Full disclosure, right off the bat. I was recently approached by a representative from a company that sells artificial plants, silk flowers, hedges, trees, and just about any other foliage you can think of. They offered me one of their products for free if I would agree to write about it.
Not in the habit of turning down free stuff, I browsed www.silkplantsdirect.com and picked out a pair of Fern Hanging Baskets. I've always liked ferns and tried my hand at adopting one once. Not only did it die a slow and painful death at the hands of my brown thumbs, but I also learned that ferns like to shed their tiny dead leaves all over the floor. A lot.
Not to worry, because barring any house fires or cat burglar break ins, my new ferns from Silk Plants Direct should last me forever. They've spruced up my patio quite nicely.
These ferns are designed to be outdoors. And that's a good thing because they reek like gasoline. I can only assume that something other than gas was used to protect them from the elements or something. Regardless, you don't want these in the house if that odor is normal.
The baskets come with a twine hanger attached and ready to go. All I had to do was arrange the branches a little since they were squished together for shipping.
So is anybody going to believe these ferns are the real thing? If they get close enough, probably not. But I don't really care. I think they look swell and nary a stray leave will hit my patio this summer.
If you're up for some care free foliage, give www.silkplantsdirect.com a gander. Their selection is pretty impressive. If it lives in dirt and drinks water, they probably have an artificial version of it. Now if only I could get a free sample of the astroturf that the Brady family had in their back yard....
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and indeed does not have a green thumb. It's more of a burnt umber.
Oop. Looks like it's been over two months since I've written anything on my blog. I'm a bad blog owner, but I have a good excuse.
Over the summer my wife Tammy and I visited The House on the Rock. On the long car ride home, I settled into in a soul searching sort of mood. I blame all the nightmare inducing crap in said house on said rock. If you don't what I'm talking about, here's a few examples of what's in it.
But I digress...
On the long ride home I started thinking about how this whole self publishing thing wasn't really working out for me. Despite toiling away for the last six years writing and publishing over nine books and counting, my dream of making a living out of it just hasn't panned out. Although I don't plan on quitting writing, I decided it's about time for me to take a break and concentrate on my regular old boring career in IT. It dawned on me that I have at least 30 years left before I can even think about retiring. 30! So it's time to go back to school and earn my long overdue bachelor degree.
Just as I was starting to research various universities and online programs, we got some bad news in the mail. The feds were pulling the plug on my wife's monthly disability payments. She's struggled with health problems for years and applied for disability back in 2009 or so. After almost two years of rejections and appeals, the joke was on them when she went into kidney failure in 2011 and they HAD to accept her.
Fortunately, she got a kidney transplant in 2014 but unfortunately for us, according to the folks at social security, she's all better now and doesn't need disability. Sadly that's not true, as she still has her original health problems before the kidney stuff started in addition all sorts of new problems. Don't let the smiling girl above fool you. It was one of her rare good days and we don't get too many.
It was around this time that I started driving for Uber and Lyft to make some extra fun money on the side. With the checks from Uncle Sam no longer coming in I had to step up my driving from fun money to food money. There's no way I can handle working full time, driving part time, and putting in at least 20 hours of school a week.
So that's my excuse, Dear Reader. I don't have much time for writing blogs posts and even less time for writing novels. I'm afraid that's going to be it from me for a while. Poor Rich Bowman may never lose his virginity, Liberty Sanderson may never save the world in Windigo Soul 2, and Pickles and Gary will never reach YouTube stardom.
As always, thanks for your support. My book sales continue to trickle in despite zero marketing efforts on my part and I still love to read reviews and hear from readers. Someday I'll get back to making stuff up on the pages of a book and I hope you'll still be there when I do.
I'm taking a break from writing for a while, but that doesn't mean I've stopped creating content full of immature and inappropriate humor. Introducing my new video series, Pickles and Gary.
If you like it, please subscribe and share. Episode two is on the way....
This week I'm finishing up the rough draft of the Bowman Chronicles Book 2, Rich Bowman is not Having a Party.
In this episode we find Rich's parents deciding to leave him home alone for the weekend while they go camping. Although Rich intends to keep his promise of No Parties, the gang is persistent and finally convinces Rich to hold a small get together Friday night. What's the worst that could happen?
In the meantime, Amy Rugg starts showing interest in Rich again after he shows her his dark side, and the mob hasn't given up on finding Joker. Unfortunately for Rich, he is their best lead in trying to track her down.
Look for Rich Bowman is not Having a Party this June in digital and paperback format. Audio version release to be determined.
Amazon should implement a rewards program that gives it's customers incentive to leave reviews for products they purchase.
I love Amazon as a customer and as a merchant selling wares on their platform. 99.9% of the books I've sold as a self-published author have come courtesy of Amazon. I also love getting reviews for my books. Each one I receive is like a tiny morale booster, urging me to keep writing. Nothing feels better than a complete stranger gushing over the work you created. I even enjoy reading bad reviews, as sometimes they literally make me LOL.
Unfortunately, very few readers leave reviews, despite me practically begging at the end of each of my books. The Kindle app also gives them the opportunity to do so when they've finished. How few? I did the math once and based on my own sales, the figure was around .016% of people who bought my books left a review.
Reviews serve a purpose, other than stoking the author's ego or slapping them across the face and letting them know they're a no-talent hack. Have you ever bought a product with dozens of similar competitors simply because it had the largest number of positive reviews? I know I have. It's a little different when you're dealing with books, but when there are so many to choose from, sometimes it's easier to make a decision considering books that only have hundreds of reviews. As a reader myself, I'm guilty of that too.
So I think everybody can agree that customer reviews are a good thing, so Amazon should make some effort to motivate customers to do so. Why do only .016% of my readers review my books? Simple. There's nothing in it for them.
Amazon should implement a Reviewer Rewards Program, giving out points for each review written. Points earned could be redeemed for:
- Free shipping
- Free upgrade to next day shipping
- Free music downloads
- Free Amazon Video rentals
- Amazon gift cards
- Discount Prime membership
Those are just some examples that came to mind as I write this.
There are some possible downsides to everything, and this is no exception. Overnight a cottage industry of scammers would try to come up with all sorts of ways they could game the system to get free swag. Obviously, Amazon would need a way to prevent people from sitting at their computer all day writing bogus reviews.
There is a system in place already that marks reviews verified purchase to those who actually bought the product they reviewed. Obviously only those reviews would be eligible for rewards. Some sort of human intervention would probably be needed as well to disqualify reviews that aren't deemed helpful, such as the picture I posted above. Would that make my idea cost prohibited for them to implement? Only the Amazon bean counters would be able to answer that.
What say you, internet? Is there a huge down-side that I haven't considered? Is this a good idea or am I just a big dope? Let me know in the comments below.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books in need of review and is indeed a big dope.
Last year when I was out of new ideas for a book, I started dabbling with some memoirs. I didn't have any intention of publishing them, it was just a way to keep from getting rusty. It didn't take long for inspiration to strike, and I realized some of my experiences as a young lad might translated into a work of fiction. Thus, Rich Bowman and the Uzi Poopie Loopies was born.
Set in my hometown of Grafton, Wisconsin in 1990, my goal for this book is to have fellow gen-xers like me to come for the nineties nostalgia, but stay for the story.
This will be book one of a series and is available for pre-order right now. Available to read on February 5th.
Spring break of 1990 is over. Richard Bowman has resigned to keep his head down and finish his sophomore year at Grafton High School the way he started it - academically fair to middling, socially mediocre, and romantically very much well below average.
When the opportunity to befriend a group of senior guys lands in Rich’s lap practically overnight, he steps out of his comfort zone of weekends in front of his Commodore 64 to a world of cigarette smoke, basement beer kegs, and promiscuous members of the opposite sex.
In the meantime, the admin for a local online bulletin board asks Rich to hold onto a mysterious encrypted computer file. Rich reluctantly agrees, only to find it may put him and his entire family in danger.
Rich Bowman and the Uzi Poopie Loopies is a trip down memory lane lined with mullets, pegged pants, hair bands, and cell phones the size of toaster ovens. A simple and better time. Or was it?
So I watched Red Dawn the other night. No, not the shitty 1984 movie where the Russians invade and a group of teens in Colorado fight them. I'm talking about the other Red Dawn. The shitty 2012 movie where the North Koreans invade and a group of teens in Washington fight them.
