Parlor Spider...Step In, Little Fly

Insightful thoughts and/or rants from atop the soapbox from one who wishes to share the "right" opinion with everyone.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Not the Travel Channel, But...

There's something about the end of February that has everyone thinking about vacation travel...people whose furnace has not been used are the exception, of course. Of course, the "I'll travel when I retire" adage is a staple of most folks' bucket lists, but despite books detailing thousands of places to see (books to read, foods to eat) before one dies, most people rarely get off the beaten path...and maybe that's not a bad thing. I've never been to a resort in Central America though I have visited a couple of them in Florida and Thailand. I've seen most of Scandinavia and parts of El Salvador and Cambodia...and most of THIS country (with pockets of exception). Suffice it to say, I've managed to travel more than most, and I'm contemplating a late spring visit to Turkey and Greece. That will be as close as I've gotten to Europe, but there's hopefully more time to do that.
Why travel? The Los Angeles Times had an illuminating article on that subject today, and it made a lot of sense. Of course, there are both pros and cons, so I will try to highlight what I consider to be the more important ones of each.

A recent study indicated that for those planning a vacation, their mood was elevated for eight weeks PRIOR to leaving on the trip. Just planning seems to do it! Of course, when planning with someone else or a group, this can get to be contentious, I suspect.

There is the opportunity to try new cuisine! Some of the local delicacies are far better than similar fare in this country. I don't think I've had a steak better than the ones I had in a small town in the mountains of Mexico...maybe directly from the bull whose head was hung on the wall!

Memories are forever. I can buy a hundred new things, but the thrill soon goes. Memories of a trip remain forever. As my capacity for memories fades, there are the hundreds of candid photos to jog my memory.

The thrill of escapism: Particularly for us, the thrill of riding an elephant through a trackless jungle or kayaking through mangrove swamps gets us about as far away from all the frustrations of "real" life. Even lying on the beach somewhere warm (for 10 minutes) is a fabulous way to free up some nerve endings...tropical drinks help in this scenario as well.

The ride/flight home is almost always a downer. How many times have you said to yourself, "If only I could just STAY here?" And that first day back at work? Don't even come near me!

Food in many second- and third-world countries is often tantalizing but too hard on our delicate digestive systems. Intestinal worms are not much fun. Of course, I only drink beer from a bottle on trips to such places so I figure I'm good there. Alcohol kills anything...just look in the bottom of the tequila bottle if you don't believe that! Once in Thailand, I was attacking a dish that turned out to be a bird...a whole bird. It was not really recognizable as that (someone had ordered for me) until I punctured its eyeball with my fork! No fries to be had, either.

Friends absolutely HATE it when I show them dozens and dozens of photos from a fabulous trip I took while they were working. No matter how much they "ooh" and "ahh," I can just tell by the way they keep looking at their watches that they don't really want to see my photos of Patty petting an elephant while feeding it sugar cane. I'm sure they are all glad I don't have video capability.

Escaping to some random, romantic place is great until you get lost, get sick from something you ate or drank or end up driving away in a tuk tuk or a bus with someone who does not speak any language you know to a destination you're not sure he understood you to say. I've also had the experience of being unable to leave the airport to meet a waiting contact because I did not speak the local language, and the person trying to discuss it with me knew no English. Talking louder just didn't get it. Accommodations that looked swanky in the brochures sometimes end up to be open-air, brick buildings with a squat toilet and no actual window panes. Believe it or not, there are sharpies out there everywhere, and they seem to know innately that I am a tourist (read: someone with money and a lot of gullibility).

Anyway, it beats shoveling four feet of snow out of my driveway!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A Real Test of Faith

This Decade's Jane Fonda

Having the benefit of more than a few years of life and the ability to be occasionally introspective, I cannot ascribe everything that's happened to me to dumb luck. I've been incredibly fortunate in so many aspects of my life that "luck" just won't cover it. Karma? Maybe. Divine Guidance? That's what I've been taught to believe, and I guess I do to a certain extent...though I remain just a touch cynical about anything not concrete. That's why some of the religious teachings I've been exposed to strike me as a bit, well, too hard for me. Like this one:
According to religious texts, we are supposed to turn the other cheek and pray for those who do harm to us. Somehow, those things just seem to stick in my craw (as my dad would have said). While not an open hater of much of anything (cooked vegetables being a notable exception) or anyone, adopting a terrorist as a prayer subject is reaching.
That's right, there is a site on the internet: that has listed, complete with photos, bios, and just how to go about praying for your particular "adopted" terrorist. The premise , of course, comes straight from the Bible, according to its founder (the site, not the Bible)Thomas Bruce, who noted, " The site is trying to teach people how to pray for enemies in order to spiritually reform the terrorists."
Launched in 2008, the site added the interactive adoption function last year and currently has 165 high-profile security threats on its site, all of whom have been adopted for prayer by at least two people among the 603 people who have agreed to pray for a specific terrorist.
In case you are curious, Osama bin Laden leads the way with 13 people praying for him. Other notable figures:
"Jihad Jamie" (pictured above) who recently pleaded guilty to fomenting terrorism has 10 adoptive prayer buddies.
The guy who tried to light his underwear as a bomb has 8 people on the prayer beads for him.
They Ft. Hood shooter Nidal Hasan has 7 people praying for his conversion.
Afghan leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's biography notes 6 people praying for his change of heart and mind.
Richard Reid, the shoe bomber guy has been adopted by 4 people.
Most of the rest have at least two people, leaving me disappointed. I was looking for the most wanted person that nobody wanted because he was not a big enough fish or didn't get a prom date or had skin problems. No such person...while there were many who might have qualified, all had people praying for them already.
I'm still not sure how I feel about it. I get the idea that prayer can be mountain-moving, but still...there are some things just so hard to killing folks in the name of a deity (forget The Crusades for the time being!)
Besides, I have a whole host of people on my prayer list already...many of them politicians.
THAT will take a lot of faith, I think.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Vacation Guide...Fast Food Version

