Thursday, April 30, 2009

Required Merit Badges

I was (am) an Eagle Scout. I don’t make a secret of it, but I don’t usually publicize it either. So much for that.

One of the tasks you needed to complete in order to attain the rank of Eagle Scout was earning a complete set of “Required Merit Badges”:

Citizenship in the Community
Citizenship in the Nation
Citizenship in the World
Emergency Preparedness / Lifesaving
Environmental Science
Family Life
First Aid
Hiking / Cycling / Swimming
Personal Fitness
Personal Management

An all around great set of skills to master and an ideal foundation for a budding man, I must say.

My favorite electives were:
Wilderness Survival
Rifle Shooting
Small Boat Sailing

I’d like to try and dig up my merit badge sash and post it. In the meantime, you can get the idea from this guys.

At the very least, I’d like to find some of the old merit badge books and put my kids through the paces. My stepson’s sports and dual family schedule makes boy scout membership a challenge. Though, he has expressed a strong interest in those kinds of activities. I guess it couldn’t hurt to give myself a refresher and bestow a sort of honorary scout rank on him. Kind of like an emergency baptism or teaching certificate.

I also think it would be fun to assemble a committee of sorts to create a set of requirements and guidebooks for post-scouting activites. We could create, earn and give out merit badges in things like: Whiskey Drinking, Steak Grilling, Motorcycle Ownership, Child Scolding, Poker, Home Improvement, Lawn Care, etc.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Old People Candy

Since the last of the Easter Candy vanished from the community food table at work, it has been mostly empty. This morning someone piled a ton of spiced jelly beans. The classic flavors were refreshing. Instead of tasting like Starburts or Lifesavers, they were a medley of mint, licorice and cinnamon. A combination I like to call “old people” flavors.

Lately, I’ve been trying to shed adolescent habits and styles. Opting, whenever possible, to take the grow-up route. I’ve developed many new tastes: whiskey, loafers, pocket squares, grapefruit, etc. I’ve even refined my tastes in candy. I couldn’t tell you the last time I had a Skittle or a gummy bear. For a while now it’s bee all spice drops, licorice, dark chocolate, Bit-O-Honey, caramel cremes, and all variety of old people flavored hard candy, like butterscotch and peppermint.

My dad used to keep a handful of butterscotch candies on his dresser drawer. I used to think it was because that was the only candy we wouldn’t completely devour the moment his back was turned. Now I’m starting to think that perhaps candy, like most indulgences, has a sophisticated side to explore and savor.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Mini Summer Vacation

I set out with a somewhat ambitious goal of daily posts. But the gorgeous weather, baseball season and general business conspired against it.

I suppose it will make for a more interesting blog when I have something interesting enough to mention that I’m forced to cut through everything else and share it. But in the meantime, I hope I don’t drop off of your radar if you had been checking in.

Here are a few short form topics that I will temporarily leave to your imagination.

A Hamilton Watch

Ultra-bright patchwork madras shorts

J. Crew Sunglasses & Driving Cap

Colorful socks


Tie Clips

Vegetable Gardening

Vinyl Records


Summer Alcohol

Friday, April 24, 2009

...a Donkey in the Kentucky Derby...

Pretty sure I'm the only person who's nostalgic for this ad campain. But what the heck, it's suposed to be in the high 80s this weekend. Prime conditions for a little T&T.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saluting the Antihero

"All men are scoundrels, or at any rate almost all. The men who are not must have had unusual luck, both in their birth and in their upbringing" ~ Bertrand Russell

Nobody's perfect. And it might be better to be a bad guy with redeeming qualities than to be a good guy with flaws. At any rate it seems more fullfilling to be a bum stiving for elegance than to be a natural born dandy falling from grace.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Earthly Possessions

My step son approached me this morning. He informed me that we were out of dog food. Then he asked me, “What are you doing today?”. “As far as what?” I replied. “For the Earth. It’s Earth Day.” he stated with the “obviously” implied.

