Two Announcements

Good day, everyone. I hope 2009 is treating you well so far. I have two announcements for today.

Announcement #1:

I have joined an elite group of bloggers on the www.100wordsaday.com website. The premise behind this site is that eight writers explore daily life in posts of exactly 100 words. Writers don’t have to post every day, but between the eight writers there should be at least one post of 100 words every day. All posts are non-fiction, but creativity is encouraged.

I saw the notice about the open blogger slot on Craigslist; I have no idea how many people sent samples to the site, but of all the submitters, I was chosen. I guess the site owner liked my samples.

I look at this as a great writing exercise. I’ve played with the 100 words concept before, but that was fiction-based. I’m looking forward to creating occasional 100 word posts that are not cryptic, but still tell a story or express an opinion by themselves.

Announcement #2:

Today, my stepson (Logan) will be competing in the Colorado Virtual Academy (COVA) spelling bee in Castle Rock at 2:00 PM MST. COVA is a publicly funded home-schooling organization that uses the K12.com curriculum, and since its students are home schooled, they are scattered throughout Colorado. Logan already competed in and won his regional COVA spelling bee last month, and today’s bee will bring all the regional winners from around Colorado to determine who will represent COVA in the Colorado State Scripps-Howard spelling bee in March. (In that sense, it’s like a district spelling bee in a traditional school setup.)

Last year, when Logan was going to the Pinnacle Charter School, he won that spelling bee and qualified to attend the Scripps-Howard bee. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it past the written round at state, and this is the last year he will be eligible to compete, so we’re hoping he will do well at the COVA-wide bee today.

I will be attempting to live blog Logan’s progress via my phone on my Facebook wall, if anyone is interested in following along. (Feel free to add me as a friend if you have a Facebook account. The same goes for Twitter.)

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King of the Bee!

Please allow me to present my stepson, Logan, the winner of the 2008 Pinnacle Charter School Spelling Bee!

Logan with trophy

A couple of years ago, Logan performed well enough in the school Spelling Bee to attend the Adams 12 district bee, but was tripped up by the word “condor,” which he actually did know how to spell. This year, he got his revenge on the condor, and conquered the spelling bee with the winning word “terrestrial.”

The Pinnacle is a K-12 charter school, and two years ago, it was part of the Adams 12 district. Now, however, it is part of a state charter, and the participation rules for charter schools in the Scripps spelling bee events are evidently significantly tougher than for public schools. The school made sure it crossed all its Ts and dotted all its Is, and was allowed to participate as a qualifying school. Since it is not part of a public school district, that means Logan’s win puts him directly into the Colorado State Spelling Bee, which will take place at the Colorado Convention Center in March!

Way to go, Logan! We’re extremely proud of you, and we’ll be there rooting for you in March!

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Of Laptops and Cub Scout Slides

Christmas 2007 just slipped into the past a few minutes ago, and I’m reflecting on what I’ve given today. Specifically, I’m thinking about one of the things I gave to my stepson: a laptop computer.

It’s not a great laptop; it’s about eight years old (300 MHz, 128 Mb RAM, 12 GB HDD, no wireless, bad hinges), but it’s still a laptop. It will run the basics, like a word processor and a web browser when we get a wireless card for him. I got it (and another nearly identical laptop, which I might be was able to repair for my wife) from a co-worker last Friday, so it was a very last minute thing, but with a little tinkering and some research, I was able to make it run. Logan had asked for a laptop for Christmas, and my initial thought was that there was no way we would be able to buy him one. We’re still struggling financially, despite my new job, so a laptop seemed completely out of the question.

Now, though, I wonder if he’s disappointed. When we gave it to him, I explained that it had bad hinges and he needed to be careful with them, and I explained that it was old and slow, and wouldn’t run World of Warcraft like he probably wanted it to, but he would be able to do his homework on it and play basic Pogo.com games and so forth on it. Maybe I was just reading something into his reaction, but he seemed disappointed.

Or maybe I was just seeing through his eyes, and imagining what he was thinking. I remember when I was eight — a few years younger than Logan — and I joined Cub Scouts. My family lived in a trailer, like I do now, and we got my Cub Scout uniform at the thrift store. One thing we couldn’t find at the thrift store was an official brass Cub Scout slide for my neckerchief, though. I desperately wanted the official slide, because I wanted to fit in with all the other kids. I begged and pleaded, and my parents said it cost too much money to get a new one, and that I would have to make do by tying a knot or something. I was devastated.

Little did I know, my Dad had an idea. He loved tinkering in the little metal shed next to our trailer, much like I enjoy tinkering with computers in the spare room at my house now. He found a block of wood about two inches long, drilled a hole lengthwise through the center, “painted” it royal blue with a thick magic marker, and wrapped a leather thong around it several times, gluing the ends in place. When he was finished, he called me out to the shed and presented it to me, a proud smile on his face. He had fashioned a one-of-a kind neckerchief slide for me, from scratch.

I hated it. It wasn’t anything like the shiny brass slides the other kids had, and I hated that I was from a family that was too poor to buy me a new slide, or even a new uniform.