Eating Across America

I've often been accused of being a "foodie" because I seem to discuss food frequently. Usually, it's about bacon, and this time of year there always seems to be something interesting a'brewing in some minor league ballpark that would draw me like "flies to a hog-killing" (just to get a bacon reference in there). Now, however, courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel, comes a list of the large cities across this porkbelly (no, NOT legislators...although...) nation noted for a preponderance of fast-food opportunities. And I'm ready for a road trip!
The poll, though obviously not scientific, judged cities by the percentage of fast-food restaurants per 100,000 residents and came up with the following list in order from MOST gluttonous, artery-and-waistline-clogging opportunities to least:

1. Orlando (say, was this sponsored by the Chamber of commerce by any chance?) which provided 463 franchises such as McDonald's, Burger King, KFC, and Subway...that means 196.3 such acid-and-fat inducing places for every 100,000 people, roughly one for every 550 people. The Magic Kingdom probably sports a third of those,too, and it gets a LOT more than 500 people per day.

2. Louisville ranked as number two, surprising since I never associated it with anything but Paul Hornung, horses and baseball bats. Maybe now we know where horses go after their studly days are done! Since I have never visited "Loo-uh-ville," I probably have no right to denigrate their food. So, I won't.

3. Richmond, Virginia follows in third place.

4. Miami is next, and I can't claim to know anything about it since I ate at Cuban restaurants when I was there. I mean, I can get the rest of it here in Green Bay.

5. Las Vegas. Really? People eat in Vegas at other places besides the buffet at The Mandalay? Puhhleeeeze! When there are three distinct rooms, each with its own type of food, what's not to like? How could one possibly eat anywhere else? Oh yes, I did get a Krispy Kreme doughnut, warmed with ice cream, strawberries and drizzled with chocolate at the ESPNZone, so even I strayed from the buffet.

6. Tampa, Florida. Do they have conch there? If so, I guarantee I would not eat fast food. Ever.

7. Baton Rouge, Louisiana. With so much ethnic food in this area, I cannot imagine eating fast food, but then, how appetizing does alligator tail soup sound? If there are hush puppies, I'm in.

8. Cincinnati, Ohio. Midwestern cities all seem to have one specialty, whether it's pasties, pirogies, brats, funnel cakes or chili. I claim ignorance on the favorite fare in this place. Someone needs to enlighten me since my chances of venturing there are slim.

9. Spokane, Washington. I can see that. With so many people affected by a) SAD and b) the fact that they don't live in Seattle, comfort food must be the first refuge.

ROAD TRIP! Find the closes large city on this list and PIG OUT!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Sure, They're Good, But STILL...

Worth $10,000?

We've already had this discussion concerning the elimination of choices from the Girl Scout cookie catalog, due mostly to a paucity of people buying the ones dumped. Not so Thin Mints.
As I reported earlier, Thin Mints are the most popular seller among the choices offered by the Girls in Green. They have just the right mix of chocolate and mint, and they pop easily into one's mouth, and before long, the whole box is gone. Fortunately for most of us, we know where the tasty treats went: into our (or our loved ones...grudgingly...mouths). Such was not the case last week for a Naples, Florida woman, and the loss appears to have been just too much.
Hersha Howard, 31, awoke Sunday morning to find that her not-so-secret stash of Thin Mints had disappeared, and she was NOT happy about say the least. In fact, she was madder than...(I'll let you fill in with your favorite from Larry the Cable Guy here). She accused her roomie of eating them, and faced with a denial by that person, grabbed a scissors and proceeded to chase the unfortunate woman woman around their domicile, stopping only to gather up a board and a sign with which she lambasted the unfortunate woman. Thereupon, the roommate's husband tried to intervene but had to resort to the constabulary to resolve the confrontation.
Upon questioning, the battered woman admitted that she had given the cookies to Howard's children but had not eaten them herself. This whole situation brings to mind several questions:
1. A married woman also has a roommate who has children...huh?
2. A mother doesn't even know her children have been eating cookies? Where was she at the time the tots were clamoring for Thin Mints?
3. If someone has a possession that is prized so completely, should this commodity be left lying around where it could easily disappear? I think, maybe, a safety deposit box for such things would be in order.
4. Why don't Girl Scouts sell these things year 'round so dangerous events like this won't happen?
5. A scissors I could see, but who has a sign and a board lying handily around the house for the purpose of beating someone? "Oh, yeah, excuse the mess...these things are just lying around in case I need to defend myself."
6. Is $10,000 a high enough bail for someone who would attempt (after a fashion) murder and/or mayhem over cookies?

