Saturday, January 31, 2009

Goals for 2009 - Update

Well, it is hard to believe tha January is already over. Already our year is 1/12th of the way finished and I thought it would be a good time to update on how I am doing with my goals for the year.

For my personal goals, I hoped to read 12 books this year. (I do not count James' 5 page board books as part of this goal - otherwise I would have already met this goal.) To date, I have completed 3 books and I am halfway through my fourth. The books I have completed are The Choice by Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks (I have read all twelve of his books). and Which President Killed a Man? by James Humes (answer - Andrew Jackson). The fourth book which I am currently working on is Hudson's Merchants and Whalers: The Rise and Fall of a River Port by Margaret B. Schram.

I had also listed writing 12 poems this year under my personal goals. I have completed one. A poem I wrote to my wife Lori to say how much I love her.

For my goal of losing weight - I can tell I have lost some, but it will be difficult to say how much because I never weighed myself when I wrote out my goals. I know my clothes are fitting just a tad bit looser and I have been pretty faithful at drinking my Slim Fast shake in the morning.

I would like to say that I have made progress on some of the other goals, but it is really too early to tell. I hope to have a better report at the end of February. Until then, keep wishing me luck and thanks for helping keep me in line.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Clean Sweep - Week 3

Well, we definitely got back on track with our Clean Sweep this week. I don't even know how many items we purged. We actually hit several rooms, but amazingly concentrated on a single closet. Yes, a 2 foot wide, by 6 inch deep closet! Now you may think you can't find much in such a small space, but let me tell you, we filled three diaper boxes with stuff. Of course most of it is relatively small stuff, but an item is an item. We mostly purged old candles, but we also got rid of a few baby items that James no loger needs - wipes warmer, a playmat, some bottles and a bottle sanitizer. I also got rid of some clothes that, while I haven't outgrown them, were rather old and worn. The Goodwill pile has no less than 60 itmes in it from this week (we already dropped off the stuff from the previous weeks) and that doesn't count the items we simply threw away because they weren't worth donating.

Next weekend is game night and Super Bowl, so we may not get much done. I will still hold out hope for 20 items, but chances are we might get to 10.

Here's til the broom swings the other direction.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Clean Sweep - Week 2

Well, as suspected, Week 2 did not clean out much due to the fact that we were out of town for the weekend. We managed to get 10 items out of the house - a few items that weren't even ours and needed to be returned to their rightful owners. Even though I had expected a decline from the previous week, I was still disappointed in our progress. I had hoped for 20 items.

The good news is, I have been eyeing a few things for Week 3 and I think I can get us back on track. I even found an ingenious way to get rid of items, without really getting rid of anything. How's that you ask? Let me explain. It really boils down to perception. You see, we have several items that have become estranged from themselves and a little organization of getting those items back together goes a long way. For instance, in our den, we have a shoebox full of A/C adapters, chargers, power supplies, etc. The items that they go to are in other rooms - the kitchen, the living room, the bedroom, etc. When these items are separated from each other, it appears that we have more stuff than we really do. Once the items are put together, they aren't really two separate items anymore, but rather one larger, more organized item.

We also managed to get rid of a couple of items with help from our cat, Socks. Socks has a thing about chewing on wires and cables while they are plugged in and conducting electricity. While we were gone this weekend, Socks completely mangled all the wires and cables connected to our computer. This left us without internet access and thus the lateness of this post. Although we are getting rid of a few cables, we ultimately had to replace them, so it was really a wash with no items lost and no items gained. Socks, by the way, is doing just fine. It seems the electricity has not affected her one bit.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Free Web Friday

Well, it time for another edition of Free Web Friday. This edition will highlight three very useful items on the web.

Delicious - I don't know about the title of this website - it has nothing to do with food or taste - but I do know that it is an invaluable tool. Delicious is a social bookmarking website. It allows you to bookmark your favorite websites, organize them into bundles and share them with others. What makes this tool invaluable is that because it is web-based, you can access it from any computer, even public computers. It is especially valuable for when you use more than one computer. Say you have important work-related bookmarks saved on your computer at the office, but you are working at home. If you need that bookmark, you have to go into the office to get it or search around the internet to try to find it again. Delicious eliminates this problem by organizing all of you bookmarks in one place.

Personal Ancestry File (PAF) - Personal Ancestry File (PAF) is offered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and allows you to record you family lineage and heritage. This is a great tool for people interested in genealogy.

Ancestry - Another free genealogy resource that allows you to build your family tree online. Like PAF, this is a great tool for people interested in genealogy. Building your family tree with Ancestry has a lot of benefits, although the additional benefits are only available with a subscription. Those benefits include access to birth, marriage, and death records, U.S. Census records, military records, and other member family trees to help in researching your family. Ancestry family trees can be downloaded and integrated with Family Tree Maker - separate software program. Ancestry makes this edition of Free Web Friday because creating your family tree is free.

Well, that's it for this edition of Free Web Friday. Lok for the next edition sometime in February.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Clean Sweep - Week 1

I made a promise that after I graduated, I would begin work on cleaning out the house of things we didn't really need in preparation for our move this summer. It may seem a little early, but for those who know me, they know I plan well in advance, and besides, we have accumulated a lot of junk in our years (Lori - 10, me - 8) in Morgantown.