I can only imagine how my Dad must have felt. I don’t remember if I reacted politely, or if I told him outright that I hated it, but I’m sure he knew the truth, and I’m sure it hurt him that I didn’t appreciate the work he put into it, or appreciate the fact that it was made from scratch.

Looking back on it now, I was an idiot. I should have reveled in the uniqueness of my Cub Scout slide. I should have showed it off and told everyone how my Dad had made it for me with his own hands out of wood, leather, and glue. That was part of the spirit of Cub Scouts, after all; we made things, we were taught to be resourceful, and we were taught to honor our parents. My homemade slide was far better than the shiny brass ones (which I later found out were just cheap plated metal anyway.)

I know, a laptop and a Cub Scout slide are two drastically different things. But times now are drastically different from what they were thirty-five years ago, too. Despite the disparity, there are some similarities between what transpired then and now. When I gave Logan the laptop, though, he wasn’t rude; he didn’t say he hated it. And, after watching a movie with me, he booted up the laptop and wrote part of a short story on it, balancing it on a TV tray with one of my shoes propping up the loose screen. Despite the fact that it was still broken enough that it wouldn’t hold its own screen weight, he didn’t appear to hate it.

I still feel like it’s an inadequate present, though. I want to make it a useful tool for him. I have plans to fix the hinges so he won’t have to prop it up with shoes, and I will get a wireless card for it so he can check his e-mail and do research on the Internet. (Update 1/4/07: I received the new hinges for both this laptop and my wife’s laptop yesterday and installed them last night. Now both laptops have nice, stiff screens that support their own weight.) Maybe I should find a way to wrap a leather thong around it and “paint” it with a royal blue Sharpie … no, then he really would hate it.

Maybe someday Logan will look back at this night and remember how he felt about his first laptop. And maybe, just maybe, after he’s gotten older and has a different perspective on things, he will realize that there was more heart that went into fixing that broken laptop than there appeared to be, and maybe that memory will be as special to him as my memory of my Cub Scout slide became when I got older.

Or maybe not. Either way, I hope he’ll let me know in thirty-five years or so.

The author at 8 sporting his custom Cub Scout slide

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Rainy Sunset

I took this picture with my camera phone tonight while on a grocery store run.

Rainy Sunset
This is why I live near the Rockies. When mother nature contrives to create images like this, I remember to take a deep breath, enjoy the gift, and put everything in perspective.

Life has been rough at times over the last couple of years, with family illness, a divorce, very tight finances, and my job not going as well as I would have liked. But there are bright spots, and I think that is what Mother Nature is trying to tell me.

I’m getting married again in a few weeks, and in that marriage, I gain not only a loving, supportive, intellectual wife, but I gain a new son. I will never attempt to interfere with Logan’s relationship with his real father, but for those times when his Dad is not able to be there for him, I hope to be an able assistant.

Another bright spot of the last couple of years is my band, Steel River Three. We haven’t made much money, but we have managed to play several different venues and are starting to notice familiar faces at the shows. I’ve become much more comfortable playing and singing in front of people, and recently wrote my first song in over eight years.

The writing is taking off a bit, too. The articles for ComputorEdge are not only bringing in a bit of extra money, they have given me the confidence to submit more work to different markets. As I mentioned in the last entry, I submitted a piece to NPR, and yesterday I submitted a short-short story to the new science fiction/horror magazine Apex Digest. The response time for that market is listed as 20-30 days, so I hope to hear whether the story was accepted by mid July. I also have another story idea that might be right up that magazine’s alley, but I have to write it before I can submit it. 😉

Yes, there have been challenges in my life recently, many of them brought on by myself, but I need to remember that not all is dark and stormy. As people in the Pacific Northwest might say, the sun breaks are a reason for celebration.

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Kids and Columbines

Six years ago today, I got a phone call from a scared little boy – my scared little boy – saying that there were kids shooting people at a school somewhere close to home. He couldn’t remember the name of the town, but knew it started with an “L”. Loveland, Longmont, Littleton, something like that. He was home, but was worried that they were going to come find him. He didn’t know that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were already dead, but he knew that the incident had happened in our county, somewhere near Denver. Somewhere close to home.

Pink Columbines
My fiancée, Lannette, just purchased and transplanted these pink columbines last weekend. Considering the timing, I think they were an appropriate choice. They’ve always been some of my favorite flowers.

The scared little boy from 1999 is now 16, and is lying in an MRI chamber as I write this. He just came out, in fact. I’ll update this later tonight.

Later …

Keith has had trouble with seizures for a couple of years now. In February, I witnessed one, and we decided we needed to do something about it. That emergency room visit was the beginning of what is turning into a long, expensive diagnostic process. Hopefully this MRI will give the doctors some explanation for why Keith has these seizures.

Days like the Columbine and Oklahoma City Bombing anniversaries always make me think about how precious my kids are. Logan is the same age now that Keith was when Columbine happened. What is going to be the memorable trauma in his childhood? He doesn’t really remember 9/11, and though Lannette survived the Oklahoma City Bombing while pregnant with him, he doesn’t remember that any better than I remember riding the teacups at Disneyland while in my mother’s belly. Whatever trauma Logan has to face in the future, I hope it happens far enough away from him that he can experience it in safety.

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