While I like Thin Mints, I'm also OK with the ones with peanut butter in them as well as those with coconut on them. Seriously...I would LET you have the Thin Mints. Besides, there's Little Debbies lying around somewhere, too.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quick Drawing on Campus But Not in Art

I am not a Texan. I have no claim to being one other than the fact that my dad was from East Texas and maintained all his life that "There is NO other place on earth besides Texas." This extended to our discussions of heritage and ancestry as well. I know darn good and well that my dad was Anglo (red hair and freckles are a dead giveaway), so his people certainly did not "come from" The Lone Star state, but he took such pride in it that I could hardly argue. All of this to underscore that Texans are a breed apart: that's neither good nor bad, just fact. As a result of the state's heritage, attitudes toward weaponry are decidedly different. I was always a bit suspect of a place in which drive-through liquor stores were commonplace, and the idea of carrying weapons at the same time adds one more element of danger that I wouldn't care to experience. Since 1995, the good citizens of Texas have been allowed to carry concealed firearms as long as they are licensed. There are 461,724 people in the state licensed to carry a concealed weapon if they so choose. State legislators have the right to bring guns into their chamber, as does the governor Rick Perry, who often carries one when he jogs. To be honest, there has not been a mass shooting/murder in Texas since 1966 when Charles Whitman killed 16 people from a tower on the UT campus in Austin. Like in most other states, carrying firearms on college campuses in Texas has been forbidden...but that's about to change. The glockenspiel player in the marching band may well be toting a Glock, too.
Following the campus shootings at Virginia Tech in '07 and Northern Illinois in '08, states around the country have been debating the benefits of arming staff and students alike on campuses. Twenty-three states to date have rejected the idea since 2007, though Utah has embraced it for their college students. The rationale for enacting such legislation (which will happen in Texas this year) is that licensed, trained students and staff would cut down on the number of innocent people killed during such a rampage which has played out in classrooms across the country. If nothing else, knowledge of classmates packing heat would serve as a deterrent to such acts taking place.
Maybe, maybe not.
As a result of training I'ver had at a police training class, I know that it's not as easy to shoot someone as one might think. Our instructor noted that even among police officers, the first shot usually goes into the ground as the officer (a trained professional) raises the gun to fire. In my experience (as an unprofessional), my first shot in a shooting situation went into an apartment building behind the perp. The next one was fatal, but I continued to fire six more times because I just couldn't stop. Really. Now, imagine five people pulling out weapons in a crowded classroom doing just that...carnage...perhaps.
But, as I noted, I am not trained to use a handgun.
But I do like embroidered shirts with pearl buttons.
That might be as Texan as I can get.
But let it be noted that a legislator in my state proposed that teachers have access to weapons in school, too.
I guess one doesn't need to be from Texas or Utah to have scary thoughts.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

It's Amazing I Survived Until Now!

My parents both lived through The Depression...not the recession we've been experiencing for the last few years, the REAL Dust-Bowl, pencil-selling , food lines Depression. They also managed to survive a world war designed to end them all just prior to beginning a family. Maybe it's a lucky thing there were only two kids...maybe not. Both Mom and Dad came from huge families with at least 10 children (which might have prompted their having only two!), all of whom survived until adulthood at least, and a couple are well into their 90s. It's a miracle, but no more so than the fact that Fred and I are both still kicking. You see, OUR parents had to do everything by guess/trial and apps available.
Today's parents have everything they can possibly need, and now they have even more. Read Dr. Spock? No need. There's an app for the smartphones that will provide, at a moment's notice, any kind of child-rearing information needed. Need proof? Here are a few examples (or you can skip to the URL listed and see all of them without reading the rest of the blog):

1. Total Baby--This app fro the phone allows parents to log the last time the baby was fed, slept, changed or been inoculated. No more guesswork about the scheduling.
2. Baby Phone Deluxe--This app allows parents to leave home without the baby's sleep monitor. It's enough that they travel with enough accouterment to stock a grocery store, so it's bound to be a helpful item when the child falls asleep on the couch and resists moving to an actual bed.
3. I Love Potty Training--yes, there is an app for this. It provides a training chart along with an interactive, animated function involving when/how to get kids interested. There is also a reward button and a diploma for the successful child.
4. Kid Care--This is actually useful, I think. It provides quick access to medical information as well as visual images of symptoms to aid in diagnosing just how serious the problem is.
5. Sit or Squat--This app might be a real life-saver since by inserting a zip code, the app will indicate where the nearest public bathroom is located! Come to think of it, this might be even MORE handy for pregnant women!

And on and on...there are literally dozens of these things available for a relatively minimal cost for both iPhones and Androids.
And, of course, there's always Angry Birds for your phone as well.
How did our parents manage?

Friday, February 18, 2011

Valet Parking Available?

Don't Even Think About It!

