It’s a bad sign that I hadn’t even heard of “Crossbones” until after the first episode had aired, and that NBC is showing it on Friday nights during the summer.

But I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Maybe since I know going in that it’s not long for this world, I won’t be too disappointed when the inevitable happens.

“Crossbones” is a pirate drama with John Malkovich as Edward “Blackbeard” Teatch. Malkovich is the star, but Richard Coyle as resourceful, well-educated British agent Tom Lowe is the central character. Lowe has orders to kill Blackbeard, but finds himself Blackbeard’s prisoner, in effect, on a secret Caribbean island.

The show is more entertainment than history – an anachronistic steampunk submarine has been hinted at – but there is one interesting historical connection. Earlier today, before watching the first episode, I noticed that the Amazon Kindle deal of the day was “Longitude” by Dava Sobel. This is a non-fiction book about the creation of the first accurate clock that could be taken to sea, enabling mariners for the first time to be able to calculate their longitude, and thus their exact position. The book sounded interesting.

Then, when I watched the first episode, that very clock turned out to be a critical plot point on the show – Blackbeard wants it, and Lowe must try to keep it out of his hands. (I ended up going back and buying the Kindle book out of curiosity, while it was still on sale for $1.99.0)

Malkovich and Coyle are both fantastic, as are several of the other players. (I’m sometimes annoyed by the Coyle character’s dim-bulb Jimmy Olsen sidekick, but that’s a quibble.)

I can’t understand why NBC isn’t giving this more of a chance; I think it’s wonderful escapist entertainment.

Here, if you’re interested, are the first two episodes:

a good weekend

I didn’t post about Relay yesterday because I was focusing on the video.  (I admit it. I was kind of proud of how the video turned out.)

Anyway, I think we were all pleased with how it turned out. We have not yet met our (ambitious) 2014 goal, but the Relay year runs until Aug. 31 and some of our teams still have fund-raisers planned. We had a great turnout Friday night, and everything went smoothly. There were clouds, it was breezy during our setup hours on Friday afternoon, and we worried a little about rain, but the worst we got was a couple of light sprinkles – not even enough to make you put up an umbrella. (Unfortunately, the weather forecast was enough to prevent the rock-climbing wall from arriving in the first place.

My first Relay was in 2011, and since I wasn’t a part of the county organizing committee I didn’t get there until an hour or two before opening ceremonies. That was a 12-hour Relay. My second, in 2012, was an 18-hour Relay, and I had to arrive earlier to help with setup. In both cases, I got sleepy in the wee hours of the morning but then caught a second wind and finished well. Last year, I never got that second wind, and I was groggy alll through the morning.

This year, possibly due to the first 5-Hour Energy I’ve ever consumed, but also possibly due to weight loss and more regular exercise, I did much, much better. We went back to a 12-hour format this year, so I didn’t have to stay as long as I did last year. But even taking the different schedule into account, I felt noticeably better and got to enjoy the overnight fun much more this year than last year.

Speaking of fitness, here’s the bad news. Remember that Fitbit that I thought I lost at last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration but which turned up in my car seven months later? Well, I lost it again. And I’m certain it’s not in the car; I remember having it on at Relay, thinking about how many steps I was going to register when I got home and synched it with the computer. Now, I’ll never know.


I just watched a sensational movie I’d never seen or even heard of before: “Lisa,” with Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd. Dolores Hart – who is now a Benedictine nun – is co-hosting an evening of movies on Turner Classic Movies, and this apparently seldom-seen gem was one she requested they show.

Dolores Hart, before entering the convent, was best known for appearing in a couple of movies with Elvis (“Loving You” and “King Creole”) as well as “Where The Boys Are.” While they aren’t showing either of the Elvis movies tonight, Robert Osborne had to ask her about Elvis, and she remarked on what a gentleman he was to her, calling her “Miss Dolores” – the same thing she would later be called as a postulant!

Stephen Boyd is best known, to me, anyhow, as the bad guy in “Ben-Hur,” but he’s the good guy in “Lisa.”  He plays a Dutch policeman in 1946, guilt-ridden because he could not save his wife from the Nazis, who encounters an emotionally-scarred survivor of the concentration camps and Nazi expermentation. Lisa (Hart) wants to travel to Palestine (the movie is set two years before the state of Israel was created) and become a nurse. Seeking redemption, Boyd vows that he will help her get there. Her experiences have left her with trust issues, and she’s not sure how to take his offer.

A highlight of the film early on is an appearance by one of my favorites, Leo McKern (of “Rumpole of the Bailey” and “The Prisoner”) as a curmudgeonly barge captain who helps the pair get out of Amsterdam.

A terrific movie, with great performances by both of the stars.

four days away

Well, we’re on the approach, and the runway lights are gleaming in the distance. It’s only four days away from the American Cancer Society Relay For Life in Shelbyville.

I know I’m excited. I hope my Facebook friends haven’t gotten too annoyed with my constant prattling about it. In part, I’ve over-posted simply because I never know, with Facebook’s algorithm, what’s actually going to be seen and what isn’t. If I’ve annoyed you the past couple of weeks, I’m deeply sorry. This is a cause that’s become very special to me in just a few years.