That was a good question. I thought about it for most of the morning. There are probably more things I should not do as a gesture towards mother Earth. But I think it would be a good idea to do something, even if it’s mostly symbolic. I should have biked to work today or I should break ground on a vegetable garden. We are getting replacement windows. I guess we could call the contractor and give him the official go-ahead today. On a more creative line, we could spend the evening with all lights and appliances turned off, hanging out in candle light. Or I could go out and make a purchase or donation that might have an ripple effect on the greater economic landscape.

I’ve always held on the idea that the best thing one person can do to change the world is to simply take a stand and set an example. Did you notice how the price of gas fell from over $4 last summer down to under $2. That was because I started biking to work. That was my economic influence at work. When I spend money, I like to think about the big picture as much as possible. Money is a powerful force after all. Using it not only gets you stuff, but it exerts influence on the market. It let’s the beast know what people want, were they want it, and how to make it. Buying things that are organic, eco-friendly, or recycled can have a modest but real impact on the production of these things as the market counteracts to it.

So, here’s my plan for Earth Day. After baseball practice, we're going to Target to buy dog food. On top of that, we are each going to buy one item that will let the market know that we care about the environment, in hopes that it moves more in that direction. Perhaps a box of high efficiency light bulbs, an article of the new limited edition Loomstate organic cotton apparel, thermal lined roman shades, some organically branded food or drink, planting seeds, a rain collection contraption, but above all we are not going to accept a plastic bag to them home in.

Loomstate organic cotton pocket tee, made for Target

On top of that, I’m going to buy something from the thrift shop today, and further along the recycled items line, we’ll spend some time making a bird feeder or wind chime out of a plastic bottle and other would-be trash. (The kid has been bugging me about doing that for a few days. Going so far as to warm up to the idea of cancelling cable if it means more home made craft projects.) Regardless of the limited significance of these actions, they should prove to be a memorable and worthwhile gesture. Showing the kid and the Earth (and in some way, the dogs) that they are important to me.

Monday, April 20, 2009

(May)be Better Off

The wife and I are throwing around the idea of a May without cable. Life seems to be better when you can avoid turning on the television. You find yourself engaged in activities like reading, talking, playing, making, walking, listening, and just using your time in a productive way. Days without television seem longer. Life seems better in general. I think we’d be happier without it.

Convincing ourselves of this move can be done. Staving off a children’s mutiny is another story. But ultimately, they would reap the most benefits from the experiment. They might discover reading and imagination. They might be inclined to get more exercise, take up hobbies and develop skills. Hopefully we’d all discover that we don’t even miss it. All realizing that cable was an addiction, offering little pleasure in exchange for hours of devotion.

On the other hand, we could become freakishly droll or unbearably uptight as a result. Or worse, we could discover that TV has been casually guarding us from discovering the fact that we are not compatible enough to live without it.

As part of a broader strategy, the cable free month will be supplemented with replacement activities. Scheduled walks, reading time, family game nights and earlier bed times will be instituted. And we shall devote ourselves to cultivating a vegetable garden and we will make time to watch movies together (so as to prevent atrophy of the entertainment center and withdraw fueled nervous breakdowns). Maybe some of us will learn to knit or sew. Maybe some of us will become healthier. Maybe we will all bond on a new level and become all around better, happier and smarter people.

But maybe we’ll hate the experience and resolve to watch more TV. Maybe we won’t make it a week before we mutually get to that point. Maybe we’ll bag the idea altogether. Maybe. Maybe not. But if it’s going to happen, it probably should be soon, the month of May being ideal. Because by the time June comes around and the rest of the family is stuck at home together full time, this kind of experiment might get ugly. Maybe I’ll have to rush home in the middle of the day to an episode of violent backlash. Or does that only happen on cable TV?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Take a Hike

Unbeknownst to us, our township owns a sizable chuck of mountainside just across the way from our house. There was a blurb in the newsletter about a guided tour this morning. We strapped the baby into the yard-sale-purchased backpack contraption and promised the 10 year old some ice cream if he rolled out of bed into pants and shoes and joined us.