My son and his family live in Chicago, and we get to visit with some frequency owing to the fact that it's a short drive and/or that another son works for an airline and we can fly virtually free any time we want to. We are constantly being bombarded with the "you should move here to be closer to us" comment. Granted, Green Bay is not exactly a hub of excitement in the upper Midwest (though I will take our football team over that one in Chicago), but the concerts, the restaurants, the clubs and the Magnificent Mile are all really cool things to do and see. Millennium Park provides a wonderful afternoon, splashing in the water with the grandchild (or by myself), and I have yet to find a hot dog that I like better...even Nathan's in Yankee Stadium was not as good as the red hot I had at Hot Doug's, complete with duck fat could only be better if it were bacon! But there is a factor that reminds me every time I visit that I would not live there on a bet: parking.
Mind you, I'm not talking about living in the suburbs...I'm talking about living in the city where nobody has a garage. One can either rent a space out back for $10,000/yr. or park it on the street, subject to birds and dings from both the front and back as people squeeze into street-side parking (or, as my daughter-in-law says"Bump, bump, bump. That's how we do it here.") There is not a pristine bumper anywhere in Chicago, I swear. And, of course, there's street cleaning day when everyone has to find another place to park: never an easy task at best. I have driven around the five-block area surrounding his domicile for more than 20 minutes on a Friday night just praying for a parking spot to be open: bump, bump, indeed. Oh, and did I mention that one has to pay almost a thousand dollars for the privilege of parking on the street? But when it snows heavily, it's even worse, if that's possible.
Since the streets are so narrow, snowplows are an impossibility. Front-end loaders simply go down the middle of the street and clear a path...leaving cars at the curb imbedded in a snowdrift up the the windows, and even higher if the wind is blowing. So, it's time to shovel the car out. Hours of labor expended only to have somebody pull in just as you leave? Not in Chicago, as a rule. The tradition of "Dibs" is practiced: Having dug out the car, drivers are allowed to place a chair, safety cones or crates in the spot, claiming it for themselves upon their return. Having thus called "Dibs" is supposed to be on the honor system, but just last week after a big storm, my son dug his car out, placed the requisite chair in the spot, then drove away only to find that upon his return, not only had someone parked in his shoveled-out spot, they had stolen his chair! Imagine the thoughts that would run through your head at that moment.
I'm glad it did not happen to me.
I'm glad I live here...for the parking, at least. I've got Dibs anywhere I want.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

You go, Girls!


When I was in high school in Iowa, girls were the center of attention during the winter. This was not because I attended an all-boys boarding school (though I did); nor was it because Sports Illustrated published its now-iconic swimsuit issue (it did). It was merely because high school girls' basketball was the biggest thing in the state of Iowa at the time. Really. Girls' games regularly outdrew the guys' game in attendance...and it wasn't the lingerie-clad spectacle women are subjected to today, either. Uniforms were modest by any standard. The fact was that they were amazing, regularly featuring games in which a single player scored more than fifty points per contest!
Of course, it must be mentioned that these were the days in which the girls' teams fielded a starting team of six players, three played offense and three played defense. No player passed half-court without a violation being called. I hesitate to guess at the reason, but I suspect it was the same reason that girls were not allowed any kind of real opportunity in college as athletes until the passage of Title IX or allowed to run farther than a half mile in the Olympics for the longest time. Iowa was a hotbed of girls' basketball and opened it up for every other state and every other high school (and probably grade school) girl. Now, change has happened Iowa.
Cedar Falls freshman Cassy Herkleman set a new standard by being the first girl in history to win a wrestling match against a boy. Ottumwa sophomore Megan Black also qualified for the tournament but lost by a pin in the first round. It's Herkleman's story that makes it interesting.
Cassy (20-13 on the season as a 112-pounder) was to face Joel Northrup (35-4) in the first round. Rather than face a female, Northrup defaulted, giving Hecklemann the win. This is interesting for a couple of reasons: Northrup was a legitimate state champion contender...but he's no chauvinist. He noted that "Wrestling is a combat sport that can get violent. My faith does not allow me to interact with women in that way." and he was serious. Giving up a dream because of faith issues garners much respect, and that's exactly how Cassy's father put it. He lauded the kid's class and his manner and spoke glowingly of him, hoping that he had great success in the loser's bracket.
While not everyone is comfortable with girls wrestling against guys in high school, this seems to be something of a positive situation. It should be noted that three states have "girls only" state wrestling programs: California, Hawaii, and Texas.
Title IX has taken females a long way, baby.
But the road stretches out even further, despite the fact that Erin Andrews just signed a shoe deal with Reebok.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Next "It" Treat

This Is "It"

It is possible that the days of the cupcake are over. What? You never knew they were here in the first place? Philistine! I know about such things because I read a lot, but mainly because I visit Chicago regularly to visit my granddaughter...and the last weekend, I think I discovered the next "it" treat.
It seems every now and then, an "it" treat is popular. To define such a thing, one must first begin with an explosion of sugar. These treats are not salty or sour: they're sweet. Ice cream is a staple, but it's so, so 1950. It morphed into a treat mixed on a frozen rock with dozens of toppings. But who goes to those places any more? As a result, every now and then, something else comes along. For the longest time, it was the cupcake. Shops that sold nothing but 35 flavors of cupcake proliferated, and folks, including me, rushed to snatch them up. They were tasty, but a bit small for my appetite. so, I ate a couple, mixing flavors. For a while, gourmet cookies were the thing. I ate a couple of raspberry/jalapeno ones and was gratified., despite the rather pricey nature. As the cupcake wanes a bit, the race is on to replace it in the hearts, minds and mouths of epicures everywhere.
Here are some of the would-be nouveau treats:
The Los Angeles Weekly suggests bread pudding. Would that be in a cup, with a spoon? Seems unlikely.
The Food Channel opines that miniature pies are the next big thing. Seems like Hostess makes those already...the kind that leaves a film on the roof of ones mouth as a reminder of the preservative and fad-laden treat. (try the chocolate cream!)
Someone with time and a blog on her hands took an informal poll and found that 16% of her respondents voted the funnel cake as the next "it" snack, Inhaling powdered sugar is a lung-collapser. I avoid these things at every fair I attend for this reason.
Bon Apetit, the magazine for the true foodie, suggests that the macaron is what will be happening very soon. About the size of an Oreo, there is a coating with different flavors inside; frosting is in the Middle of this delicate, fancy treat. Looking to try one? Starbucks and Whole Foods Markets are current purveyors. I got mine this past weekend at a Chicago bakery.
Resisting the urge to throw the whole thing in my mouth at once, I took a couple of ladylike nips, and found that they were tasty, delicately flavored morsels that were quite pleasant. Unfortunately, the size is a limiting factor since a half dozen disappeared in no time.
Still looking for the next "it" food? I am, but there's nothing featuring bacon yet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paving the Way to Your Retirement

