Ted

Posted by Ellen

John must have been about eight years old when he came across the special offer in a seed catalog: hey kids, add a penny of your own money to your parents' seed order, and you'll get a super fantastic packet of seeds just for you to plant.

If I remember correctly, we taped the penny to the order form, and I got my seeds and he got his. Both our gardens did pretty well that summer, thanks to the good advice of our neighbor on Fifth Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Mr. Crawford. John's turnip, shown here, must have been exactly the super fantastic return he'd been hoping for on his investment–and yup, he's still a gardener today, thirty years later.

At harvest time, he posed for a Polaroid snapshot in the kitchen with his brothers, Joe and Ted. Joe appears to be checking out a previously shot Polaroid, probably watching the colors emerge magically from the paper. Ted appears to be annoyed. Jealous maybe, of his brother's turnip?

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Snow fell on Alabama the other day, and bitter cold settled in. Same thing happened there back in about 1989, when Forest Lake in Tuscaloosa froze up thick enough to run around and slide on, and our three eldest posed for a picture on the ice.

From the bottom: Ted, John, Joe. Note the complete absence of gloves or mittens, and the general inadequacy of winter apparel. In his hat and jacket, Ted appeared to have a chance of staying warm, but the other two just had to tough it out. There is no evidence in this picture of the socks-on-the-hands and/or plastic-bags-in-the-shoes that we recall improvising for wintry moments in Alabama; nonetheless, they all somehow survived.

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(This is a guest post by Ted, the third in a series of three posts from Houston, Texas.)

Rob, on bended knee, proposing to Shawna in the NASA Johnson Space Center in Houston

When Hole in the Clouds sent me to Houston as a travel correspondent, the timing couldn't have been more perfect; my business associate Robert Fox happened to be getting married in Houston that very same weekend. 

The wedding chapter of Rob and Shawna's story begins back in the winter of 2013,  at the NASA Johnson Space Center. The two of them had flown from their home in D.C. to Texas, to spend some time with Shawna's parents. Unbeknownst to Shawna, Rob had been carrying a ring around in his pocket for the past few days.

At the space center, Shawna found a cool rocket and set up her camera on a timer, the way tourists do. But when she came back to pose for the snapshot, Rob dropped to his knee. The surprise on her face in the picture above was genuine.

This past Saturday they were married in Texas, in a wedding with a theme. The theme was brunch.

Shawna is a senior producer for NBC's Meet the Press, and there were lots of Washington media types at the wedding, including some of NBC's White House producers. This is how they party:

You can take the producer out of Washington

To help the media types feel at home during the moments between their tweets and e-mails, there was a newspaper for them to read, The Brunch In Love Dispatch (Hot Topic: "Washington, DC, Couple Weds in Texas"), with little NBC logos on each page.

The proposal was in Texas. The wedding was in Texas. According to the Brunch In Love Dispatch, the bride is "a Texas girl with the tattoo to prove it."

And yes, the bride wore cowgirl boots.

The bride, Shawna Thomas, in cowgirl boots!

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(This is a guest post by Ted, the second in a series of three posts from Houston, Texas.)

When I was a little boy growing up in the Bible Belt my mother told me something I will never forget. "There is no god" she said. "But that is a secret. You must remember not to tell anyone else. They will get very mad at you if you do."

There are many types of atheists; some are as intolerant of other ideas as the people I had to keep my atheist secret from. I have even heard atheists say there would be no war or oppression if there were no religion. Given the history of atheists like Stalin and Mao I find this belief a bit, well, faith based. Point being, I am a devout atheist, but not an evangelical or fundamentalist one. My mother doesn't raise intolerant atheists.

The preceding paragraphs were a bit of a circuitous path to lead up to the following short sentence: I don't mind going to church.

While in Texas, my host Tia, whom you met in yesterday's Good Morning, invited me to attend her church. Tia is on a "prayer team" and people lined up to pray with them. I snuck some glances at the people praying with Tia and her team. There were hugs and there were tears, a lot of emotions packed in to the few short minutes each person had with a member of the prayer team. I could tell those prayers help a lot of people get through the week.

Friends have taken me to many houses of worship all over the country. Some favorites were a black upper class church in downtown Washington, DC (I liked the women's hats) and a white working class church in rural Alabama (I liked the banjos). I have seen many churches, but never one like Tia's. The sheer size was mind boggling. The band had at least twenty instruments and the choir was the largest I have ever seen. There were thousands of people dancing and singing and praying and rejoicing.

Pictured up top is your correspondent and the church, before all the seats were filled with worshippers.

It is true what they say, things are bigger in Texas.

Not everything is bigger in Texas though. Little girls attending church are still little girls attending church. There is, however, one difference between little girls attending church in Texas and little girls attending church elsewhere. Cowgirl boots.

