Saturday, December 30, 2006

Not In The News Friday (NITNF) - Late and 2006 Year-End Edition

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at least fascinating.

My apologies that this is on a Saturday and not an actual Friday. Yesterday was nuts. I work in a call center and Austin had a major thunderstorm yesterday. We even lost power temporarily in the call center (which is bad, it reboots all the computers and servers, etc.). Call volume was very high, of course, from customers impacted by the storm, and I just didn't have the concentration I needed. Today is another matter.

2006 has been an incredible year. My family and I have been through a lot of changes. We had our first experience with identity theft. My wife and I celebrated our 11th wedding anniversary. I bought a brand new Palm PDA. I started up NITNF at IR Haven (and it's been 6 months already!). We got a new cell phone. We moved from our duplex of 10 years into an apartment (that was a major adjustment, but it's worked out well).

It was the 5th anniversary of the 9.11.01 attacks. My wife and I witnessed the formation of a tornado from a funnel cloud. I added videos to IR Haven. I was in the hospital for 4 days with severe dehydration and pain caused by food poisoning. IR Haven transitioned to Blogger Beta (now Blogger Beta). And we had a Merry Christmas! Now we're almost in 2007.

That's the amazing thing about blogs: even if you don't think a lot has happened in a year, your blog will remind you what you've been through, good and bad.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Best Wishes,

Thursday, December 28, 2006

And A Good Time Was Had By All...

We had a great Christmas this year! It was fun, we enjoyed the company of both sides of the family, had yummy food (about half of which my wife did an incredible job preparing) and of course, cleaned up on presents! Woohoo!

I won't go into all the boys' gifts (too many!) but my wife's big gift was a 30 GB Creative Labs ZEN Vision:M Video and MP3 player!

Me, I scored my first laptop! My brother-in-law was kind enough to refurbish a Dell Latitude CPi. I used to work with those all the time, so I'm extremely familiar with them. It's not the fastest but it's extremely upgradeable. Plus, they're solid little workhorses. I've already equipped it with a wireless pc card and an ethernet pc card -- for less than $30! It came with Windows 2000 Pro (which I'm also very familiar with) and I've been customizing software, etc. It's my new pet project, so just move outta the way! Heh. Just kidding about the "move out of the way" part. But I have been having fun playing with my new "toy."

Well, that's all for now.

Best Wishes,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

This Blog Should Not Take Over 2 Minutes To Load

Starting last night, IR Haven was taking an incredible amount of time to load...and it was still acting up this morning. So, when that happens, I figure one link or one graphic, etc. is the culprit. The tricky part is eliminating the potential culprits without losing the HTML/javascript codes, so you can add back in what does actually work. It took about 20 minutes, but I finally tracked it down to the translation link. I like the capability to translate the site to other languages but if it takes 5 minutes to load the site, translation is goooooonnnnne!

Best Wishes,
Have Yourself A Merry Dose Of Cuteness... (Sing Along Now!)

I had to get in at least one more shot of cuteness before the holidays officially begin! Merry Christmas, Cute Overload!

Best Wishes,

Friday, December 22, 2006

Not In the News Friday (NITNF) - Christmas Edition #2

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at least fascinating.

Christmas Edition #2: The Christmas Tree

There are few signs of Christmas more beloved than the Christmas Tree. Here are some of the facts. There are nearly 35 million trees sold every year. The Christmas tree has been sold in the United States since 1850. Before that they were mostly cut in the forest by individual families. The Scotch Pine is the most popular tree for decorating.

The tradition of bring inside a tree was begun in the 1400-1500's. Some attribute the first Christmas tree to Martin Luther. He was a monk in Germany during that time. He brought home the tree because it reminded him of the beauty of the moonlight as it would shine through the evergreen trees in the winter. He put candles on the tree to represent the stars and moon light. The tradition spread from Germany to England in about 1841. From there it was inherited by the rest of the world.

Once the invention of electricity became more reliable and widespread the candles were replaced with electric lights. These are much safer and can be used for long periods of time.

Today's trees are both live and artificial. Whatever kind of tree you chose be sure to decorate it in a safe manner and enjoy it as a true symbol of the season.

Source: Tree Facts

Monday, December 18, 2006

Canon As You've Never Heard It Before!

This was very entertaining. Five minutes is a wee bit long but this guy is really playing all of this. Kudos to him!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Not In The News Friday (NITNF) Christmas Edition #1

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at leastIt took m fascinating.