"Watson" seems to be on the top of the world at the moment, and it suggests ominous things as far as I can see. Many of us are in serious jeopardy as a result of Watson's success...well, many of YOU...I'll be out of the employment loop by the time its real functions are fully developed.
In case you haven't been following Watson's career...well, it's only two days old with one more to go, and Watson has shown itself to be as advertised.
Developed over the last couple of years, Watson is the newest competitor on Jeopardy: a computer playing against two human opponents. The first day ended in a virtual tie, but today, the computer ran roughshod over its dumbfounded opponents, tripling the amount of money won by the second-best player.
Really, it's a marvel of technology: a computer that can respond to the human this case, the moderator asking questions. This ability comes from harnessing the combined capacity of 2,800 "powerful" computers, but all of this brings to mind several points to ponder:

1. While the result is amazing, what was the cost of 2 years' worth of research, development, etc. I mean, I still get a cold every winter. I'd rather somebody invest the time and money solving THAT issue...and cold sores, and a lack of Clint Eastwood movies on television.

2. Can it be long before we have reality shows that star only interactive robots? Think of the savings this would provide...though it would eliminate the laundry, workouts and tanning of some of the more popular shows. Would there be Computing with the Stars or The 'Bots Next Door? It would, of course, make way for constant reruns of The Day the Earth Stood Stilll, and Lost in Space, if only for comedic purposes.

3. On a more serious note, who among us could NOT be replaced with an interactive robot? It wouldn't lose its temper with unruly children screaming at the grocery store or spilling paint on the rug for the tenth time; we already have car technology that will parallel park without driver's assistance. Online education would be a snap as long as the "teacher" could understand and respond to the human voice...and they would certainly replace that guy on TV who does the dirtiest jobs; in fact, NO human would have to do the dirtiest job...or many of the current jobs available. Want fries with that? Easy. It's scary even to think about the endless possibilities when unemployment skyrockets and per capita income plummets. Too much time and too little money spell trouble to me.

4. What might seem like the perfect playmate for children could leave them devoid of empathy and lacking real social skills...something like the internet and the video game industry do to a certain extent already.

I just hope WE develop this thing before THEY do! ("Watson" sounds too British for me...but then, didn't Bell have an assistant named Watson as well?
I'll get the rocking chair out so we can sit on the porch and watch the artifical intelligence creatures take over.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Better Late Than Never


There is an unwritten rule about this blog: my sweetie is never to be mentioned, lampooned, or otherwise noted under any circumstance. I have to break that restriction just this once. You might say, this was one blog forty years in the making.
Getting married in college was probably not the smartest thing we've done in our time together. The diamond that I could afford was microscopic in size, and it wasn't too many years before it became dislodged and lost somewhere...never to be located, especially since we couldn't move the telescope at Palomar to aid in the search for it.
Over the years, the talk of getting a new one surfaced occasionally, but raising four children always took precedence. I did manage a ring with a few precious stones in it, but it was unpretentious, to say the least.
Now, as we approach our 40th anniversary, I sensed it was time to do something significant. Since the original band kept falling off do to some finger shrinkage (?), it would have to be resized, anyway. .General musings about getting a "real" ring morphed into, "Hey, I've found the ring I want, and it's on sale!" Of course, "on sale" for such things is still enough to make me sweat just a bit.
Just in time for Valentine's Day, the new ring, fashioned using the original band, is in place. It's nice to feel that I've finally gotten her what she deserves and has deserved all along. Even now, it's still a bit large to fit on the left hand, but she's not taking it off, at least not now.
The snow sculpture and the "rare" perfume just made for window dressing for the best Valentine's Day gift ever.
No strings attached.
Just because I love her.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thar She Blows...188 Years Later

"Call Me Ishmael."