I was eleven years old when the original came out. I didn't get to enjoy it until years later when I was in middle school and it became a VHS staple in video stores across America. And it was awesome. What 13-year-old kid wouldn't want to grab their dad's hunting rifle and fight the commies with their buddies? It was any red blooded American kid's dream. Mind you, around the same time my friends and I were shouting "Wolverines" at our 19-inch televisions, we were also having conversations like this: "Man, if I could go back in time, and if I couldn't get killed, I would go fight in the Vietnam war. It would be so awesome."
That's the problem. We were stupid violence loving teen boys who lapped up crap like Red Dawn almost as much as a tattered issue of Penthouse found in a dumpster. I watched the '84 Red Dawn a day or two after the remake. Although I enjoyed the nostalgic factor it provided, I realized it was a pretty lame flick. So that begs the question...why does Hollywood remake terrible movies?
For Red Dawn, I can only image the thought process went something like this: They took a decent plot from a so-so movie and told themselves they could do a much better job than those cocaine-fueled hacks from 1984. Sadly, they failed and failed miserably. 2012 Red Dawn is terrible. It earned a pathetic 12% on rottentomatoes.com. And who thought it would be a good idea to try and transform the fat kid from Drake and Josh into an action hero?
As you may have guessed by the movie poster above, what really got me thinking of this subject was the latest news of the upcoming Road House starring Ronda Rousey as Dalton. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Road House because it's one of those rare movies that's unintentionally so bad that it's good. But it is indeed bad. As a matter of fact, I wrote an entire blog post on how it's the best bad movie ever made: 44 Reasons why Road House is the Best Worst Movie of all Time.
Why does Hollywood insist on doing this time and again? Because there are no more ideas for new movies, of course. Every plot, story line, scenario, situation, and scene, has been used before. They're forced to remake old movies. Right? Of course not! As a matter of fact, I have several books that would make smashing movies. I'll sell out big-time. All you producers out there could probably buy the rights for less than what you'll spend on the catering bill for the next reboot of Spider-Man movies.
The pathetic and lazy thing about remaking films like Red Dawn and Road House (and Dirty Dancing. Swayze is spinning in his grave!) is why they do it. Not because they feel like they can do a better job this time around. It's because they know idiots like me will watch them. Only because we liked the original and we'll be more likely to pay to watch the remake. It's the same reason those Atari 2600 emulators are for sale. But try to get a ten-year-old kid in 2015 to play Adventure and just see what happens.
Remakes for kids are especially lame. Take Mr. Peabody & Sherman from 2014. Who's that for? Not a single kid on the planet who went to the theater with their parents was aware of the original cartoon first seen in 1959 on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. So does that mean it's marketed to the parents? Most of them have probably never seen it either. What's next? A Rocky and Bullwinkle movie?
I don't have to see the new version of Road House to know it's going to be a colossal piece of unwatchable crap. And not in a good way, like it's 1986 ancestor. It's going to take itself too seriously, and like 2012's Red Dawn, be an unforgettable snooze fest.
Hollywood, I implore you. Stop remaking movies. Sure, a decent one sneaks through from time to time, but you're just making fools of yourselves at this point. In this golden age of self-publication and indie authors, there are literally thousands of fresh ideas from books released every day that would make great movies we haven't seen before. Like mine. Seriously. Make me an offer and I'll sell out so fast it'll make your head spin. I can't guarantee the film version of Black Water Creek starring Jennifer Lawrence will be a blockbuster, but I do guaranteed a reboot of The Hunger Games in 2033 is just going to piss everybody off.
January 21st, 2008. "Robert Brumm is trying to figure out the point of facebook"
That was my very first post on Facebook, back when all the posts were in third person. Remember that? It's hard to believe I've been using Facebook on a regular basis for over seven years now. And you know what? I'm not ashamed to admit it.
I like Facebook. It's done wonders for my writing career, helped me stay in touch with old friends, helped to make many new ones, and offers plenty of entertainment.
There is a dark side to the second most visited website in the world, however. Like a loaded pistol lying on the ground, Facebook is neutral on it's own - neither good nor bad. It's the people that use it that can make it so damn annoying.
Annoying trends have come and gone over the years, but today while taking a selfie holding a sloppy Joe I made on vacation standing next to a newborn baby that won a spelling bee declaring "It's Friday, bitches! Who's ready to get yer drink on!", I mulled over the current trends on Facebook that annoy the hell out of me. See if you agree with my list (in no particular order) of my Seven Most Annoying Things on Facebook in 2015.
1. You Won't Believe What Happens Next!
Links to videos and news stories are as old as Facebook, but a particularly annoying trend showed up about a year ago. Click-bait headlines.
"A mom left her infant alone in the same room as a Saint Bernard. You won't believe what happened next!"
"This man gave a homeless vet a dollar. His response will leave you in tears!"
"A mom confronts her son's bully. What happened will floor you!"
Guess what, suckers? These links exist for a reason. They tempt you into clicking on the link, taking you to some sleezy website, and driving traffic to try and get better rankings for advertising dollars. In the meantime, you just wasted 30 seconds of your life being let down by a lame video that wasn't nearly as exciting as the headline suggested.
I'm not saying you need to stop sharing funny, informative, or interesting links to videos and stories. After all, if you're reading this, chances are you were directed here by Facebook. What I'm suggesting - nay, DEMANDING - is to stop clicking on or forwarding anything that ends in "You won't believe what happens next!" Seriously, you're annoying the shit out of people and breaking the internet at the same time. Just. Stop. Now.
2. Thoughtful Looking Celebrities Share Their Opinion
These celebrity quote posters have been around forever and never cease to amaze me. Remember the other day when you were reading People magazine and you came across an awesome quote from Johnny Depp? Then you fired up Photoshop, found a great picture of Johnny, and typed up the the quote into the photo? Then you posted it on Facebook and sat back with a satisfied smile on your face, right?
No? Me either. Seriously, who in the hell takes the time to make these things? They just don't appear out of thin air and I'm pretty sure Mariah Carey and George Takei aren't whipping these things up on their own.
Not to mention, is anybody fact checking these things before releasing them out into the world?
Anybody can make up whatever shit they want and plaster it on a photo of Jim Bob Duggar and call it a day. Mark my words - one of these days a bogus poster is going to go viral with a made up quote resulting in bad consequences. In the meantime, these lame ass posters are annoying as hell. Stop sharing them. And if you ever meet somebody that created one, run. Run away.
3. I Don't Play No Stinkin's Games!
Ah, game requests. An oldie but a goodie, right? Here's where you're expecting me to rant about all the notifications inviting me to play Mafia Farmer, and here's where you'd be wrong. What bugs me are the dopes that take it personally and think that their friends are deliberately seeking them out and inviting them to play Cranberry Crush - Pirate Edition.
Newsflash for you cranky non-gamers: These games may automatically send out invites to the friend lists of those who play them. Getting on your soap box and begging everybody to stop inviting, won't stop the invites but will make you look stupid. Fortunately, most people only do it once because their rant is followed by half a dozen responses repeating what I just said and instructions on how to turn off game notifications. I had hoped this annoying trend would have died out years ago, but alas, I just saw one today.
4. Crushed. Wondering What's the Point of All This...
I was going to refer to this as "cliff hanger attention seeking posts" but while researching this topic, I found it has a proper name: Vaguebooking.
You know the posts.
By all means, if you're sad or mad about something, go ahead and post about it. That's one of the reasons social media exists. But going about it this way not only makes you look like an attention seeking whiner, but can also worry people. Seriously, put yourself in other people's shoes before even thinking about pulling this crap. There's a possibility of you seriously making loved ones worry and be afraid if they don't know what's going on with you. So knock it the hell off and grow up.
As for the rest of us...
5. Yeah, Well...Better Safe Than Sorry
The bullshit public service announcement. It's been around since the dawn of the internet, ever since the first gullible rube signed up for a Yahoo! email account and forwarded a warning about rat feces on soda cans from Aunt Jackie. Unfortunately, these urban legends are alive and well in the land of Facebook.
My mom used to forward these "warnings" to me all of the time and 9 out of 10 were bullshit. I pleaded with her time and time again to take 2 seconds to Google the messages first before sending to see if they were real or not. "Better safe than sorry!" was her response. Sigh.
For the love of God, people. Before even thinking about forwarding any sort of warnings about hackers, child molesters, or everyday products that will kill your children, take 5 seconds to Google it. More than likely, it's bullshit started by somebody with too much time on their hands. By the way, if the public service announcement is a photo of a public service announcement printed out on a piece of paper, don't bother looking it up. I'm not sure why, but these are always phony 100% of the time.
Want proof? I whipped this up the other day, posted it on FB, and nobody called me on it. Seems legit. Shared. Not a public service announcement or warning per say, but still 100% false.
