TIL – Sweet Frog

Today is July 27, 2014, and I am in a store in Sterling, Virginia.

I am dispensing strawberry frozen yogurt into a cup as I am in a Sweet Frog shop.

After I add my crushed-up Heath bar, cherries, and white chocolate chips, I approach the cashier and begin to pay. As I am waiting for my change, I look at the wall behind the employee counting out my quarters and nickels and see a shirt that has the Sweet Frog mascots on it.

It also has some words on it.

TIL – The “Frog” in Sweet Frog is an acronym that stands for “Fully Rely on God”.

The Wikipedia entry on this business mentions that the creator of Sweet Frog, Derek Cha, founded his company on Christian principles.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

Deadlines…Shmeadlines

“Deadlines are meant to be broken. And I just keep breaking them.” – Sara McLachlan

The folks over at the United States Congress are the living embodiment of the above quote.

This current month of September is the last month of Fiscal Year 2014 (FY14), which means it is up to Congress to pass the collection of appropriations bills that will fund the federal government for the next twelve months. For FY15, Congress has to fund eleven bills from Agriculture to Transportation/HUD.

As of this writing, the full Congress (House and Senate) has not passed a single appropriation bill to send to the President for his signature. In fact, the Senate has not even voted on one funding bill. The House, at least, has given their ayes and nays on seven. Congress.gov has the full figures here.

Now, please recall, that appropriating money is one of the functions the United States Constitution gives to legislators (Article I, Section 9, Clause 6 for those who want to refer to the pocket version of the document I’m sure you have on you) so missing the deadline to allocate funds for the start of fiscal year is to akin to you failing to do one of your job’s responsibilities. Not sure how long you would remain employed if you consistently fell short of a mandated deadline.

Now that Congress is back to work (or sort of back to work as I wrote about in this post), one would think that the Representatives and Senators would roll up their sleeves and pass the eleven appropriation bills before September 30 rolls around.

One would be dead wrong.

At least one member of Congress already knows the jig is up and that the legislators will emulate Sara McLachlan and break a deadline (for the umpteenth time). On September 9, the second day back from their August recess, Representative Harold “Hal” Rogers (R, KY) introduced House Joint Resolution 124 which is a continuing resolution, or CR.

This CR from the gentleman from Kentucky would continue to fund the federal government at FY14 levels until December 11, 2014. It’s like he already knew that Congress would not do their duty. Well, he has been in Congress since 1981 so I guess he has some experience in watching those appropriations deadlines be broken.

Back to Work…Sort Of

“Recess is over!”

That was a phrase that would always bring terror into my third-grade heart whenever I heard it on the school playground. There was always one more game to play, one more ball to kick, and one more swing to swing.

I don’t know if this phrase brings dread to the 532 members of the United States Congress, but as of Monday, September 8, those three words are in effect.

(Yes, I know, that there should 535 members of the U.S. Congress, but the House of Representatives has three vacancies courtesy of the empty seats in New Jersey (1st District), North Carolina (12th District), and Virginia (8th District).)

So what is one of the first things the legislators working under the dome of the United States Capitol do after spending nearly the entire month of August away from Washington, D.C. (The House adjourned on August 4; the Senate on August 8)?

They hold a hearing.

This one, held at 10:00am on their first day back, is brought to you by the House Committee on Natural Resources and it deals with the northern long eared bat. Testimony will be heard about the proposal to list the flying mammal as an endangered species and how that designation would affect Pennsylvania and thirty-seven other states. Representatives from power companies, farms, and energy companies will testify.

I wonder which of those invited groups will go to bat for the bats.

Back at the House, the whole gang comes together at 2:00pm (because who likes early meetings on a Monday…oh, apparently the Committee on Natural Resources does). The representatives dispense with the formalities such as the daily prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance in just under two minutes.

The House takes up their first real bit of business at 2:03pm when they officially receive the resignation of Eric Cantor (R, VA) from the House.

Five minutes into the new session, the House breaks into a round of one-minute speeches. The first comes from Frank Wolf (R, VA) who announces he will be introducing two bills “…to address the most pressing national security threat since 9/11, the rapid advances made in ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as territorial gains made by al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Libya, Nigeria, and Somalia.”

Lest you think that Representative Wolf’s introduction of legislation meant that perhaps Congress would do some work and maybe back away from verbally attacking the President, the next two speakers would disabuse from that notion. Let the record show that it took Congress under seven minutes to partake in potshots at POTUS rather than deal with unemployment, minimum wages, etc., etc., etc.

