Project Advent II


I mentioned it a couple of weeks ago, but now the time has come!  Tomorrow is the start of Advent.  This is a season that has come to mean so much more to me than it did when I was a child.  If I ever really "observed" Advent in the past, it was in the form of a wall calendar, or a novelty that gave me a piece of chocolate each day.  Maybe part of it is that as we grow older, we learn that the anticipation of a thing can often be as good as or better than the thing itself.  But it's more than just anticipation.  It's expectation.  Expectant waiting, and the chance to prepare yourself to usher in joy.

My preparation will be through service.  Here's the project I've set for myself again this year: each day of Advent, I will do one hour of service for somebody else.  An hour each day, times twenty-four days, and it adds up to an entire day of service by Christmas morning.  If there's a day when I can't do an hour of service, I'll make a donation of one hour of my pay instead.

I've tried to avoid too many repeats, but there were a few places where I volunteered last year that I enjoyed so much I'm going to visit them again.  As of this writing, my calendar is filling up nicely, but I still have the few days right before Christmas open.  Everybody's schedule gets full right before Christmas, so it's a little harder to find places that can work with you.  If you are in a position to help me line up an hour of service with an organization you're involved with, please leave a comment or send me a message!

If you remember last year's Project Advent, I added another part to each day's entry, too.  A lot of folks post something that they're thankful for each day of November, but I did it during Advent instead.  Pastor Craig gave a sermon a few weeks ago that made me want to do something similar, but a little different, this time.  He spoke about I Corinthians 16:15-20, and about how Paul knew the value of encouraging and affirming the members of the church.  He urged us to choose people around us to do the same thing for.  I'm not entirely sure yet about what shape I'm going to have this take, but each day I'm going to take the opportunity to thank somebody in my life.

Ready?  Anticipation.  Expectation.  Joy.

Project Summit: Mount Sunflower, KS


A little bit of background... I'm going to talk about my dad's death, but I promise this isn't going to be depressing.  After Papa died last year, I spent a lot of time in self-examination.  For the first time, I started to think of my own life as a truly finite thing.  What do I want to do with the rest of it?  Some of the goals I set were professional, some were things that I want for my family.  And some were just things that I decided I wanted to do.  In that last category was the idea that launched this project: Project Summit.

Put briefly, my goal is to go to the highest point in each of the 50 states.  This is the biggest undertaking I've ever personally taken on; I expect it's going to take me several years, but I'm really excited to start planning for this.  Some are going to be easy (there's a surprising number that you drive right up to), and some will be an incredible challenge (you can't even set foot on Mt. McKinley in Alaska without a guide and an expedition).  But I'm going to write about each of them here.

Monday was my second highpoint.  (The first one was actually in August, and I'll fill you in on it soon.)  I had this week off of work, so my plan was to drop the kids at school on Monday morning, drive to Mount Sunflower, KS, camp out overnight in the Cimarron National Grassland, and then return home on Tuesday.

At 4,039 feet, Mount Sunflower is actually the twenty-eighth tallest of the state highpoints.  And yet, when you see it... Well, just wait until you see the pictures.  When you visit it, there's nothing to suggest that you're someplace high.  The only reason that this is the tallest point in Kansas is because it's right on the border of Colorado, which you're able to see from the highpoint.  Mount Sunflower (named for the state flower of Kansas) is located on private property, in the middle of a family farm, but the landowners have been kind enough to embrace the public's interest in the site, and have made it into a neat destination.  There's a marker there with an eight foot tall sunflower made out of railroad spikes, and a picnic table where you can relax for a few minutes.  I have to say that for a place that would otherwise be unremarkable, it was really beautiful in its own way.  It was quiet and tranquil, the air was crisp, and you could see forever in every direction.

I called my manager, who grew up in Kansas, and also made a phone call to the only other Kansans I know, signed the register, and then got back into the car.  By the time I reached the grassland, I still felt really alert, so I pushed through to Lubbock so that I could sleep beside Courtney.  Fourteen hours behind the wheel, 907.2 miles on the trip meter, and one more highpoint crossed off the list.