6. But I Don't Want to be ANY of the Baldwin Brothers!
Not much to say about the classic Facebook quiz. Does anybody get the slightest shred of entertainment from these idiotic things? Does anybody realize that most them are just data mining tools designed to get a read on what ads to throw in your face? Didn't think so. Just say no. If you really want to know which hair band you are, just email me and I'll let you know (It's Ratt).
7. Just Speakin' My Mind, Man.
Don't talk about them on Facebook. Ever. You're not going to change anybody's opinion, no good can come from debating them, and you're guaranteed to leave the conversation frustrated and annoyed. It's not worth it and you'll be a happier person once you refrain from doing it. And guess what? You're annoying the shit out of the rest of us. 'Nuff said.
Not to worry, Facebook fans. More annoying trends are sure to surface in 2016 and beyond. Believe me, I could come up with a lot more than seven things that annoy the hell out of me, but I just read another article listing articles about annoying Facebook things that are annoying, so I'll stop at seven.
What things that people do on FB annoy you? Share in the comments below.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books. You won't believe what they're about!
Collaborating with a team is never easy, but it helps when your team is packed full of awesome people. I'm proud to announce the release of Terrible Cherubs - eleven kick ass short stories written by the authors of DeadPixel Publications.
One of the stories is called Camp 24 written by some Robert Brumm guy. It's set in the Windigo Soul universe, so if you're a fan of that book, you might want to check it out.
Terrible Cherubs is available for pre-order for just $.99. The price will go up on release day April 10th, so grab your copy now!
CHEF, a movie written and directed by Jon Favreau, hit Netflix last week so I decided to give it a watch. The movie was okay, a little schmaltzy and predictable, but I'm not here to write a movie review. I want to talk about a short scene in the film that changed my life forever.
Favreau's character is a chef with a passion for cooking who puts 100% into every dish he creates - including a grilled cheese sandwich for his son.
My eureka moment didn't come at the ridiculous amount of cheese he tossed on the sammy but the way he grilled it. He kept it open faced and closed the sandwich once both sides of the bread were toasted perfectly. BRILLIANT!
This is such a simple concept that make perfect sense and I can't believe I'd never heard of this method or thought of it myself. I've made many a cheese grill in my day and they often come out soggy and inconsistent. No more! By grilling both sides at once, not only does it cut down on the cooking time, but both sides of the sandwich get a perfect golden brown and stay crispy, not soggy.
I never considered digging a giant hole in my back yard and filling it with water until I saw the preformed pond kit at Home Depot one day. I instantly fell in love with the idea of having a pond in my yard and was glad to see it wasn't cost prohibitive.
They only had two pond shells to choose from, so I went with the bigger one which held just under a hundred gallons.
I also purchased a basic filter, a water pump, grabbed my trusty shovel, and got to diggin.' I even found a little waterfall kit to make it extra fancy and such.
The biggest decision when planning a pond is the one you want to spend the most time thinking about: where to put it? Obviously, changing your mind and redigging a big hole in your yard isn't fun for anybody, but there are other things to consider besides aesthetics.
You're going to need some power to the pond for your pump, lights, de-icers, etc., so plan accordingly. I decided to place my pond right up against my garage so I had an outlet just a couple of feet away. Speaking of outlets, water and electricity don't mix, so make sure you install a GFCI outlet for anything related to your pond.
It's also not a good idea to place your pond directly under a tree unless you want to spend all autumn fishing leaves out of it. And finally, make sure you check with digger's hotline before you get started. Hitting a buried gas or electric line with your shovel = bad.
So you picked your spot, bought your supplies, and made sure there's nothing but dirt under your feet. Great! Start digging, donkey. I won't lie, it's a lot of work and monotonous, but I enjoyed it. It's good exercise and rewarding because you're digging for a worthwhile goal. Just take your time and don't forget a good pair of work gloves, otherwise it's blister city.
If you use a preformed shell, it's pretty easy to get the basic outline of where to dig just by placing it where you want it to go. Once you get past the sod and start getting deeper, it's a game of trial and error to get the hole just right.
You'll have to mess around with back-filling the hole to support the bottom and sides of the shell. Be sure to put a level on it. You'll want the dirt under and around the sides of the shell as tight as you can get it because once this puppy is full of water it's going to want to settle.
I got a little fancy with a preformed waterfall shell and some tubing to create a waterfall. It's a good use for all that dirt you dig up! Where to put the rest of it is up to you.
The end result was....okay. The whole project took me two weekends and I was pretty happy with it. I let the vegetation around the pond to grow out and added a couple plants in the pond to make it look a little more natural.
So now that I've said all that, let me give you a little advice. DON'T use a preformed shell for your pond. It only took me about a year to regret that my pond was too small and that's pretty much the biggest shell they make. Plus, it was a pain to dig the hole just right if I'm honest.
After a couple of years I decided to drain the pond, yank out the shell, and dig a much bigger pond using a flexible PVC liner. Otherwise known as a big-ass sheet of rubber-like material. It's much easier to install and can be cut to size for a custom pond.
Once my old pond was drained, I pulled out the shell and flipped it over, using it as part of a small hill next to the new pond that will be part of the waterfall.
How you design the shape of your pond is up to you, as long at the liner you purchased is big enough. You'll want to vary the depth not only for aesthetic reasons, but for function as well. One end of my pond starts off shallow and gets deeper, just like at the beach. The shallow end gives my goldfish a spot to bask in the warmer water on sunny days and encourages birds to stop in for a splash and a drink. We even attracted a frog last summer.
Build in a shelf along the perimeter of the pond to place potted plants and make sure you have at least one deep spot in the pond that won't freeze over in the winter. Even if you're not planning on fish, I would recommend doing this in case you ever change your mind. Goldfish can survive in the coldest of winters but not if they're frozen solid in the ice!
How deep you have to dig is based on where the frost line is in your neck of the woods. Basically you need to dig deep enough to where the soil doesn't freeze in the winter. Here in Wisconsin, I dug a "well" in my pond that's about 3 feet deep and about 2 feet around.
Once you're done digging I would recommend waiting a day or two. Study that hole and let it sink in. If you want to make any changes to the shape or size, now is the time to do it before the liner and water get put in.
Before you lay the liner, make sure you've removed any sharp rocks sticking out from the dirt. Pond liners are pretty heavy duty stuff, but better safe then sorry. Once the liner is in place, it's just a matter of breaking out the hose and filling it up, smoothing and adjusting along the way.
Once the pond is full, let it sit for a day before trimming the excess off the liner. You'll want to give everything a chance to settle. Allow an overlap of six inches or so around the rim of the pond. I used irregular pavers to hide the edge of the liner, keep it in place, and offer a more natural look.
As you can see from the photos, I used all the dirt I dug up to create a small hill next to the pond. It provided a base for the waterfall I built and added to the scene I was going for.
Here fishy fishy....
I didn't plan on putting fish in the pond until one day when my son came home carrying a plastic bag full of water with a gold fish floating in it. He'd won it at the local fair and asked if it could go in the pond.
A few years later, and we're up to almost 30 gold fish. I think we bought around 10 and the rest were born naturally in the pond with no input from us. Mother Nature finds a way to do her thing! Nothing fancy, just regular old goldfish at the store for 39 cents a piece.
Not only are goldfish beautiful and soothing to watch, but they're extremely tough and hardy. They'll survive in the coldest of winter and practically take care of themselves. Toss some flakes in the water once a day for supper and they'll be happy.
A few points about goldfish:
Filtration and aeration
Unless you go crazy and your pond is the size of football field, you're going to need a way to filter the water and make sure it's got plenty of oxygen. Nature will find a way to balance everything out if the conditions are right, but it takes a while for a natural ecosystems to establish. The size of your pond is a factor - smaller ponds require more man-made intervention where larger ponds tend to take care of themselves easier.
As far as aeration goes, you can go with a simple pond fountain or create a waterfall. There are many different approaches to designing and building waterfalls, so I won't get into any specifics here. Spend some time perusing the web for instructional videos and articles to get some ideas.
I started out with simple box style filter but eventually upgraded to a UV pressure filter which made a world of difference. The pressure filter is nice because you can place it outside of the pond so it doesn't take up room or look ugly. With any kind of filter you'll need tubing and a pump based on the size of your pond.
I'm not going to lie - don't expect shimmering crystal clear water even once you get a filter going. You'll have days where the water is so cloudy you can barely see your fish. There will be times where the water is green and you have algae floating on the surface. Relax and be patient. A pond is a living thing and takes time to establish. Good bacteria needs to grow to keep bad bacteria at bay. Plants, fish, water, bugs, microorganisms - eventually they'll find a way to balance out and you'll be rewarded with clear and healthy water. Crack open a beer, relax, and resist the urge for chemical intervention.