The guide and his dog were a little shocked that over 20 folks showed up. He led us up and around a labyrinth of unrestricted (dog, dirt-bike & drinker friendly) trails to abandoned quarry sites, pumping stations and impressive views. In fact this is how cool this place is. The only permit archery hunting and it doesn't even have a name. I asked the guide what the territory was called and he shrugged his shoulder and said "the woods". I was only bothered that I hadn't discovered them early. Well, that and that I didn't think to bring a camera, but I'm sure I'll be up there soon and often.

The trails were no joke. At least not for beginners. Plenty of creeks to cross, loose rocks to negotiate and felled trees to climb. I've been getting tired of sidewalks and playgrounds anyway. This could be the discovery of the summer. I could see spending whole Saturdays up there.

We lasted about an hour and forty-five with the kid. Not bad. I learned that my Redwing's aren't as broken in as I thought. But I also learned that if you get far enough from civilization, you can literally taste the fresh air. I was a boy scout, and have been on plenty of hikes and camping trips. And I spend a lot of time running trails and in parks. But there's a difference when your 100 yards from a highway or when you drive to a trailhead and you're 13. This was way better. Mother nature, isolated and untouched, behind the house next door. Life just got a little better.

I have to go now, and decide between archery gear and a dirt-bike.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Here's Johnny!

I'm just finishing Steve Martin's Book, Born Standing Up. Towards the end of the second to last chapter he pays tribute to Johnny Carson. He describes him as reserved but gracious. Johnny treated all of his guests according to what they deserved and in such a way that would allow the audience to see their best qualities. He knew how to set someone up and how to bail them out. He was, no surprise, the ultimate host.

In any situation, be aware of when the focus is and isn't on you. And be on the ball when it comes to casting others in the best light. At the same time, be funny and keep things lively. A good host is someone people want to be around. He is likable and magnetic, but more important than that, he is gracious and puts everyone at ease.

At the table or the bar you can't go wrong giving a good lead in. Ask someone to tell that good story not everyone else has heard. Bend the conversation towards common interests. And above all, be composed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


“Eighty percent of success is showing up.” -- Woody Allen

“The other twenty is being present.” -- me

Imagine a classroom full of fourth graders settling into their desks. The teacher begins to call roll. She plainly rattles off the names of each student, who reply in turn, “Here”, “Here!”, “What?” (giggles) “Present.”

In most aspects of life it pays to be more than just here. Being present, in this case meaning being an active participant in the events, aware of what’s going on, and fully concerned with right now is hugely important. And seemingly easier and easier to get away from these days. Televisions, computers, cell phones, blackberries, even printed pages, mirrors and windows have surfaces that are a portal to being elsewhere. The key is to engage yourself and maintain focus on your tangible surroundings.

Using your senses to hook into everything that’s going on and becoming a concerned observer can make the difference in almost any situation. In your social life, love life, work life, health, even citizen life. Being present is the key to getting what you want or at least understanding and accepting what you’re getting. Or more profoundly, what you are and aren’t giving.

Put life on a clearly defined schedule. Set time to get dressed and do it thoroughly in that time. Set time to read and be invested in it. Give yourself a bed time. Sit down and eat a meal. Start conversations and see them through, but don’t be afraid to excuse yourself, hang up, or walk away in due time. Turn off the TV when your show is over. Take off your hat and coat when you get inside. Watch the sunset, the kids playing and the waves crashing. Be a good host and a great visitor. Be a good boss and a great employee. Be a good father and a great son.

Take the time to...

Listen to someone’s story.

Observe nature.

Play the game.



Excuse yourself.

Stay until it’s over.

and know when it’s time.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Good Doctor

I saw Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride last night. It’s a captivating documentary on the life and death of Hunter S. Thompson.

Despite a life of unbridled adventure an excess, the most fascinating segments dealt with his breakfast routine, sleeping habits and funeral arrangements. He would wake sometime in the afternoon and eat 5 or 6 grapefruits along with several glasses of Chivas. He would regularly stay up and work or talk on the phone till dawn. He lived life entirely on his own terms until the idea of himself outran the reality. The movie actually makes a disturbingly good case for committing suicide in your mid to late sixties. Or at least when there’s nothing more to be done.

