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.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

...And Then I Knew!

Definitely Not From Taco Bell

I like to think I'm something of an adventurous type; usually, I'm up for most suggestions that people make when it comes to trying something out of the ordinary. In addition, unlike SOME people, I'm not too fussy about food, despite the fact that eating is one of my favorite sensual pleasures (like really cold milk or the smell of dew on the first morning of spring).
When it comes to gustatory delight, I was formerly of the "quantity without a high degree of quality" people. Shakey's Pizza, Golden Corral, China Buffett: you name it, I ate there. Not so much any more. I just can't seem to eat as much before getting uncomfortable...but that's OK...I'm still more of a comfort food person than a person who needs nine utensils to eat a serving that doesn't even fill the plate. But, I'm game for almost long as it's not what I would call a "Girl Restaurant."
Before defining what that is, let me describe what it is NOT:
1. A non-Girl Restaurant probably has paper napkins, or at least cloth napkins that are not folded into some kind of bird.
2.A non-Girl Restaurant has enough room so that I don't overhear every conversation.
3.A non-Girl Restaurant features a menu that I can understand without asking nearby diners what they're having that looks so good.
4.A non-Girl Restaurant will have at least one dish that is mostly beef. Salads are OK, but beef is a viable choice.
5.A non-Girl Restaurant has desserts like pie...maybe with ice cream on top.
6.A non-Girl Restaurant has a drink menu that has at least one beer as well as the wine choices.

So, there you have it...the kind of restaurant I would not generally frequent though I can admit to a feminine side and make the occasional foray into the girl world of dining. So it was recently.
Billed as an excuse to get the ragtop out and drive a ways to this much-ballyhooed little place that featured singing waitresses and an upscale ( I should have guessed) menu, I was all in for the road trip to food. The GPS guided us (generally) in the right direction, though it took old-fashioned Boy Scout skills to complete the mission. Meeting friends for lunch meant that I had to keep any complaints to myself, and I think I did an acceptable job of it, for this place in King, Wisconsin, definitely was a "Girl Restaurant." The signs continued to multiply until I KNEW...too late.
1. The building was cottage-like, painted in whites, pinks and turquoises with flower gardens all around.
2. "Intimate" hardly describes the seating arrangements: I was close enough to share entrees with those around me, and SOMEONE continually asked other diners what it was that looked so good on their plates.
3. The menu was limited (not a big deal) since everything was made right there using herbs and veggies from a garden out back (definitely girl stuff!); but there was absolutely nothing on the menu featuring beef...lots of salad choices, but chicken was the only thing that had been recently running through the great outdoors.
4. The drink menu consisted of various liquids containing fruits, carrots and/or hibiscus; white wine might have been an option, but it was the hibiscus for me!
5. The desserts were varied (and tasty), but when something comes with a sauce containing strawberries and merlot, it made me a bit suspicious; the fact that it was decorated (see photo) with those ersatz-squiggly lines of sauce literally screamed "NOT TACO BELL!"
I grudgingly accepted all of those things in a spirit of "let's do something different," but when it came to using the bathroom, I had to simply shake my head, knowing I was trapped in a female world. All in all,I guess the room was ordinary; mind you, there was only one WC for the customers, so it wasn't like I had wandered into the wrong one. As I prepared to,uh, relieve myself, I noticed a fan blowing in the room. It was situated right next to the toilet and blowing directly across the toilet seat area...a cooling breeze about chest high for a woman, but waist high for me. To put this as delicately as I can...aiming with a side wind is tricky at best and messy at worst...but by then, I had committed myself and could only try my best...
knowing that it was probably not meant for me...
this "Girl Restaurant."

