Sunday, March 29, 2009


Well, you'll see my grand attempt at grasping "new" (and by "new," I'm mean "not new, just ignored by the author until this point in time") resources below. Unfortunately, some part of the embedding process screwed up in grand fashion, leaving some of the questions and commentary provided by The Writings hastily cut off and incomplete. Rest assured, the words you can't read are bits of golden comedy genius. (Gold, Jerry! Gold!)

I recommend you work your way through the survey despite the fact that it's a bit "bush league" in nature. We at The Writings promise that we will one day make nice with technology and actually have something here that doesn't look like it was spit up by a terminal website. It's our guarantee.*

*Guarantee void in most U.S. states and territories. Guarantee also has no set timetable for completion. 

Final Four Survey

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Best Imitation of Coherent Thought

If you're one who enjoys noting historic events as they relate to little-read blogs, I hope your preferred noting device (we at The Writings don't make assumptions when it comes to noting) is prepped and ready. You see, the topic of tonight's writing (or at least the topic it will be loosely centered on... We at The Writings don't exactly have the focus of a bomb diffuser) is one that has never really been covered here before - music. We're breaking down walls here, folks.

It seems odd that this depository for random thoughts somehow composed into coherent sentences (most of the time) has seen entries on ducks with political dreams, dudes with dreams of being someone's "bro," and male flight attendants that look a bit like Billy Dee Williams, but it's focus has never really delved into the world of music. Why have I seemingly ignored this practically essential part of life? Think about it. Music is everywhere. It's played in stores. It blares to fill gaps of inactivity during sporting events. Even if you're out for a stroll at the park, odds are you either have your mp3 player turned on, or you wind up humming the McDonald's' Filet-o-Fish tune. Yet, I never write about music. Why?

Perhaps it's because I carry a tune about as well as most viral pharyngitis-suffering sheep.

Perhaps it's because I never learned to play any sort of musical instrument growing up. Treating harmony as if it were a drug (maybe that's why some musicians are troubled), I just said no to musical training, whether it was piano lessons or middle school band growing up.

Perhaps it's just because there's really only one musical artist that I consider myself a "fan" of, but I've never had the chance to see him in concert.

Luckily, the latter of those three reasons will soon be rectified. With tickets purchased today, I will have the chance to see Ben Folds perform live in just under two weeks. In many cases, I would not consider a concert to be worth the price of admission. On this occasion, the only thing that might have swayed my decision to attend would have been the guarantee that I would be continually jabbed with pointy, smoldering sticks throughout the evening. Even then, I still might have bought a ticket. What can I say? I enjoy the musical stylings exhibited in songs like Philosophy that much. I'm not sure if I could explain exactly why I've become a fan of Folds and really nothing else, but it probably lies in some combination of his string-snapping skills on the piano, well-thought (and sometimes hilarious) lyrics, and a somewhat self-deprecating approach to things. (Not that I could identify with that last one.)

One interesting part of attending this concert will simply be comparing it to my previous concert-going experiences - an area of my life that doesn't exactly require a table of contents.

The first concert I can recall going was one featuring the Beach Boys when I was young. Now, the Beach Boys have some pretty good tunes. They have some upbeat tunes. They were also playing fairly loud, as one might expect at a concert. Yet, the only thing I really remember from this concert is waking up during the middle of a song and then nodding back off. I hope I can count on narcolepsy* not being an issue this time around.

*Unless it's the Folds song of the same name.

Fast forward to my high school days, when I attended local music festival of some sort, although I cannot remember the name of it for the life of me. Along with my brother and some friends, we had the opportunity to witness hip hop icons (I use the term a bit loosely) Rob Base and Tone Loc perform outdoors in the midst of a Kansas summer. When I was able to keep the sweat from stinging my eyes, the event was an interesting experience. Not only did I get to hear classics like "Funky Cold Medina," and "It Takes Two," but there was also the unintentional comedy of Mr. Loc calling hordes of... uhh.. promiscuous college females up on stage to dance. My guess is that won't happen with Mr. Folds, but I can't say I'm worried about the entertainment value.

