three dollar difference

I went to get some groceries this morning, and I went to a store with an older cash register system. Normally, they give me both a cash register receipt and a separate receipt for running my debit card.

I did not notice it at the time, but in retrospect I do not believe they gave me a debit card receipt this morning. I put the cash register receipt into my checkbook so that I could enter the amount later. My total purchase was $27.84.

This afternoon, I happened to go to my credit union website to check my bank balance. The website showed a $30.84 charge from that store. This was not a hold or pre-authorization. Sometimes gas stations or restaurants will put a hold on your account that’s different from the final charge that actually goes through, but this was not that. This was the actual, final charge, and it was three dollars more than I was supposed to have paid.

I went back to the store just now and asked to speak to the manager. He was very nice, paid me the $3 in cash, and made a copy of the cash register receipt and the bank website printout for his files.

If it had been a one-digit difference – $28.84 or even $37.84 – I would say it was just a case of her finger slipping as she punched in the number. And maybe it still was just an honest mistake. But it smelled funny for some reason, especially since I don’t think she gave me the debit card receipt.

Well, if there really is funny business going on, it will be found out eventually. If it was just an honest mistake, the store did all they could to make it right, and I appreciate that.

bad culture

I have been making my own yogurt on a regular basis for about two months, with only a couple of breaks.

Today, though, was the first time I had a batch turn out badly. It was sort of curdled, runny, and just had the faintest off smell, and I ended up dumping it rather than eating it.

I don’t know exactly what happened. I was using the second half of a half-gallon of milk. It was still before the sell-by date, and the milk didn’t smell bad, but it had been sitting in the fridge a few days since I’d opened it and used the first half. It had been longer than normal since the last batch of yogurt (which I made with the first half of that milk). My starter culture might also just have gotten weak, which is not uncommon.

I’ll make a new batch in another day or two, and start afresh with an envelope of freeze-dried starter culture and some milk straight from the store.

Today’s mishap aside, I really do like making my own yogurt. It tastes good, it’s less expensive than buying yogurt, and it doesn’t have artificial thickeners or stabilizers.

comedy bang! bang!

Since getting back a cable tier that included IFC a week or two ago, I have been catching up on the new season of one of my favorite shows, “Comedy Bang! Bang!”, the first season with “Weird Al” Yankovic as sidekick.

This show is really popular with a certain subset of comedy fans, but a lot of other people have never heard of it. I think it’s wonderfully creative and silly and joyful.

“Comedy Bang! Bang!” is based on a podcast of the same name – both the podcast and the TV show are hosted by Scott Aukerman. Strangely enough, I don’t really listen to the podcast that often. This post will be about the TV show, not the podcast.

It’s difficult to describe because it’s too easy to describe. It’s a parody of a talk show – but it’s actually a lot more than that. It’s got elements of everything from “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” to “Community” to “Saturday Night Live.”

Originally, Aukerman’s music director and sidekick was Reggie Watts, who was hilarious. Reggie left the show after several seasons to become the bandleader for “The Late Late Show with James Corden.” Kid Cudi took the position for one season, and he was fine, but he left because of conflicts with his musical career. This season, “Weird Al” – who had been a guest and done cameos on the show in the past – took the job, and he’s a perfect fit.

Within the talk show format, there’s a first guest – a real celebrity, although sometimes playing an exaggerated or caricatured version of themselves – and then a second guest, who is actually a sketch character or an impersonation of a celebrity. (The podcast follows this same real-guest-plus-fake-guest format.)

Here’s the real Ellie Kemper and a fake Jesse Ventura (James Adomian):

But there are several levels of the show going on at the same time as the talk show parody. First off, there’s a behind-the-scenes element. We see Scott and Al talking to crew members about the show, there’s an angry network executive who pops up from time to time complaining about things, and so on.

But there’s usually also some subplot making fun of some other pop culture – from beach movies to “Lord of the Rings” to “The Big Chill.” And there are funny fake commercials and trailers and flashbacks.

I really enjoy this show. It may take a few episodes to get into, especially since each episode has a different feel and flavor to it due to the pop culture parody aspect. You might even want to go online and look for some of the old Reggie Watts episode before perusing the newer Weird Al episodes – but I think it’s well worth it.

back to the book?

I’ve been feeling restless tonight – llike I should be working on something. After Relay For Life, and the Lake Junaluska trip, and the chili cookoff, I’m in kind of letdown mode – the next thing I have to look forward to is my Sierra Leone trip in November.