Representative Joe Garcia (D, FL) starts the ball with “…the President signaled that he would not move forward on comprehensive immigration reform, and we are deeply disappointed.”

Not satisfied by a mere statement of disappointment, the next speaker, Representative Joe Wilson (R, WI), took to the floor and said, “The President has been negligent for the past 2 1/2 years, as ISIS fought to seize control of the very country we liberated with our dedicated military…”

This goes on until a quarter past two and then the House knuckles down and passes legislation. Ladies and gentlemen of the United States of America, you can stand proud knowing that in their first day back after a grueling summer recess, the United States House of Representatives voted and passed S.231, the Multinational Species Conversation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2013. This august piece of legislation means these types of semipostal stamps can continue to be sold for four more years.

Our long national nightmare is over.

Riding high on a postal wave, the House then went on a binge and, over the next six hours, voted to rename fourteen post offices.

Oh, there was other stuff discussed and more speeches given, and the gavel fell at 8:40pm and Congress called it a day.

While I have written about a great number of numbers (532 members of Congress, five minutes before the Obama sniping began, four more years for the semipostal stamp, fourteen renamed post offices), the number I want to highlight in this post is nineteen. An aspect of our federal legislative body that has always amused me is the amount of time they spend away from their primary workplace. As I wrote above, the House was out from August 4 until September 8 and the Senate was out from August 8. For the People’s Chamber, that means that they were away from the District of Columbia for twenty-three work days. Members of the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body were away from the nation’s capital for nineteen (there’s that number) work days.

But wait, there’s more.

After their exhausting schedule of two four-day work weeks (September 8-11 and September 16-19…hey that includes a four-day weekend!), the House takes the following week off before engaging in another grueling four-day work week.

Then they’re away from October 6 until Halloween. That’s a grand nineteen (there’s that number again) work days away from the workplace.

Oh, that can’t honestly be right.

Well, it’s good work if you can get it and avoid it.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fray

In a first for this aspect of my blogging portfolio, I will be using this space for my response to a Weekly Photo Challenge from WordPress.

The theme this go-around is fray.

My response takes us back two years to July 2012 when I visited the Hirshhorn Musuem and Sculpture Garden, located in Washington, D.C.

One of the paintings I saw at this museum caught my eye because the artist took his paint outside of the confines of the space of the artwork. This produced an effect where the splotches of color fray at the edges and seem to spill off the cardboard.

Here, take a look at a closeup of this artwork…

DSCN2608

The shadows on the wall showcase the effect of the physical oil paint moving off the boundaries of the rectangle and fraying off into space.

For those with a thirst for knowing, this artwork is entitled “Untitled (Rotating Eyes of the Falling Tree Monkey Face 43.35)” by American painter Mark Grotjahn.

TIL – Thomas Lincoln

Today is July 26, 2014, and I am in a minivan driving north on State Route 11 near Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Today is the day that my lovely wife and I pick up our trio of children from the summer camp where they have been spending the last two weeks. In that fortnight (ding! – twenty points for me for using a British word), our kids did all sorts of camp-y things such as horseback riding, breathing in smoke from campfires, swimming in lakes, shooting arrows from bows, and broadcasting music from their ten-watt radio station.

Before our car hit the main highway (Interstate 86 for those of you reading this and stalking us) and we peppered our children with all sorts of questions such as “Was camp fun?”, “Did you make many friends?”, and “I thought you put your sleeping bag in the boot?” (ding! – another twenty points), we are on State Route 11 when I see a white sign with black letters.

This type of sign, known as a historical marker, is a common sight here in Virginia. With its rich history of Native American cultures, European colonists, American Revolution locations, and Civil War battles, one cannot swing a Hoover (ding!) around this state without hitting a historical marker. This one intrigued me because I had seen it every time I had taken our kids to and from camp, but I had never slowed down long enough to read what it said.

Today was no different as I sped our vehicle past this marker, but I made a mental note to record its location and look it up on the Internet. Because anything can be found on the Internet. Except for my old high school locker combination. No one will ever discover that.

Once I was back in a place that had a decent wi-fi connection, I found MarkerHistory.com, a website devoted to…well, I guess the name really tells you what it does. Okay, that’s not entirely helpful. I suppose one could surmise that this website tells the rich history of Sharpie or Crayola color markers (which, respectively, can be found here and here…see everything can be found online). MarkerHistory.com is a website devoted to documenting historical makers. Once I put in the right coordinates, I found that Marker A 18 contained the following text about the father of our sixteenth President…

TILFour miles west, Thomas Lincoln, father of the President, was born about 1778. He was taken to Kentucky by his father about 1781. Beside the road here was Lincoln Inn, long kept by a member of the family.

