Monday, October 29, 2012

Pumpkin Carving 2012

Pumpkin carving 2012 was a success again this year. It was a little different because in previous years we have carved pumpkins with our friends and had a little pumpkin seed roasting competition. Unfortunately, though, we were unable to find a time that worked with everyone's schedule. Fortunately, we did some carving with the family.

The evening started off with my niece, Katey, being the life of the party. She just woke up from a nap, and, as always, was very happy. She was dressed in her Halloween outfit, including black cat ears. We went outside to hang out on the front porch while waiting for her dad to get home from work.

As we were waiting, we talked about the sights and sounds of the neighborhood. A self-portrait was necessary to document our short time together, which was interrupted when Ryan, her dad, turned onto the street. When Katey saw his blue Volkswagen, her face lit up, she screamed, and her legs kicked furiously. Her dad is pretty cool in her eyes.

When we got back inside, Michelle and Katey also had a good time doing a little bonding.

After dinner, we covered the kitchen table in preparation for the pumpkin mutilation. I picked out two perfect pumpkins for the annual ritual. I go in search for the slightly deformed, not perfectly round pumpkins. I try to find ones with evenly flat sides, caused by the pumpkin laying on one side on the ground. The smashed side aids the ease of carving, while also looking much cooler when lit up.

Next, is picking your pattern. I cheat by using the ones included in the carving kits purchased at the store or printed out from the internet. Generally I enjoy the elaborate ones but this year I went with something just a tad more simple. A goblin of sorts. I wanted my creation to be a secret, but Michelle was spoiling my fun by showing it off to everyone when I wasn't paying attention. This is why I call her "the dream killer". She really did kill my dream of having a secretive pumpkin revelation.

Michelle did a "P" for Pernicek. I honestly can't remember what Ryan's was and I can't tell from the picture. Any readers out there who have an idea, let me know. Mom's was some strange set of numbers, which made everyone laugh. Brandy, my sister, went with the traditional face. Here are the end results of everyone's creations:

And, of course, in order for us to enjoy our work, the lights needed to be turned out.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Science of Yawns, Dogs and Empathy | Video - ABC News

I saw a fascinating piece on ABC World News about the empathy of dogs, specifically regarding yawning. Apparently, researchers studied whether or not dogs would mimic when people yawned. And, in fact, dogs did yawn 69% of the time after a human yawned.

Yup, that's right. Someone studies this stuff.

Additionally, dogs empathize with humans and their moods. So yawning is a form of sleepy empathy.

After watching this on TV, I got off the couch, got down on my knees eye to eye with Charlie who was laying on the couch. I looked him in the face and gave a brilliant, big yawn. Charlie picked up his head, looked at me strangely, then put his head back down, and, sighed. No yawn.

I tried again.

Same result.

My dog falls in the 31% of dogs who don't empathize. I know he yawns. He does it all the time.

Check out the video here: The Science of Yawns, Dogs and Empathy | Video - ABC News

Monday, October 22, 2012

A running playlist

Running is exhilarating for me. I have recently (again) fallen out of my regular running routine. I'm trying to reinstate a healthy, regular habit.

The cool, beautiful, autumn weather, along with the onset of corresponding color changes motivated me to put down the book and get off of the couch on a lazy Sunday several weeks ago. Since then, I've been out on more runs than usual.

Running is motivating when you have a great set of playlists to help set your pace, pick up your spirits, and drive you a little further than the last time. How does a song make the playlist? Sometimes it is just the beat and not the lyrics; other times the lyrics are all that matters. Or, it can be a song that contains some sort of emotional connection to an event you once experienced, bringing back a flood of feelings, setting a mood. This can lead to a strange conglomeration on iTunes. Hence, an amazing running list. Here is my playlist "Running 7" (yes, I have 9 of them, please don't judge):
  • Roll Out - Ludacris
  • Hey Ya! - Outkast
  • This Is Why I'm Hot - Mims
  • Dani California - Red Hot Chili Peppers
  • Send Me On My Way - Rusted Root
  • How Bizarre - OMC
  • Lump - The Presidents Of The United States Of America
  • Juicy - The Notorious B.I.G.
  • She F*#%!ing Hates Me - Puddle of Mudd
  • Harder To Breathe - Maroon 5
  • I Can - NaS
 Getting back into the habit of running is easier once the headphones meet my ears and the music "Roll Out" messages my legs to hit the pavement in the direction of the MoPac trail four blocks from our castle.