Beyond that, my only real concert experience has come via the Country Stampede. Such is an interesting tidbit, simply because I don't really like country music. Aside from the time I worked a job at the Stampede (note: you don't want be a 17-year-old "ice runner" when there are a bunch of angry folks around that are sweating booze through their pores. They get nasty with you.), I mainly went to hang out with friends (and laugh/cringe as inebriated individuals wrestled in mud that most likely contained significant traces of human waste) . Unfortunately, these Stampede experiences always seemed to involve something unfortunate... and too often it involved demolishing any chance I had at getting decent sleep.

One CS (abbreviated simply because I'm sick of typing "stampe-... I can't even finish it) year, the July skies chose to douse the Tuttle Creek area with any moisture it could muster. (Actually, this seems to happen every year, but that's beside the point) My sleeping arrangements for that evening involved hunkering down with a few friends in a tent. Naturally, it was a leaky tent. While my friends didn't seem to be bothered by dozing in an environment that quickly resembled that of a half-full* kiddie pool, my brain seemed to be against the idea of allowing me to sleep in a puddle. The end result was the author wading out of the tent and going off to attempt to sleep in the back of the friends' car.

*Half-full because at The Writings we're optimists.

Another year, (either the year immediately before or after the aforementioned event... my memory is going with age) a tent would have been a blessing. I hadn't gotten a ticket to the CS until that day, so those I attended with hadn't exactly planned on me being there to camp. In other words, when it came time to hit the hay I was without a bale to swing at. I found a spot to lie my head in the back of the friends' family van. Unfortunately, this was a July night where the temperature never seemed to go lower than 80-degrees. If you have ever slept in the back of a van in the midst of summer (you might be a future hobo... see what I have to look forward to?), you know that the temperature inside seems about 20-degrees higher than that outdoors. The end result was a whole lot of sweat and very little sleep. Thankfully, van slumber will probably not be involved at this concert.

So that's the Derek concert history. One show with too much sleep, two nights that were severely sleep-deprived, and one afternoon that involved shaking booties and a rapper that appeared in Ace Ventura. It's true, it won't exactly take a life-altering experience for this concert achieve the rank of "best I've attended," but it's still something I have high hopes for. After all, I just made it through an entire Writing without a single sports reference. I better get to bed before I foul that up. Consider this the evening's Lullaby.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Not shooting for a "Goodnight, Irene" reaction

In the midst of watching more basketball today than any human ever should, I took note of the following statements made by commentators: "Katie, bar the door," and "Goodnight, Irene!*" I had the same response after hearing each utterance: Who is this woman, and what does she have to do with basketball? I probably should not have given those phrases a second thought, as my mouth has spit out plenty of things that don't relate well to the current situation in the time that it has be blessed (cursed?) with the ability to speak. (Devoted readers will note that my typing fingers seem to have the same problem.)

*Please note, the exclamation point was not my choice. The play-by-play announcer was just really excited when it said it. Why would someone get that excited about saying "goodnight"? The only reason I can think of is that he's a werewolf that enjoys its lot in life (as opposed to those werewolves in film that often dread making their canine transformation) and there's going to be a full moon out... Think about it.

In effort to relate to and better understand those who make a living by calling the action on the hardwood for national television audiences, I decided to do a little research. Using a resource called the "Internet" (apparently it's somewhat popular), I attempted to discover the motivation for referring to Katie and Irene. The results were somewhat frightening.

When the voice of this college basketball game hollered "Goodnight, Irene!" (and hollered it as if Irene were hearing impaired), he was actually paying homage to a folksy blues song. That sounds pleasant, right? Don't let the folksy nature fool you. The song follows a continual theme of the performer's suicidal wishes. "Sometimes I take a great notion, to jump in the river and drown," they lyrics read. It seems to me that taking a voluntary nap with the fishes is not an activity that relates well to basketball. Perhaps this announcer actually detests his job and this is his way of saying he'd rather take an eternal dip than try to explain another horrible call by a referee... That, or he wishes today's athletics were more like those in Roman times. If you win, fantastic. If you lose, you don't live to play another day.*

*We at The Writings do not endorse the competitive practices put forth by the ancient Romans. If such were the case today, the author's athletic career (and life) would have been a pretty short one.

