then I'd have made myself eat the entire unsatisfactory thing, which would have led to further regret.



So how about those stats?

Weight: 11.3 oz
Diameter: 7.75" 
Cost: $7.66

Toppings: 6 (quantity) + 4 (flavor) / 2 = 5
Value: 1 (68 cents per ounce) / 16.2 cents per square inch
Overall Score: 3.2

Pizza King, I hereby dub thee THE KING OF DISAPPOINTMENT!  I wouldn't be surprised if even Little Ceasers scores better.


Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Metaphor Time

This past spring I picked up a box of wildflower seeds from Dollar Tree. It was on a whim, but aren’t most purchases from Dollar Tree? I didn’t really have a spot in mind but then I remembered the field behind our house, one that is attached to an elementary school but is mostly a field of grass with one ball diamond and an area that is sometimes used as a soccer field. There are a couple of sections of bare dirt ten feet or so off a roadway, sunbaked and barren, but I figured why not?

One evening the kids and I hacked into the hard earth with shovels, not really breaking down farther than a couple of inches. We didn’t really work that hard at it because it was only a buck. Then they sprinkled the seeds and the mix inside the box seemed to be mostly perlite filler, but again, just a buck. Then we raked over the seeds and I lugged a couple of five gallon buckets of water over from my house to get the seeds settled in. Some spring rains provided the rest of the water and a week or two later, after the mowing crew did their first mow, we gathered up a few armloads of grass to make a rather incomplete mulching. Over the next few weeks we would check our garden in the field when walking over to the playground but nothing was happening and we soon forgot about it.

Fast forward to July. Where we live July is dry and hot, the time when you stop mowing the lawn for a few weeks because it’s not growing. One morning while taking a walk I was going past our barren plot and it occurred to be to check. I wasn’t wearing my glasses so I walked down the ditch from the roadway and over to the forgotten garden. There were flowers! Scraggly, spindly things holding on for life, but there they were, pops of color growing out of what was little more than dried mud.

My mind was turned to prayer and God’s overflowing goodness. I’ll pray for something for a day or two and then saunter off on my merry way, forgetting my request. But behind the scenes God is often working while I do nothing. And then BLAMMO! FLOWERS! I don’t know how many times I had even forgotten that I’d asked for flowers or wasn’t even looking for them to bloom and passed them on by. Or if I see them I don’t put two and two together and fail to thank the One who answers prayers with blessings.

Make up your own allusions for this next part. They started mowing the field and the first couple of times they mowed around the patch of dirt. But eventually a government employee mowed zoomed over the top, nipping off the flower heads. Fear not… one week later and these stubborn plants were beginning to flower again.