Today's NITNF is definitely not in the news. It's about one of my sons and something he did today that was very much in the Spirit of Christmas. I got a call from my oldest son's school guidance counselor this morning, something that would usually be cause for concern...but this time it wasn't. She was calling to tell me that my son brought little toys from home to give as Christmas gifts to his fellow classmates (he's in 5th grade). She wanted to know if this was okay. She described what he brought and I told her, "Well, they're his toys. If he wants to give them away to others, then he can do that." She also told me he hand-made individual Christmas cards for each of his 18 classmates, with personalized messages for the children. It really was very sweet of him to do, with no prompting from anyone.

The counselor was very touched by his behavior but not surprised. My son is just like that; he's very loving and very giving. I'm proud of him, too, and I wasn't surprised, either -- but it was very heartening to hear, first thing of the morning.

So much of Christmas is about giving, and giving because you want to, not because it's expected. This morning, I realized that my son has already learned an incredible Life Lesson: the happiness you see in others when you give to them without expecting anything in return is its own reward. It's amazing to me that he's learned that when he's only 11 years old. In my opinion, it's something the whole world could benefit from learning.

Best Wishes,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Christmas Lights, Gifts, Music -- and Ghetto Pizza?

With a title like that for a blog post, you can't go wrong! So yesterday, I had a day off and I finally got motivated to finish the Christmas decorating in the apartment. It's our first Christmas in the apartment and we all want it to be special. Angel had so far been able to do about half of the decorating, some of it with the kids help/input (both of the kids wanted to be involved with the decorating this year). I had been wanting to help for about a week but had been waiting for some time and inspiration.

Yesterday morning, the inspiration hit me and I had the time. I looked at the apartment and was able to visualize a pattern to decorate with the set of multi-color/multi-fuction lights. I turned on and set up a new music playlist based on a Christmas song ("Silent Night"). A few seconds later, Pandora started playing some pretty nice Christmas music for me to hang lights by.

It was some work putting those lights up, because the set of lights is long enough to go around the entire living room, the hallway to the kids' room and the entire dining area! Still, looking at it afterwards, in combination with the existing decorations, was really pretty, very Christmas-like. I was pleased! And I had the satisfaction of surprising Angel and the kids with it, since I did it on the spur of the moment while noone was there.

Angel's been ill with the flu off and on this week but she did make the effort to go into work yesterday for a half-day. I got to surprise her when I brought her back home at lunchtime. The kids got the surprise when they got home from school.

Last night, the kids and I went to church while Angel stayed home to recover. There was a brief service then a rehearsal for this Sunday's Christmas program at the church. We're also gearing up for First Light performing at the Operation Christmas Gift (OCG) program next Thursday evening here in Austin. OCG is sponsored by our church as a way to provide uplifting Christmas music and free gifts to underprivileged kids in Austin (and around the world) as well as a Christmas message of hope from our pastor. First Light has been performing at these events for the last several years, since it started actually, and this year, we were chosen to be the official entertainment for the event from now on (we're excited about that)!

This morning, I got munchy hungry before going to work but I didn't really feel like eating pasta so soon after breakfast, so I decided to try Ghetto Pizza! I made angelhair spaghetti yesterday with a doctored up version of Emilio's Mushroom and Onions spaghetti sauce (I don't recommend it, his Roasted Red Pepper spaghetti sauce is much better). I tend to add a lot of paprika and extra pepper to "my" sauces. I also add a pound of either ground beef or ground turkey, often cooked with onions and garlic (or this time, with sauteed onions and mushrooms) to the sauce (after draining the meat, of course). I used wheat bread, put a couple of tablespoons of sauce on each slice and topped each slice with 3 pepperoni pieces and toasted it on medium. The pepperoni was a very nice addition to the sauce, added some missing spice and distracted from the extreme tomato taste the original sauce has. It was also filling as promised (the meat may have had a little something to do with that, being loaded with seasoned ground turkey and pepperoni slices).

Well, I think I've said more than enough for now. Tomorrow's a new NITNF. I'll have to start looking for Christmas and holiday trivia! Should be fun...

Best Wishes,

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Making The Transition To Blogger Beta

So yesterday, I got the mass email about Blogger Beta being ready for me to upgrade my I thought to myself "Why not?" I've been curious about Blogger Beta for months. So I took the plunge -- and aside from having to reinstall one javascript code, it all worked well. In fact, I really like some of the new features!

It took me hours to apply "labels" to all 284 blog posts from the last (almost) 4 years but it was worth it. You can now view all of the Not In The News Fridays or all the videos or all of the non-dairy recipes, etc. In addition, it's much easier to write and edit blog entries. So, that's the reason for the subtle changes you may have noticed in the site.