While it may not make suicide seem like a viable alternative to viewing another second of hoops action, I find "Katie, bar the door" to be a rather odd utterance for a collegiate athletic contest, as well. Granted, the phrase is not a completely obscure one used to convey the idea that there is trouble ahead, but true examination of the phrase sparks a bit of worry. Think of the situations that would have to be at hand for you to actually go to the trouble of barring your door. For me, it would probably take a tragedy that could only be avoided if said door was barred. Perhaps a swarm of zombies (the type that don't even have the manners to knock before they enter) headed toward my door with a notarized letter expressing their wish to devour my brain* would be enough to get me to reinforce the entrance to my home, but I can't be sure. The point is that whoever first uttered, "Katie, bar the door," was facing quite a pickle. The type of pickle too severe to be found on a basketball court (unless the aforementioned zombies chased me to an arena... they're a tenacious bunch). I think modifying the phrase to fit the situation at hand would have been more appropriate. Perhaps next time a game gets too close for comfort, he can just say, "Katie, can you scoot over. I don't feel comfortable sitting this closely. Perhaps someday, but not at this point in our relationship. Especially with all these people around. Don't take offense, that's just where I'm at with things right now. I hope this doesn't make things weird."

That should fit well in the flow of a game.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It's all happening at the zoo...

If one is to believe the lyrics of a song that once reached #16 on the Billboard Hot 100, someone once told Paul Simon "It's all happening at the zoo." He did believe it, but I remain a bit skeptical. After all, "all" is a rather all-encompassing term. All right?

Nevertheless, digging deep into Mr. Simon's lyrics is not what this space is intended for. Today, we're here for something important (as opposed to most days, where we're here for random drivel and inside jokes*). Today, we're here to delve into detail about a trip to the local zoo. (See how important that is? The Writings: We're here to make a difference.)

*Can it be deemed an inside joke if you're the only one that finds it funny? Food for thought...

Before I get too far, I must clarify one thing: I'm not the weird guy that goes to the zoo alone. I may be a guy and I may be weird (something has to explain the sheer delight I get out of watching bad movies, right?), but I'm still not the lonesome zoo-goer. Hopefully that does not come as a big surprise to anyone. (If it does, I may need to reexamine things.) No, this trip to the zoo was a special occasion. Members of my family and I chose to take advantage of the Spring Break/spring weather combination by giving my diminutive niece her first zoological park experience in her seven months of Earthly existence.

Alas, it seems we were not the only folks in the Little Apple that considered this day to be fit for exploration of animals. In fact, when we arrived the parking lot to said zoo was packed tighter than Comic Book Guy's favorite t-shirt, forcing a slew of vehicles to park along the street leading to the parking lot. Whether or not any arguments reminiscent of the Seinfeld episode "The Parking Space" resulted from this bloated parking lot situation, I can neither confirm nor deny. We were able to land a spot in the main lot.

Once inside (Yes, the zoo is outside, but we were inside the perimeter walls of the zoo. This is getting confusing, and I'm the one writing it. I apologize profusely.), our clan witnessed a bevy of animals.* Unfortunately, it seemed that most animals were pining for a return of cooler weather. The sun-shiny 80-degree temperatures forced most creatures into shady portions of their habitats, where they exhibited about as much energy as the average Post-It note. While it was a nice opportunity to view animals not native to the area**, their collective state of torpor left a bit to be desired.

*If this sentence states anything more than the obvious to you, you should probably get out more. It's a zoo, of course we saw a lot of animals.

**While the squirrels running rampant around town may provide momentary distractions for people with attention spans as short as mine, it's somewhat impressive to see a tiger that is not animated and advertising a frosted breakfast cereal.

In the midst of studying all these animals, I also found a bit of time observe some of the homo sapien species, as well. Those familiar with The Writings* know that "People in your neighborhood" are occasionally featured in this literary grove.

*Whether or not that qualifier is synonymous with "those with entirely too much time on their hands," is currently being researched.

The zoo provided a couple of fine candidates for such study. Consider the following:

- The third wheel
I have been the third wheel. I have been the third wheel several times. I've also been the fifth wheel, the ninth wheel, the 17th wheel, and the (insert odd number here)th wheel. I have plenty of experience providing social situations with an awkward axle alignment, yet I have never been the third wheel at a zoo. For this, I'm thankful. You see, as an experienced third wheel, I feel I have an excellent grasp for determining what environments are conducive to the third wheel situation. Movies (as long as the triad strays from chick flicks... high school Derek was not so fortunate) are excellent third wheel situations. Once the show starts, the third wheel's attention can be focused on the screen for 90 minutes. There's no worry of playing witness to "couple-y" dialect (including all derivations of "schmoopy"). All that matters is what's on screen. (And possibly how much popcorn you have left.)

