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.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bullies in Gym Class?

"We always played dodgeball. It was great fun. How can that be called bullying?" "If you don't want to play, then don't."
Comments this week in the case of a school board and physical education teachers in Windham, New Hampshire, when they decided that dodgeball should no longer be part of the curriculum due to the potential for bully-type behavior. Naturally, not everyone was upset as evidenced by the preceding quotes, one from a parent and one from a school board member who voted against the ban.
Yes, we always played dodgeball as kids. However, that was before the term "bully" came into common parlance, before ADHD, before YouTube videos of playground beatings, and a host of other social ills that have befallen society. I suspect there were always bullies, always kids who were smaller, weaker and unable or unwilling to fight back, but the emphasis was far less intense (though not necessarily a good thing).
Like it or not, sometimes in gym and on the playground, it's impossible to opt out of an activity, risking the jeers of others and the subtle or not so subtle hints about being "chicken" from peers. That fact renderes the "don't play" argument useless. That's why school leaders need to take charge instead of letting kids and parents decide what's enough and what's too much when size and age discrepancies create potential painful mismatches.
I applaud the school board and teachers for banning the game as a venue for potential harm. As a physical educator, I never played dodgeball simply because there were too many possibilities for injury and embarrassment. Having the best athlete in school drill a ball in one's direction is terrifying. Eventually, we went to foam balls for every activity that required hard throwing and catching...while the flight was often errant due to the incredibly light weight, nobody got hurt, everyone enjoyed a game, and fear of play was eliminated. We went so far as to eliminate most smack talking among teams in order to lessen the impact of competition. Yes, there were still winners and losers: a valuable life lesson; however, no one was made fearful of flying objects or other students. No jocks and nerds...just players having fun.
Good for the folks in New Hampshire.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wanted: "Dynamic Person to Write A Quality Blog"

Well, you just KNOW that this tantalizing teaser caught my eye right away. Figuring that most people write blogs about politics, zombies, or things on Pinterest, I naturally thought I would be the ideal candidate. When I found out what I would be asked to do, well, my enthusiasm went right through the roof: stay at a refurbished (no doubt 5-star) hotel in Finland for 35 days and blog about it? Heck, get my passport. I'm ready to roll.
Hotel manager Tio Tikka thought up the promotion for the Hotel Finn  in Helsinki after a series of refurbishing maneuvers were completed. I've been to Finland: a lot of English is spoken there, so I figure language shouldn't be a problem. Staying 35 days with maid service? Who could ask for more? continental breakfast? probably
The gig begins sometime in May so the timing is right for the end of the school year.
As I kept ticking off the requirements, I gained confidence that this could be the break I had been waiting for (or "for which I had been waiting" if Finns are sticklers).
The fact that there have been more than 600 applicants so far doesn't faze me. Most of them are probably sick of the outdoor weather and want to spend some quality time in a sauna that doesn't force them to roll in the snow between breathtaking steam sessions. By the way, I've tried that sauna/snow thing, and my heart did not wheeze to a stop...but it might take some getting used to if one were to plan on it as a regular occurrence.
Anyway, I had my passport in hand and bags packed when I got to the final requirement:
Fluency in English and Finnish is required, and the ability to speak Russian is regarded as a plus...or a deal-breaker in my case.
I'll just have to wait for the snow to melt here outside my sauna.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Things Are Looking Up

Not so very long ago, we were promised that this year would find spring rolling in early. Punxatawney Phil the prognosticator indicated such a thing on his day when he saw his shadow (or didn't...I can never remember which one indicates an early spring). After a somewhat lengthy bout with the winter cold and flu season, we were all a bit more perky as we went about our tasks over the next week or so.
However, the awful truth soon dawned, and we were once again awash in nature's whitening ingredient and buffeted by northern winds: signs that Phil was, in fact, wrong.
Noted here at the time was Phil's somewhat abysmal record at weather prediction...something far less than 50% accuracy. Still, hoping against hope, we waited for the next high pressure system to usher in the bloomin' warmth of springtime. Now, just days away from April, things have turned ugly.
Phil has been charged with deliberately misleading people by a prosecutor somewhere in Ohio, and there was an unease surrounding what might be the end of Phil's sojourn here on earth.
Today, fortunately, Phil was pardoned...though under some suspicious circumstances as his handler took responsibility for the mixup. What? He was in charge of the sun rising? or not?
Anyway, what all of this says to me is that things are getting better here in this country. Sure, the Supreme court is facing a no-win decision concerning same-sex marriage. Certainly, the furor over guns has resulted in a single piece of legislation that actually made it easier to get and keep firearms without significant background checks. Sure, the government continues is partisan grade-school behavior, egged on by talking heads from both extremes.
All of that might be true, but if we can find time in the news to devote to a pardon for a weather-predicting groundhog, how bad can things really be?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Who ARE Those Readers?