Repeatedly throughout the film, people close to him state that despite his reputation and larger than life persona, in the private company of family and friends he was a consummate Southern gentleman. That’s what stuck out to me the most, at least in relation to my current fascinations. He was a man with an insatiable appetite for everything in the realm of guns, booze, drugs, motors, sport, politics and anything where danger and excitement traveled along the same parabola. But when the show was over, he was a kind and giving host and friend, a road man for the lords of karma.

I was also intrigued by the fact that as a budding writer, he used to retype complete books by the likes of Hemmingway and Faulkner. I'd like to give that a try. I can't imagine having that kind of time though. I'll bet it would make me a much better writer, and typist.

“There was no time for scholarly details, and, besides, I have always believed that a man can fairly be judged by the standards and taste of his choices in matters of high-level plagiarism.”

“It’s a strange world. Some people get rich and others eat shit and die.”

His Suicide Note
“Football seasons over. No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun - for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax - This won’t hurt.”

I have only read essays and articles of his. After seeing this movie, though, I'm putting at least one novel on my library list.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The best games are the ones that have a healthy balance of luck and skill. At the same time, it should be something you do for recreation. Some might find Chess to be too great a challenge and Checkers to be too little of one. Nicely situated between those two pastimes is Backgammon. It’s easy to learn and lends itself to repeated playings. My old roommate and I would stay up late into the night, game after game, coming dangerously close to playing for money. That’s where the game goes from casual fare to high stakes wit matching. In fact, that might be the best feature of the game. Like baseball, 5 year old’s can take it up and enjoy it as a group while the big boys can play pretty much the same game with all aspects tuned to their extreme.

First of all, the game just oozes elegance and sophistication. Especially if your playing out of a leather case in a robe and slippers. Even if you seldom have occasion to get it out, the backgammon set is a must own. It’s the perfect companion to conversation and glasses of wine.

Here’s a brief layout of game play:
Set up the board as show. Each player rolls his set of dice and moves pieces according to the numbers rolled. If an opponent has more than one piece on a space, it is blocked. If you land on a space containing one of your opponent’s pieces, you send that one off the board, to start at the beginning. Once you gather all of your pieces in the “home” box, you begin to draw them off the board with your rolls. If you roll doubles, you move twice for each dice. The doubling cube is used at strategic points to raise the stakes of the game against the option of a forfeit.

There are several variations and wrinkles you can employ. But ideally, it’s just a fun way to pass the time and enjoy someone’s company that beats watching a movie.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Brand Extracurriculars

A man’s instinctive shopping habits are born out of his hunter roots. While his better half is prone to do the gathering, or combing stores and newspaper circulars for deals and ideas, a man leaves his cave with the intention of bringing home a bison / vacuum cleaner bag / work boots / box of light bulbs / etc. It is not in his nature to become distracted by nuts and berries he passes on the hunt. But wouldn’t he be better off keeping an eye open for useful things while tracking down game?

Lately, when I need or want something, I do a little research on what brand to invest in, go to the proper retailer and make a carefully considered purchase. And while in the purchasing process, I’m often intrigued, but seldom moved to impulse by the random items surrounding the check out counter. “What do you know?” I’ll think “J. Crew sells a watch.” (well documented example)

It got me thinking. I’ve assembled a good set of brand names that I trust and am proud to support. I wonder if they provide similar genre-crossing offerings. Maybe there are hidden treasures in their stores that exhibit the same qualities, but aren’t part of the product line that they are typically known for.

I found a couple of items along those lines. To me they exhibit a repurposed quality. Along the lines of soap boxes turned into race cars, vinyl albums turned into chip bowls, old doors turned into coffee tables, or ice cream trucks turned into A-Team style tanks. It’s a thing made from the core elements of another thing. Or just people who get one thing right, applying the same sensibilities to another product.

Victorinox (pocket knives and watches) makes a shirt with extra gadgets that would come in handy.

Rawlings (baseballs and mitts) makes a “striking” duffel bag that looks like a “safe” bet. (sorry)

Triumph (motorcycles) offers a seriously good looking belt.