So have I temped you to dust off that shovel in the garage? I hope so, because our pond is my favorite thing about our home. I can't tell you how relaxing it is to sit out there after work, beer in hand, watching my fish swim around and listening to the soothing sound of the waterfall. I only wish it was bigger. Oh, and by the way? This summer I'm making it bigger.
Any questions? I'm no expert, but I can answer anything based on my experience. Comment below and I'll get back to you.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and has only fallen into his backyard pond three times. Out of those three he was pushed once. Please hand him a towel and subscribe to his blog.
Like many people, I was suckered in by the deal. I can’t remember the specifics, but DirecTV promised me a butt-load of channels for a low low price. Whole-home DVR included! Free installation included! NFL Sunday Ticket included! Call now, and we’ll double your order! (just pay separate shipping and handling fees that happen to be the same price.)
After years of watching my Time Warner Cable television bill creep up, I signed the two year sweetheart deal from DirecTV and it was great. For a while.
Of course, we all know that low low price is only good for a year. But that’s waaayyy in the future, right? Well, those twelve months slipped by pretty quickly and by the end of my contract agreement I was paying $110 a month for satellite TV.
$110 a month to watch TV isn’t cheap and I didn’t feel like I was getting a 110 bucks worth of entertainment. Not even close. Both of my kids NEVER watch TV (weirdos) and it felt like between my wife and I we only watched a handful of shows on the DVR. Gone are the days of flipping channels to find something to watch. In the meantime, our monthly bill is helping to subsidize obscure networks I didn’t even know we had. I’m looking at you, BabyFirstTV. And don’t think I didn’t notice you hiding in the corner, Free Speech TV (yes, these are real channels). What a waste. Time for a change.
It took a little convincing, but I got the missus on board and cancelled our DirecTV. I sent back the equipment (sans the ugly dish on our roof which they don’t want back) and now we spend all our free time with riveting conversation, reading books by the fireplace, and playing board games as a family.
Like all cable cutters before us, we turned to the magical land of the world wide interwebs for our entertainment needs and haven’t looked back since. The weekly flyers we get in the mail from DirecTV begging us to come back go right in the bin and life is sweet.
Watching TV shows and movies on your laptop, smart phone, and tablet is easy and possible, but not ideal. These devices are great when you’re on the go, but home sweet home means watching on the big screen. For that you need a dedicated streaming device connected to the televisions in your house.
For months before cutting the cable I experimented with a home theater PC (HTPC) and was never quite satisfied. I dreamed of a do-it-all box capable of video streaming, Bluray and DVD watching, web browsing, and video game playing. In reality, despite fiddling with different hardware and software configurations for months, I ended up with a PC that wasn’t very user friendly and mediocre at best for most of these tasks. I still have the PC connected to the TV for playing games and watching DVDs, but for streaming video, I decided to go with a dedicated device.
There are a lot of options these days for dedicated streaming devices and most do a very good job. Many new televisions are now “smart” TVs as well with built-in capabilities of connecting to your network for Netflix or Hulu. I’ll admit I have zero experience with smart TVs, but personally I don’t feel like that’s a feature that should be high on your list for must haves of a new TV. Streaming devices are so affordable these days that you can upgrade more often as new devices hit the market, compared to a TV which you’ll be stuck with for years.
A few of the mainstream and popular streaming media players include Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Apple TV, and Google Chromecast. You can’t go wrong with any of these devices, but I highly recommend going with Roku.
I’ve owned the first generation Roku for years, so when we cut the cord the decision for what device to rely on was easy. My original Roku was getting a little grey around the edges so I bought the latest and greatest version available.
There are currently four players to choose from: Roku 1, Roku Streaming Stick, Roku 2, and Roku 3. A comparison chart showing the difference in the four models can be found here.
I own a Roku 2 for the bedroom and a Roku 3 for the living room. Although the Roku 2 ($69.99) is a fine player, I highly recommend paying the extra money and going for the Roku 3 ($99.99). The Roku 2 can be slow to respond to commands sometimes and delays while moving through the menus and searching can be frustrating. It also uses an older interface that looks clunky and dated compared to the newer Roku 3.
By comparison, the performance of the Roku 3 is outstanding. The interface is silky smooth, stable, and easy on the eyes. Connectivity comes via a network jack on the back or wifi, and the remote comes with a handy earphone jack (Roku 2 has this as well). I didn’t give this feature much thought until I realized how often I had to try and fall asleep while the missus blasted Doctor Who. Now she watches in bed with headphones and our marriage survives to live another day.
App-wise, Roku supports all the major ones such as Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Amazon in addition to hundreds of other channels. Many of these channels are free, but are nothing to get excited about. Other channels such as Fox, ESPN, and History require you to log in with your cable or satellite credentials which defeats the purpose of cable cutting. To get the best experience, you’ll have to pony up some dough and pay for a subscription service, which leads us to:
The Video Subscriptions
Did you buy a Roku 3 which I highly recommend? Great! Now what to watch? Your best bet is to sign up for one, two, or all of the big three: Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime Instant video.
Netflix is the standard when it comes to streaming television and movies. Starting off as a DVD in the mail subscription service in 1999, Netflix started offering streaming in 2007. I signed up right away mostly out of curiosity after they made the announcement and found the library to be pretty limited. Most of what we wanted to watch was on DVD only and the picture quality could be spotty at times. It was pretty common to experience pauses while watching a movie when Netflix struggled to find the best bitrate for your internet connection. We’d sit and wait for up to 30 seconds sometimes watching the buffering status bar crawl across the screen.
Oh, how the times have changes. These days, Netflix is rock solid in the picture quality department and their library is huge. Videos start playing immediately at a lower quality rate and usually after 5 seconds or so, the best picture quality will lock in and stay there. If the connection does get bogged down, your video will keep playing, only at a lower quality in real-time. For me this is quite rare, however. Every movie or show I watch is in HD 99% of the time.
As I mentioned earlier, Netflix’s library of content is large enough that I never question the value of my subscription fee. Entire series of popular shows in every genre and movies galore will keep your queue full indefinitely.
The interface for Netflix will vary based on what you’re using to watch it with, whether it’s the Netflix website or an app for your streaming device. The Netflix channel for Roku 3 is attractive and easy to use. It suggests content based on what you watch and how you rate and integrates with Facebook if that floats your boat. Just think twice before watching Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo if you don’t want your FB friends to know about your guilty pleasures.
Netflix offers three streaming plans:
One screen at a time in standard definition for $7.99/month
Two screens at a time in high definition for $8.99/month
Four screens at a time in HD and Ultra HD for $11.99/month
You also have the option to kick it old school style and sign up for DVD and Bluray discs plans as well.
Hulu is a free website that offers movies and TV shows with short commercial breaks before and during the content. Hulu+ is a subscription service that offers more content than Hulu and is required if you want to use Hulu on a streaming device such as a Roku. Unfortunately, the ads stay, even if you choose to upgrade to the paid plan.
What’s that? I’m paying for this and STILL have to watch advertising? Trust me, it’s not as bad as you might think. The commercials breaks are much shorter and less often than what you’re used to on cable (you’re paying for that too, remember?) however the lack of variety can be annoying. Spend the afternoon binge watching your favorite show and you can expect to see the same Ford commercial a dozen times.
Although Hulu+ offers movies, their television catalog is where they stand apart from the other services. Hulu has agreements with the major networks that allows them to stream current popular primetime shows shortly after they air on “real” TV, such as The Bachelor and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. They also have a pretty impressive of older and classic television shows if you’re like me and enjoy watching gems such as Charles in Charge (don’t judge).
Like Netflix, the Hulu+ is well designed, attractive, and easy to use. Hulu+ costs $7.99/month
A Warning About Television Series: Just because you find your favorite TV show doesn’t necessarily mean the entire series is available to watch. Depending on what rights the providers were able to negotiate with the TV folks, sometimes entire series are there and sometimes only a season or two. For example, Hulu+ only has season one of Charles in Charge (don’t judge). I was fired up for season two when the Powell family moved in and Buddy Lembeck turned into an insane person. But alas, my Charles in Charge fix will have to go unfulfilled for now. Don’t judge.
This isn’t just a Hulu problem. All providers including Netflix and Amazon offer incomplete series for some shows.
Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Instant Video
Amazon is a little different than Netflix and Hulu+. Where the latter offer all-you-can watch for one price, Amazon offers that as well, in addition to buying or renting movies and television episodes separately.