Twenty-eight years after moving to western Virginia in the area now known as Kentucky, Thomas Lincoln and his wife Nancy Lincoln gave birth to their second son, who they named Abraham after Thomas’s father.

Another thing I learned on this online search was that Thomas’s mother (and the President’s grandmother) was named Bathsheba Herring, which would also be an excellent name for a Fishbone cover band.

Also, because again, you can find everything-minus-one on the Internet, here is a picture of the tombstone of Bathsheba Herring.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

TIL – QuizUp

Today is July 25, 2014, and I a sitting on a couch in my brother-in-law and sister-in-law’s house in Rockville, Maryland.

I am awaiting the arrival of their oldest son as he and his brother are returning from Brazil after experiencing the thrill of the World Cup.

Quick Digression

My oldest son gave me this gem. He wondered why American football was called “football” since the pigskin is not a ball (i.e., a sphere) and is rarely advanced via the foot. Instead, my eldest said the game on the gridiron, to be factual and accurate, should be called “handegg”.

I would pay a decent amount of money to hear Hank Williams, Jr. shout, “Are you ready for some handegg?”

End Digression

In addition to hearing all about watching futbol matches in Brazil (while avoiding touching on the 1-7 drubbing the Brazilians endured at the feet the Germans), I was curious to talk to my nephew to learn about the latest application he knew about. My nephew, over the years, has clued me in to some of my favorite on-line pastimes including the quiz game Sporcle, StumbleUpon – the website that plops you on a random URL based on your expressed interests, and GeoGuessr – the visual quiz that asks you to answer where in the world you are based on Google’s Street View.

I was not disappointed when my nephew announced his latest find.

TIL QuizUp exists.

This app, QuizUp, covers all of my bases.

It’s quick as a single quiz lasts for only seven questions.
It’s competitive as you play against other players from around the globe.
It’s goal-oriented as there are a number of achievements to be unlocked (i.e., becoming level 60 in 8 topics, winning 50 games in a row)
It’s varied as there are a multitude of topics (i.e., science, TV, sports, movies) and sub-topics (i.e., biology, math, Adventure Time, Star Trek, basketball, World Cup, Star Wars, Disney musicals) to be quizzed on.
It’s also completely addictive.

For the record, I am Level 19 in World News, Level 16 in US History, Level 10 in Disney, Level 5 in Cartoons, and Level 5 in Paintings, just to name a few of the topics I have competed in.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

TIL – MacCullum More Museum and Garden

Today is July 23, 2014, and I am standing in Chase City, Virginia.

I am looking at a miniature copy of the Aztec Stone of the Sun (the decorated circle often mischaracterized as a calendar) which is embedded in a stone wall.

My lovely wife and I are here in this private Virginia garden as part of our continuing mini-vacation that saw us first in North Carolina. Once again, following our “Why Plan Ahead?” pattern of vacationing, we find ourselves in Mecklenburg County in the south of Virginia with no idea as to what sights we should see.

When we arrived at our bed & breakfast in Clarksville, one of the items in our room was a binder full of places to see and experience. One of those locations was where my lovely wife and I find ourselves right now.

We are standing in the MacCullum More Museum and Garden. This location is an eclectic mix of statuary and garden pieces. There are Roman busts, dragons, anchors, fountains, and many other items including the aforementioned Stone of the Sun. This place is so haphazard that it could only make sense if it had been built by at least four different individuals for nearly half a century.

TIL – The MacCullum More Garden were mainly created by Charles F. Gillette, Lucy Henry Morton Hudgins, William H. Hudgins, and Howard Hudgins between 1927 and 1976.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

Postscript – I would like to tell you something about the museum that also resides on these grounds, but the facility was closed. I’m sure it’s lovely, though.

TIL – The Regulators

The date is July 22, 2014, and I am standing on te first floor of the Orange County Historical Museum located in Hillsborough, North Carolina.

As mentioned in my previous posting, my lovely wife and I are in the Tar Heel State enjoying a mini-vacation while our trio of children spend time away at a summer camp. So how did we come to choose North Carolina as our first stop on a four-day respite? The quick and truthful answer is we are a couple who are good at procrastination.

Well, that’s not the entire picture. We are quite good at planning as evidenced by the fact that we had been talking about this mini-getaway for a good six weeks before the actual event. And we talked. And we talked. And we talked some more, but we didn’t actually start planning our destination until six days ago.

