Ages and ages ago, when my twenty something kids were little, our local YMCA sponsored karate classes in which my son and daughter were enrolled. It was 90 minutes a couple of evenings a week just like millions of other classes our over-scheduled kids were pushed to take.  I worked out at the Y in the morning before work and fully anticipated enjoying the kid’s antics from the sidelines but the class was fun and eventually the Sensei talked me (and several other bored parents) into joining. So two or three times a week I was at the Y at 5:30 in the morning in shorts and again at 7 in the evening in funny white pajamas.

The area to the left and right of the front entrance to the Y was a low maintenance pebble garden with a few hardy shrubs where my daughter would play sometimes while waiting for class to begin. One time she found a penny among the pebbles and was extraordinarily delighted.  I noticed this and, before my morning workout on karate days, began seeding the rock garden with coins I accumulated in my car. Needless to say, my daughter became quite a fan of the pebble gardens before karate. She would prowl the pebbles relentlessly and become quite animated upon finding the coins I had scattered that morning. For some reason, no one else found or bothered with those coins and they were always there waiting for us when we arrived for class in the evenings.

My daughter turns 21 in a few months. I may finally tell her about that garden. Maybe not.

It’s cold at 3am and quiet at the campsite along the Appalachian Trail. When I rise a few hours later to heat water for coffee, the sun is lightening the sky to the east. The scouts will be up soon quietly making an amazing amount of noise. We’ll eat breakfast, pack up and move south on the trail. We walk mostly single file along the spine of the mountain range that’s part of a trail running from Maine to Georgia. Today we’ll hike just a few miles to Harpers Ferry, WV where the trail drops to the Potomac river and then a couple of miles past that to where cars and ‘real life’ wait. But for now the sounds of boots on dirt and the sights of forest, rock, sky and valley are a world and an experience outside our normal reality, above it. Before we descend from the mountains, we’ll stop on Weaverton Rocks for lunch. We are over 600 feet above the river. Thirty miles east is Washington, DC, due west we can see the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers marking the town of Harpers Ferry. Below us, the wide, majestic, Potomac, flows east to the capitol, the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic. We cannot hear the river yet, the breeze and the boys keep our ears full but we can watch and amidst the talk and lunch, a kind of solitude is possible. From this rocky vantage it is possible to imagine civil war batteries firing down on the town and armory, floods raging on the rain-swollen rivers, lives lived in the quiet hills.

The Appalachian Trail is an easily reachable treasure accessible at many points from Philadelphia. Whether you drive south-west to hike south to Harpers Ferry or drive north-west to Hawk Mountain to scrape your shins on sharp rocks, or drive north to Lehigh Gap where you can walk over the turnpike, or to a hundred other vista points far from your normal world, do it. Go there and find your solitude on this amazing trail. Walk, watch, feel the earth and sky and appreciate the gift you have so close at hand.

Verizon, as a wireless provider, gets mixed marks from me. In an earlier blog, I chastised all major wireless providers for limiting plans to an arbitrary 5 lines. This hurts big families and, as they all do it, offers no competition.

Now I have a new reason to be annoyed. Verizon recently announced a ‘Friends and Family’ plan where I can add 10 phone numbers on other networks or land lines that will not accrue minutes against my plan. Cool. Until you read the fine print. You need to be on at least a 1400-minute plan to qualify. I have a 1400 minute plan (yeah) and this new ‘Friends and Family’ thing would have dropped our need for minutes WAY down but, catch 22, if I drop to a lower minute, cheaper plan, I lose access to the ‘Friends and Family’ thing. There is no way for me to save money with this.

Then, just to add to the pain, I was recently contacted by Verizon to offer what I thought was a check on whether the plan I was using was adequate. At first, this seemed like a useful service, checking on whether any of the phones in my plan were exceeding their minutes or texts. I realize this is a potential sales opportunity for Verizon but this has actually saved me on a number of occasions. If one of the kids has recently found a friend on another network or discovered a new, exciting reason to send lots of texts, I get a chance to alter the plan to compensate for their excesses before the associated costs go through the roof. But this time, it was strictly a way to get me to extend my contract for another 2 years under cover of offering me a coupon for a free phone upgrade. I can get dozens of free phones online if I want them and I’m willing to extend my contract so this call was a chance for them to lock me in for no real reason.

Grumble. Grumble. I declined the offer and feel slightly abused by the attempt and time wasted. Shame on you Verizon for trying to lock me in without offering anything of real value. Skype is starting to look like a real competitor.

Seems that the London-based National Secular Society has been doing quite the business in de-baptism certificates.

Terry Sanderson, the society’s president, says the group started the online de-baptism initiative five years ago to mock the practice of baptizing infants too young to consent to religious rites. Their web site invites visitors to “Liberate yourself from the Original Mumbo-Jumbo that liberated you from the Original Sin you never had” and allows them to print out a paper certificate that uses quasi-formal language to “reject baptism’s creeds and other such superstitions.”

What a marvelous idea. Not baptised but still want to ‘officially’ renounce your religion?  The NSS are  reaching out to other religions and designing forms that address those ideaologies as well.  Not surprisingly, when the pope makes a foolish remark, site activity climbs dramatically.

Popularity of this service has pushed them to offer more than the online, download versions. You can, at small expense, order a certificate on parchment suitable for framing. Here’s a link to the Time Article.

My current dilemma concerns my cell phone provider. They conveniently offer to group up to 5 members of my family in a single plan. Marvelous, except my current blended family has a husband, wife, 2 of her kids and 3 of mine. Advanced calculus yields an apparently unworkable 7 cell phone users. That’s 2 more than the plan maximum. That’s my dilemma. When I was making more money and had higher expectations of keeping my job and income level, this problem was way low down on my dilemma list but now that the economy sucks and we’re all counting our pennies, I’d like some consideration here. I’ve tried to reason with my monolithic cell phone corporation complaining that their plan maximum count is too low. This, unsurprisingly, got me nowhere. They were nice enough to split us up according to text usage. Mad texters on one plan and reasonable texters on the other. This helped some but that still left me with 2 plans and a sizeable extra chunk of change to pay every month.

Switch providers you say. Good idea but wait, they ALL have that magic 5 line maximum. Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and Nex-Tel all have family plans that max out at 5 lines. I smell a rat but that’s another story. Times are tough and if one of these large customer hungry cell providers wants a really big, obvious marketing tip, raise your family plan maximum line count. Please don’t raise the associated rates please because that would just piss me off. Just raise the number of lines to 8 or 10 to accommodate all the blended, cell-addicted families out there. This could be a big opportunity to suck a lot of large families into your customer list. Once there, you know the prospect of switching providers is daunting so we’ll probably stay. Act now while I can still afford one cell phone plan.

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