So begins the fictional tale of a sea captain whose relentless pursuit of a huge whale in the 1800s led ultimately to the captain's death, the ship's sinking, and inclusion of Moby Dick onto hundreds of required reading lists for high school students. And now, we find out that it wasn't so much fiction after all.
The recent discovery of a Nantucket whaler Two Brothers that struck the French Frigate Shoals near Hawaii in 1823 has rekindled the story of its captain, one George Pollard, Jr. whose story provided the impetus for Melville's novel.
It seems that prior to the Two Brothers' sinking, Pollard had commanded another whaling ship: the Essex that was sunk by an enraged sperm whale (really!) in 1820. Pollard and the remainder of his crew spent three months adrift in the Pacific ocean plagued by starvation, madness, and death. Pollard and the ones who survived did so by copying the methods of the ill-fated Donner party of history lore...they ate the dead sailors.
Eventually, the remaining crew was rescued and taken back to Nantucket aboard the Two Brothers (how ironic is THAT) before Pollard again set out in search of whales, only to founder yet another ship and subsequently give up the life of a sea captain. After all, he was considered quite a Jonah (unlucky) having lost two ships. Not many seamen wanted to take such a chance, especially when whaling ships spent years at sea and were in great danger as a rule anyway. Picture yourself on a small, wooden ship with an enraged several-ton whale seeking to end your life...or worse yet, imagine yourself in one of those small whaleboats used after harpooning the beast. No thanks.
Melville actually met Pollard in the 1850s when the latter was serving as the night watchman for the town of Nantucket.
The connection between fiction and fact is often more significant than we imagine.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Grand Theft Hilarity: The Joke's On Us.

Let's say you were arrested for DUI in connection with an accident and suspicious drug activity. Probably probation for a first-time offense. Then, you fail a drug test during that probation...and avoid jail time by going to rehab for three months As you emerge, the judge indicates that you WILL serve 180 days in jail if you break the rules of your probation before your next hearing...
then, you walk out of a jewelry story with a $2500 necklace drooping suspiciously from your adam's apple. Grand theft...serious jail time, right?
Well, when you get to court, the judge doesn't really buy (so to speak) your story that "the store loaned me the necklace to wear as an advertisement." (though, in reality, TJ MAXX wouldn't even do that for you or me). Then, the judge decides to get stern as he notes, "Please don't push your luck, I am telling you. Things will be different" as your lawyer begins to negotiate a plea deal that will mean no jail time at all.
Would this happen to you or me? Not a chance. We're not a quasi-famous Hollywood personality. This causes me to wonder if there's not a different law school for judges who practice in California where the outlandish is commonplace. But then, several questions arise:
Would all celebrities get this kind of treatment? I would venture to say they would (and have). After all, it's "normal" behavior for Hollywood types.
Would a person of color in Hollywood get special treatment...I mean a person NOT named Bobby Brown?
Is Justice really blind or just tired of the never-ending struggle with stupid people who think they are invincible.
Well, OJ got absolved of the murder charge in California...but not on the criminal activity in Las Vegas, giving credence to the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" line.
Would a poor person get away with any of those acts? Nope. That's why our prisons are full of poor people...and people without expensive attorneys in Hollywood.
And all this by age 24. What's the rest of this girl's life going to be? My guess?
Very short.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

And People Say Teens Are Dumb?


I am dumbfounded yet again. Maybe it's just that technology is run amok and people just don't know how to handle it. Maybe, like teenagers, EVERYONE has decided that "it can't happen to me." Maybe we've just all turned into idiots when we have instant access to a camera and online posting. Maybe things like social networking and Craigslist are part of inhabitants of one of those faraway galaxies just discovered (who are, invariably, looking for new places to replace their dying planet) plan to lead us all to ruin. Seriously, I don't know, but it's quite perplexing.
Remember when we had a president who, uh, took liberties with an intern? WE found out about it, and it didn't help that his only real explanation (finally...after leaving office) was "I did it because I COULD." Or the more recent exploits of a certain pro football player who was certain we'd never find out and if we did, he'd get a pass (so to speak) because of his boyish charm.
Last year, it was a Congressman who groped a male aide. We found out about it.
Don't those people read the papers?
Today, Representative Chris Lee of New York resigned his seat and issued an apology to all the people he'd hurt...yada, yada, yada (somebody should take out a patent on such speeches), because he was dumb enough to post a shirtless picture of himself on a Craigslist site. Tasteless, yes, but here's a man who has a family and is entrusted with the fate of his Congressional District...and he's a liar to boot. And we found out about it.
Lee responded to a personal ad in the "women seeking men" section from a woman asking why "all the men on CL look like toads." He explained the shirtless photo of himself as "the only one I had" Seriously. He described himself as a "fit, fun and classy guy. You won't be disappointed." Of course, he also noted that he was 39 (he's 46) and that he worked as a "lobbyist."
The only smart one in this scenario was the unnamed woman who went to the internet to check out this guy before committing to anything. (Didn't he EVER Google himself?). Upon finding out about Lee's shenanigan's, the woman dropped him like he was hot. Smart woman.
Now, he's left with the shambles of his political career, though all is not lost. He might end up as a political pundit like the former hooker-consorting New York governor who now spouts forth on cable, hoping we'll take him seriously and not giggle every time he shows his face.
Wait a minute...
Both congressmen and the former governor have something in common: they are ALL from the Empire State!
Wow...that's a relief to know such idiocy is a regional thing like marrying first cousins in certain states. For a minute there, I thought we'd been subjected to some type of ray from outer space that turned us all into sex-crazed, lobotomized freakazoids.
On the other hand, sites like TMZ only go searching for celebrities. Perhaps this IS more widespread than I imagined.
And if presidents and football players aren't immune, is there hope for the rest of us?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Putting Semiconductor Material In A Body

Get out you periodic tables chart and try to identify this metalloid:
It is found in the earth's crust
It is useful because it bonds easily with other materials
It does not conduct temperature.
It is an electrical semiconductor.It is used to make clay and bricks for construction.
It is essential in electronic equipment.It is the basis for grease, caulk and wax.
It can be molded into toys like Gumby or Silly Putty.
Not surprisingly, it can kill you if it gets into your body.
Surprisingly, people continue to inject it in liquid form...and die.