I also had promised Lori that I would not start cleaning until after the first of the year. Well, the first has come and gone and this past weekend, I begin the long dreaded task of purging our unwanted, unused, unloved, and unneeded household goods. For week one, we tackled THE DEN! Actually, it was week two since we were in Baltimore part of the weekend before.

In just a few short hours, I filled THREE large lawn & leaf garbage bags -- and that was just the trash! That wasn't even the usable goods that we are planning to donate to Goodwill. Man, we sure collected alot of paper! Much of it was vacation brochures and literature and lots of old financial stuff that I shredded before I bagged it up. Wow, does that mean because I shredded the stuff, I probably actually had five or six large garbage bags full?

My goal for the first week, and every week, is to eliminate at least 100 items. Now that may sound like a lot, but you'd be surprised when you start counting your own stuff. I don't think we made it to 100, but I can say we made great progress. Over the weekend, we set aside 50 items that we could get rid of. This included two cell phones we recycled through Operation Shoebox and several Christmas items that we will no longer use. The number climbs much higher if you count all the old gift bags we saved for reuse and all the magazines we saved for the wonderful recipes. Unfortunately, we didn't even scratch the surface. Next weekend, we are in Pittsburgh, so we probably won't get much accomplished then, but the following week, I am hoping for another 100 items.

Anyone having a yard sale?

Risk Family Genealogy

As some of you may know, we have been tracing our family heritage since shortly before James was born in 2007. We have traced our roots back to Germany, Ireland, Italy, Scotland, and Switerland and now have almost 700 family member in our tree. Recently, we discovered some ancestors who helped secure our family's place in history with George Washington at VALLEY FORGE! I wish that I could claim the discovery, but that actually goes to my brother John. I am researching our biological mother's line, while he is researching our father's side. The lineage goes back through the Browns, Phillipses, and eventually to the Halls following the maternal heritage. William Hall, our Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather apparently served at Valley Forge as well as the Sandusky Expedition. This is the most significant find in our family tree to date. We have had some relatives in other wars, but none seem to have played as important a role as Mr. Hall. I am in awe of my ancestors.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Playing MacGyver

A few days ago, I had the chance to play MacGyver - you know, that special agent played by Richard Dean Anderson in the 80s who always managed to escape by creating gadgets out of everyday items. Macgyver could create an explosive out of a Post-it note, a rubber band, and paper clip. Well, my MacGyver experience did not include any explosives, but I did manage to pull off a trick that even surprised me.

The Task: Remove a broken key from a lock
Time: 5 mintues
Tools used: 1/2 a paperclip

Now before you say I could have just pulled the key out with a pair of needlenose pliers, the key was broken off too deep into the lock to grasp it with anything. I will say that if I had had to complete this task against a clock, I probably would have failed. It took me about 5 mintues once I decided to use the paper clip.

I broke the paperclip in half and managed to wedge it into the lock alongside the key with the rounded end of the paperclip coming out of the lock. This was possible because the grooves on the side of the key allowed just enough play in the lock to get the paperclip wedged in. Once the paperclip was in as far as it would go, I squeezed the paperclip like a pair of tweezers and slowly pulled it back out. It took a couple of passes trying this, but I managed to get the key out. I don't know if I was successful because the paperclip caused friction against the side of the key or if I actually got the paperclip to clamp down on the key around the grooves, but I was pretty pleased (and surprised) with my success. It brought back memories of working with the office furniture everyday. We always had tricks up our sleeves with stuff like that.

The Stupidest Movies

Recently, Lori and I watched one of the stupidest movies of my lifetime and it prompted my to write this entry about the stupidest movies I have seen. The movie we watched recently was Burn After Reading. It starred George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and John Malkovich. The description on the back of the DVD case made it seem like a good choice. The plot appeared very funny - two gym employees find a disk of "top secret" CIA information and try to blackmail a couple of government employees in order to get money to pay for lots of cosmetic surgery. The problem with the movie was not the plot, it was the execution. Clooney's paranoid character is his second worst acting job ever (see list of stupidest movies below). Pitt's character was just plain stupid. And the only John Malkovich film I have ever liked was Con-Air. Lucky for us we rented this movie using a free movie rental coupon, so we weren't out any money.

So here is my list of the stupidest movies I have ever seen. Keep in mind, I don't not watch movies that are known to be stupid like Dude, Where's My Car or The Stupids.

7. Chocolat (2000) - Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. Although I got the gist of the movie, something was missing that I could never quite put my finger on it. At the time I watched it, I would have rated it the stupidest, but having watched part of it a second time and getting a better understanding, it fell a few spots.

6. Lost in Translation (2003) - Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray. The title says it all. Plot was non-existent.

5. Fight Club (1999) - Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. Another one I never understood. To be honest, it was so bad, I don't even remember most of it. I do remember it being kind of dark and depressing, but like Lost in Translation the plot was DOA.