The zoo, on the other hand, is where third wheels hit bumpy terrain. While the open environment of the zoo is great for spreading out and providing topics of conversation ("Did that chimp just make an obscene gesture?), things get dicey when the couples choose to act like couples. As was the case with the 3W* situation today, once the public displays of affection come about, the wheelie has two options.

1) He can distance himself from the couple, checking out zoo exhibits at his own pace. Granted, this may keep others from realizing that he is, in fact, a third wheel, along minimizing the awkward situations that present themselves in the presence of PDA, but this also brings the risk of people misidentifying you as "the weird guy that goes to the zoo alone."

2) He can trail two steps behind the couple, seemingly in position to run "Red Rover" through their interlocked hands at any point. Occasionally he'll sidle up to the couple and make a remark about something, but before long he's back to pulling caboose duty.

The third wheeler today chose option 2. Remember kids, third wheeling at the zoo is bad news.

*3W = third wheel. That's insider terminology. Now you can't say you didn't learn anything today.**

**You can, however, say that what you learned was made up by the author and really serves no practical purpose.

-The overwhelmed mom
Although this deals with an overwhelmed mother, you won't identify this woman by searching for the lady who is tearing her hair out. No, to find the overwhelmed mother, you will first need to find the pack of young children running wildly. Truth be told, you will probably hear them before you see them. Listen for a medley of high-pitched squeals containing the following, "I wanna see the monkeys," "Mom, are there any snakes?" "When can we get ice cream?" and "Mommmmmm, I gotta pee!" Once you hear this racket, step aside quickly and watch as this swarm of three-to-ten-year-olds zips past you down the walking path. Once they have past and are out of sight, count to six and then turn to look in the direction the flock of youths had come from. See the woman slowly pushing an empty stroller and carrying a large purse with five different half-full (half-empty, she'd argue) beverage bottles sticking out? Yeah, the one that looks as if she might consider hiding in the wallaby habitat for a few weeks. That's the overwhelmed mom.

Naturally, the being most worth observing on this day was one of the youngest in the place. Although my niece spent a large portion of the journey wearing a cap that was too large and pretty much limited her viewing options to the underside of a pink cap bill, she seemed to enjoy the trip. Sure, she paid no attention to any of the animals (aside from the goat we fed while holding her near. At this, her eyes turned a bit quizzical. I couldn't tell if she was wondering what type of crazy dog she was encountering (since canines are the only animals she's really interacted with before) or trying to figure out if we'd witness a live birth from this very pregnant animal. Seriously, it looked as if it should have been on bed rest.), but she spent much of the walkabout with a toothy (well, two-toothed) grin on her face. I'm guessing she'll show a bit more interest in future zoological ventures, but today's will always be her first. And she was at least a bit more lively than the wildlife.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Needed: A new ad campaign

A redheaded woman is currently staring at me. It looks like an angry stare. The more I take notice of it, the more I feel as if she's attempting to her some strange optical power to rupture all of the blood vessels in my head and make my brain ooze out my ears. I feel like I should be a little concerned.

No, I'm not face-to-face with a fiery super villain who is out to seek revenge on all that have bad-mouthed "Bromance." I'm looking at an online advertisement.

The ad, for something called Retail Report Card, features this young woman (looking as if I just kicked her Irish setter), standing beneath the words "Needed: Mystery Shoppers." I have always wondered about mystery shopping. If it was for a legitimate source, it seems like a job many folks would enjoy. I know all too many folks that could walk around a retail store all day long. With that idea in mind, one might think this ad should feature someone who looks to be enjoying him-or-(most likely)-herself. You could make it seem like a fun way to pass the time to get people interested. Instead, this company has seemingly taken the intimidation route.

It's like they're saying, "We need mystery shoppers... Oh, you're not interested? Sure, that's fine. Go ahead and close your browser, turn off your computer, and run out to your car... You'll be perfectly safe. We certainly haven't fiddled under the hood or tampered with your breaks. What? You're staying in your apartment? Well, I'm sure you will sleep well, and certainly won't wake up to any regrettable situations. Nevertheless, if something unfortunate would happen to you, just remember this once you are well - we NEED mystery shoppers."