I'm going to be straight with you here - it's a seven hour drive from Lubbock to Mt. Sunflower, with very, very little between the two places.  Although this was a really exciting trip for me, being a part of my project and all, there's just not much to tell you about the journey in any way that would make it exciting.  I'm going to let the pictures do most of the talking for me on this one.  Click on any of them to get a bigger view!
State line of Kansas
I've always taken a strange kind of pride in the flatness of West Texas, but it has nothing on Kansas.  That place is like the surface of the freaking moon.
My manager is a Wildcat, so I picked up a little souvenir for him.
This is the point where you turn off of the highway and drive on gravel the rest of the way.
Getting close
The final turn
There she is, Mount Sunflower!
A closer shot of the marker
And a closer shot of the sunflower
A memorial marker
Closer shot of the memorial
The mailbox that contains the highpoint register
I was interested to see that I wasn't the first person to have visited that day.  I'll be even more interested to see if the website gets any hits from adding the URL.
The landowners left a friendly note in the mailbox for visitors to read.

The intrepid explorer takes a self-shot.
And one more before getting back in the car
Sunset over the Kansas plains.  I love the way that the color splits into three separate bands: earth and sky, with the sun in between.
907.2 miles on the trip meter at the end of the day
Two more things that I want to leave you with...
First, I just have to give you some idea of the vast, wide-open FLATNESS of this place.  Click here for an interactive panoramic view.
Second, although it'll probably be spring before I'm able to get any more trips in, I'm really excited about this project and about sharing it with you.  One down, forty-nine to go!

Help me plan Project Advent II


During Advent 2011, I did a project for the blog that ended up being one of the most rewarding, and also most widely read, things that I've ever done.  Project Advent followed a simple formula:
1 Hour of Service per Day
x 24 Days of Advent
1 Day of Service by Christmas

I'm planning to do it again this year.  Same setup as before, either an hour of service each day or a donation of one hour's pay to a charitable organization.  Just like last year, I'm not putting any other rules on it, because I want to see where it takes me again.  I'll be visiting a couple of the same places that I visited last year, and there will be a few places that I'll visit more than once during the month, but I'm trying to keep from scheduling too many repeats.

That's where I could really use your help.  Actually, there are two ways that you can help.
  1. Last year, when I asked for ideas about places to volunteer, lots of my friends came forward with good suggestions.  If you have an idea for a place that I could do some volunteering this December, I'd love to hear it!
  2. This will be even more help - if you do any kind of work with an organization that needs volunteers, and you can help me get in touch with the right people to set up some volunteer time, I would be really appreciative.  There were several places that I wanted to try and work with last year, but I wasn't able to because they needed a background check in advance, and I didn't have time to set that up with them before I wanted to visit.  This year I want to be sure not to miss any opportunities because of things like that.
OK, let me have it!  I've got some ideas and organizations that I'm already working on, but I want you to be a part of this project with me by giving me your ideas, and connecting me with your organizations!

All Saints Day: A Look Back at Bride of Project Horror


When I reach the end of a viewing project and look back, I'm always surprised at how long ago it feels since I watched some of the movies on the list.  A month of movies adds up!  Here, for the interested, is a final scorecard of the month's movies (all ratings are on a 5-point scale):
10/1The Price Is RightThe Masque of the Red Death
10/2The Price Is RightFrom a Whisper to a Scream
10/3The Price Is RightMadhouse
10/4The Price Is RightHouse on Haunted Hill
10/5The Price Is RightTales of Terror
10/6Cults & OccultMartha Marcy May Marlene
10/7Cults & OccultThe Last Exorcism
10/8Cults & OccultTo the Devil a Daughter
10/9Cults & OccultSeason of the Witch
10/10Cults & OccultParanormal Activity 2
10/11Cannibals, Zombies, and Nazis (Oh My!)Jungle Holocaust
10/12C,Z,&N (Oh My!)Cannibal Ferox
10/13C,Z,&N (Oh My!)Demons
10/14C,Z,&N (Oh My!)The Keep
10/15C,Z,&N (Oh My!)Blood Creek
10/16Directors ShowcaseThe Brood
10/17Directors ShowcaseBruiser
10/18Directors ShowcaseThe Innkeepers
10/19Directors ShowcaseLovely Molly
10/20Directors ShowcaseThree...Extremes
10/21Deep EndHuman Centipede 2
10/22Deep EndBloodsucking Freaks
10/23Deep EndSchramm
10/24Deep EndNekromantik
10/25Deep EndA Serbian Film
10/26Trippy & SurrealFear(s) of the Dark
10/27Trippy & SurrealBegotten
10/28Trippy & SurrealCarnival of Souls
10/29Trippy & SurrealBeyond the Black Rainbow
10/30Trippy & SurrealAntichrist
10/31Danny's ChoiceBarney's Halloween Party

