Good Ideas for the New Year

JaJah
Named after Ms Gabor? I dunno. All I know is Jajah is cheap or free and it really works well. I’ve charged my account with a few bucks to see if my first impression holds up to real-life use. Unlike some other means of online telephone calls, this one uses your regular phone (and I think cell phones can be involved too) with absolutely no loss of quality. Click the number on the webpage or in your address book (that you create) or in the JaJah box on Firefox and your phone rings. You answer, it connects you to your call number. If they have a JaJah account, the call is FREE. If not, it costs 2.5 cents a minute over a vast spread of continents. It’s a no-brainer. No codes, no delays, no scratchy reception.

Winter Ergonomics
From our “wish I’d thought of that” category, the WOVEL. Of course, it won’t do us much good, lacking both snow and paved driveway or sidewalk. But if you value your back and shoulders, and live in areas where white is still the color of winter, take a look. Working smarter, not harder!

Bonsai Dogs!
Well, maybe this isn’t such a great idea. Definitely not. The Japanese are into cute-ifying all sorts of things, including dogs. (At least they don’t find them delicious like some other Asian cultures.) But their penchant for novelty has taken some bizarre genetic twists, and the puppy-mills of the Custom Dog Business over there are coming under some well-deserved scrutiny.

New World Order
Seems like a good time to take a look at the somewhat haphazard order of my WinXP Explorer Folders. Having done that, even though I have an external hard drive, it would be nice to have the assurance that, even if the house burned down, my files would be available to restore down the road after the smoke cleared. I’ve been using MOZY on the laptop since the beginning. Now, I’ve also downloaded the FREE program (which will hold up to 2GB on the Mozy servers) on the desktop, but find I can’t make it fetch a shared folder where I keep the OneNote files I’m using to work on upcoming writing projects. Those, I’ll have to hand-transfer from desktop to external drive. Oh well. But check out Mozy. The price is right!

It Was a Very Good Year

When I was fifty eight…

No, I’ll stifle my first impulse to write my own verse to this old song. But I have given no small thought and reflection here lately to the events of the past year–remembering mostly while driving, my mind wandering its own roads with hands on autopilot.

I’ll spare you the long list of personal victories and defeats of 2006, but say only that thankfully there seem to have been more of the former than the latter. I suppose it is no great surprise that the most tangible goal accomplished, a material embodiment of a resolution kept, is the book. Most everything in it was already written this time last year, but getting it finally done, between covers and delivered is certainly one large milestone on the greater sweep of recent years.

We look back on things accomplished now and realize, had we not done that then (like undertaking the restoration of this old house, for instance, when we were 51) we never would have been able to pull it off today. Portals of possibility open briefly, and we step through them, or hang back, and the die is cast.

What windows to potential change for the better will come along in 2007? And will we be receptive, responsive, and willing to do what it takes to make them realities?

But now the days grow short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
from fine old kegs
from the brim to the dregs
And it poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year

Like Momma Like Daughter

image copyright Fred First

Somewhere up in the Very Back Room, in a cardboard box full of faded leatherette albums filled with yellowed acetate sheets of pale Instamatic images from the Pleistocene era of our marriage and family life, is a picture of our eldest–then about a year old–gnawing a turkey bone. She is sitting in a high chair in the midst of our little apartment on Southside, Birmingham (La Clair Vista it was called, and the vista was anything but La Clair in the smoggy days before the Clean Air Act.) All around our young daughter was the chaos of Childcare By Husband, the flotsam of apartment life for which there is no storage, no hiding, no pretending–though, granted, it could have been more organized.

And seeing young Abby attaching the turkey leg on Tuesday brought back those memories, and later ones of her momma’s eating habits later in life–the slurping of spaghetti in particular–that became issues of eating etiquette of a similar kind to “don’t cram food into your mouth with your fist”.

And for this, a twenty-something-year-old Abby will berate me, much as her mother does for the picture that hangs on our wall showing her at three, sitting on the front steps of our Wytheville home in town, her index finger imbedded to the middle knuckle in her left nostril.

But hey–what are daddies (or grand daddies with cameras) for anyway?

The Other Side of Christmas ’06

image copyright Fred First

Too fast. They’ve come and gone, and 95% of the things I thought we’d do and talk about didn’t happen. But 5% did, and I’m thankful to have had the time together, gathered as we were from too-far-flung homes. Maybe it’s going to be that way for the long haul. Maybe some day they’ll live closer. It was a merry Christmas, and I’m just now rounding up my little pile of booty from our Tuesday night unwrapping. Let’s see…

IN the way of reading matter, what does this say about moi:

First, sitting on my desk is America (the Book) / Teachers Edition: a Citizens Guide to Democracy Inaction–by Jon Stuart (with foreword by Thomas Jefferson.) Lacking TV, the Daily Show is our source of news via the web, in three minute snippets, usually a week old. I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. Ooow! I just discovered it has a centerfold!