With those hints, I hope you were able to come up with "silicone," since that is the correct answer. I noticed it because a second person in the last month has died after having it injected into her body...this time in an attempt to get more "bootylicious." Unfortunately, the result seemed to follow the same pattern as the fatality in New York in 2009 in which the injection created a pulmonary embolism which entered the lungs and caused death.
Just last month, a German actress Carolin Berger wanted the more traditional placement of the material so she could move out of the 34F category into the 34G category (her sixth "enhancement") and subsequently died...and I believe this happened either during the operation or very soon thereafter.
At least three deaths in the last year would definitely make ME sit up and take notice. But then,maybe guys don't feel the urgent need to recreate themselves.
Still, potential death deters me from doing a lot of things I might otherwise do.

Monday, February 07, 2011

"Mantown" Isn't MY Town

Perhaps it's just all the testosterone released by wall-to-wall, non-stop, three-week coverage of professional football here in Titletown. Perhaps it's because people have been cooped up too long in the igloo of the upper Midwest. Whatever it is, there HAS to be a better reason than the one I'm envisioning for such shenanigans.
I'm referring to an ad I saw in this past weekend's paper for something called "Mantown," at the local arena. Billed as "An interactive day for all things man," the extravaganza set for this Friday night encompasses seven solid hours of manly activities...and I can't think of a place I'd rather not be. Maybe it's the sleazy stereotype of manliness that irritates me: men are violent sex-crazed gamblers and boozers. Really? In public? (while admitting that "maybe" in private...)
Anyway, here's what we men can get this Friday evening for $7.00:
1. The chance to meet two (count 'em) TWO Playboy bunnies: Misses January and February of 2010.
2. Ogle even MORE scantily-clad beauties at a lingerie fashion show!
Seriously, isn't this like going to the Tesla showroom knowing the dealer KNOWS you cannot afford it?

3. Have the opportunity for some manly fun at blackjack, poker and craps tables. Problem? I don't have a problem...this isn't REAL money.

4. Get up close and personal to a REAL MMA cage fight! (before trying to explain to your sweetie what you've been up to and getting in a REAL cage match!)

5. Slosh some suds at the Bud Light bar with happy hour drink specials (perfect for that drive home at closing!)

6. Work on the gun skills at the air-soft gun shooting range (guns and alcohol: a perfect mix)

7. Shake your groove thing (with other men) to the live music.

The affair is sponsored by any number of establishments throughout the area, and one even cordially invites us men to that establishment for MORE scantily-clad ladies and awesome drink specials!
Really...I hope this doesn't mean that my concept of "manly" hasn't been askew all these years.
I'll be home watching a movie on the couch: it's date night.
No lingerie, though.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

School's Out for Old-Schoolers

Amidst all the hoopla surrounding Super Bowl 2 Million and the local interviews of everyone who could even spell "Green Bay," was a tidbit that brought a touch of sadness...another passing...another element that will never come back...the end of an era.
It seems that no longer will any automaker design a vehicle with a cassette player as either standard or optional equipment! That is, of course, a major blow to all of us old-schoolers who made mix tape after mix tape (face it, "mix CD" just doesn't cut it) just so we would not have to listen to the inanity that has become FM radio or the whiny voices on talk radio.
Face it, when the interior of my vehicle surpasses the fidelity to most headphones, I want to hear quality music, and I'm not talking Black-Eyed Rutabaga here. I put these tapes together with the highest quality equipment (granted, it was 20 years ago), and I want to be able to listen to them with all the tape hiss included.
Oh, sure, some melted when I left them on the dash, and some tapes got so stretched out from continual play that they ended up wrapped endlessly around the tape heads, requiring the skill of a heart surgeon to extricate them without leaving pieces inside, but to folks like me, the cassette tape was the first real opportunity to express myself musically for 90 minutes without interruption...even if that meant driving several times around the block waiting for the last cut.
The Philips company issued the death knell of the 8-track when it introduced the cassette format in the 70's, and we all welcomed the change, especially those of us trying to make mix tapes. No matter how hard I tried to watch the meter on the recorder, the tracks ALWAYS jumped ahead in the middle of a song...MY song...and it was infuriating.
CD, MP3, Sync Entertainment System (Ford's product which now streams Pandora!) are fine for most folks, but for me, I want to hear the hiss, the pop and sense the euphoria that came with playing a tape at max volume, singing and pounding the dashboard and/or steering wheel. Satellite radio couldn't duplicate it, and neither can the new format that streams Pandora, allowing me to select only the songs I want onto a playlist, just like it does on my computer. Nope. Not for me.
If radio actually DID kill the radio star (first song played on MTV--when MTV actually played music videos), new mobile technology killed a part of me; oh, I have a iPod shuffle for working out, and an iPod Classic for airplanes, but nothing makes me want to play air drums or sing at the top of my lungs like a cassette mix tape blasting from the speakers in my '96 RAV4.
As a side note, the last remaining vehicle with the cassette player as a standard feature was the 2010 Lexus SC 430.
The king is dead. Long live the king...sigh.