My mother, who had survived breast cancer years earlier, lost a brief but brutal battle with pancreatic cancer in August 2010. In 2011, my church, First United Methodist in Shelbyville, had a Relay team for the first time, inspired by several people (including my mother) who had had cancer.

I had a ball at that first Relay. I discovered that Relay was as much a festival as a charity walk, and I was hooked by the atmosphere and by Relay’s tagline, “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.”

As a result of being involved in Relay as a team member, I met Harriett Stewart, our American Cancer Society staff partner at the time, and Samantha Chamblee, who was our county organizing committee chair at the time. A couple of months later, Harriett invited me to attend an ACS function in Nashville and to do a story on the Hope Lodge. ACS operates a network of Hope Lodge facilities in cities like Nashville with larger or prominent hospitals. Out-of-town cancer patients and caregivers can stay for free at the Hope Lodge while undergoing treatment.

A few weeks after that, Harriett and Samantha came to see me at the newspaper. They asked me to serve on the county organizing committee, and I’ve been there ever since.

In 2013, and again this year, the Times-Gazette has a team. I’ve been thrilled to be a part of the team’s advance fund-raising, but on the night of Relay I won’t be wearing my “Press Power” team shirt, I’ll be wearing my sky blue committee member shirt. Officially, and in terms of any individual fund-raising, I’m a member of the committee team.

Anyway, for those of you who are in Bedford County, please drop by and see us Friday night. Come hungry. Here’s some obnoxious TV pitchman telling you about all of the food items you can purchase:

no help at all

I used to have a little booster battery for my cell phone. I think it was made by Rayovac. It worked beautifully. It was a little wider than a pack of gum. You took off the cap on one end and there was a USB connector for plugging the battery into your computer. Once the booster battery was fully charged, you took off the cap on the other end, and there was a connector that went into your cell phone (the unit actually came with several different connectors). This unit worked like a charm and was great for long trips or events when you use your phone a lot.

But the Rayovac unit eventually failed.

I knew I wanted something similar to take with me to the Relay For Life in a week and a half. I’ll be using my phone hot and heavy for photos and videos, and while I will bring along my charger, and there’s an outlet I can use at center ring, but I also wanted a booster battery, which is a more portable solution in case the phone ran out of juice at a time when I wanted to use its camera.

I got on the Walmart web site and found an attractive and reasonably-priced little unit from a company called Insten. It’s the approximate size and shape of a sleeve of Hall’s cough drops. It’s sold, not directly by Walmart, but by a third party,, affiliated with Walmart’s website. I ordered it, and it arrived today.

What arrived today was a gray plastic mailer. Inside the mailer was a little white box, completely unmarked except for a sticker with a bar code, item number and description.

Inside the box, in plastic bags, were the battery and the necessary cord.

There were no instructions or documentation of any kind.

Was the battery shipped fully charged or empty? What is the one button on the unit for? When I plug the battery into a USB port to charge it, I get a red light. Will the red light change to green when the unit is fully charged? Or is the unit fully charged already, and is the red light trying to tell me that?

You’re about to advise me to go to the manufacturer website and look for documentation there. Good idea. Unfortunately, the manufacturer website consists entirely of a “We’re rebuilding our website” placeholder.

I’m sure I’ll figure it all out, but it’s just kind of frustrating.

the best wings ever

I think I just had the best buffalo wings I’ve ever eaten – and I made them myself. I’m not taking any credit; I think it was luck.

I used to have a small kettle-style grill, the kind sold as a “table top grill” or some such. It rusted out, and I’d been meaning to replace it. I found a pretty-much-identical grill Saturday at Dollar General Market, for $14. I thought about how to break it in. I looked for a steak that was on sale, but didn’t find one, so I got some chicken wings.

With the weather yesterday, I decided not to try to use the grill last night. But as soon as I got home from church this morning, I fired it up.

I’d never cooked chicken wings on the grill before. I looked up a recipe yesterday, but there are so many variables I wasn’t at all sure I’d know how long to cook them.


This is an in-progress photo; they were a little more golden by the time I pulled them a few minutes later. As I said, I think I got lucky. These turned out to be sensational. They were so tender and juicy that, after the first bite, I was afraid I’d under-cooked them. But, no, they were cooked all the way through, with no pink whatsoever. And the smoke flavor came through the buffalo wing sauce.

Speaking of buffalo wing sauce …

franks_redhot_original_cayenne_pepperfranks_redhot_hot_wing_newNever use any of those pre-mixed buffalo wing sauces. The best wing sauce is made from melted (real) butter mixed with the original  Frank’s Red Hot sauce or one of its equivalents (Louisiana, Texas Pete, etc.). Use the ratio on the Red Hot sauce label, adjusting the amount of hot sauce up or down to meet your desired heat level.