Another motivating factor that makes running uncomplicated and effortless is when I take Charlie with me. His pure excitement and joy of being out of the house is inspiring. We are both free as he looks up at me, happily, with wide eyes, establishing our pace together. He can't go far because he is a small dog, however a one to two mile jog is enough for us, kindred spirits, to enjoy our time in nature together.

Oftentimes, though, the best playlist is devoid of music or Charlie. Instead, the calm, quiet peace of solitude, interrupted with the pad, pad, pad of my running shoes hitting the pavement is all I need. Then I can take in nature's beauty along the way. A playlist of all the senses...

As I enter the wooded area from the pavement of the street and neighborhood, my feet meets the soft dirt path, leading down to the peaceful trail, shaded by large, overgrown trees. I turn to the trail and the added sounds of early fallen leaves crunch to my stride.

Soon, I approach the rusted bridge that safely carries me above North 48th Street and the whirring of civilization on the street below.

The trail becomes less populated with people as the sky darkens, and the voices of birds fill in the air with their night-time sounds. I never stop for a drink at this blue fountain, but I like the blaring color that stands alone.

After I turn around and head back towards the starting point on the same path, I see a different perspective from an opposite direction. There are more colors on the trees than before, welcoming me back home.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Lunch with a clarinetist and beatboxer who improv together atTEDxLincoln

This last Thursday, I spent my entire day off from work attending the TEDxLincoln event, Wide Horizons Open Minds. I am very thankful that I did. The day was filled with fabulous speakers who challenged me to think differently about the world, grabbed my attention and took me on an inspiring journey, or had me (and the entire room) in tears, or just (I can't believe I wrote "just") introduced me to a new idea.

I filled up each page of the program with notes as I, with difficulty, pulled my attention away from each speaker to record my thoughts. There is much I want to blog about as I turn my notes into responses, and there is even more that I want to share, such as links to the videos of the talks that will soon be posted on YouTube, or books and movies of the presenters. So check this blog as I spend the next several days writing about Wide Horizons Open Minds because I feel I can't do it justice with a single post.

Before the event, Michelle suggested that I live-tweet it. Now, what you must know, this guy does not do so well with the technology. I mean, I can hold my own compared to some people, but if I had to compare our technology skills, she would be an evolved genius and I'm a dying neanderthal. The great thing about my amazing wife is that she is patient with me and she takes the time to help me along (even though most of the time I think she easily grows very impatient with me). I drove to the event with anticipation, and, strangely, with a little nervousness about live-tweeting because I didn't want to break any tweeting norms. After being re-tweeted early on in the talks, I gained confidence and loved the experience. I was connecting with total strangers in the room while the event was going on. People were reading my reactions, and I theirs. Twitter enhanced my experience.

My first "hash-tagged" tweet of the day was, "Giving the speech of your life is hard," which was a direct quote from the emcee, Susan Stibal. Dr. Gregory Oakes lived up to that quotation by sharing with the audience his talents on the clarinet in his talk, "Originality, Your Own Way." A line from his bio in the TEDxLincoln program states, "Oakes is one of the most exciting and energetic clarinetists of his generation." And for the few minutes I watched him (and, later listened to him talk while we ate lunch at the same table) I can see why.

He began his talk comparing the artist to the scientist because he grew up surrounded by scientists and a musician was a different thing to "be". He said, "The idea of being a musician was something you did on the weekends." But he lived for originality. He said that you should never do or don't do something because of money. That seemed like a challenge because, in a lot of ways, that statement is not an easy one to follow. Then he launched into sharing some music, playing one movement from a piece titled "Folksongs." Here is a short clip I captured on my iPhone:

Later in the day, after lunch, DeWayne Taylor gave a talk titled "The Evolution of Beatbox". A talented musician and artist of a unique kind (who also ate lunch at my table), DeWayne has competed in the American Beatbox Championships. He also shared with the audience the uniqueness of his instrument--him, informing us all about the intricacies of his craft. What I found most insightful was when DeWayne was speaking about the emotions of a beatboxer and how those are communicated in many the same ways as other artists, like musicians. In order to demonstrate this concept to us, he asked for the audience to randomly pick three emotions. Then he performed for us, incorporating those three emotions:

Those two amazing performances were enough to blow my mind, until at the end of the day, when I was leaving the event, I discovered DeWayne and Greg in the lobby doing improv. Just when I thought my day couldn't have been filled with more coolness, it was:

I will be writing about the other phenomenal talks from Wide Horizons Open Minds in further posts. You should check out the TEDxLincoln Facebook page at And you should attend this event next year, either in person or streaming it online. I will vouch that it will be worth your time!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Follow me on Twitter today @CharliesHuman!