Have a great weekend!

Best Wishes,

Friday, December 08, 2006

Not In The News Friday (NITNF)

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at least fascinating.

Today's NITNF is, well, a little silly. But that's okay, that's where we started with NITNF. It's a recipe, it does use dairy (cheese - although you could always use soy cheese, if you can find some that melts well) and it is fun and interesting! For our bit of trivia today, totally not related to anything IR, I give you:

Ghetto Pizza

Note from Cheap Eats Editor in 08.22.06 post: I don’t mean ghetto in any derogatory, if you live in or near a sketchy neighborhood, I’m not saying this is the only type of food you would eat. In fact, you probably eat much better than me...

Warning - extremely Cheap Eats up ahead. You may want to look away if you’re adverse to main meal recipes with only three ingredients.

If you were ever a hungry latch-key kid coming home from school, chances are you’ve made an afternoon snack like this before. I call it Ghetto Pizza, although maybe it should be called “Starving College Kid Pizza”. I happen to think this is quite good for lunchtime meals as well (as long as you eat other stuff with it, veggies would be nice!).

I actually wasn’t a latch-key kid until high school, but I still found occasion to make these every so often. The recipe is stupidly simple, has endless modifications, generally tastes “good” and can be fairly cheap as long as you don’t go putting any gourmet toppings on top.

We haven’t had a recipe on Cheap Eats in awhile, and I know that this doesn’t really count, but hey it’s cheap isn’t it? Here are the basics:

2 tbsp spaghetti sauce from a 26 oz. $2 jar — $0.07
1 slice of white bread — $0.10
1 slice cheese (mozzarella, swiss, etc.) — $0.15

optional pepper, dried oregano — negligible

Total: $0.32

If you can’t figure out how to make this, then I don’t know what to say. Put the sauce on the bread and cover with the cheese. Optional dried oregano and pepper on top. Put it in the toaster oven and toast it until the cheese is bubbly. That’s it.

You probably want to make a couple of these to fill you up. You couch potato guys, I’m talking to you…

Although this is pretty dumb and lame-easy to make, here are a few tips to making your Ghetto Pizza experience truly worthwhile.

Varying the type of bread can do wonders. I particularly like to use English Muffins as the base, because they are round like a mini-pizza, they have nooks and crannies where sauce can get into and because they have that extra crunch that normal toast doesn’t have. Another favorite is the Ghetto Pizza Bagels.

By the way, I know they have all these “mini-pizza” things you can buy in the frozen food section. I try and avoid those, because these are so easy to make.

If you’re REALLY hard up for sauce, well you can try using Ketchup. I can’t particularly stand Ketchup Ghetto Pizza though, there is just too strong of a taste to the sauce. I’ve tried mixing tomato sauce, tomato paste, and some herbs but it’s rather bland. The best sauce (other than making your own for cheaper) is the ready-made kind in a jar, about 26 ounces for $2 is the going rate. Probably cheaper on sale, and if generic.

The good thing is that you can store the jar in the fridge for a long time, and then just take a few scoops out for Ghetto Pizza as you need it. I like to get the sauces that have stuff in them, like Garlic and Mushrooms… that one works pretty well.

The cheese is probably the most expensive part of this equation. But you can easily get away with American Cheese on top, or even canned grated parm cheese. In the photos here, I had procurred a load of Swiss Cheese from the inlaws so that’s what I used. Mozzarella is of course the favored one, but I actually find it tends to pull off the bread easily since it’s so stretchy.

I find it tastes better to sprinkle some dried herbs and pepper on top. Use your imagination for other toppings… whatever you have leftover in the fridge will do.

A tip for putting this in the toaster. You may want to cover the grille with aluminum foil before making these, especially if the cheese is larger than the bread. Burnt cheese on the bottom of the toaster is kinda bad. Also, I like to use the “oven” setting because I find I need a longer toasting period on my crappy toaster to get the cheese nicely melted. Just don’t forget about it in the toaster or you’ll have a nice burnt mess.

For me Ghetto Pizza ranks right up there with the best Cheap Eats for people living at home… it is extremely cheap, uses readily available ingredients, can be used as hors d’oeuvres in a pinch, and doesn’t get boring if you vary the toppings. Why not make a few today in your toaster today? End Ghetto Pizza Commercial here…

Price: $0.32
Cheap Eats Score: 9/10

Source: Ghetto Pizza at Cheap Eats

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Through The Eyes Of A Pearl Harbor Survivor

John Weinberger, a West Bend resident who survived the Dec. 7, 1941 attacks on Pearl Harbor, right, talks to Slinger High School Band Director Dave Hanke and students about his experiences. Weinberger traveled with the marching band in November when they performed in the Waikiki Holiday Parade.