Amazon Prime Instant Video is part of Amazon Prime, which offers free two day shipping on many items, unlimited video streaming in the Prime Instant Video library, unlimited music streaming in the Prime music library, storage space to upload your photos, and one Kindle book borrow per month from the Kindle Select lending library.
Even without all the other features, at $100 a year, Amazon Prime Instant Video is still an affordable option for movie and TV streaming. Consider all the other Prime services and its a no-brainer in my book.
Although the library is a little smaller than what you’ll find at Netflix and Hulu, there’s still plenty to choose from and Amazon offers original programming as well as HBO’s collection of shows such as The Sopranos and Deadwood.
If Prime Instant Video doesn’t have what you’re looking for, Amazon Instant Video most likely will - for a price. You can purchase movies or rent them for 24 hours. Same goes for recent television series, although at $1.99 per episode it can get costly.
Amazon Instant Video and Amazon Prime Instant Video are both available through the same app on your streaming device and it’s easy enough to search for Prime only content.
YouTube may be full of cat fail compilation videos and Jimmy Buffett concerts shot with a cell phone, but if you look past all the crap, there is actual content on there worth watching. TV shows, music videos, sporting events, and how-to videos just to name a few. And don’t forget, it’s free and owned by Google, so once you watch a video or two, the Google machine behind the scenes does a really good job a recommending similar content.
Which is best?
I’ve had subscriptions to all of the big three at the same time since cutting the cord. Netflix, Hulu+, and Amazon Prime. At a little over $25 a month, I have more content then I could ever get around to watching at a fraction of what DirecTV was debiting from my checking account.
There is a lot of crossover between the three. For example, if I notice Netflix just added a new movie, it was usually just added to Hulu and Amazon as well. I assume once the guys in suits make a movie available for streaming, all three snatch it up to stay competitive. However, there is enough variety between the three that keeps me paying the bills to all of them each month.
Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon also offer original programming that you can’t find anywhere else such as the last season of Arrested Development, Orange is the New Black, Behind the Mask, and Transparent.
If I could only go with one of the three, I’d have a hard time deciding, which is why I subscribe to all three. But if you’re going to put a gun to my head, I’d say Netflix is the best based on the recommendation engine, content library, interface, and lack of advertising.
Local Over-the-Air Television
If you live near a big city, you can probably get most, if not all, of the local channels over the air using an antenna. I can’t offer any recommendations on the subject since I’ve never tried, so you’ll have to look elsewhere for antennae reviews.
Why have I never needed to try this? Because I get local TV channels in with my cable internet service. Years ago I found that if I split off my cable before it gets to my cable modem and connect it to the TV, I can pull in almost all of the local channels (except for CBS for some reason) and TBS for free. All in HD except for TBS.
I’m not sure of the technical explanation but I assume those channels are part of the same, uh, bandwidth or something, that the internet flows into the house on and TWC doesn’t have a way to separate them. Either way, I’m enjoying the free channels from Time Warner.
I suppose plenty of you out there could point fingers and question of the morality of my set up, but I sleep well at night. Other than using a basic splitter you can buy anywhere, I haven’t performed any hacking or shady wiring on Time Warner owned equipment. And I’m not getting HBO for free, just the basic local channels that are floating through the air anyway (Except for TBS so I get standard definition as punishment). For all I know, TWC is aware of this and doesn’t care. I’m just sharing my setup and if you decide to give it a try, that’s your decision.
What About Sports?
That’s probably the biggest reason more folks aren’t dumping their cable or satellite TV. And don’t think Big Cable doesn’t know that. If the thought of not being able to catch SportsCenter everyday sends you into a panic attack, then cutting the cable might not be for you. Sorry.
I’m not much of a sports fan, but I can watch every Packer game on our local Fox affiliate. I am into racing however, and I have to admit it was a little painful to miss the Formula 1 and IndyCar season last year. I was able watch plenty of other racing on YouTube a day or two after they aired and some series offer live streaming. Last year I was able to watch every Tudor United Sportscar Championship, World Endurance Championship, and Pirelli World Challenge race.
When it comes to sports, and cable cutting in general, it’s all about compromise. Saving money often means a little sacrifice along the way.
A final word about internet service. Now that you’re saving a bundle without that expensive cable or satellite bill, it’s time to evaluate your internet service if you’re going to stream all your video entertainment needs.
Netflix and Hulu recommend a minimum service of 1.5 megabits per second, but it won’t be a very pleasant experience. For a reliable connection capable of HD quality video, you’re going to want at least 5 Mbps. If you can afford more, bump it up to 10 Mbps or so. Especially if you have other family members browsing the internet or streaming content themselves.
Our family has and 15Mbps connection and quite often I find myself watching watching HD video in the living room while the missus is doing the same in the bedroom and the boy is upstairs killing Nazi Zombies on his PC with no problems.
Does your internet service have a data cap? If it does, you might be screwed. Streaming video chews up a lot of data and it only might take a few days before you hit your limit. As you can see by my usage chart from Time Warner Cable, we use a lot of data and I would guess over 90% of that is streaming video. Notice how little data we used in September? My wife and I were both in the hospital and recovering from surgery during that month so we didn’t watch too much. What you see is the effect of us not streaming.
When you signed up for that $19.95 a month super deal on internet service, make sure you check the fine print to see if you have any restrictions on monthly bandwidth.
I have a dream. Not to live in a world where I’m judged by the content of my character, I dream of a day where we can pick and choose exactly what cable channels we want. That day may never come, so in the meantime I’m making my voice heard with my checkbook. Here’s the good news. This is just the beginning, friends. Technology is only getting better, competition with content providers only getting stiffer, and us as the consumers are on the winning end. Get rid of that bloated and inefficient cable/satellite plan and ride the wave with me.
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and refuses to recognize the restraining order from Scott Baio. Don’t judge and don't forget to subscribe to his blog.
Yep, you read that correctly. As of this writing, it's been exactly six months since one drop of shampoo or soap has touched my body. Now before you start vomiting and send sympathy cards to my poor wife and co-workers, let's get something straight. I still bath every single day. I just don't use soap or shampoo to clean myself.
I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard of somebody ditching shampoo. There's been a "no poo" movement out there for quite some time and everybody has their reasons for doing so. Some folks are convinced that deadly toxins are seeping into our bodies via our hair follicles and we're being poisoned by The Man and Big Poo. Some people want to save money or save the environment.
I didn't really have any special reason for stopping, other than it interested me for some reason. I figured there were only two outcomes possible: my hair would get worse or get better. I have thick and coarse hair and I've never really been happy with it. I've also struggled with dandruff for as long as I could remember and never found a shampoo that got rid of it.
As long as I was in an experimental mood, I decided to knock out soap as well and see what happened. I would still shower everyday, but instead of lathering myself up with products, I would stick with hot water, a wash cloth, and good ol friction.
Until I decided to write this post, I generally don't yap too often about the fact I don't wash with soap and shampoo. When I do, most people make a face and say something along the lines of eww, gross, and get away from me, you freak. Then the inevitable first question: "Don't you stink?"
The answer of course, is a big fat no. If I did stink, I would have went back to soap right away. Remember, I didn't stop bathing. I'm not a flea covered hobo and I can assure you that I'm quite clean when I step out of the shower.
Here's the thing that I realized: mother nature knows what she's doing. Our bodies are designed to take care of themselves. Even though it sounds a little gross, our skin and hair discharge natural oils and....stuff, to naturally repel dirt and keep our hair and skin healthy and soft.
After six months of no shampoo, my hair is completely soft, manageable, and the healthiest it's felt and looked. Ever. Same goes for my skin. It's the middle of January and while everybody around me is complaining about dry skin and slathering themselves with lotion, my face and arms are soft and smooth. No winter itch here.
The only part on my body that's dry this winter? My hands, because I do dishes with dish soap and wash my hands with soap after I use the bathroom. Coincidence? I think not.
That's what soap and shampoo do. Cleansers strip the moisture from your body and leave you feeling dry and itchy. To combat this, you load up on moisturizing this and conditioning that to replace what mother nature would provide if you just gave her a chance! And don't get me started on lip balm. I never touch the stuff.
The Breaking in Period
Thinking about ditching the suds and taking the plunge? Great! You'll never have to buy another bottle of shampoo, conditioner, or bar of soap. Your showers will take half the time, your face will clear up, and your dandruff will go the way of the dodo (shampoo is drying our your scalp, dummy!).