Friday, February 04, 2011

It's That Time Again, But Two Are Missing

In a move guaranteed to send dismay rippling throughout at least part of the country, the Girl Scouts are giving the heave-ho to a couple of varieties as they begin their annual campaign. Fortunately, there are only twelve regions of the country that will not get to select Dulce de Leche or Thank U Berry Munch varieties. Living in the Midwest means we will have the full complement of choices again this year. The tightening of the choice belt is not related to the economy, according to reps of the Girl Scouts: it is simply a matter that people did not buy enough of the two varieties to make continuation feasible. That means it's on us. I'll admit my part: I never had either of them, especially the one that substitutes a letter for an actual word! Lazy grammar counts against you as far as I'm concerned. Yes, that's right, I still spell out everything when I text people and refuse to get a Twitter account simply because I would be forced to write like seventh-grade girls in "luv." Not happening.
While sales of those two kinds of cookie have been negligible, the GSA money-maker is a juggernaut: last year, more than 200 million boxes of cookies were sold, bringing in 714 million dollars to the various troupes. What started in somebody's kitchen in 1917 (first commercially distributed in 1935) has become so much a part of Americana that our government should take a look at how the girls manage to succeed while we get mired in debt.
And you get one guess as to which cookie is the most often sold.
I like the Samoa because it has coconut.
I like the peanut butter one because, well, I like peanut butter.
And I like the thin mint ones because I can shove a whole one in my mouth at once and savor it.
Most sold?

Thin Mint.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

.370 Is a Hall of Fame Percentage

In the world of Major League Baseball, if a player were to hit .370 for a career, he could almost be assured of entry into the Hall of Fame. Likewise, a volleyball player who could hit at that clip at the net would have all sorts of teams lining up for her services. Of course, that kind of percentage on successful first serves in tennis or with regard to hitting the fairways off the tee would qualify more for a Hall of Shame, should such a thing exist. However, I prefer to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, and I'm saying that percentage is rather good; excepting the ability of the now-defunct octopus to pick World Cup soccer winners, I'm giving Phil the thumb-and-index finger OK sign.
Punxsatawny Phil claimed today that the country would see an early spring...or at least western Pennsylvania (Gobbler's Knob, to be precise) where he winters. Yes, the groundhog emerged today, did not see his shadow, and predicted blooming jonquils afore long; this despite the fact that 30 states are recovering from the biggest snowfall of the season, complete with howling winds, thundersnow (yes, there IS such a thing), and the requisite four-foot drifts in my driveway. Adding something of an insult to the whole affair was the fact that western PA was today treated to a melange of snow, sleet, and rain on this the 125th anniversary of a groundhog prognosticating the weather in this country.
Blame it on the German immigrants who started the tradition that long ago and seemed to believe wholeheartedly (just before Valentine's Day, too) in the accuracy of the Pfirst Phil. But how accurate has this method actually proven to be? Details are sketchy.
Supposedly, the groundhog in Pennsylvania gets the forecast right, on average, 37 percent of the time...and most of the time, it predicts a longer winter, not a shorter one. In fact, an early spring prediction only comes along every ten years or so, though the last one was in 2007.
All in all, I look at this year's prediction with a bit of skepticism, despite the fact that I could not even come close to predicting correctly 37% of the time.
But then, I'm not a trained meteorologist OR a groundhog.
And I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express, either.
Gotta go shovel.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Up the Up Staircase...Quickly...and No Shoving!

This Is SO Not Me!

Serendipity is an amazing thing sometimes. Here I am, separated from New York City by a snowstorm of "historic proportions," just when I was giving serious thought to a race that seemed, at the outset, like it would be fun. But then, the weather, the airports, and my weary legs all conspired to make me miss the 34th Empire State Building Run-Up, held today in NYC. I mean, after all, running approximately a quarter mile in 15 minutes couldn't be all that hard, could it? (considering the record for this event is 9:33, 15 minutes seems easy to accomplish). Right. The picture says it all.
In what has become the ultimate display of masochism, runners from around the world are now making a real sport out of racing up the stairways of the world's tallest (or most recognizable) buildings. Speeding up the 1,576 steps of the Empire State Building began as a lark in 1978, but this year approximately 1200 people applied to be accepted as entrants: only 450 made the cut. (They must have lost my entry?)
Worldwide, there are more than 160 such races, and the NYC one is hardly the longest...the record for distance goes to a race in Germany that encompasses 39,700 steps in a 100-lap stairway designed to approximate the distance on would travel if he or she were to ascend Mount Everest. Seriously...uphill...all the way.
The longest single stairway race is held in Switzerland and takes in 11,674 stairs, and the Alps. 'Nuff said.
And the only way to train is by using stairways, according to the masters of the sport: none of the exercise equipment even comes close to simulating the quad-searing pain one experiences after going straight up for more than 10 minutes (remembering that stairwell air is generally not the most invigorating!). you have a challenge, and there are some helpful hints if you want to try this:

1. Use the handrails to take the strain off.
2. Know the layout since not all buildings have stairways that turn the same way.
3. Take two stairs at a time...all the great ones do.
4. Move somewhere to train that has a building more than ten stories tall!

I've taken the elevator up to the observation deck of the ESB, and THAT took five minutes.
No way I'm trying to run that.
Besides, the tallest building here is 7 stories.