By now you know that I like to look at what the numbers tell us.  The top-rated block this time, with an average score of 4.2, was Cults & Occult.  There was a tie for the lowest-rated block.  Coming in with an average score of 2.8 were the Cannibals, Zombies, and Nazis (Oh My!) and Deep End blocks.  What does this mean in terms of this year's project?  Well, I think it means that sometimes when you want a good horror movie, less is more.

I'm actually a little bit surprised at the way the numbers played out, because the reason I included some of the more extreme choices in this year's lineup was to try and see something new, something that might move the needle a little bit.  What actually happened, though, is that the old school spooks and devils ended up winning the day over the much gorier and grosser entries.

For those of you who told me that you could never watch this many horror movies, allow me to point you to this totally scientific study which proves that watching horror movies may actually help you lose weight.  So, you know, feel free to add the whole Saw franchise to your Netflix queue, and thank me when you're able to fit into those jeans in the back of your closet.  (I'm just kidding about that last part.  Please choose better movies than the Saw series.)

I haven't entirely decided whether or not I'm going to do Project Horror again next October.  By the time you add up three years of this, plus nights when I did double features, I've watched nearly 100 horror movies for the blog.  I'm afraid that I may be wearing out the novelty, and also that I'm having to reach further for movies that I haven't seen.  We'll see.  If I don't do a movie marathon, maybe I'll do something entirely different.  Actually, I think I may have thought of something already, but you'll just have to wait until next October to see!

Again, thank you to everybody who read or watched along with me, or who caught me in person to comment on the project!  Thank you to friends who made recommendations, and special thanks to Kristin for not only recommending some, but for helping me to get my hands on a few of the more obscure titles.  Thanks to her, too, for joining me for Cannibal Ferox!  And, as always, thanks to my friend Steve for the idea to do this in the first place.
SCENE (HOLWERDA MANOR): We see the parlor where Johnny and Susie (OH YEAH!  You thought I'd forget about them, didn't you?!?) were taken captive by the Bride of Project Horror.  Although the room is still and dark, a few beams of sunlight penetrate the gloom around the edges of heavy velvet curtains.  There is a loud pounding at the door, which bursts open to allow the entry of three policemen.  Two officers walk into the room's center to look around while the third, the chief, remains concealed by shadow.
OFFICER #1:  Good lord!  What happened here?
OFFICER #2:  Is that them?  Are they the missing kids?
OFFICER #1:  They're wearing the clothes that they went missing in, but it can't be them.  Those bodies look like they've been here for ages.  Johnny and Susie only disappeared one month ago today!
Both men turn to the chief, whose back is to us as he examines a portrait above the fireplace.
OFFICER #2:  What do we do, chief?  The town is going to panic when they hear about this.
CHIEF:  (with back still turned to us) Nobody's going to panic.  Nothing happened here.
OFFICER #2:  But chief...
CHIEF:  (sternly) Nothing at all.  Now report back to the station immediately.  I'll be along soon.
The officers stare at the chief in confusion, then slowly look at each other, turn towards the door and leave.
The portrait that the chief has been looking at comes into clearer focus, and we see that it is of Old Man Holwerda and his bride.  The chief turns away from the picture, allowing us our first look at his face, AND IT'S THE SAME AS THE FACE IN THE PORTRAIT!
Yeah, good luck sleeping after that, suckers.