Monday, July 25, 2011

Taking Down the Chinese

I have always said that armed conflict doesn't really get us anywhere. It's been proven time and again that subterfuge works just as well. Export Western reality television to the rest of the world, and, voila! They're hooked and buying our products. Let millions of people in India buy a car, and very soon, they're hooked on driving...can drive in movies and Sonic restaurants (not to mention Starbucks' drive-up windows) be far behind? Of course, that raises the ugly specter (or Spectre if one remembers the Bond movies) of their using all the oil, leaving us to walk...well, we'll just get out the hiking boots and return to our roots. In an interesting twist, while the middle class in this country slowly disintegrates into a rich man/poor man class system, we're taking over China in the same encouraging unthinkable spending on weddings.
Weddings and wedding planning have become an 80 billion-dollar a year business in China, and it is not uncommon for a young man to work tirelessly for four years or more just to be able to afford an engagement ring valued at $3500. Every year, 10 million Chinese will marry, and the cost has become exorbitant, with some spending an entire year's earnings on the ceremony/dinner combination. Remember, this is China, a country in which prestige and "face" are more important than almost anything else; a place in which 5-star hotels charge an average of $1200 per sitting for a dinner. Yikes! This ever-growing extravagance is being fueled by an ever-growing middle class and an ever-increasing need to invite hundreds of people to each affair.
Of course, there are ways to save money without losing face, according to Lawrence Lo, an etiquette consultant. He offers the suggestions of serving Chines wine instead of imported wine and leaving items like shark fin soup off the dinner menu...for what? tenderloin tips and broasted chicken?
I say, keep spending all the money on weddings in the Far East. Maybe we'll somehow be able to get that money bak by producing a reality series of Bridezillas in China.
That'll show 'em to mess with OUR debt!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Glad Not to be 27!

Amy Winehouse is the latest to enter the "legendary-stars-dead-at-27 club," though how many folks regard her as legendary is open to conjecture. She did win 5 Grammy Awards in 2008, including Best new Artist; she was more noted, however, for drug and alcohol lapses, a sometimes vile personality, and a love-hate relationships with fans. In her most recent attempt to perform, she was booed off the stage and abruptly ended a European tour. So...whether she was an ascending start or just another misguided wannabe, at age 27, she will be the next chapter in The 27s: The Greatest Myth of Rock and Roll.
This book eulogizes and immortalizes all the "great" musicians who died at age 27, and might make an interesting, though macabre, read since many of them flashed by during my youth, and I recognized all of them by name. Here's the list; you decide whether they were dead too soon or not really worthy of the status we accord them today.

1928 Robert Johnson
1969 Brian Jones
1970 Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin
1971 Jim Morrison
1994 Kurt Cobain
2011 Amy Winehouse

Of course, plenty of musicians and artists (just like regular people) died far too young. It struck me as odd, however, that a significant number died at age 27.
I have a couple of things going for me:
1. I am 'way past 27, and
2. I'm 'way past influencing a large segment of any demographic.

Friday, July 22, 2011

No Longer Planking for Fun

Of course, I found out about planking long after it was incredibly popular. Now, it seems like "owling" is the latest meme, and I have been left behind. Oh, I know about it early this time, but I cannot recreate the pose. Squatting is completely impossible for me, given my lack of knee flexibility...not that I wouldn't love to perch somewhere with an intent, owl-like gaze on some distant rodent. I would, but I can't.
so, it's up to all of you who have NOT had six knee surgeries to get out there and "owl." After all, according to one pundit quoted in the accompanying article, "Planking is so two months ago."

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Roll Out the Barrel, Ruskies!

Not so unusual, even in Russia

"Back in the day" when I turned 18 and was old enough to legally drink beer, it was something of a watered-down version: 3.2% least in Kansas where I did my consuming. It was not sold after midnight on Saturday until the liquor store opened on Monday morning (it was unavailable in grocery stores), bars remained closed on Sundays, and it was generally seen as a substance under control. I'm sure people drank it to excess, and I'm sure we had alcoholics...I just didn't know any.
My move to Wisconsin years later was an eye-opener (not the Bloody Mary kind): beer was 6% alcohol, bars were open on Sunday and catered to the after-church crowd, and it seemed as if the culture revolved somewhat around taverns. Quite different from my experience, but not so different from that of the Russian population, it seems.
Every movie I saw that featured Russian people showed them imbibing vast quantities of vodka, and I could never understand how anyone could drink that stuff...but Russians did, and it became something of a symbol for that country. I guess it's not surprising, then, that the consumption of alcohol by Russians has been noted as twice the critical level as determined by the World Health Organization. In other words, Russians don't do their livers much good. That's where beer was introduced as a get-healthy measure.
Thinking that beer would be better for people's bodies than vodka, the advertising agents (sponsored, no doubt, by the government) began touting beer as a healthy alternative to the life of a stumbling, mumbling alcoholic. But it appears that it's not so simple. For one thing, beer has a much higher alcohol content there than it does here, though still remaining under 10% alcohol content. The fact that anything under 10% in Russia is considered "food" triggered an all-out assault on the livers of drinkers everywhere. Beer sales are up by 40% while vodka sales have dropped by 30%, according a BBC report. Sale of beer is a 24/7/365 event, and has no restrictions on who can sell it. As a result, the beer gut is becoming a prominent part of Russian culture.
While the government is now trying to regulate the sale of beer during certain hours as well as restricting the advertising of beer, it's clear that the malty beverage has a solid foothold...sort of like Wisconsin, only MUCH bigger.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Super-Duper Sized

Start stretching your stomach for this...

