It's not uncommon to find people screaming at the top of their lungs that credit cards are bad. Of course, if you use just about anything incorrectly it can be bad. Frankly, I don't have anything against credit cards - I think that they are great, provided you know how to use them. We have a handful of credit cards that we pay off each month, so in effect, we are using other people's money for the course of the month. And yes, I fully understand that we could get into a bind if we needed to pay some other bills first, and couldn't pay those cards off. But that's why we try and have money available to pay the bills. It's all about using your head.

That said, if you can't do that, then maybe they aren't for you at all, and that's okay as well. But what I don't get are the people who talk about credit cards being the worst thing to hit the planet since, well, evil, but they don't talk about things like ATM cards. I mean really. ATM cards - in fact, let's lump all debit cards or check cards or whatever you want to call them into the same bunch - can be just as bad, if not worse. Sure, there is the advantage that you can't spend more money than you have, but you can sure spend it just as quickly.

Many of you may know that a few years ago, when I married my wife, I not only became a husband, but I became a father at the same time, because my wife had two children from a prior marriage. For a long time I had told myself that I wasn't planning to date anyone who had been married because I didn't want to deal with the issues that may arise. I also didn't want to be with someone who had children for the same reasons. Naturally, the universe saw to it that I had both.

As I am adopted myself, I don't think that it matters at all that I am not the biological father of the children, and I am certainly glad that I had a chance to know them when they were younger (meaning before we were married), as that has made the transition all the easier. In fact, our youngest I have known since he was born, and our oldest I have known since he was perhaps one. It is as if they are my own. I'm sure it would be that way regardless, but it is just that much easier.

As we were on the way to the lake today, we noticed something next to the road - a turtle! Those of you who have been reading for a while probably realize that we're a bit sappy when it comes to animals in need (we already have four stray dogs), and seeing a turtle along the side of the road trying to decide whether to cross or not, well, it just hits us right in the breadbox. So naturally I made my wife pull over and turn around so we could check him out.

The poor little guy was just sitting there, with his legs all tucked up under the shell, his head barely poking out. I'm not sure if he was just intimidated by all the cars passing by or if he had been hit by someone already - but being that he was on the stripe next to the road, I figured that I needed to at least move him off to the side. Since the kids were in the van, I thought that the least I could do was show them, so I took him so they could see. Luckily, he wasn't too big. The last turtle we saw near the road was a monster - when I tried to move him, I almost lost a hand.

After we purchased our first GPS, we quickly set out to try to find our first cache. It turns out that the Geocaching web site has quite a few listed in the Charlotte area. It's not a terrible surprise, really, but it's always nice to find something happening here. It's not like Charlotte is a small town, exactly, but we always seem to be just on the outside of things.

I'm sure that there are some places that have thousands of Geocaches in their area, and that's okay, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that there are 850 of them within 50 miles of our zip code (which is within the Charlotte city limits). This is something that could go either way. Someplace like New York City, which has millions of people, may not have many caches, because it may not have as much wilderness - though there are certainly interesting places to hid things all over the city. And a remote place with lots of wilderness may not have the people. So maybe Charlotte is just in the sweet spot.

On July 14th, 1789, seven prisoners (yes, just seven!) were freed from the French prison called The Bastille. I'm sure it was La Bastille or Le Bastille or something - I'm not trying to offend anyone here. Anyway, this event marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and the prison was a symbol of the power of Louis XVI, so each year on this day, the French celebrate the day, much as Americans celebrate July 4th.

In Charlotte, the French-American Chamber of Commerce puts on a festival celebrating this event. Previously - or at least last year - this event was held in the Wachovia Plaza uptown, which is certainly a nice place, but you have to wonder what happened, as this year's event (the 7th, from what I can find, it moved to a small enclosed space in the North Davidson Arts District. Not a good choice.

When I was a kid, my dad worked in the airline industry, which meant that we were able to fly for free with some frequency - in reality it meant that at least once a year we flew back to the East Coast (where I now live) to visit family. It also meant that I was one of the early birds when it came to having a frequent flyer number. I think the first was probably in the Delta Sky Miles program. This was so long ago that I actually have a place on my statement where I have miles from the original program that won't expire (not a lot of miles, but miles nonetheless).

These days, it seems like everyone has an affiliation program of some sort. Airlines have had them for years (probably decades), and car rental companies have them, though they usually just award airline miles. Hotels give you airline miles or points towards free stays (some even give you both). One of the more recent entrants into this arena is for frequent movie goers. Some of you might realize that I watch movies, so this holds some interest to me, even if I don't always go to the movies to see them. So which is better - AMC's MovieWatcher or Regal's Crown Club? Let's try to find out!