A year or two ago, I started pulling and adapting some old sermons, blog posts and other material with the idea of possibly self-publishing a book of faith-based essays. I don’t know whether there’d be any market for it, but – as with my Bad Self-Published Novel – it would be a low-risk enterprise, as much for the challenge as anything else.

So I started re-looking at some of the content tonight. It’s still a little short; I need to write a few more things exclusively for the book, if that’s what I want to do.

chili recap

For the past few years, I served as a judge at both the Friday evening and Saturday afternoon chili cookoffs held each July in Shelbyville. I always dreamed of entering, but it’s actually a pretty complicated and expensive process. This year, though, I took the plunge.

As you know if you followed my Facebook posts, it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. I wasn’t happy with my entry and thus wasn’t surprised when I didn’t place last night, and when I got the chance to see my judges’ comments today there were some negative comments – at least one of which seemed to be the exact opposite of what I thought was wrong with the chili.

Anyway, I had a good time, at least before seeing those judges’ comments this morning, but I was also dog tired. Going into the process, my original plan had been to only cook on Friday, and then – if I happened to get lucky Friday – I might choose to cook on Saturday. During the evening yesterday, I considered coming back and cooking today even if I didn’t place, just because I was enjoying it. But I was frustrated with my final result, and, as I say, dog tired. Even before the final results were announced, I packed up the canopy tent I had been loaned rather than leaving it on-site (they had told us we could leave tents overnight and there would be security). I knew I wouldn’t be cooking the next day.

I laid down on the couch as soon as I got home and fell asleep until 12:30. Then I went up and got into bed. At 1:30, I started thinking about the leftover propane cans still in my car. What if I slept late in the morning? How hot would my car get? Would the propane tanks explode, destroying my car right in the apartment parking lot? I got up, went downstairs and brought the propane inside.

Anyway, here are some random observations.

* Chili cookoffs are expensive. For an International Chili Society-sanctioned cookoff, you have to join ICS, over and above the entry fee of the cookoff. Of course, you’ve also got ingredients – not only for the batch you prepare at the cookoff but for all of the ones you prepare in your kitchen getting ready. I ordered most of my herbs and spices from my favorite mail-order house (although I’ve got quite a bit left for use in regular cooking, so that’s some benefit). I was able to borrow a Coleman stove and a canopy tent, but I ended up buying a cooler (which I needed anyway) and a little folding table (which I thought would be a good thing to have).

The ICS membership is annual, so if I compete next year I’ll have to renew about that time. It would be nice if I could find another cookoff to compete in between now and then, to leverage a little bit of my membership fee. There aren’t any too close by, unfortunately.

* The atmosphere at the cookoff was wonderful. Yes, there was serious competition going on. Some of the cooks who came to Shelbyville from as far away as Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana and Mississippi were trying to place so that they could qualify for the ICS World Championship in Reno, Nevada, in October. They were serious about their cooking, but that didn’t keep them from being friendly, helpful and encouraging.

* Wes Carlson of Illinois, who was the ICS world champion for green chili in 2004, came back again this year to serve as head judge and work with local organizer Calvin Cannon in putting on the event. I had worked with Wes as a judge last year. When I raised my hand to identify myself as a rookie at the cook’s meeting last night. Several people yelled at me about salt. I honestly thought at the time that they were joking – that maybe it was some sort of tradition to try to trick first-timers into over-salting their chili. I do like salty foods – too much for my own good – but last year, one of the batches I tasted as a judge was so salty even I didn’t care for it. I had decided prior to the cookoff that I would have enough salt, but not too much.

But when Wes stopped by to check on me later, he actually mentioned salt again – and I could tell that he was serious. Even so, I thought I had it covered, and told him so.

Anyway, one of the judges’ comments I got: “not enough salt.” That may have also figured in to the judge who called my chili “bland.” I did not think it was bland; if anything, I though I’d gone overboard with a couple of added flavors. I added a little lime juice right at the very end of cooking just to wake things up, for example, and thought it might have been too much. I wasn’t happy with my entry, but I didn’t think it was bland by any stretch of the imagination.

* Another judges’ comment: “too thick.” This one, I’ll own up to. Part of the problem is that I was only entered in one category – red chili. I should have waited longer than I did to start my chili, and for a while I could not get the flame on the Coleman stove as low as I really wanted it without it going out. I eventually compensated by putting the dutch oven off-center rather than directly over the burner. I added water to the chili at several points to thin it out, but apparently not enough – and perhaps I should have added a little less masa flour at the end.

By the way, one of the other competitors saw me adding the masa and said she’d switched to rice flour as a thickener because it was flavorless. But to me, the taste of masa is actually a part of what I expect in chili.