It wasn't too long ago that America and it's fondness for fast food was dealt a healthy dose of reality: we were getting too fat, and fast food was a major culprit...and don't think America didn't notice. Ask Krispy Kreme what happens when your product is terrible for the waistline (yet so addictive!) Franchises all over the country went down in oil and frosting despite all the free "Hot Now" offerings. Even places like McDonald's began to offer smaller portions and menus that offered calorie/saturated fat listings in order to help consumers make wiser choices. Slowly, though, the notion that more is better is regaining the foothold that once dominated the restaurant industry.
Think about it: those of you who eat fast food on occasion NEVER leave having drunk just one soft drink. In the name of economy, we feel we just have to have at least two servings in order to get our money's worth...and all the fancy drinks from coffees to smoothies? Loaded with calories, sugar and caffeine. Think you can get by in a more healthy way by going inside a "real" restaurant? Maybe...most likely, maybe not. This according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest as noted in its latest newsletter Nutrition Action Healthletter.
The publication recently reported it Xtreme Eating Awards...a designation of some of the absolutely worst foods available for the consuming public. This year, there were eight "winners," but I'll stop at the top three because it makes me feel overfull to go further.
1. Denny's Fried Cheese Melt: Just as it implies, this sandwich consists of four fried mozzarella sticks between two slices of sourdough bread with melter American cheese inside as well. Served with fries and marinara sauce, this baby weighs in at 1260 calories, 21g. of saturated fat, and more than 3,000mg. of sodium. (feeling queasy already)

2. The Cheesecake Factory's Farmhouse Cheeseburger (pictured). Even without the 460 calories provided by the accompanying fries, this burger will test your limits with 1530 calories, 21g. of saturated fat, and 3210 mg. of salt. (unsteady on my feet as I leave the table looking for dessert)

3. Coldstone Creamery's PB&C shake will top off any calorie-hunter's meal. Weighing in at 24 ounces, this shake of chocolate ice cream, peanut butter, and milk sounds innocuous enough. However, when one figures this behemoth of a dessert item features 2010 calories and a whooping 68 g. of saturated fat (all equal to 2 16-oz. T-Bone steaks and a buttered baked potato), it's enough to long for the days when five kids fought over four pork chops.

I will admit, there are healthy choices out there, and it's up to the consumer to be smart enough to make the right choices, but thee things often are pictured to be SO GOOD that temptation is virtually irresistible.
At 200 calories, a Krispy Kreme doughnut looks good in comparison...wish I had one.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sketchy, At Best

Possibly a Pricey Problem!

Women seen to be the target of any product that comes out (unless beer is somehow associated with it). Seriously, look at the mall stores: almost none of them is aiming at the male demographic. Everything is designed to get women (in my estimation) feeling less secure about the way they look, the way their hair curls or doesn't, and the lines, creases, and expansions of natural body development. It's not that these things don't occur to men as well, but, frankly, I don't think men are as uptight about these changes...they just go buy sports cars and let it go at that!
Anyway, the bullseye is on women as far as fitness is concerned as well...despite the fact that most women wouldn't care to don lycra on a bet; that's not to say there aren't products designed every day to help out in the privacy of one's's just that all the people advertising these bits of paraphernalia are truly ripped! Six-pack abs? They've already got 'em...and they do their best to convince women that they, too can look like this. The cost is generally more than one might wish to pay, but if it costs more, it must work well...right? So it is with toning shoes which became "all the rage" the last couple of years. Turns out that the rage is mostly coming from customers and researchers.
Initially near the $100 range, these athletic-type shoes featured a rocker-shaped sole which, according to manufacturers' claims "exercise and tighten the muscles in the calves, thighs, and buttocks." One manufacturer used this as a tag line to indicate how well the shoes worked: "Your boobs will be jealous!" Really? Well, not so much, it turns out.
Dr. John Mercer, a biomechanics professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas decided to be the latest to test the theory about the effectiveness of such shoes. He selected young university women, since the shoes are aimed almost exclusively at women, and had they exercise on a treadmill alternating between Sketchers Shapeups and regular walking shoes. The participants were hooked up to electrodes that measured electrical impulses generated as the muscles contracted. He also measured oxygen consumed to decide whether the women were working harder in one type of shoe than in the other. Additionally, the walkers were tested for calorie burning during each session.
Mercer's findings were presented this June at the annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine...those findings indicated that there was no significant difference in any of the categories measured, despite the claims of increased productivity by the makers of the shaping shoes. No difference. These findings echoed those published last year by a group of exercise physiologists at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse whose test included three different brands of shaping shoes. There simply was no benefit to buying and/or using these shoes, except one: if women feel they are going to tone a lot, they are more tempted to actually get out and walk when they might not exercise at all otherwise.
But they do not need shaping shoes to get the results.
Save your money, ladies, but get out there and move...somebody will be jealous!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Time to Move To Japan