SLINGER - On the 65th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, a new generation is seeing it as though for the first time.

Slinger High School Marching Band members were able to experience the sights and sounds of Pearl Harbor through the eyes of a survivor, when they traveled to Hawaii with John Weinberger. The band was invited to perform in the Waikiki Holiday Parade on Thanksgiving Day, and also performed at the USS Missouri and attended memorials.

"I understand it more now. It’s a lot more realistic to me now," said senior Becky Faber, who said the most moving moment for her was watching Weinberger look at the memorial wall.

"You can talk about it in school, and it’s kind of like just something that happened in the past. Being there, it’s hits you how big it was," said sophomore Andy Vetrone.

"It was touching to see what actually happened, and to see the wall in Pearl Harbor with all the names on it," said senior Sam Duehr. "I have more respect now for all the people that fought there and for those who died over there."

Weinberger shared his experiences that day with students to keep the memory alive.

"It’s important (this generation) sees it first hand. Their parents should have seen it, now they know more than their parents," Weinberger said. "It’s all political, same as today. History keeps repeating and repeating itself."

"For us, the anniversary of Pearl Harbor is always going to be different," Band Director Dave Hanke said. "When we think of it now, we’ll be thinking of John. It’s not always where you go or what you do, but who you’re with."

Seeing Pearl Harbor through Weinberger’s eyes, Hanke said, completely changed the way he viewed that day in history.

"I went (to Pearl Harbor) last year and I thought it was a moving experience, but when we went with John this year, now it’s personal," Hanke said. "For our kids, what a great experience - watching John lay a wreath at the (USS Arizona) memorial, and knowing that he was 50 yards away when it was hit and you could see that he remembers exactly what happened - that was heart-wrenching. It was a life-altering experience. It makes us all different people."

Today, 65 years ago

"At this time today, I was working my tail off," Weinberger said.

"I had just turned 18 in June, and I was on the USS Whitney," Weinberger said. "It was the first time I had to handle a dead person - at 18 years old, whew, you think about that.

"Two of my buddies were on the Arizona. I went through training with them and wanted to get on the same ship they did. It’s a good thing I didn’t."

At the beginning of the attack, Weinberger said they thought it was just a training exercise. It wasn’t long, however, when it became apparent that Japan was attacking the United States.

"I heard something that sounded like rain, but it was the shrapnel, and the planes got so close with the torpedos, you could see the pilot’s face. The planes were 15 to 20 feet off the water when they dropped the torpedos. One just missed us. We were mad, I tell you. It just happened, just like that," Weinberger said as he snapped his fingers.

"I was 50 yards away from the Arizona when it was struck, and you swore the ship came right out of the water. You know when you go swimming in your clothes, and they stick to your body? That’s what the concussion felt like," he said.

"It was chaos all the way through, but we had so much darn training, that you automatically went through the motions," he said.

Once the attack was over, the chaos continued.

"The first ship to roll over was the Oklahoma," Weinberger said. "On the West Virginia, (those trapped) kept track of how long they were in there. They made marks until the 21st of December. That’s a hell of a way to die."

While Weinberger remembers the events of 65 years ago today, he notes how important it is for others to remember as well.

"We have to keep America strong and have a good military, and good civilians too," he said.

This story appeared in the West Bend Daily News on December 7, 2006.
A New Recipe: Allen's Texmex Spicy Chicken Soup

I haven't rolled out a non-dairy recipe in a quite a while! A couple of nights ago, I was really wanting to make a soup. I make meat dishes and grill stuff all the time but I've never really concocted my own soup from scratch before...and I love a challenge!

So I looked at various chicken and shredded chicken soup recipes online, first to see if there was something I could just follow existing directions on. Some were interesting but not all of the ingredients worked for me. So I narrowed my interests to two recipes and decided to combine them, plus some other ingredients I'd end up improvising. The result was a spicy "TexMex" (a blend of Texan and Mexican influences) soup with lots of white meat chicken chunks, served over yummy white rice that adds a nice texture and makes it more filling.

Best Wishes,

Allen's Texmex Spicy Chicken Soup

Note: If you like your soup really spicy, feel free to use medium to hot salsa. If you need to make it milder for yourself or your kids, feel free to use 1/4 jar of the mild salsa and diced tomatoes without the green chilies. Or just use regular tomato paste instead of diced tomatoes with green chilies.