Sperry (shoes) has a sail canvas tote bag that is as manly and stylish as they get.

Coleman (coolers and lamps) offers a handsome field watch that is ruggedly chic.

I’m sure there are plenty of other examples of brands with a solid reputation dabbling in related product categories. I came across nice looking messenger bags from Converse, braces from Carhartt, and flatware from Nautica. It seems as though it pays to do a little gathering next time you’re on the hunt.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Green Headwear is offering an exclusive collection called Green Earth Tartan & Tweed. It uses a custom tartan pattern that ” features a unique tartan pattern. Each color highlights an aspect of Earth’s splendor, as well as draws attention to the environmental perils she faces”. And 10% of the proceeds go to environmental charities to boot.

Hopefully it will catch on and become a way to demonstrate your compassion for nature in a more stylish manner than a faux tie-dyed tee with an illustration of a timber wolf on it. Maybe it will become as trendy as those project (RED) shirts I see at the Gap, but never on people outside of it.

I also have a somewhat selfish motivation for the success of this collection. That handsome chap posing in the Army Cap in the collection banner as well as in the Ivy Cap occasionally on the home page is me.

It’s my one and only venture into the world of modeling. I was spotted by a Bollman Hat Co. executive, while playing a gig. For the sake of disclosure, their photographer is a friend of mine. She approached me about modeling the collection and I naturally (no pun intended) agreed.

Even if I weren’t loosely connected to these hats, I’d still consider them a fine looking lot; more than worthy of a purchase. Don’t be afraid to spread the word and be on the cutting edge of a new cause-inspired trend.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Brown Fat Furnace

I’ve had success in weight loss on three separate occasions. My junior year in college, the year before my wedding and this past year. In all three cases, I was physically active and ate carefully. But that behavior was not exclusive to those periods. I’ve had just as much success with dieting and exercise programs as failure. In some cases, I would gain weight as a result of a particular strategy.

I caught a segment on NPR this morning about new research on a substance called brown fat. The New York Times ran the same story. Brown fat is tissue in the body that has the simple function of turning calories into heat, basically a body furnace. It was previously believed to be used by infants, who can’t shiver or throw on an cardigan for that matter, and then it would dissipate. Hence the notion of “losing one’s baby fat”. However, new scanning technology shows that it stays in the body. And may be significant in preventing and controlling obesity.

When I step back with this information in mind and try to find a common thread in my periods of weight loss success, I see one: being cold. In the first two periods I lived in crummy apartments with sketchy heating. In fact both times it was hard to sleep through the night in the winter because I would wake up freezing. Also, my particular exercise regimen in all three instances included being outside, early in the morning. The first time it involved jogging to and from the gym first thing in the morning. And the latter two involved walking or biking to work in the morning. In fact, as the weather got colder, my weight loss accelerated.

Scientist are theorizing that turning down the thermostat a few degrees might be beneficial to weight loss. And while I’m not sure that would be a magic bullet. I can testify that exercising in the cold, like outside, early in the morning, might be your best bet for turning calories into heat instead of yellow or white fat. And maybe even turning that fat into heat as well.

You're not gonna sing for us, Sammy?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

40 Day Improvements

As I mentioned before, I’ve given up Myspace for Lent. Easter is right around the corner and I am semi-surprised to find myself with little to no desire to pick it up again. I’ll probably log-in at least once to clean up any correspondence I’ve missed, but I probably won’t get back in the habit of using it. It is a bit played out to begin with, but I considered it to be a bad habit that I’ll be glad to break.

Though the 40 days of my moratorium will be ending, I see an opportunity to carry it further. I think I’m going to adopt a bit of Ben Franklin’s self improvement planning, combine it with the 40 day fasting of Christian tradition and elevate myself one long, patient step at a time.

Starting with this Sunday, I’m going to give up swearing through the 22nd of May. This will include, but not be restricted to the big 5. F**k, S**t, B***h, D**k, and P****y. Other relatives of these words will be avoided if possible, a gang of C words come to mind. And some less offensive but similarly distasteful words will be avoided as much as possible. I don’t plan on using substitute words. A friggin’ or a golly doesn’t seem more dignified to me, just lamer. I’ll retain ass, damn, and hell: though, I will try to relegate them to proper context.