I went searching for a book today for a 12-year-old boy. Barnes and Noble has an entire section dedicated to "teen readers," but  think it was mis-named. Of the fifteen books displayed as being "what teens are reading now," all but one of them was designed to be read by teenage girls...seriously. Mike Lupicka was the only author in the bunch that had written something designed for male readers.
Thinking this was just an anomaly, I went back to the real teen section, and found a similar dispersal of literature. One would get the impression that only teenage girls read...and the majority of them want to read about how awful their lives are though not as awful as the protagonists of curent fiction.
School problems, relationship problems, and inner demon problems dominated the whole section. Sure, I get that this time of life is a tough one for every kid, but there's no way a young boy is going to pick up what passes for literature these least a Barnes and Noble.
Being 12, this young man is somewhat in-between: he's finished with chapter books, likes sports books, and reads series about mythology/heroes and is beginning to find the fantastic to be his reality. Fortunately, the Percy Jackson series was around...he's read them all. Rick Riordan has become a go-to author. He's read all the Carl Hiaasen juvenile literature, and is always reading one or two books at a time.
Fortunately, Ridley Pearson has an adventure series he had known heard about. Pearson has written some excellent adult fiction, so I know this will be a good series for Antonio to begin. While he finishes the five in this series, I'll have time to find others not aimed at "teen readers."

Friday, March 22, 2013

Methinks Thou Dost Protest too Much

I know nothing about fashion. I admit it. I have a tendency to get three or four of something I like a lot and wear whatever it is for as long as they wash up nicely. Generally, I don't much notice women's fashion, either, though I DID notice when women's shirts got a lot shorter on the bottom and again when they plunged a lot farther on the top. Not that I'm an ogler, but changes like that are hard to miss. Women seemed to be oblivious to the sensation that such fashion caused, and the "less-is-more" look hung around, extending itself to legwear as well.
As a child, if my pants were too short, it was because they were hand-me-downs from my brother, and/or I had grown more than Mom would allow me to grow. The same is true with ripped jeans: a definite sign we lived on the wrong side of the proverbial tracks. Now, I don't know what to make of some of this.
We pay more for less fabric, and this fact is no more evident than in the yoga pants fashion craze. Stretchy, lycra pants that are barely more than shorts go for upwards of $50, and women have taken to wearing them for everything BUT (so to speak) yoga. Pairing them with a longer shirt/sweatshirt, women wear these very tight, revealing-every-perfection/imperfection pants everywhere from work to Wal-Mart and expect the average male not to look closely at what they reveal. Lululemon found out!
It seems that the $98 yoga pants from Lululemon are so sheer as to be see through, according to customers who are trying to return them. The manufacturer did admit that 17% of the garments were made with "inferior fabric," but stated that the only way to really tell if said pant was see through was to have the wearer bend over and take a look at the, um, seat area. I have some issues here.
First of all, why would anyone pay that much money for something so sheer as to be almost see through for any purpose other than it's intended one: stretching at yoga?
Secondly, who decided such apparel would be appropriate to wear anywhere BUT the gym? This bothers me almost as much as the pants-down-to-the-knees fashion that young men sported recently. Have some decorum, folks! I don't want to see your tats or every contour of your body.
Granted, fashions lose their appeal as they are replaced by what's newer and generally more costly, but designers seem to have gone the way of politicians and church hierarchies: out of touch with reality.
But, as long as we continue to lap up the latest "now" look because we are told what's hot...we have nothing to complain about.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Vacation Travel Made Frustrating