Today, I am attending TEDx Lincoln and am incredibly excited!

Nebraska: Wide Horizons, Open Minds has a great line-up of speakers.

Follow me on twitter for live updates throughout the day

I will blog about the event soon.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

3 dogs 1 castle: My favorite things

While I enjoy having Charlie around, I miss his canine friends and the action they provide.

Here are my favorite things of having three dogs in the house:
  1. Porter chasing Charlie from room to room when Charlie has the ball in his mouth. Usually Charlie wants us to chase him around the house. I admit, I occasionally will do this. But it is easier to sit back and watch them.
  2. Three dogs running to greet me at the door instead of one.
  3. Cuddle time.
  4. Feeding time. And trying to keep three dogs at their own food bowls when all of them not only want to eat their own food but also the food from all the other bowls.
  5. Having other dogs around makes Charlie less reluctant to go outside. Today he didn't want to go out because the cement was wet and it had rained last night. If Porter and Ollie were around, he would have ran out the back door with them without hesitation.
Maybe it is time for another dog... OK, probably not. But we'll dog-sit anytime.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Autumn grilling

I appreciate the four seasons. The difference each one brings is exciting from the cold brisk snow of winter, to the budding green fresh spring, to the warm long summer days, and the cool color changes of autumn. Of course, along with the perks of each season are the downfalls and, let's face it, who really wants to grill in a white winter wonderland?

Being the grill-master in the family, I must get as much grill action out of my system before the winter season hits. Tonight, my lovely wife prepped the food for our autumn grilling deliciousness. She sliced sweet potatoes, then seasoned them with olive oil, a "teensy, teensy bit of salt," pepper, and cinnamon. She cut broccoli, sprinkling it with olive oil, garlic powder, and pepper. Both the sweet potatoes and broccoli were wrapped in foil. She buttered some fresh bread from Hy-Vee and sprinkled it with garlic powder. I threw this all on the grill with some pre-seasoned swordfish steaks.

After a short-time and little effort, the food was ready (the only secret to being a grill-master is not flipping the food too much, each side should be facing down only once). Most of my time was spent watching Chalie in order to keep him from eating acorns off of the driveway. He likes them. They make him sick. He still eats them.

The food we had for dinner was delicious and didn't make anyone sick. To top off the autumn flavor of the evening, we complimented the food with a Pumpkin Shock Top.

This dinner was a different take on the traditional grilling of burgers, steaks, or brats.

The best part of any grilled meal is minimal cleanup with few leftovers.

Charlie tried to sip some Shock Top because he loves beer. Honestly, he loves anything we do. If we drink it, he wants it. He always is sly as can be, thinking he also might be able to get a little people food but that never really happens. Instead he settles in next to us and pouts until we are finished eating.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

It's the great pumkin, Charlie!

Charlie is neurotic. For those of you who know us and have been reading past posts, you have heard about the craziness that is Charlie. We love this about him. Part of his neurosis is sad. But that does not stop us, his human parents, from enjoying the reactions we get out of him. I know it's bad parenting. I rationalize it as non-abusive because we hug him afterwards. That's OK, right?

There are certain little traditions Michelle and I have experienced together over the years. One of them  is getting together with others to have pumpkin carving time. (I enjoy this tradition much more than Michelle). We do this with family every year, and, then again, with our friends. Pumpkin carving tradition is pretty basic and low-key. You get together. Enjoy each others' company. Drink some beverages. Carve pumpkins. Light them. Enjoy the ambiance from the orange glow. Take pictures to document the occasion. Roast the pumpkin seeds. And then do it again next year. Yes, we do that twice every Halloween.

Michelle let me know of the great Facebook deal (at my own store where I work by the way) of buy one pumpkin, get one free, and suggested I get some. I gladly obliged because picking out the perfect-shaped pumpkin is a strategic part of the carving fun. Walking to my car after the purchase, however, I had another idea for fun.

Last year, we discovered that one (out of many) of Charlie's fears was pumpkins. As I was driving home, I called Michelle and told her to get ready to video the events of me bringing my buy-one-get-one-free prized possessions home.

I know, mean.

But you will see the brilliance of my idea after you have watched the videos of this below...

So, Michelle told Charlie that I was on my way home. It is incredibly cute when Charlie hears that one of us is coming home. He immediately becomes excited, and waits in the front window for our car to come down the street. If only he knew what was in the backseat of my car...

Once he saw my car, he went running to the back door to greet me. Apparently, Michelle was able to get him to wait patiently by the door. The poor guy had no idea what was about to happen...