- 4 large chicken breasts, cut in halves or 8 smaller chicken breasts
- 1 10.5 ounce can diced tomatoes with green chilies
- 1/2 jar of mild salsa
- One 10 ounce can of beef broth
- organic chicken broth (about 1 cup or to taste)
- Vanilla-flavored Silk soymilk (3 tablespoons or to taste)
- Salt
- Pepper
- 5 cups water
- 2 cups long-grain white rice

  1. Wash and prepare chicken breasts (cut in half if they are large).
  2. Lightly salt on each side of chicken breasts and add pepper on one side only
  3. Brown the chicken breasts in a skillet with no oil. Do NOT cook all the way through (it will make the meat too tough)
  4. Once the chicken is browned on both sides, remove from the skillet to a cutting board. Slice into thin strips with a knife.

    Note: I grilled the strips with my large George Foreman grill but you could also cook them in the oven in a glass casserole dish with a little bit of water on the bottom and covered with aluminum foil at about 350 for 10 minutes (check them at about 5 minutes to see if the meat has gone from pink in the center to white; if ready at 5 minutes, remove from oven, DO NOT OVERCOOK!)

  5. Once meat is cooked through and tender, cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch cubes and set aside, cover chicken in aluminum foil)
  6. In a large saucepot, add beef broth at high heat
  7. Add the diced tomatoes with green chilies and stir into beef broth
  8. Add the mild salsa and stir into soup mixture
  9. Add Vanilla-flavored Silk soymilk and stir into soup mixture
  10. Add organic chicken broth and stir into soup mixture
  11. Add 1 cup water and stir into soup mixture
  12. Add chicken chunks and stir into soup mixture
  13. Bring to a boil then turn off heat
  14. In a large cooking pot, put in 4 cups of water and bring to a boil on high heat
  15. Add 2 cups of long-grain white rice and reduce heat to low
  16. Simmer for 15 minutes. DO NOT STIR RICE.
  17. Turn off heat, stir rice.
  18. Serve soup over rice. Easily serves 4 - 6.
But First, Some Cuteness...

(Photo courtesy of Cute Overload)

But don't let their cuteness fool you. They are prepared to pounce to their owner's defense at any moment -- because everyone needs trained attack cats for their bodyguards!

...they're snoring?

Nevermind. At least they're cuddly.

Best Wishes,

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

(Mixed) Dog Tunnels Through Snow To Save Owners

I love stories like these -- and it's even a mixed (German Shepherd - Timberwolf) dog!

Best Wishes,

A seven year old German Shepherd - Timberwolf mixed dog named Shana is quite a canine hero in Alden as the story spreads of her efforts to save her owners during the October surprise storm.

Eve and Norman Fertig, who are both 81 years old, were out treating injured birds in the Wildlife Sanctuary on their Alden property on the night of October 12th. They left as the storm intensified but, were soon trapped by falling trees and heavy snow as they tried to walk back to their home. Eve realized they could die in the bitter cold but, fortunately, Shana was with them.

As the cold and snow chilled them both without heavy coats and gloves, Shana started digging under the snow and trees.

The dog actually dug a foot wide tunnel about 20 feet to the home.

Shana barked but, the couple hesitated, so they say the dog came back and tugged on Eve's jacket. She says the 160 pound dog actually pulled her onto its broad back and crawled through the tunnel. Her husband held on as well as they slowly crawled all the way back to their home. They made it back to the back deck, opened their door and fell in to the house exhausted but safe.

Friday, December 01, 2006

I Don't Usually Do This...

...but I'm going to link to another blogger's post. I think it's an interesting read and worth your time.

Ooops I Did It Again...Does God Exist?

Best Wishes,
Star Trek: Of Gods And Men - Full Trailer

Second, longer trailer for the anticipated all-star fanfilm. This trailer gives much more insight into the story and characters.

Not In The News Friday (NITNF)

Click on the above comic strip to see it full size in another window

NITNF will usually be a bit of trivia that I found interesting and thought you would like. It may be IR-related and it might not -- but should always be fun...or at least fascinating.

Today's NITNF focus is on a comic strip about a multiracial lead character named Candi.

According to the author, Starline X Hodge (who is also multiracial):

Candi lives in a scholarship house with 5 other roommates. It's cheap rent and they feed you, but there's a lot of rules and regulations to follow as well. She's pretty laid back about all of this though.Candi mostly has an optimistic personality, even though she does have her down times. She likes to see everyone happy, and hates conflict. Although she tries her best to be friendly to everyone, she has a tenedancy to not let people get really close to her.

Source: Candi's bio