* Back when I envisioned cooking in a chili cookoff, I thought I might try to recruit one of my nephews or a kid from church to be a second pair of hands. I really wish I had done that. I had to make about five trips from my car to my site unloading, carrying heavy items like the canopy tent and the cooler, and the same thing loading up at the end of the evening. Also, at one point Wes invited me to be a judge for the green chili category (which I had not entered), but I didn’t want to leave my chili unattended. Most of the other competitors had some sort of help – spouses, kids, friends, or so on. If I cook next year, I’m going to try to recruit a helper.

* This morning, I stopped by to get a few photos for the paper and also to check on those judges’ comments. But I was still kind of tired, and really didn’t feel like hanging around. I wish I had gotten the chance, with my new perspective, to maybe talk to a few of the other teams, and I probably would have been roped into judging had I been there this afternoon. (I particularly missed judging the salsa category this year.)

* In years past, I would be involved in the Nashville Symphony concert, Relay For Life and Mountain T.O.P. trips, all within a six- or eight-week period, all of them high points of my year, and then I’d feel kind of let down afterward. Well, the symphony concert is no more, and I didn’t go to Mountain T.O.P. this year. This year, I went from “The Foreigner” to Relay For Life to the Lake Junaluska trip to the chili cookoff. But the letdown is the same, and I think it’s started, especially since I feel like the chili cookoff didn’t go the way I wanted it to. I’ve been feeling cranky and out-of-sorts today. The one good part is that I can start looking forward to my Sierra Leone trip in November.

Win or Lose

Mt. Lebanon UMC
July 3, 2016

Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 (CEB)

10 After these things, the Lord commissioned seventy-two others and sent them on ahead in pairs to every city and place he was about to go. 2 He said to them, “The harvest is bigger than you can imagine, but there are few workers. Therefore, plead with the Lord of the harvest to send out workers for his harvest. 3 Go! Be warned, though, that I’m sending you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry no wallet, no bag, and no sandals. Don’t even greet anyone along the way. 5 Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘May peace be on this house.’ 6 If anyone there shares God’s peace, then your peace will rest on that person. If not, your blessing will return to you. 7 Remain in this house, eating and drinking whatever they set before you, for workers deserve their pay. Don’t move from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a city and its people welcome you, eat what they set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘God’s kingdom has come upon you.’ 10 Whenever you enter a city and the people don’t welcome you, go out into the streets and say, 11 ‘As a complaint against you, we brush off the dust of your city that has collected on our feet. But know this: God’s kingdom has come to you.’

16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. Whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned joyously, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit themselves to us in your name.”
18 Jesus replied, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 Look, I have given you authority to crush snakes and scorpions underfoot. I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will harm you. 20 Nevertheless, don’t rejoice because the spirits submit to you. Rejoice instead that your names are written in heaven.”

When I saw this passage in the Lectionary, I thought I’d preached on it before. So I went through my files, and found that I’d used this passage for a devotion during a training event for my teammates in 2009, when Gail Castle and I were co-leading a mission trip to Malaba, Kenya.
Of course, it makes perfect sense as a passage about missions. It’s about the disciples being sent out into towns and cities that they weren’t familiar with, telling strangers about Jesus for the first time.
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in through the back door

I was over at my father’s this afternoon and he turned on “Emergency!” on MeTV. For my younger readers, “Emergency!” was an hour-long drama from the 1970s about two firefighter/paramedics in Los Angeles and the doctors and nurse who supervised their medical work at a nearby hospital. It was a popular and entertaining show, but it had an even-larger impact on the real world than its ratings would indicate. The show informed the casual viewer about paramedics, an idea that was still in its infancy, and encouraged the creation of paramedic programs in cities and towns across the U.S. It was from Jack Webb’s production company, but an associate of Webb’s named R.A. Cinader was in day-to-day charge of things.

The episode we happened to watch today, however, spent a small amount of time on the regular characters. Instead, it focused on Los Angeles animal control – two officers, one of them played by an impossibly-young Mark Harmon, a veterinarian played by David Huddleston, and a supervisor played by Bing Crosby’s son Gary.

I immediately figured it to be a backdoor pilot – and a quick check of Wikipedia confirmed this.

What’s a backdoor pilot?

Each year, TV networks receive hundreds of proposals for new shows from studios and independent producers. At a certain time of year, each network selects the most promising proposals and orders “pilot episodes” – sample episodes that demonstrate what the show will look like. It’s those pilot episodes that the network uses to decide which ideas it will actually order to series.