Now, instead of writing what happened, I think it will be more pleasurable for you to watch some of the events as they transpire in the videos below.

Then, I walked in the door...

After being afraid, not liking the pumpkin, things got a little strange...

We're not quite sure what was happening there... tasting it, trying to eat it, making out with it? If only Charlie could speak a little English and let us know what was going on in his canine mind.

Moving the pumpkin from the kitchen to the living room, led to additional fear. I apologize for the camera rotation here, but not sharing this video wouldn't do any justice to the sequence of events.

And, finally, I went back out to the car to get the other pumpkin. The second one Charlie viewed more favorably than the first.

Stay tuned for more pumpkin posts this season! I am certain there will be exciting updates as the Halloween date approaches.

What do you like to do with pumpkins for Halloween?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

In preparation for the Wednesday Presidential debate

I'm going to begin with a little bit of a confession here, a baring of the soul. Here's the truth: I'm a nerd when it comes to the American political system of government. I read profusely (from a variety of sources) the arguments and plans of all politicians. I like to watch debates on TV. I generally watch the President of the United States address the nation, like the State of the Union, out of respect for the office. I admit, I sometimes talk back to the TV. OK, let's be real, sometimes I yell.

Tomorrow is the first debate for President between Mitt Romney and Barak Obama. I'll be tuned in. And I thought that tonight would be fitting to write in preparation for tomorrow.

While I'm being a truth-teller, I'll disclose that I'm a registered Democrat. I know in writing this, I'm being judged by everyone's perception of what a "Democrat" is to them in their mind. When you tell someone you are a Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or Independent, certain judgements are automatically made about you. Something about this is slightly unfortunate. So I'll also share (for, I  guess, maybe, a bit of credibility) that I've voted for Republicans.

For a little more credibility, here is the breakdown in our household:
  • Me - registered Democrat
  • Michelle - registered Independent
  • Charlie - (he tells me he is a strict Republican, always has been)
I'm concerned how both sides (because, let's face it, there are only two sides right now, as there are no other voices strong enough to overcome our two-party system) characterize the other, oftentimes with unfair generalizations. Because of this, there is little true discussion about what really matters. All one has to do is look at what is being posted on Facebook.

Here's one:
I do think that we have a personal and moral obligation to individually help others through good-will and charity. This is ideal. Being compassionate and understanding with others is also favorable.  However, I'm not sure that our government holds people hostage (I'm guessing through taxes is the message here) at gunpoint to give poor people money. Education is not charity or compassion. Neither is a home. Or nourishment. Or affordable health care. Rather, these things are what people need to live free, productive lives. Let's discuss that.

Here's another one:

Everyone is talking about budgets, endless spending, debt, and deficits. I think we need to be fiscally responsible. We need to take care of our fiscal crisis. We need to do it without talking about "class warfare". War is war. Soldiers serve and sacrifice. And people die. Let's drop the class warfare rhetoric and dig for rational solutions. There is a need to cut wastefulness. There is also a need to be responsible and reasonable. Patriotism is paying your taxes without complaining because they get us roads, clean air and water, cheap reliable energy, education, safety and security (a military), and a stable society. Patriotism is also about demanding a balanced approach with solutions, requiring sacrifice, investment, and a true look at what we can really afford (what we can afford to cut and what we can afford NOT to cut). Let's discuss that.

Real discussion is not happening.

We're all pretty much to blame. Read why: Voters Angry At Washington Gridlock May Want To Look In The Mirror

Voters are becoming entrenched in their views, so much so that they are even unwilling to listen and consider another point of view. Many (not all) politicians move toward more extreme views to get elected and many (not all) refuse to compromise--on absolutely anything--as a result. And those are the politicians who get elected.

Sadly, the politicians who sometimes would cross the political aisle are being replaced by those politicians who pander to the extreme side of either the right of the left of the political spectrum.

And now we suffer with the effects.

Part of the polarization and "do nothing" Congress has much to do with the polarization of America. If the populace wants it's government to actually do something productive for everyone then maybe they need to be more willing to be civil. This doesn't mean we have to agree on everything. Opposing viewpoints are necessary. That's democracy.

Civility means this: what must happen is a demand for more from our politicians (and ourselves)--a willingness to listen and, yes (oh my gosh), actually come to compromise and common ground.

What can't happen are continued overly simplified arguments containing glowing rhetoric without reason, those lacking contextualization, decency, and sound logic that only reduces complexities to simplistic theoretical notions which have nothing to do with the reality of the world and the people who live in it.

There. I feel better now that I got that out. I'm ready for the debate tomorrow night.