Another alternative to the current, "you'll regret not joining us" ad featuring this woman who looks like she might be close to beating up a chubby first grader for his lunch money would be for the advertisers to embrace the "mystery" in mystery shopping. Where's the poor depiction of Sherlock Holmes scouring retail aisles with magnifying glass in hand? Where's the drawing of Sasquatch, a martian, and the Loch Ness monster casually checking out items marked for clearance? Heck, where's Mystery from VH1 attempting to "start a set" with ladies in the frozen food section, only to have a box of Eggos thrown at his face?*

*This Wikipedia page for "The Pickup Artist" is the first result listed when one searches for "mystery" via Google. That's right, this guy who dresses like a cross between Captain Jack Sparrow and Orville Wright, and is featured in a reality show where he teaches female-fearing males pickup strategies that step long past that "creepy" borderline is the top "mystery" in the eyes of the top search engine in the online world. Mystery fiction has been around for around 150 years. The mystery genre brought us Sherlock Holmes. It brought us the Hardy Boys. It even brought us Scooby Doo. Yet, a guy that looks like he misplaced his mug of grog is the top "mystery" result? Are you still looking for signs of the Apocalypse?

Alas, I have little background in advertising, and this rage-filled redhead continues to attempts to telepathically strangle my soul. The ad isn't fun-filled. It doesn't have any mystery about it. (Aside from why this woman is so angry with me... I usually don't get that look until after I talk to a girl.) Perhaps brow-sweating intimidation is the best way to get people interested in this opportunity. Whatever the case may be, I'm not going to stick around to find out. I hope I don't wake up in the morning to find half of my television at the foot of my bed with wires strewn everywhere.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

No thanks, I lost my appetite

- I saw a man take an apple into a public restroom last week. I find this situation so unusual that I'm going to repeat the previous sentence, simply to remind myself that it actually occurred and was not part of some weird, unsanitary nightmare.

I saw a man take an apple into a public restroom last week.

Call me crazy, but I have never considered public restrooms to be environments conducive to any sort of snacking, be it casual, habitual, or uncontrollable. I would delve deep into the reasons behind* such thinking, but - as the wisest four-year-old I know might say - "that's toilet talk." I told one friend about this very sight. Her quick-witted response? Maybe he thought he'd be in there for awhile. This does little to assuage my worries for his dining preferences.

*Pun not intended.

With this scenario in mind, I have been trying to think of worse snacking situations than that presented by "in-the-John-ny Appleseed." So far, I've come up with the following:

-- Eating a slab of ribs while stranded in a tiger cage.

-- Eating s'mores while the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is around.

-- Eating nachos out of a used bowling shoe.

-- Eating anything that appears to be moving.

It seems obvious that I'm missing some things. Help me out, oh wonderful reader. (Yes, I have resorted to sucking up.) Let me know of any snacking predicaments (snackdicaments, if you will) that you think might make Mr. Fruit-in-the-Loo seem completely sane.

Now, onto other items of business... 

- First the big news in the world of baseball involved Alex Rodriguez and steroids. Now, it involves Rodriguez and a bad hip... I'm still waiting to see how Brett Favre factors into the whole situation. I know the sports media can't leave him out of things for too long... Tim Tebow might factor into the whole situation, as well.

- Meanwhile, lost among the talk of a hip-based cyst is the fact that the World Baseball Classic has begun. There are some Royals playing in the large tournament, but none for the USA. Do I root, root, root for the Royals, or for the U.S.? I can't root against any Royals (remember, Neifi Perez and Chuck Knoblauch are long gone), but I also have to cheer for the homeland. But what do I do when Puerto Rican shortstop Mike Aviles faces off against U.S. pitcher Roy Oswalt? Faced with such a dilemma, it seems like I'm simply stuck taking the "wuss bets" route and rooting for everyone to have a good time.