4. The Weatherman (2005) - Nicholas Cage and Michael Caine. Previews billed as a comedy, but this was pretty depressing. The concept was good, but poorly executed because drama overshadowed the expected comedy. The plot was as lost as Nicholas Cage's character.

3. Mars Attacks (1996) - Jack Nicholson, Glenn Close, and Annette Benning. A spoof on War of the Worlds with lots of cheesy special effects and very bad acting.

2. Burn After Reading (2008) - George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and John Malkovich. The should have titled this Burn After Watching. It was by far George Clooney's second worst acting job and probably Pitt's worst. The plot had great potential, but very poorly executed.

1. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) - George Clooney. This movie was so stupid, we turned it off after only 30 minutes and never ever finished watching it. ONLY AFTER we turn the movie off, did we burst out laughing at the fact we wasted 30 minutes watching something so stupid. By far Clooney's worst acting job, and I am not ganging up on George Clooney. I have like several of his movies - Batman and Robin, the Oceans Eleven trilogy, Leatherheads, and The Perfect Storm. Even his One Fine Day with Michelle Pfeiffer was half decent. And Clooney was excellent in the TV Series ER.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Goals vs. Resolutions

At the beginning of each year, we all hear about making New Year's Resolutions and within the first week, the only thing we have resolved is breaking our resolutions. I gave up making resolutions years ago for this very reason, but that doesn't mean I don't make goals for myself. It's not really a matter of a "rose by any other name". To me, a resolution is a little more set in stone (though not totally) and by breaking a resolution, I have failed. By setting goals, I push myself to achieve greater things, but don't feel like I failed when I miss them, because they are goals, not things I have "resolved" to do.

Each year my list contains approximately 40-50 goals - things I wish to accomplish. In a good year, I will accomplish about 20% of those goals. Last year, I only accomplished 6%, but the goals I accomplished were very substantial. This year, I expect to achieve a greater percentage of my goals for two reasons - first, I will not be in school during the spring semester, so I will have more time and second, many of my goals are home improvement related. With the likelihood of moving, it will be important to achieve these prior to selling the house.

A few of my goals for this year include:

1. Read 12 books (I have already completed my first)
2. Write 12 poems
3. Attend church more often
4. Eliminate soft drinks from my diet
5. Be healthier by exercising more and losing weight

1. Visit at least 3 new lighthouses (new as in I haven't visited them before)
2. Visit at least 2 new national parks
3. Visit at least 1 new state

1. Reduce our dining out expenses by $1,250 (We eat out way too much)
2. Reduce the mileage driven on our Honda and Subaru
3. Complete our list of home improvements (all minor) On our full list, each improvement is a separate goal (about 14 items total)

Some of our goals are pretty much a given. Last year, for instance, one of my goals was to graduate. I knew before I made the goal, that the likelihood of achieving it was pretty good. It will be interesting to see how many goals I achieve this year. Wish me luck. I will need it to achieve some of the personal goals I have set for myself.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Problem with China

Well, today I figured out the problem with Chinese made goods. It seems China does not separate their industries and so they have auto manufacturers producing canned fruit. Yes, it's true and I will share an prime example.

Today, we were eating Mandarin Orange slices for lunch. We had purchased a different brand than normal, probably because they were on sale, and we were quite surprised with our findings. The oranges were processed by a company called "3 Diamond". After tasting the oranges and discovering they were much more tart than our normal brand (Dole), I looked on the label to see the ingredients. Right below the ingredients the label listed the manufacturer as "Mitsubishi" and stated the oranges were a product of China.

Now you can say that is just a coincidence, but think about it. Mitsubishi the automaker's logo is "3 Diamonds" and these were processed by the Mitsubishi International Corporation and branded "3 Diamonds".

Maybe China should concentrate on separating their industries and then they could produce less tainted goods.

Happy New Year

The Risk family quietly rang in the New Year and so far, it hasn't seemed to be anything to celebrate.

After ringing in 2009, we all headed out to Baltimore to watch the Penn State Nittany Lions take on the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl. It was not a pretty sight. Although the Nittany Lions made the final score look like they had really put up an effort, the score did not do the game justice. Unfortunately for Penn State, the secondary missed the flight to Pasadena and the Trojans decimated the Lions throughout the game. It's hard to say that there's always next year when the team is losing several starting seniors. At least Joe Pa's back for three more years.

The football gods continued to frown upon the Risk family two days later as the Indianapolis Colts were eliminated from the playoffs in San Diego. Like the Nittany Lions secondary, the Colt defense missed the flight to California. Peyton was able to keep the Colts in the game, but even the offense faltered late in the game. We knew it was pretty much over when San Diego won the coin toss in OT, and shortly thereafter the game was done. Maybe the football gods were sparing this household a Colts-Steelers rematch like they had in the playoffs a couple of years ago. It will be interesting to see what happens with the Colts in the offseason. Coach Dungy is expected to make a decision on his retirement, and I wouldn't be surprised if Marvin Harrison retired as well. If the Colts can address their defense issues, there is always next year.

At least we can look at the bright side, with this type of start to the year, things can only get better.