Sometimes, pilot episodes are seen by the public. If the show makes it to series, the pilot may – or may not – be used as one of the first-season episodes. However, if the network asked for a lot of changes to the pilot, or if a lot of roles had to be recast, the pilot may never see the light of day, except maybe as a DVD box set extra or what have you. Some cable network – TV Land, maybe – once ran the previously-unaired pilot for “Gilligan’s Island,” which was significantly different from the show which followed it. For example, instead of Ginger being a movie star, Ginger and Mary Ann were secretaries and best friends. There was a high school teacher instead of a professor.

“Star Trek” had a first pilot starring Jeffrey Hunter as Capt. Christopher Pike. NBC disliked numerous things about it but still saw potential, and asked Gene Roddenberry to shoot a then-unheard-of second pilot. By that time, Hunter was unavailable and Roddenberry cast William Shatner instead, changing the character’s name. However, frugal Roddenberry didn’t throw that pilot footage away – he simply declared that Pike had been captain of the Enterprise before James T. Kirk, and that allowed him to use much of the Jeffrey Hunter footage as flashback sequences for a first-season episode of the show.

If a pilot episode is not picked up to become a series, the pilot may be locked away – or maybe shown as a one-time special. A few years ago, there was a very funny pilot, “Mockingbird Lane,” which was a witty re-imagining of “The Munsters” starring Jerry O’Connell and Eddie Izzard. The show was not picked up, but the pilot episode was aired around Halloween as a special.

So that’s a “pilot” – but what is a “backdoor pilot”?

In 1959, Danny Thomas – star of “The Danny Thomas Show” – and his producing partner Sheldon Leonard (Nick the bartender from “It’s A Wonderful Life”) wanted to create a TV show around rising young comic and actor Andy Griffith. They pitched it to CBS, but CBS was not interested enough to put up money to shoot a pilot.

So Thomas and Leonard put their heads together and found a way to shoot a pilot without the network putting up any extra money. They wrote an episode of the show they already had on the air – “The Danny Thomas Show” – in which Danny’s character is traveling through the South and his car breaks down in the small town of Mayberry, North Carolina. Danny is introduced to the town’s sheriff, Andy Taylor, and various other colorful characters.

The strategy worked. Using money already in their budget, they were able to give the network a glimpse of what they were planning even though the network hadn’t funded an official, stand-alone pilot. The network ordered “The Andy Griffith Show” to series, and the rest is history.

This technique of using an episode of an existing show to introduce a potential new one became known as a “backdoor pilot.” The resulting episodes are sometimes clunky and contrived, but that’s the price you pay.

“Emergency!”’s “backdoor pilot” about Los Angeles animal control was not picked up by NBC, and so it remained an unusual – and unusually star-heavy — episode of the show. It was a little bit contrived – the animal control officers rescue a child’s pet goat from a fire, but can’t get it to a veterinary hospital in time to rescue it from heart problems and so must convince a doctor from the normal “Emergency!” cast to operate instead, with the remote radio advice of Huddleston’s kindly veterinarian.

OK, this is probably more than you wanted to know about backdoor pilots. What can I say? Maybe I should propose a pilot episode about the Guy Who Loves To Mansplain Things.

Familiar faces

It was raining when we got up this morning, and so the leaders talked seriously about calling off our trip to Sliding Rock, not only because of rain at the location (after all, the kids were going to get wet anyway) but because of the possibility of rain during our drive down there and back, on windy mountain roads in (mostly) rented vans.

But the rain seemed to take a break, and so we decided to go on — a little earlier than the original schedule. That turned out to be a good thing; our group got to Sliding Rock early, and the kids got some time in before the big crowd showed up. The sun was out for most of the time we were there and there was no rain … but just wait.

Sliding Rock, located within Pisgah National Forest, is a natural rock formation which works like a water slide. Here’s some video I took today that will give you an idea:

I did not slide — and I was not alone; I believe Alden was the only adult who slid out of either the First UMC or Isle Of Hope UMC groups. It looked like fun — but the pool of water at the bottom was quite cold, and I was still feeling a little beaten up from tubing yesterday.

When we first pulled into the parking lot, the very next vehicle after us turned out to have Bedford County plates. I eventually figured out that it was the Osterhaus family. I know Emily Osterhaus, who works in the local extension office with the 4-H program. I didn’t get to speak to her today, though, just her husband. I think I saw her sliding, though.