It seems that my just barely one year old son is about to start spitting out words. I would prefer they weren’t regurgitated profanity.

I’m not sure what I’ll tackle after this. I’m open to suggestion. I’ve got plenty of standard issue bad habits. I’d like to be rid of them all. I just don’t think I can break them all at once, especially cold turkey.

Friday, April 3, 2009

...Woo Ooh!

Channeling | Blog Features

I keep tabs on a number of blogs in search of inspiration. Nobody measures up to Tin Tin, over at The Trad. He’s like the mentor I wish I had. My favorite part of his blog is a regular feature called Friday Belts. He combines a profile of an interesting method for holding up pants and a brand of whiskey to match. Check Out:

Hermes & Rye

A Rob Roy Spur

Single Malts & Stable Belts

The Tiffany Martini

The Original


The first blog I ever got into was David Plotz’s Blogging the Bible. When he wrapped up the Old Testament he inquired if a Christian fellow would be interested in doing the New half. I offered, I even did it on my myspace blog. But I got no reply for a long time, then when I saw an email from him in my inbox I was only slightly disappointed to learn he had turned his blog into a book that I could buy. Um, Dave, I already read it. But thanks for not purging me from your address book, I guess.

One blog that should be a book when it’s finished is 1001 Rules for my Unborn Son.

Dig these:

5. Never be afraid to ask out the best looking girl in the room: You’ll be surprised how often it works.

28. Keep your eye on the ball and follow through. In sports and in life.

96. Don’t show off. Impress.

125. A t-shirt is neither a philosophy nor an advertisement. It’s a shirt. Wear it plain.

190. Don’t Own Rolling Luggage.

232. There is exactly one place where it is acceptable to wear gym clothes.


I don’t consider myself a protectionist. People are people and business is business. But now and then I like the idea of knowing that something in my hands was put together by people I might have occasion to know. Mike Williams, blogger of A Continuous Lean & The Material Review, has compiled The American List. It’s a listing of stateside manufacturers of apparel, accessories, and accoutrements. It’s worth familiarizing yourself with. So when you need a whatever, you can help out the folks down the street and appreciate what they do.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Washingtonian Civility

Augustine Washington sought for his son to be a great man. Indeed, George became one. In advance of that or perhaps because of it, he gave him a handwritten notebook filled with 110 principles. They were translated from a Latin text that Jesuit monks had used for teaching the sons of nobility in the 1500s.

Washington biographer, Richard Brookhiser, restored and expanded upon them in his book, Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President In War And Peace

These rules go beyond matters of etiquette and formality. They are more of a complete code of conduct that an upstanding man follows to impress upon others that he is in full control of himself and his surroundings. I imagine that along with his imposing stature, adhering to these codes made Washington quite a man amongst men. And like a true gentleman of any era, it was his calling to be an inspiring example to those that would follow him.

Here are a few highlights:

1. Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign or respect to those that are present.

10. When you sit down, keep your feet firm and even, without putting one on the other or crossing them

25. Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremony are to be avoided, yet where they are due they are not to be neglected.

35. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

47. Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

49. Use no reproachable language against any one, neither curse nor revile.

63. A man ought not to value himself of his achievements or rare qualities of wit, much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.

82. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.

97. Put not another bit into your mouth till the former be swallowed. Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.

109. Let your recreations be manful not sinful.

What impressed me most about this set of rules is that it steers clear of any type of dandyism. It doesn’t get bogged down in dress socks and hat tipping. Instead it functions as a guide for a man to keep a solid chin and a firm grip on everything. Like a farmer/soldier/statesman would have to be. Stoic, elegant and self aware.

April Food's Day

Click here to Donate.

The cardinal virtues are: Faith, Hope, and Charity. I can hardly think of a more gentlemanly action than a charitble contribution. And feeding hungry people could be the most worthy cause. All things are relative, but hunger is hard to deny.