I like most things about beach resorts. The weather is the initial draw, of course, especially when it's cold where I am when the time for vacay comes along.The sounds of birds, the mesmerizing motion of the water and the touch of ight breezes always puts me in a Jimmy Buffett-like state of mind. In addition, when I visit beach places, there's little to no car driving involved so sitting back sipping a cool one is always a possibility. "Vacation money" is generally readily available, and the food is invariably plentiful and tasty. There is, however, one drawback...not a deal-killer, mind you, but a fly in the otherwise soothing ointment of a sandy vacation somewhere with gorgeous sunsets and the temptation to toss the watch. That drawback? Beach bikes.
I tend to bike more than the average person. I bike to work most of the year; I use an exercise bike at the gym a couple of times a week as a cross-training mechanism, and I have a road bike that I use throughout the warm months when I have a couple of hours or more free on the schedule. But I hate beach bikes; sadly, they are generally the only kind of bike available for rent at resorts.
The one-size-fits-everyone mentality of those who foist these contraptions on tourists shows a decided lack of biking acumen. Raising the seat to accommodate those of us with out of the ordinary length works only to put more of a fulcrum pressure on my knees: knees that don't need any more pressure! The frame geometry just isn't planned for folks like me. Te high, wide-spread handlebars puts the rider in a completely upright position, and if there is any wind at all, this position creates a great windblock for the rider behind at the expense of the one in front. Into the wind, going uphill? Such a predicament puts the rider at an even greater disadvantage: there are no gears to switch to in order to make the pedaling easier; the rider is stuck in an exhausting position of having to fight both gravity and the wind with legs (for the most part) that have not trained for such exertion.
Having only a single speed is bad, but having no hand brakes is the worst. I cannot recall how many times I thought I'd relax on the pedals and just coast for a bit...forgetting that as soon as I exerted the least amount of counterclockwise pressure on the pedals, the brake was engaged. It's a hard habit to break (so to speak).
Sadly, though, this is the only option. While the wider tires work great on sand, and the seat is generally more comfortable than average, there is only one advantage a beach bike has that makes me continue to rent one:
it beats walking.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Et Tu, Travelers?

Some will note that the Ides of March correspond to March 15th of the Roman calendar. I've also seen it described as a grouping of days from the 13th through the 16th or so. Whatever the reality, it wasn't so auspicious for Julius Caesar, and it deosn't seems as if they will be any better for me (minus the thiry-odd stab wounds, of course).
This date or series of dates correspond this year to spring break, and wwe were anxious to find a warme clime, if only for a few days. The weather looked to be a bit sketchy leading up to the departure date, and we we routed through Chicago...never a sign praised by the augurers as favorable.That was only a small part of what was to come!
Actually, it began the day before we left when I felt a twinge in a hamstring while working out...mind you, I have never in my life as a competitive or has-been athlete had a single issue with a hamstring muscle. It was a sign.
We awoke to three times as much snow as had been forecasted to dump in the driveway, but traffic was light, and I made the airport regretting already the amount of snow that would be piled up in the driveway by Ma Nature and the snowplows, especially if we got the heavier snow that was expected while we were gone!
The plane was taxiing down the runway, more or less on time 'for takeoff when the pilot informed us that O'Hare was shut down due to low visibility but that we could get there in the next couple of hours...just in time to miss the connecting flight.
Six hour later, we did manage to arrive at our destination, definitely weary but somewhat warm...probably the same was Julius Caesar felt when he made it to the afterlife!
And there's still a foot of blown, drifted snow to shovel in my driveway when we get back.
Beware the Ides of March!

Friday, March 15, 2013

Nothing Like Ballpark Food!

You know spring is right around the corner when you can see the tracks voles left in your lawn, snow-covered streets are merely a foot deep in slush, football stories are back on the front page, and new taste sensations appear on the menu at minor league baseball parks. Every new item is designed to tempt people to the ballpark with thoughts of gastronomical delight...and indigestion. What started as the "all-you-can-eat-and-drink" sections has now given way to individual items that patrons just have to try. This year is, of course, no exception.
In what has become an annual tradition, the Detroit Tigers' single A team, The Western Michigan Whitecaps, polls its fans to help decide what treat to offer every year, and this year, the winner is ...Baco: a taco utilizing (what else) a bacon shell. The Baco garnered 30% of the final vote, narrowly edging out "The Bad Joke": a corndog covered with cheese, surrounded by two strips of duck bacon, encased in a bun. Gee, that would be a tossup for me (either before or after eating!)
Third place this year went to "Rascal Chow": popcorn with bacon and Reese's pieces.
Fading off the menu at Whitecaps' games are previous winners "Chicks with Sticks" and "The Declaration of Indigestion."
Makes you long for the good old days, doesn't it?
Play ball!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cardiologists...Report to Mississippi...STAT!