- Some say time travel is not possible. It seems that folks in Utah disagree. Apparently having the pair of early 90s phenoms back selling tickets is the cure to a recession. After all, didn't "Ice, Ice Baby" and "Can't Touch This," play key roles in getting us through 1991? In the modified words of Mr. Rob Van Winkle, "if there's a problem, yo, they'll solve it. If you actually pay money to see them, you better not complain about being poor... Seriously."*

*Rhyme omitted to serve the greater good.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Wheeling and Dealing (minus the "wheeling")

In 2004, the Kansas City Chiefs drafted Junior Siavii and Kris Wilson in the second round of the NFL Draft. In two seasons with the Chiefs, Siavii started as many games at defensive tackle as the Geico gecko and accumulated slightly more tackles than most place kickers. Meanwhile, Wilson - once touted as the secret weapon in KC's offense - never totaled more than 24 receptions or three touchdowns in a season. These numbers leave a bit to be desired for second-round picks in the NFL. In fact, you may feel as if you could have drafted better by drawing straws and then throwing them like darts at names of potential draftees in a hat... You may be right. Unfortunately for you and your straw-slinging skills, you won't get the chance to test that strategy with the Chiefs 2009 second rounder.

Alas, six total wins over a span of two seasons can lead to drastic changes. With Scott Pioli and Todd Haley at the helm, the NFL off-season has already seen the Chiefs pick up a probable starting quarterback* and probable starting linebacker. The price paid for these two new pieces? One second-round draft pick. Not too shabby. In fact, the deal seems like near larceny.

*Todd Haley may say there's going to be an open competition for the quarterback position, but I may volunteer to chew some steel wool if Mr. Cassel is not under center when the Chiefs open the season.

Sure, the Patriots may have been looking to cut Mike Vrabel if he hadn't been dealt (my theory), and sure, Matt Cassel* may only have one solid season as quarterback in his post-high school resume (seriously, he never started a game at USC.), but two pick up both players for a single second-round pick is not even a possibility I might have suggested to friends for fear of being laughed at.

*Congratulations go to one particular reader, who predicted that the Chiefs would land Cassel once Pioli wound up as the GM. If only he'd had me write it down earlier... then I could take credit for it.

With two holes filled, where do the Chiefs go from here?

Remember that point from earlier (this is how we at The Writings test reader comprehension) about how the Chiefs have totaled six wins over the last two seasons? That pretty much serves as permission to make changes anywhere and everywhere, and don't be surprised if that is the case. When commenting on the talent of the current Chiefs squad, Haley's remark was "I know we have a pretty good punter right now." That's good news for Dustin Colquitt, but not exactly a ringing endorsement for the rest of the members of the roster.

With that said, I think it's probably time for a few predictions... And how can I argue with myself?

(Please keep in mind that these predictions are made with absolutely no inside knowledge whatsoever. Any predictions that wind up being correct are the result of sheer luck, or possibly just evidence that one of my ancestors was a fortune-telling gypsie.)

- The Chiefs will find a suitor for disgruntled running back Larry Johnson, trading him for a fourth-round draft pick. Jamaal Charles and Kolby Smith will split carries in Haley's first season as head coach.

- A pair of other unhappy Chiefs, Tony Gonzalez and Brian Waters, will wind up sticking with the squad.

- The Chiefs will draft linebacker Aaron Curry with the No. 3 pick in the NFL draft to provide a pass-rushing threat for a team that totaled 10 sacks all of last season.

- Despite the fact that they have Cassel and Thigpen, the Chiefs will also draft a quarterback on the second day. Look for Pat White, Graham Harrell or Nathan Brown to end up in KC.

- In free agency, the Chiefs' signings will include wide receiver Shaun McDonald, offensive guard Derrick Dockery, defensive end Igor Olshansky, and linebacker Angelo Crowell.

- If the author does happen to get any of the aforementioned predictions correct, he'll refer to his uncanny foresight on several occasions in the future. If not, we shall never speak of this again.

An aside...

To those loyal readers that have been checking The Writings new material lately (surely there's been somebody), only to be left with a greater appreciation for week-old posts, I apologize. As you know, regularly scheduled updates have not been common lately. Believe it or not, there are a few things I find more important in life than crafting prose about very little in particular.* Family is one of those things.

*Those who have read the majority of entries on this site may find that hard to believe, but it's true... Sorry to all in the Things I Don't Understand series.

Recent events, as melancholy as they might be, have served as a reminder of one thing about my family. It's composed of fantastic people. From the youngest member to the oldest, whether they're in my immediate family, extended family, or unofficial family, these folks continually prove to be amazing in the care, support, and unselfishness that they show each other. They are great people, and they have certainly helped shape the person that I am today. (If that thought actually blemishes your opinion of them, feel free to strike it.) I know there are still some glum times ahead of us, and I'm certainly aware that I've gone way over the sappiness limit for a typical Writing, but some things in life just merit mentioning.