According to the Simple English Wikipedia, Asperger Syndrome is a term that is used when a person has a hard time talking with other people in the usual way. Doctors see Asperger syndrome as a mild form of autism. It is sometimes called "high-functioning autism". This means somebody with autism who looks like they do not have autism, but their brains still works differently than that of other people. Doctors often make mistakes about whether someone has Asperger syndrome, and they often believe by mistake that the person has schizophrenia, ADHD, Tourette syndrome, or mental retardation instead.

What does this have to do with anything? We have frequently been told to have our youngest son should be treated for ADHD, and we don't really subscribe to the idea. So we went looking for some alternate explanations. One of the best descriptions we came upon was Asperger Syndrome.

In something of an unlikely series of events, there were actually a couple of events happening on the same weekend that we wanted to try out. So after the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest Regional Qualifier, we headed to the Charlotte Dragonboat Festival. Unfortunately, by the time we finally got through at the qualifier, it was getting on a bit in the afternoon.

There were multiple problems with this. First and foremost, it gets hotter towards that part of the day. Naturally, we were thinking that boats have to have water, so we were going to be okay. Not necessarily a good idea, because (of course) we weren't on the boats. Perhaps we should have been. Second, the capacity planning coordinator should have been shot.

In 1916, two Polish immigrants started Nathan's Famous, and over 100 years later, the idea is still going strong. Legend has it that on July 4, 1916, four immigrants held a hot-dog eating contest outside the original stand on Coney Island to see who who was the most patriotic. There is no word on why eating the most dogs in the shortest amount of time makes you the most patriotic, but 90-odd years later, the contest is still going strong.

Among the competitive eaters, there is no shortage of events. As recently as one week ago, someone consumed almost 60 hot dogs and buns (HDBs for short) in just 12 minutes (update: this record itself fell in the official event on July 4, 2007 - the record now stands at a whopping 66 HDBs!). The record for spam is 6 pounds in 12 minutes. Butter? 7 quarter-pound sticks in 5 minutes. French fries? 4.46 pounds in 6 minutes. You get the idea. But Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest may well be the oldest event there is, so when a regional qualifying event came to Charlotte, we had to check it out.

After the somewhat disastrous events of our visit to Ghost Town in the Sky, you would think that we would throw in the towel and head home. Certainly the last thing that we'd be likely to do is check out another theme park, but I never said that we were particularly bright. So the next day, we decided to head up the road a bit and visit Santa's Land.

Now I'll be the first to admit that, in addition to not being very bright, we had lowered our expectations considerably. So this helped. Add to that the fact that Santa's Land has, to my knowledge, been in continuous operation (perhaps not during the off-season) for some forty-odd years, so despite being a bit gray around the temples, the park doesn't have to deal with the issues of Ghost Town, which had been shuttered for the last five. Finally, throw in the fact that the cost of Santa's Land was a full 20% cheaper, and you've got yourself a winner in my book.

Now for the downside.

Looking for a quick getaway, we decided on... camping. Yes, for some reason we thought that it would be nice to go camping. Actually, I've always had a bit of a soft spot for camping, since I did a decent amount of it as a kid. So my wonderful wife, who was in charge of this getaway, booked a reservation at a campground near Maggie Valley, and we packed up our cooler, loaded the tents and sleeping bags, and headed to Ghost Town in the Sky.

I didn't say that we were particularly good at camping. I just said that were were going to give it a try. So we thought that we'd stop at Ghost Town on our way, since doing a theme park on the way was going to be easier than spending night out, then trying to do it on the second night, after fitful sleep and lack of showers and such. Since Ghost Town had just recently reopened, and we were off on a Friday, we decided that it would be a good day to avoid the crowds. On that front, at least, we were right. But it doesn't mean that it's a good value. Read on for the details.

On our trip to Pigeon Forge, we weren't doing so well. The stop at the Old Mill Restaurant was a bust, and Duff's Smorgasboard, while better, wasn't all that great either. So perhaps the problem was that we simply weren't doing a good job at picking places to eat. I'm not sure that choosing somewhere to waste a few hours is likely to yield a better result, but we decided to give it a go.

The choice for the day was Wonderworks. This is mostly because it's a really interesting building. Built in the shape of a large building that landed upside-down in a parking lot, if nothing else, it was fun to look at, and that will keep the kids busy for a bit. There is also another location in Orlando (we hadn't been to that one, but I imagine that they are about the same). Yes, we could have gone to Dollywood, and we planned to do so, but impending rain made us decide not to do that.