And 2) Uncle John’s Tremendous Bathroom Reader–the latest in a long line of annual Procelain Library editions from the wife-side kin, and to date, read cover to cover in just about exactly a year–in said library. The first year they gifted me in this way, Ann recoiled as I unwrapped it, shocked that her sister would give a gift of 350 pages of bathroom humor. Which these books are not. But I’m a little concerned if this weighty tome is predictive of my plumbing needs for the year ahead: this volume is 750 pages long! (Eat more prunes.)

And in wearing attire, of course I got my traditional underwear: a pack of wife-beaters. From the wife. And from the daughter, who apparently reads Fragments from time to time, a t-shirt with an inscription she gleaned from the blog. I promise a picture soon with me wearing it, and also holding the wooden placard (along the same subject line) that I will put above my desk.

Deeper into the little stash, another tradition: my bottle of Gentleman Jack (Daniels) that will predictably last me until next Thanksgiving, mostly due to the fact that we can never remember to buy COKE (which I otherwise don’t drink) and my failing to develope a taste for Dr. Pepper as a mixer.

Oh, you’ll be happy to know (those of you who knew and loved (or loathed) it when I posted a blog post about it the week after Christmas that each segment of the family–including us–received a framed 5 x 7 copy of my photograph of the Peach Butt–a fun family memory. Now what other family can claim to have given images of fruit cleavage for Christmas, huh?

End of a Full Year

Let’s see: since late November…

Fragments Notecards files to printer; Reunion in Mobile; Thanksgiving; Winery book signings x 4 days; Wytheville Rotary; two Floyd Press columns; book cover and interior text revisions complete and sent off; NPR essay recorded; cover and text files to Lightning Source; Dec 17 massive gathering on Goose Creek; book proof for second edition arrives 23 Dec; Christmas Day; POD files approved; eBook briefly considered; kids home with us two days; and the kids just left in two sad waves, and the house is silent, be it ever so jumbled, and I am left to consider a new year just the other side of the weekend.

Somehow, instead of being overwhelmed, I am invigorated.

To have had reinforced time and again these past four weeks how immensely blessed I am in my children, my wife, my home, my county and these times in my life has left me energized. While hate and destruction seem to dominate the larger world, with my health and senses and the few things I know how to do and feel compelled to do, to photograph and to say, I can be a force for good, a channel to the beautiful and meaningful in this tiny corner of the world, a light in a dark place.

We all can–can swim against the current of our times, rise above the swells. Hope floats, I hear. This moment, I feel buoyant. And thankful.

After Christmas Gifting

From our Shameless Commerce Department…

Image copyright Fred FirstThe Fragments Gift Set (one signed copy of Slow Road Home and one set of Fragments Note Cards — see sidebar–for $25 delivered) is a great way to spend some of that Christmas money you don’t know what to do with.

You might even send the book to Aunt (Aint? Aunt?) Jenny, who you forgot in the first wave of gift giving, using one of the cards to explain to her how a meteor fell on your bedroom, utterly destroying your first choice of gift for her. Now, an even BETTER gift: a slice of life from Goose Creek.

She’ll be thrilled. And tell her I said hello. (Notecards available separately also.)

Sounding Off

A few weeks back, I downloaded a copy of the beta of an Adobe soundediting software called Soundbooth. It ought to be easy according to the promo material–as easy as it was back in the month after I paid for Cool Edit 2000 before Adobe bought it, called it Audition, and then charged me $120 to upgrade, which at the time was out of my budget.

Cool Edit (which Soundbooth is touted as the successor to) was an intuitive program for a casual sound-tweaker like me. You could cut and copy, slide tracks and fade them separately to overdub one sound (voice, for instance) with another (musical interludes, openings and closings.)

If it works, fix it, Adobe seems to have decided. Every sound editor I’ve tried (but not bought) since is a hassle. Soundbooth, for now, is no better, and I haven’t even seen a price for the finished product, but in line with other Adobe full package softwares, it will be more than I want or need for my purposes to spend. Heck.

All of this, to say I’m hoping to do more audio posting this coming year. It is one of my goals, you might say, and first up, I was going to upload an mp3 file (getting it in that form, also a hassle!) simply called “Resolutions” (about goal setting and success) as my new year’s wish for readers (blog and newspaper–where it will appear January 4th). I’ve uploaded the file–without the musical embellishments I’d intended. (5MB and about 5 minutes)

So let me be, in this way, the first to wish you a happy and “rich” new year. (The piece mentions the book “Think and Grow Rich“; if you’re interested in a fairly concise summary of the basic principles in this old but influential book, this is a good source.)

New Years Resolutions: Good Goals to You!