Our first choice was Las Vegas. Rather than being a fan of gambling, I dearly wanted to visit Sin City so that I could see Penn and Teller live on stage. However, last-minute flights to Nevada’s most populous city are pricey. In fact, even with the bevy of “last-minute deal” locations on the Internet, we still found it impossible to find any online spur-of-the-moment airline seats that didn’t require us to sell any bodily fluids to purchase.

Option Number Two was a cruise to nowhere. I enjoy being on cruise ships as it gives me the simple opportunity to do nothing but read and partake in the occasional trivia contest. However, much to our chagrin, there were no ships leaving from Baltimore (our closest port of departure) or even New York City (second closest) that fit our schedule.

With time running short and with our first two selections being unavailable, we broke out Google Maps to see which cities were within a day’s drive of us. That is how Chapel Hill, North Carolina, wound up as our first destination which enabled us to visit Raleigh along with its twin museums of science and North Carolina history…which, by the by, are both free and nothing beats the price of zero.

Our last day in North Carolina finds us in Hillsborough courtesy of the woman at the Orange County Visitor’s Center. We had dropped by the day before to ask about the sights to see. The helpful woman at the counter pointed us to Hillsborough saying there were historic homes and museums to see. On her advice we drove north from Chapel Hill which is how we find ourselves at the aforementioned Orange County Historical Museum. This museum has artifacts from the Native American inhabitants, from the colonial times, from the Civil War era, and from North Carolina’s industrial history (i.e., textiles).

However, it was here in this museum that I learned something about our country’s history before the American Revolution that I had never learned before.

TIL – The Regulators were a group of people, mainly lower-class citizens from the backwater areas of North and South Carolina, who waged a campaign – sometimes through force – against corrupt colonial officials.

The Regulation War, fought from 1765 to 1771, was a contest between wealthy officials who collected taxes and non-wealthy farmers who thought they were being over-taxed, if not outright cheated. While those who identified themselves as Regulators were defeated at the Battle of Almanace, there are some who claim that this conflict was a catalyst for the American Revolution.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

TIL – Poison Frogs

The date is July 21, 2014, and I am standing in the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh, the state’s capital city.

My lovely wife and I are here enjoying a mini-vacation and we have randomly selected this city as our first stop. It should tell you something of my nature that when on a mini-vacation with my lovely wife without our trio of kids, one of the sights I chose for us to view is a science museum.

While enjoying this fine specimen of a museum, we walked by a booth where volunteers were giving a lecture about animals. It was here in this museum and while eavesdropping on this lecture that I learned something new that I will now share with you.

By the way, as way of an aside, for those of you not in the know of Internet lingo, the three-letter acronym of “TIL” stands for “Today I Learned”, which is also a popular message board on reddit. Without further hoopla, I give you my inaugural TIL:

TIL that poison dart frogs derive their toxicity from their diet, specifically ants or mites (depending on who you ask).

When poison dart frogs are raised in captivity and not given a diet of toxic ants, the frogs do not generate any venom.

It’s a good day when you learn something new.

Favorite Number

Greetings all and welcome to my latest blog. This will be a departure from my earliest writing incarnations because these musings will have nothing to do with travel. From my thoughts on living in Peru and in Thailand, you can jump on over, respectively, to Sin Polaris or 963 Thai Days.

What I hope to include on this site is just a motley collection of all the other non-travel thoughts that rattle around in my brain. Makes it sound like just about every other blog on the known Net, eh.

And you’re probably right, but care not I as these are my thoughts and not theirs.

So there.

For this inaugural posting, instead of a typical “Hello World” or “Welcome to my latest blog” blathering, I thought I would share with you my favorite number. This thought came to me while listening to the Radiolab podcast put out by WNYC Radio that discussed a worldwide on-line poll to find the globe’s favorite number. The results, by the way, are over here.

I was disheartened, but not surprised, to discover that my personal favorite number did not even crack the top ten.

Just so you know, my favorite number is 336.

Why?

Because that is the number of dimples on a typical golf ball.

That tiny tidbit is the first smattering of trivia I learned at a young age courtesy of a book entitled The Trivia Encylopedia. I’ve never forgotten that factoid and that is why three hundred and thirty-six is my favorite number.

Granted, 336 is not a number that comes up often when picking baseball uniforms, horses, or winning lotto numbers, but it was the gateway number that hooked me on a life of trivia (and ensured that I was always picked first during games of Trivial Pursuit).

So what would your favorite number be and why?