Cowgirl boots on girls at church in Texas
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(This is a guest post by Ted. Since my mother is helping my grandmother move, and will not have time to write Good Mornings for ya'll, she has handed me the keys to her weblog. I will try not to wreck it.

With possession of the keys, and a full tank of gas, I decided to head on down to the Lone Star State. This is the first in a series of three posts from Houston, Texas. The next two posts will be about cowgirl boots. This is Texas after all.)

The entire owl decorating group, Houston Harry Potter Meetup

I happened upon the Houston Harry Potter Meetup Group's Owl Decorating Contest while enjoying a Sunday afternoon walking around Discovery Green, a lovely park in Houston.

The picture above contains the entire Houston Harry Potter Meetup Group (or at least the ones that showed up for the Owl Decorating Contest). I stood on top of a picnic table to take this picture and asked everyone to hold up their owls. My friend Tia, who hosted me in Houston, is also in the picture. She can be identified by her beautiful yellow dress and lack of owl.

I asked who was judging the competition and learned that the sole judge was Alyssa, head of the Gryffindor House. She is pictured below wearing an awesome shirt. Because she was the judge she was not allowed to enter the contest, but she did decorate an owl anyway.

Alyssa, the judge of the owl decorating contest (Harry Potter Meetup Group)

Tia and I were offered owls to decorate, but we declined the offer.

Laura, the Deputy Headmistress, requested that I send her the picture I took of the group. I did so, via text message. Later in the evening I sent Laura another text message asking who won the contest and was informed that Robin was the winner.

Laura directed me to the group's Facebook page, which contained a picture of Robin's winning entrant:

The winning owl from the Houston Harry Potter Meetup Group's Owl Decorating Contest

We here at Hole In The Clouds would like to congratulate Robin on her big win. That is indeed a nice owl.

Posted by Ellen

Up in Tedland, high on the mountain above the Cacapon River, to get warm at all, you have to get warm twice. Or else wait till June and get all the warm you want, and then some.

Posted by Ellen

Doris's sign might be a little misleading in one way, since there's really not much of a parking problem in the community of Great Cacapon, West Virginia. It's a wide place in the road: a post office, a few dozen houses and trailers, and Doris's, which advertises Bud Light by the 30-pack ($23.99).

The deer in the noose, however, looks just like the wall mounts on sale at a furniture store back in Berkeley Springs, the county seat. And if you don't want a deer for your wall, you might consider a longhorn steer instead.

Posted by Ellen

Ted lines up the decking for the new deck he's building behind his house high on the mountain near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. "There is a big hickory and a skinny maple growing through the deck," he notes. "I still haven't done the railing. Sigh."

Posted by Ellen

It's gotta be that shredder sitting by the windowsill, just to the right of the desktop.

This is Ted's new office in Washington, DC.

Posted by Ellen

In the awkward but sort of proud tradition of bloggers promoting cool stuff from their friends and relations, we are pleased as punch to point you to Savvy Lessons, the new venture by Ted Stein and his partners Brad Clements and Bhagwan Khalsa.

A few years back, Ted wrote some software to help Brad and Bhagwan run their music school. By logging in online, students and teachers could schedule their lessons, track invoices, and generally deal with the business side of their musical life. On the music school website, somebody who wanted to learn, say, trombone could read about various trombone teachers around town and choose one based on musical taste, recommendations and reviews, credentials, teaching philosophy, and/or location. And somebody who wanted to teach trombone could catch the eye of potential students on that same website.
 
In other words, this software combines a bit of advertising, even matchmaking, with the basic business operations necessary for music teachers . . . or any other service professionals–from photographers to yoga instructors, tech support to babysitters. Currently, solo entrepreneurs or small businesses who offer services to the public cannot maintain an online presence and computerize their routine business activities without purchasing multiple software products and/or hiring a programmer.
 
Savvy Lessons, the first offering in the new Savvy Ware line of software, scales up Brad, Bhagwan, and Ted's music-school product for a nationwide market. Music teachers anywhere in the country can be matched to interested students nearby, using a web portal that can also manage lesson scheduling, accounting, invoicing, and other business functions.
 
Next will come a series of similar offerings optimized for different sorts of service businesses. Savvy Tutors, for example, will help tutors market themselves to students who need tutoring; it will also support them in their pedagogy with business-management software like that used by musicians.
 
Down the road, there's even a plan for Savvy Plumbers. Why not?
 
About that trombone teacher. Savvy Lessons offers many choices, but I think I'm inclined to go with a young Baltimorean, Corey Wallace, because his experience included a season with a touring company of The Music Man. In other words, he's one of the 76 trombones for real–definitely my kind of musician. You can hear him play, even watch a video of his solo with the Brent Birckhead Quintet, right there on Savvy Lessons.