Living Longer In the East

There are a great number of benefits to be derived from living in the U.S. I thought about that today as I spent more on an anniversary dinner than many people in the world make in a couple of months. I have a couple of automobiles, and I can afford the gas (for now) to operate them. Stores have everything I need (and more), and I have the money to shop for things that I would like but definitely do not need...currently, a new iPod shuffle (my other one died). Toss in a few other notable things like freedom of speech, religion, and, in some places, sexual orientation, and this country is hard to beat. Having baseball is just icing on the cake. However, there is a price to pay for all of these "luxuries": I will die before many other people in the world who were born in the same year. The United States currently ranks #38 in terms of longevity among world nations; and, according to a study partnered by the University of Washington-Seattle and Imperial College in London, we're falling even farther behind.
According to the study's authors, the differences cannot be explained simply by size of nation, amount of racial diversity or national economics. Apparently, there are a whole host of things we Americans need to be thinking about if we don't want to have to move to another more healthy country!
1. One in five Americans die as a result of smoking...count both my parents in that figure. It seems that we are one of the more lenient countries when it comes to allowing advertising of tobacco products (lobbyists, no doubt). However, I'd still bet that people in Greece and Turkey die far more than we do from seems everybody there smokes.
2. One in six Americans dies of high blood pressure: primary cause? too much crap to eat and too much salt in our diets...of course, we have well-preserved corpses when we go.
3. One in three Americans is obese; the reasons for this are widely-known, from too many desk jobs to cutting physical education in school to too many additives in our food. I don't think we'll ever figure this out as a nation. BTW, we have 10 times more obese people than Japan...though I'm not really sure how the populations match up.
4. There are more dentists whitening teeth than fixing them; there are more plastic surgeons that general practitioners; health insurance companies would rather make money than make people healthy; and the economic divide that is ever-growing seems to doom a larger percentage of the population to less-than-adequate health care.
So...where should we move? If you want to be healthy and long-lived, pick one of the following:

1. Japan Men average life expectancy: 79 Women: 86.2
2. Australia Men average life expectancy: 79.1 Women: 83.7
3.Canada Men average life expectancy: 78.2 Women: 82.9
4. Great Britain Men average life expectancy: 77.1 Women: 80.8

Here in the U.S.A. Men average life expectancy: 75 Women: 80.8
Moving to Japan would mean that one would still have baseball (beisbol), and I would suspect many people speak English...
but I think I'm going to take my chances here...if I can find a "blue" state nearby!

Friday, July 08, 2011

Butterbeer Not Available...But Who Knows?

'Way before all this fuss about sexy vampires (hickeys gone wild?) captured the throbbing hearts of youngsters everywhere and threatened to turn television and juvenile literature into something Anne Rice would slit her own throat over, J.K Rowling exposed a fact that we'd somehow missed: a 700-page book is not daunting to a youngster if the characters and plot are interesting. I was amazed when the Harry Potter series of books (yes, they were books FIRST!) exploded onto the scene and were gobbled up by preteens everywhere. The first time I noticed these kids and their parents waiting at midnight at a book store waiting for the new release, I knew Rowling had struck a nerve...a nerve that the Twilight series seems to have resonated against as well...though I'm not so sure this one isn't more of a female nerve than a generic one.
Anyway, the last of the Harry Potter movies is about to be unveiled next week...I won't see it, and I may not read the book since they have become a bit contrived for me. Also, now we have She-Whose-Name-Must-Not-Be-Mentioned still flitting about on the political scene, so Voldemort seems a bit lame.
However, if you long to experience the entire Harry Potter "thing," you are in luck, but you have to be in Chicago for it (at least so far. I'm sure this idea will spread rapidly). Beginning Wednesday afternoon, the Marcus theaters in Gurnee and Orland Park will begin showing every single Harry Potter movie, in order, until the first showing of the final episode that features, I suppose, the last battle between good magic and, uh, bad magic. Here's the schedule (just in case):