WP_20160627_11_18_01_ProI also saw two other familiar faces today at Sliding Rock — these two, I was expecting. My long-time Mountain T.O.P. friend Sonja Goold and her husband recently moved to Brevard, North Carolina, and as luck would have it Kim Lachler, another Mountain T.O.P. friend, was visiting her. We made arrangements before the trip to connect at Sliding Rock, which Sonja had been wanting to visit anyway. Sonja and Kim had both been to last week’s Mountain T.O.P. AIM event, and so they filled me in on all the details. It was great seeing them.

After the teens had their fill of sliding, we drove to a picnic area in the forest, where we’d reserved a covered pavilion. We had just finished eating and were thinking about getting underway when it started to drizzle. I walked across a large field to the restrooms, and just about the time I got inside it started pouring. I finished my business, then came outside and stood under an awning the eaves, watching the group from afar to see what they were going to do. Finally, the rain let up a little bit and they started heading in my direction (the restroom was close to the parking area). Fortunately, the rain wasn’t too bad on the drive back. (I was not driving our van; Karen Griffin was.)

We got back to camp and I walked up the street to the Lake Junaluska bookstore and cafe, really the only chance I’ve had to explore any of the Lake Junaluska campus. I had a frosty frappucino with chocolate chips — I don’t drink much coffee, but this was quite refreshing and I figured I needed the caffeine at this point. On my way up and back, I walked past the World Methodist Museum, which I had really wanted to see but which is closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I’ll have to catch it on a future trip.

Tonight, we will walk to a cross on the Junaluska property. This closing ceremony, as Alden was describing it today, is quite a tradition for our senior partners from Isle Of Hope. We will get on the road tomorrow, headed for home. It’s been a great trip.


WP_20160626_16_02_58_ProI felt like such an idiot yesterday for having worried so much about white-water rafting. As I posted yesterday, I had a blast.

I’d never been tubing, either, but it sounded like it would be a lot more relaxing, and nowhere near as challenging.





One continues the journey of self-discovery throughout one’s life, and today I discovered that I am not cut out for tubing. Everything I worried about from white-water rafting came true in tubing. I was an ungainly idiot just getting into the tube, and scratched up my left leg at that point. I kept getting turned around backwards and couldn’t figure out a good way to turn myself around, so I kept getting into the wrong areas — stuck on rocks or flipping over in the rapids. I flipped over at least three times, scratching my right leg even worse than I’d scratched the left one.
Later, several others would try to tell me that they, too, had had trouble, either today or else the first time they’d gone tubing. But I was having worse trouble, as evidenced by the fact that I was lagging way behind the rest of the group. Alden, our leader, and Tori, one of the youth, hung back so that they could keep me in view, which made me feel guilty.

Finally, after about the third time I flipped, I was gasping for breath and just feeling completely frustrated, completely clumsy and fatter than Fatty Arbuckle.

I stood there, in the current, trying to catch my breath. I was at a place where there was a way back up to the path.

I heard Alden’s voice: “I think you’re going to have to walk it.” I did not realize at the time that Alden was talking to Tori, telling her that a particular area was so shallow that Tori would have to pick up her tube and cross it that way. I thought Alden was talking to me, confirming that I was just so incredibly bad at tubing that now was the time to give up.

I stood there for a few minutes. Alden got out of her tube, went ashore, and walked back to where I was. She clarified that she was not telling me to stop, and in fact she encouraged me to continue, saying that we’d passed the worst of the rapids and it was much easier from that point downstream. But by that time my mind was made up. I did not want to get back in that tube, I did not want to feel like I was holding everyone else back; I just wanted to go.

I got out of the water and made the walk, which seemed like a mile or more, back to the tube rental place. (On the way up, we had actually driven part of the way, but those vans were now already back at the rental place, where we would eat lunch.) It was a long walk, carrying a light but ungainly tube, and I think I’d pulled some muscle in my hip at some point while I was in the water. It actually hurts worse now than it did then; I especially felt it when getting into and out of the van for the ride back to Junaluska. I was berating myself pretty much the whole walk back.

When I got back to the tube rental place, the first few tubers from Isle of Hope were starting to arrive. Kim Floyd, a delightful woman from Isle of Hope who has been doing our food service this weekend, put disinfectant and Neosporin on my shins and taped a big piece of gauze on my right one. I was really grateful for her help and kindness.

I eventually got over feeling sorry for myself. The kids had a great time, and many of them eagerly went back up the hill to do it all over again after lunch. And that’s who this trip is about, after all — the kids.

We had pre-ordered hamburgers for lunch from the snack bar there at the tube rental place, and they were quite good. Later, if we wanted, we could buy ice cream from that same snack bar. I had some Mayfield blueberry cheesecake, and it was terrific. There’s nothing like a couple of scoops of ice cream to put you in a better mood.