Be forewarned, there is a transition period you should be prepared for. Immediately after you stop using shampoo and soap, your body will not be happy. Your hair and skin are used to getting stripped of their natural oils by chemicals, so they're going to complain when you stop. Your hair will feel oily and your skin will too. Not to mention, you'll probably have a little psychological effect of just feeling "gross" for a few days.
Relax. This is normal and temporary. It will take a week or two for your hair to balance out and take care of itself. Initially feeling heavy and greasy, your hair turns more more soft and natural once it gets used to no shampoo. Your skin will adapt much faster.
I've found once I stopped washing my face with soap I get fewer zits. Body odor in my pits has decreased instead of increased. My dandruff hasn't completely disappeared, but it's vastly improved once I knocked off the Head & Shoulders.
So that's that. After six months I see no reason to ever go back to shampoo or soap. What about you? Have you kicked the poo? What about the soap? Share your experiences in the comments. Or call me a freak. I have thick skin. Incredibly soft and lovely thick skin.
Update: 7/11/2016 A year and a half later, and I'm still shampoo and soap free. Judging by the amount of comments, it seems plenty of people out there are interested in joining me. My next experiment? Cold showers! I tried to get started in the middle of winter, but as you can imagine that's not the best time. There are many claims out there of the benefits of cold vs. hot showers including:
Robert Brumm is the author of several books and only acts like a flea covered hobo. Please subscribe to his blog.
On December 8th, Adam Carolla took a call on his podcast from long time listener Josh West, whose brother Nick is in need of a kidney transplant. Nick, 35 from Indianapolis, has been on dialysis since 2011. Frustrated by the long wait his brother has had to endure, Josh figured he'd reach out to Adam to see if he'd be willing to spread the word on his popular podcast.
Not only did Carolla agree, but it got him rolling on a short rant. "First off, wouldn't you love to live in this utopia where instead of all those freeway signs saying 'click it or ticket' they said 'become a donor'? Instead of having zero impact on 0.0% of the population, you'd actually have a life saving impact on a percentage of the population. Wouldn't that be nice?"
Carolla continued to lament why it's illegal for money to exchange hands in kidney transplant situations. "I’m all for a buyer seller market on this. If somebody wants 10 grand or 15 or 20 grand, and you want a kidney and, especially when your gonna die! It’s so insane for the government to say sorry, you’re not allow to do that. So anyway, how do you want to be buried? Hey, if you have a dad that’s rich, or you happen to be rich, and you’re on dialysis, and you've got Dawson (Adam's producer) over there and he wants some cash? So be it. That’s kinda between the two of you."
This inspired the Ace Man to open his checkbook for the cause. "I’ll tell you what, Josh. How about this? I’m sure this will be an issue, but who the fucks cares? I will offer $10,000, not for somebody’s kidney, but just a gift for the person if it’s a match. If you step up and donor this organ, I will be so thankful that I’ll give you a gift."
Any potential donors interested in becoming a living donor to Nick should email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carolla didn't offer any details regarding the reward, but Josh promised to check back to the show, should a donor be found thanks to the podcast.
Not only do I agree with Adam, but I don't understand why the government is more than happy to foot the bill for Medicare to keep people on dialysis for years, but they won't reward folks financially who donate a kidney.
Instead of spending hundreds of thousands on a single person to cover dialysis cost, why not pay a willing donor $25,000 or $50,000 after they donate? Not only would the number of live kidney donations skyrocket, but that kind of cash could really have a positive impact on the donor. In the meantime, the tax payers are saving millions because dialysis times are reduced significantly.
Obviously, this would need be highly regulated to prevent people from harvesting kidneys willy nilly, but I see no reason why this isn’t a good idea. Right now dialysis patients are waiting for cadaver kidneys, living donors who know them personally, or the rare good samaritan stranger. It just isn’t enough.
You can listen to the episode here: http://adamcarolla.com/bret-ernst The whole show is good, but if you want to skip to the conversation with Josh, it's right around minute 28 of the episode.
Update: April 14th, 2015. As a regular listener to the podcast, I haven't heard a peep since this was mentioned on the show. This blog post, however, has received a regular flow of comments below. I'm sure you'll agree with me that all of them are fishy and most likely spam. I'm not sure the details of how shady people would screw you out of money/kidney, but please use your head and beware. Instead of marking the comments as spam, I'll leave them up as a warning.
As for you people posting about super-terrific-number-one-transplant-hospital below, hear this and hear it well. If your attempts in broken English to offer money for foreign kidney transplants are legit and only seem suspicious due to language barriers, good luck and keep trying. If you're somehow trying to scam people as I suspect you are, you sir/madam are a piece of shit and a horrible, terrible, excuse of a human being. Please kill yourself. That is all.
Update: May 7th, 2015. It got to the point that every day some piece of garbage commented on this post promising big big money for your kidney. I emailed a few of these dopes pretending to be interested and let's just say my thoughts about my fellow man took turn for the worse. It turned off the comments.
Update: June 3rd, 2015. Listening to the show today and Nick and Josh called in. Nick received a kidney over memorial day weekend from 21 year old male who passed away. Adam went on a great rant of why being an organ donor isn't being discussed more and he offered suggestions on how to give people incentive to do so. Thanks, Ace Man.
Discussion starts at 18:00. http://adamcarolla.com/kevin-nealon-3/
Robert Brumm is the author of seven books. He's one kidney short and wouldn't mind a nice fat check in it's place.
This is going to seem like a pretty stupid blog post, so I'm going to let you in on a little secret. This is going to be a stupid blog post.
For some reason that escapes me, I got to thinking about why it is us humans enjoy staring at water. I’m not talking about that bottle of Aquafina on your desk, I mean relaxing on the beach enjoying the ocean view or sitting on the end of the pier in the north woods.
This is where I hear you saying, “There’s nothing complicated to it, dumbass. Water views are beautiful and that’s why people pay through the nose to live in beachside high rise condos.”
Fair enough, but let me disagree a little. Yes, large bodies of water can be beautiful. I live on the shores of Lake Michigan and have witnessed many spectacular sunrises glistening over the water. I’ve seen violent waves on windy days that I could watch for hours. But most of the time? Dullsville. Blue water on blue sky and there ain’t much going on. Wow, is that a gull with a candy bar wrapper in its mouth?
But still, I totally agree it feels good to stare out over the lake and I finally figured out why. You know what else feels good? Staring into a large canyon or a big open field from the top of a hill. Sitting on the back deck of a house in the woods is great, but sitting on the back deck of a house overlooking acres of prairie is even better. A view of central park from the third floor is great. Same view from the 30th floor is even greater.
I think our brains are wired to prefer open space views because that’s what our cave people ancestors needed. After all, how can you expect Grogdak and his wife to relax after a hard day of hunting and gathering in the dense jungle when a predator could be just a few feet away and ready to pounce? I’m sure he preferred to rest perched on top of a cliff, so if something sporting saber teeth and a taste for hairy man flesh was coming, he’d see it a mile away. Ever see an old dude sitting in his driveway staring at the road instead of his cramped back yard and neighbor's house? I rest my case.
So anyway, that’s my theory on why we enjoy looking at lakes, oceans, valleys, and canyons. We’re just upgraded cavemen. I told you this blog post would be stupid.
Robert Brumm is the author of seven books and has a taste for hairy man flesh.
1980. The Empire Strikes Back. I don’t really remember seeing the first Star Wars movie, but catching Episode V on the big screen down at the Rivoli was an experience. This was a time when going to the movies still meant something. Before VHS rentals became DVD rentals became Blueray rentals. Before Netflix and high definition cable. I think most people in my generation have fond memories of seeing at least one of the three original trilogy movies in the theater when they came out. Ever wonder why we’re called Generation X? I’d like to think it has at least a little something to do with the X-Wing.
One of my favorite scenes in Empire was the opening sequence battle on Hoth. I was born and raised in Wisconsin and no stranger to frozen ice planets. One particular frigid morning on the way to school, I had Hoth on my mind. We lived pretty close to Woodview Elementary and it only took me minutes to get there via my moon boots. Five if I hurried, fifteen if I dawdled. Most of the walk consisted of crossing a big field between my school and the middle school.
That morning as I stepped onto the field dressed in my snowsuit, boots, mittens, and ski mask, I wasn’t a student in Mrs. Smith’s first grade class. I was a member of the rebel alliance and didn’t have to imagine the conditions. The snow was deep, the air icy cold, and the wind was merciless. Mighty AT-ATs towered over me. Laser blasts whizzed by my head. One of my comrades in a T-47 Snowspeeder just crashed into a fireball ahead of me. The blaze warmed me for just a second before the wreck was demolished by the foot of a mighty imperial walker.