The marathon starts at 3 p.m. Wednesday with "Sorcerer's Stone," "Chamber of Secrets" (6 p.m.) and "Prisoner of Azkaban" (9 p.m.). It picks up again at noon Thursday with "Goblet of Fire," then "Order of the Phoenix" (2:55 p.m.), "Half-Blood Prince" (5:30 p.m.) and "Deathly Hallows — Part 1" (8:20 p.m.), concluding with the series finale at midnight.

The audience is limited to Muggles, and I have no idea what the concession stands will feature. Check out for all the info (just in case)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Good News/Bad news Sort of Thing

Neither of these guys looks like me!

I know some people who read nothing but nonfiction: biographies, how-to books or relationship/financial advice things. Many read travel books or conspiracy theorists who drone endlessly about what happened, whodunit, or what will happen in the upcoming days and months. Not me. While it is true that I am currently reading Hellhound on His Trail, a work that follows all the main participants and actions leading up to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the truth is I'd rather escape to a life so unlike my own that I can completely lose myself in a miasma of make believe. And I have yet to discover how this can be harmful to me. Not so for those whose favorite escapist literature comes from the romance novel section at the local bookstore or library.
It seems that relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam has a serious warning for those who like such literature. In an essay published in the latest Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care, Quilliam notes that when women readers of escapist fantasy such as romance novels confuse what they read with reality, they make some poor choices.
"Real life sex isn't always perfect, and relationships are not always smooth," Gilliam writes. Of course, one would think that to be such common knowledge that it would not even require a citation...however, she apparently deals with a significant number of women who cannot distinguish between Fabio and their real-life men; and when one considers that half of the novels bought in the western world are romance novels...and real sex education might take a couple of hours in a young girl's life...well, you can see the issue.
Quilliam did note, however, that in a 2009 survey, 75% of the women questioned indicated that as a result of regular reading of romance novels, they were encouraged to have sex more often, and they had more adventurous sex as well as more experimental sex.
I can't say that my current selection will provide any motivation of THAT sort...

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Law & Order South of the Border

Women never travel light!

I have become a carry-on traveler. I absolutely refuse to take more on a trip than I can pack in one carry-on bag and my backpack. Of course, that means doing a bit of washing of unmentionables during a prolonged visit away from home, but that's not usually a problem. Of course, wheeled luggage has made all of that bustling through airports a bit easier, especially since I usually take the gentlemanly approach and drag my sweetie's carry-on as well...of course, hers has 50 pounds of lead weight in it so carrying it would be impossible, anyway. But struggling with bulky travel bags can be annoying.
Just ask Maria del Mar Arjona.
It seems that she was leaving a jail in Chotumal, Mexico, following a conjugal visit with her incarcerated husband when guards noticed she was struggling a bit with the weighty bag. Now, any gentleman would have simply helped her maneuver the bag out to the car, but her demeanor appeared a bit more frustrated than your normal TSA-harrassed flyer so authorities checked her bag...and found her husband curled up inside. Can you believe that? Not that she tried to smuggle the guy out but that he could fit inside that bag! If I were to try to contort myself like that, you would have to break me apart at the knees, hips and neck to get me to fit. Of course, in my case, authorities would be tipped off right away since my wife almost NEVER trundles along with her own luggage!
Needless to say, the pregnant, 19-year-old wife will be delivering the child in the crowbar hotel (sad to say).
For a darker view of what happens in Mexican jails, a video camera caught folks dressed like policemen as they released 50+ people from a jail in Mexico. They simply walked in wearing uniforms and carry guns and walked out with half a hundred former prisoners. As far as I know, no shots were fired though the story running on the BBC really didn't elaborate much.
Mexico is definitely a strange place on the law-and-order front.