If something is labeled as “buffalo wing sauce” — some of them have the same brand names as the hot sauce they’re made from — it probably uses artificial butter flavor, some sort of oil, and chemicals to keep the oil and vinegar from separating. The real stuff only has two ingredients, takes about two minutes to make (Melt the butter and whisk together with the hot sauce. Done.), and is two times as good.

see you at … the festival

A couple of nights ago, I bought a white display board and drew a map of where the booths will be located at the American Cancer Society Relay For Life, which is coming up two weeks from tomorrow.


If you think about this, what it pretty much means is that the number of teams has been established. We’re not expecting any more teams to sign up. And each of our teams probably has a sufficient number of walkers (although I’m sure none of them would turn down additional help if it were offered).

So why, at this point, am I telling people about Relay, or asking them to attend?

Many people have no idea what Relay For Life is all about. I sure didn’t, five years ago. It’s not a running race – it’s not a race at all. And while there is an organized walking component to it, if only the registered team members, the walkers, show up on Relay night our event will be a huge disappointment.

Relay is more of a festival than a walk. Our event – and the local event in your community, if you’re one of my out-of-town friends or relatives – wants everyone to turn out on Relay night.

Here’s how it works: those teams of walkers who’ve signed up for Relay have been raising money in advance of Relay night, through team fund-raisers and/or individual solicitation. But they’ll also raise money on Relay night. Each team has a “campsite” on the Relay track. That campsite serves two functions: it’s a hangout for that team’s walkers when they’re not on the track, and it’s also a concession stand. Most teams will have some sort of food item, from hamburgers to kebabs to sno-cones to French toast.  This year, our local Relay has an “around-the-world” theme, and many teams have chosen food items associated with a particular city, state or country. Some will also have souvenirs of some sort – T-shirts or awareness ribbons or other tchotchkes. Some will have activities – a climbing wall, a big inflatable slide, or pony rides. (The Times-Gazette’s camp site will have the pony rides.)

Our local Ford dealer will be giving test drives, and donating to Relay for everyone who fills out a contact card.

In addition, there will be elements to the Relay itself that would interest anyone. We start off the evening by letting all of the cancer survivors in attendance take the first lap on the track, followed by all of the caregivers in attendance. Later, in the case of Bedford County, we’ll have a live auction, with amazing gift baskets put together by our teams.

One symbol of Relay is the luminaria, a paper bag, weighted with sand, with a little candle inside. We sell luminaria as a fund-raiser; if you donate $10 to the American Cancer Society, you can dedicate a luminaria to a cancer patient or survivor. You can write a message on the bag yourself, or if you order one online, a volunteer will inscribe the bag for you.

After dark, about 9 p.m. at our Relay, we will have what’s called the luminaria ceremony – it’s a standard part of Relay events all over the world. The luminaria will be lit shortly before 9 p.m., and then, as the ceremony begins, all of the electric lights will be turned off, so that the walking track is lit only by luminaria and torches. The luminaria ceremony incorporates music and recitations and other visual elements to recognize the impact cancer has had on all our lives – patients, caregivers, or just those of us who’ve lost a friend or family member.  The ceremony is different each year, and it’s different from community to community.

After the luminaria ceremony, many of the visiting public go home – although you certainly don’t have to. The rest of us will be up all night. In Bedford County, we have games every hour to keep walkers’ energy up in the wee hours, including a massive game of musical chairs all around the track.

We’ll also have a “Fight Back” ceremony, in which those in attendance are encouraged to take steps to prevent cancer.

Relay is a public event, and we want as many people as possible to show up and take part in the fun. Come hungry, and bring money.

If you can’t come, of course, you can participate by making a contribution to ACS in the name of a particular team or individual participant. Why, here’s a handy example.

If, as mentioned earlier, you’re from out of town, go here and plug in your zip code where it says “sign up for an event” to find a Relay event near you. (You’re not signing up for anything, just looking for the event in your neighborhood.)

Cancer hits all of us. Relay For Life is a way to hit back.

Have a great summer, kids!

Because Regan Aymett’s class will be on a field trip this coming Monday, this past Monday was my last “Raise Your Hand Tennessee” volunteer day of the school year. Since last fall, I’ve been spending an hour every Monday morning.

As much as I enjoyed the experience during the second half of the 2012-13 school year, I enjoyed it even more this year. This year, instead of splitting my time between two classrooms, I was with the same classroom for the full hour, and I got to spend the whole school year. The kids got to know me better and vice versa.

Usually, I would be working with a small group of kids, but these last two weeks – now that the big stressful testing is over with – I’ve gotten to speak to the whole class at once. Last week, I showed them photos from my five trips to Kenya, and that led to Ms. Aymett finding out about my Bad Self-Published Novel, and so this week I talked to the kids about the fact that I had written a book, which impressed them (all the more so since they hadn’t read the book in question).

Afterward, we posed for a photo:


“Raise Your Hand” is a really rewarding program. You can tell them whether you want to tutor kids one-on-one, work with small groups or with large groups. They’ll work around your schedule (although a commitment of an hour a week is preferred). I looked forward to my time with the second graders every week, and I’ll miss it this summer. I will definitely participate in the program again next year.