As I got closer to school, I was Luke Skywalker, wandering aimlessly through the blizzard after escaping the Wampa’s snow cave. Muttering “Ben” under my breath, I staggered and fell to the snow. Got up on my knees, and fell again. “Degobah system…..Ben…..”
Then I jumped up and ran the remaining thirty yards to school because I was freezing my tiny plums off.
I didn’t think too much about the little fantasy that morning until days later. I recall sitting at the kitchen table eating and my mom was telling a story to my dad. I was tuned out, probably pretending I was in the Mos Eisley Cantina, when something my mom said got my attention. She heard second hand from another mom, that a lady saw some poor little boy collapsing in the snow on the way to school the other day. She stopped her car and yelled for the kid to see if he needed help or a ride the rest of the way, but the boy didn’t answer.
I kept my mouth shut as the conversation turned to other boring adult topics. I really didn’t remember any lady yelling for me and I felt guilty that I made her worried because of my stupid make believe session. For all I knew, she might have thought I died of hypothermia or something. It bothered me for days because I was such a sensitive kid. We had lots of sensitive guys on Hoth. Poor bastards. Most of them didn’t make it.
Hey folks. Just a quick note to let you know I set up a store here on the site where you can order signed copies of my paperbacks directly from me. I kept the costs as low as I could while earning a few bucks for myself. Just promise when they're worth thousands you send me a cut.
Now that the dust has settled a little, I feel the need to write about my experience of being a live kidney donor. I’m not doing this to brag or remind people of what a big hero I am (several people used the H word shortly after my surgery and it was embarrassing) but I’m hoping others considering donating will find this article while researching.
I didn’t donate my kidney to a stranger out of the goodness of my heart. Like most donors, this was personal. My wife went into kidney failure over three years ago and was waiting on the transplant for two years. Short of being a dialysis patient myself, I saw first hand just how difficult and miserable the life of a person with dead kidneys can be. My decision to donate my kidney wasn’t heroic or noble and selfless. I simply wanted my wife back.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t donate to my wife directly. The very same day she was approved for transplant, I called the clinic and told them I wanted to donate to her. A short blood test later and I got the bad news: our blood didn’t mix. That was that.
The news was hard to swallow. From day one we always hoped I’d be able to donate to her because it would be the quickest and easiest way.
Fast forward to last year. We waited for a cadaver kidney (average wait two to four years) and went through the crushing disappointment of others who got turned down for donation for various reasons. Good news finally arrived when we learned our hospital joined the paired donation program. As a willing donor, I could give my kidney to a compatible patient and in return my wife Tammy would get the perfect kidney for herself. It took more red tape and more waiting, but finally in September of 2014 we finally had our surgeries. A transplant with a live donor kidney for her, and a nephrectomy got me to give my kidney to somebody else.
So that’s the quick gist of how I came to be one kidney short. If you’re considering giving the gift that can literally give somebody their life back, what can you expect? There is plenty of info out there, but here is my two cents.
The Money - As a donor, you won't get any medical bills for the testing, appointments, surgery, or hospital stay. Not a cent for anything. A couple of bills slipped through the cracks for me, but I just handed them over to the financial lady at the transplant clinic and she took care of it. In my case, my wife was the recipient under my insurance so it came out of the same pocket anyway. But the donor’s costs are always covered by the recipient's insurance.
As far as other costs like travel and lost wages, that’s on you. My time off work was covered by FMLA and I was eligible for short term disability. I can’t predict your financial situation, but in my case it worked out well. If being off work for several weeks would be a deal breaker, don’t underestimate generosity of others. There are many websites out there designed to help people raise money for medical costs through online donations.
The Testing - When I made the first call, the nurse coordinator asked me a set of questions about my health and reasons for wanting to donate. This was the first step of weeding out anybody who isn’t a candidate. I got through that alright and scheduled a blood draw for a simple test to see if my blood mixed well with my wife’s blood. This can usually be done by any medical lab in your area so no travel is required if your patient lives far away.
If the cross matching is successful, (in my case it wasn’t with my wife. Months later, when I was approved for transplant in the paired donation program, I moved forward with the process), you’ll move ahead with more tests and appointments. This includes thorough physicals, xrays, ekg, etc. Nothing too difficult or scary. You’ll also meet with a psychologist and social worker. They want to be sure that you’re a willing donor that made the decision by your own free will and you’re not being pressured in any way.
This is a good segue into a very important point. Through the whole donation process you can back out at any time for any reason. In fact, you don’t even need to give them a reason. The hospital will even go as far as “lying” to your recipient if you don’t want to tell them that you changed your mind. They’ll simply say you didn’t work out as a donor for whatever reason and that’s that. You’ll never sign any sort of contract and you can change your mind right up to the second before they put you under in the operating room.
You’ll also see a donor advocate, financial counselor, pharmacist, and meet with a nephrologist (kidney doc) and surgeon. All these appointments and tests take time of course. Expect several months or longer for all of this.
Finally, if you pass all the tests and exams, and everybody with a degree and a lab coat thinks you are a good candidate to donate a kidney, your case will be presented to the board. Once a week a group of hospital bigwigs meet to review all kidney donors and transplant patients to officially decide if they will go on the list. In my case, I was accepted.
The Surgery - Exactly how you lose your kidney will differ depending on the hospital and preferences of the medical staff. In my case, a Urologist using a robot did my surgery. Five small incisions in my abdomen around my belly button were used for various scopes and laparoscopic tools. A long incision around 6-8 inches right above my “bikini line” was used to pull my kidney out.
The surgery itself wasn’t anything too spectacular. It was the first operation I’d ever had, so I was a little nervous in general. I’d never experienced going under with anesthesia and waking up with holes in my body. They gave me something via IV to relax before I went into the OR and I remember getting moved onto the operating table. That was it. The next thing I knew, a nurse was waking me up in the recovery area.
This will differ from person to person, but I felt just fine in the recovery room. I had very little pain. Once I was moved to my hospital room and the post-surgery meds wore off, the pain started to show up but was never all that great. While I was in the hospital they gave me a mixture of oral narcotic and non-narcotic meds.
My surgery was on a Wednesday and I went home on Saturday. Once I was able to pass gas and use the bathroom for number two, they basically left it up to me when I wanted to go home.
The Recovery - Again, this will differ for everybody, but the pain I experienced was never all that bad. The pain meds kept it manageable and it basically felt like I did way too many sit-ups. Pretty typical for any abdominal surgery.
The biggest challenge was the overall feeling of feeling….shitty. My body went from two fully functional kidneys down to one and it was not happy about that at all. I was tired all the time and just didn’t feel very good. I spent the first week at home sleeping or just lying in bed watching TV and had very little appetite. I lost about ten pounds from not eating very much (nasty hospital liquid diet while I was there didn’t help).
As the days went by I slowly got stronger and felt better. As of this writing, it’s been about 3.5 weeks since my surgery and I finally feel like myself again for the most part. My energy and endurance isn’t 100%, but I’m getting stronger every day. This will vary depending on your age and health, but 3 to 6 weeks is typical recovery time. How long you’ll be off work depends on what you do and how physical it is.
The good news is people with one kidney lead normal healthy lives with virtually no side-effects or consequences, so I’m told. I have no reason to doubt that, although mother nature knows what she’s doing and gave us two for a reason. Time will tell. I have no special instructions other than lead a healthy life and try to stay away from stuff like mixed martial arts or pro football. My dreams of being a starting wide-out for the Packers are over, but I'll learn to live with it.
When I met with my urologist for a follow up visit a couple of weeks ago, he said something that really hit home for me. My surgery was unique because as the patient, it did me absolutely no good whatsoever. I never really thought of that before and I had to laugh. It’s true of course, but the good feeling of what I did will stay with me forever. As a donor in the paired donation program, not only did my wife get a kidney and a new lease on life, but another person did as well. Somewhere out there is a person just like my wife who is walking around with my kidney and I can’t begin to describe how great that makes me feel.
Would I do it again? Absolutely, 100%, yes, a thousand times yes. It was an experience that I’ll never forget and if feels so great to do something so good for somebody else. If you know somebody suffering from kidney disease and chained to a dialysis machine and you’re on the fence, please donate.
If you want to ask me any questions, my virtual door is always open. Please don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com.
*Everything above is my personal opinion. I’m not a medical professional and I don’t pretend to be. Talk to your doctor and your family.
Well, it happened again. Somehow I managed to write another book. Now it's your job to somehow manage to read it! SWT is a quick read full of action that I hope you'll enjoy. Just the Kindle version is available today, but soon the paperback will be out as well. Check it out!
If you're like me, you find Labor Day weekend a little depressing. It's the unofficial end of summer and before you know it, you'll look down and realize you're holding a snow shovel and put on eight pounds.
Well, I've got just the thing to cheer you up! If you enjoy paying to click a button and waiting for weeks for something to happen, you're in luck! My latest book, Simple White Trash, is available for pre-order through Amazon.com today for the release date of September 24th.
For reasons that escape me, Amazon doesn't provide sampling on books available for pre-order, but never fear. You can read a free sneak peak at my website by clicking here.
By the way, I recently decided to stop mixing business and pleasure so I created a new Facebook page dedicated to my books.
What's that sound? Why, it's the Rafflecopter flying into your neighborhood! Three lucky winners are going to receive a 5 pack of codes you can use to redeem free audiobooks from Audible. That's any 5 free audiobooks from a selection of over 150,000 titles. No catch, no free trials that you have to cancel, no nothing except hours of entertainment. And it just so happens this guy might have a book or two you can listen to.
On the fence, eh? You'd rather read books the old fashioned way, huh? Well what about that morning and evening commute in your car? Instead of subjecting your ears to crappy top 40 songs, how about a history book on the ancient Mayans? Dog needs a good long walk? Pop the earbuds in and listen to Patrick Stewart narrate Moby Dick (I made that up but wouldn't it be awesome?). Stuck on the treadmill at the gym? Sitting at a desk performing a mindnumbing task that a blind monkey could perform? I think you get my point. I love reading as much as the next guy but audiobooks are the next best thing when you can't process words on paper with those eyeballs of yours.
Enter today and good luck!
An old friend of mine William Hearst sent me an email today asking if I'd read over a short piece he wrote. Bill is pretty outspoken when it comes what's happening in the middle east, especially when it comes to the Palestinians/Hamas/Arabs scrapping with Israel. Fortunately, such occurrences are rare. Only once every couple months for the last 66 years.
I asked Bill what he was planning on doing with his op-ed piece and he said he didn't have any plans, just felt like writing. I told him I'd toss it up here on my blog. So without further adieu:
The fighting continued in the Gaza Strip after a 90 minute ceasefire that was supposed to last 72 hours. Educated people who have a very sparing knowledge of history know that this conflict didn't start in 2014, or even 1014. It is a fight that has raged for as long as there has been the written word.
1948, 1967, 1973, 1982, 2009, 2012, 2014… This has become a part of the Israeli existence. Why should the Jews of Israel have to accept this as a way of life? And furthermore, why does the world seem to think it has the moral authority to tell Israel what to do in order to make sure their citizens are safe from the Arabs? The actual answer is, is that no country in the world is so above reproach that it should ever say a word about Israel and its handling of the Arab issue in the West bank and Gaza Strip - least of all the United States. Yet day after day during this current conflict, one needn't look far to see some daft Hollywood type, the BBC, New York Times, et al, making some bombastic statement about the way in which Israel is handling a very dangerous situation.
The question is ubiquitous, but it is a very valid one: what would any country do if they were faced with the same situation as Israel? What would any person do that was charged with protecting someone, much less a nation of people? Anyone that answers the previous question honestly would agree with what Israel is doing and the tactics that they are employing. Israel does not want to kill Arab youths. Israel does not want to blow up UN schools in the Gaza Strip. Israel does not want to kill Arab women. Israel does not want to kill Arab men. Women do not want to have their breasts removed when they get cancer, however in order to get rid of the cancer you must attack it at the source. You don’t cut off the shoulder to solve a problem that exists in the knee.
Hamas knows that it will garner a great deal of support in the uneducated and anti-west world every time a rocket hits a school or a hospital in Gaza. Which is precisely why they use those venues to launch their attacks and hide their munitions. The strategy is two-fold; it causes Israel a dilemma because Israel does not want to launch rockets at a school or hospital because it will very likely cause innocent people to be killed. It is also a way for Hamas to portray the Jews as a mongrel race that has no value for human life. How could a country launch an attack on a school?!
“New Amsterdam it’s become much too much.” The institutional anti-Semitism that is rotten in the Gaza Strip cannot be untaught. After all the conflicts between the Jews and Arabs how can anyone with a grain of sense think that a two state solution is viable? The only way it would work is if the Jews remained in Israel and the Arab state was located in Fiji. The Arabs have proved time and again that they cannot stomach peace with the Jews. The world needs to grow up fast. Forcing interaction between people that don’t like each other is a recipe for disaster. Should people respect one another for their differences? Absolutely. Should anyone be forced to live right next to someone who they find to be completely unfit? No. At the end of the day the world needs to let Israel and the Arabs figure this out themselves.
- William Hearst
Robert Sez: As a non-Jewish boring white American, I can't see for the life of me why the Jews want to stay in Israel. I say pack up all six million and send them over here to the western hemisphere. Maybe Mexico could donate a few thousand acres they aren't using and Israel 2.0 could be up and running in no time.
OK, as I wrote that I couldn't help remember another time when somebody had the bright idea to move all the Jews to a different place, but let's not get into that. My bad.
Sadly, I know deep down even if every last Jew packed up and moved to the North Pole, it wouldn't matter much. Within a year, an extreme sect of radical Muslim Eskimos would load up polar bears with C4 and send them into town because the evil Zionists were living on top of sacred ice or something.
It's pretty easy to paint Israel the bad guy in the latest round of fighting. After all, they have the modern military and the citizens of Gaza are essentially unarmed. Civilians are being killed and injured by the hundreds. But as Bill pointed out much more eloquently than I'm attempting to do, The Israeli army didn't wake up one morning and decide to roll armor through the strip and start gunning kids down. Kick the hornet nest and there is a good chance you'll get stung.
The real problem in my opinion is too many people with radically different values and beliefs crammed into a tight space the size of Six Flags. Something has to give. Is there an easy answer? I'm not sure but I have sneaking suspicion my great grandson will be writing about this very subject long after my consciousness has been uploaded into the cloud.
Seriously, it's 2014. When is that part of the world going to get it's shit together and move on? Why can't people just do their thing and leave everybody else alone? Yes, I know I'm oversimplifying and me giving that advice to a parent after an Israeli rocket just took out their school is ridiculous. But really, the root cause of that rocket is the Muslims hate the Jews and the Sunnis hate the Shias and Mahdavi hate the Christians and pretty much everybody hates America.
It's getting so bad I almost pray to my non-controversial-please-don't-get-offended God that aliens show up and try to enslave us. At least that would bind us together as the human race and we'd all have a common enemy for once. Until that day comes, keep your damn polar bear off my lawn.
FAT VAMPIRE by Johnny B Truant
Yep, Fat Vampire is just what it sounds like. Reginald is an overweight pathetic office worker, the butt of jokes and an overall unhappy loser. When he unintentionally gets transformed into a vampire to have his life spared, Reginald needs to quickly learn the ropes of becoming one of the undead from his friend and fellow vamp, Maurice. Fat Vampire is a quick and funny read. Best of all, it's free as the first book in the FV series.
UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand
Unbroken is one of those nonfiction books I feel like every person should read. The true story of what Louis Zamperini and the other survivors of their plane that crashed in the Pacific is amazing. Drifting in a life raft surrounded by thousands of miles of water, fighting off sharks, and getting strafed by Japanese planes was just the beginning. Seriously, even if you don't find WWII all that interesting, you need to read Unbroken.
Not interested? Check out what's popular this week:
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POINT OF IMPACT by Stephen Hunter
Are you one of those people always saying "Yeah, but the book was way better than the movie?" Good, cuz here's another on for you. SHOOTER starring Mark Wahlberg from 2007 was based on one of my favorite books, Point of Impact. Bob Lee "the nailer" Swagger was one of the best Vietnam war snipers the US Marine Corps turned out. Years later, the US government hires Swagger as a consultant when they learn an assassin is planning on taking out the president. Swagger gets framed as the shooter and has to prove his innocence while trying to get revenge on the bad guys. Point of Impact is the first book of a loose Bob Lee Swagger series (you don't have to read them in order).
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
Speaking of movies based on books, here's another. I read The Fault in Our Stars as a favor to my wife who practically demanded I do so since it's one of her favorites. It can be a bit pretentious at times and some of the dialog between the teenage characters is unbelievable at best. Despite that, I did enjoy this book about teen cancer patients. If you're one of the four people left who hasn't read 'Stars, give it a try, whydon'tcha?
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Amazon Best Sellers Top 100 Books