Lots of brouhaha lately over the New York City mayor's decision to try to promote health by limiting soft drink attempt that eventually proved judicially wrong. New Yorkers can have any size soft drink they want...and go back for several refills if they so choose as well. This intervention into individuals' rights has not gone unnoticed, especially in Mississippi.
Mississippi residents have the distinction of having the highest (by far) obesity rate in this country. Of course, all that fried food probably has something to do with it, but the state legislators want to make sure that Mississippians continue to have the God-given right to coronaries, high blood pressure and can eat without embarrassment.
This week, the legislators passed a law (sure to be signed by the governor) that prohibits any city or county government from trying to regulate any aspect of the food industry. Thus, no provisions can be enacted anywhere in the state that try to regulate the size of soft drinks, the salt content in menu items, the amount of shortening in cookies, whether or not kids' meals can have tantalizing toys, and even the looks of the menus themselves.
"If a man wants to eat 20 Big Macs, he can eat 20 Big Macs," according to one lawmaker signing onto the bill. Also prohibited is any type of control on how the food is grown or prepared...genetic engineering is just fine by them. Pounding chemical in meat animals to fatten them artificially is OK, too.
Not surprisingly, the legislator who introduced the bill, Rep. Tony Smith, owns a barbecue restaurant and was spurred into action by requests from the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurant Association, sellers of soft drinks, owners of convenience stores, the Farm Bureau, and the Mississippi Poultry Association.
Those are votes in the next election, folks, if the electorate lives long enough to make it to voting day.
I agree that government need not interfere too much in our everyday lives, but when we have so little self-control as to be eating and drinking ourselves to death, SOMEBODY needs to help.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Holy Hoge Hakken!

Now that racing in marathons and stressing one's endurance in triathlons have become the habitat for serious-money athletes, a variety of races have emerged to attract the fun-seekers. There are competitions for fun that ask entrants to slog through mud, get sprayed with different colors at specific junctures of the race, and even contests in which the walking dead try to disrupt a runner's concentration by lumbering our from behind a bush or a tree: somewhat like racing through a haunted house during the daylight.
Glamour magazine, back in 2006 decided to sponsor charitable events for the well-heeled woman...or at least the high-heeled woman. Called "hoge hakken" (high heel) runs, these women-only events aimed to raise money to support efforts to promote women's rights. Originated in Amsterdam, these races generally charge a 30-pound entry fee with corporate rates for 5-women teams. Certainly, there are disclaimers concerning injury...specific to the fact that the shoes worn must be at least 7 cm off the surface with a width of no more than 1.5 cm on the heel. Precarious to walk in and potentially ankle-crushing to run in, the shoes make me wince at the thought. Fortunately, the races are generally short: 45-200 meters through crowded cityscapes.
Lest you think the Dutch have been addled by lax drug laws for too long, the race has grown in popularity, and competitions can be found in faraway places like Moscow, Singapore, Australia, the Philippines, and Buffalo, New York. In a spirit of gender equity, the last two locales also have a male division (what woman has feet wide enough to accomodate a man-sized foot?) Can the major sport-shoe manufacturers be too far from introducing a special shoe for this event?
More dangerous than zombies and less tiresome than a marathon or a triathlon, this even is a shoe in for the most unusual running competition.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Joining Exclusive company

I'm always dumbfounded when I have those "aha!" when I find money in an unwashed pocket or discover a factoid that enlarges my worldview. sometimes, those factoids are general in nature, such as the roof of my mouth and taste buds (having been dissolved by hot pizza) will regenerate in 10 days. That sort of thing causes me to take a step back in wonder. And so it was this past FRiday when I discovered that I had joined (unbeknownst to me) a select group that includes children under 14, invalids, pregnant women, and nursing mothers. It's quite a select group, and I guess I never really gave my inclusion much thought.
Friday was spent visiting a sick friend in a hospital, and the topic was lunch. It being the Lenten season in which we Catholics are forbidden meat on Fridays (though the fish might consider its flesh "meat"), I remarked at the patient's lunch which contained actual meat from a cow. another visitor in the room noted that the patient was exempt from the "no meat" rule since he was over the age of 60.
since I have eclipsed that age marker as well, it appears that I no longer have to eat fish on Fridays during this religious season. I distinctly remember when I was younger thinking that those exempted by age from the requirement
a) were really lucky since I didn't like fish in any form, and 
b) were really old and due to die at any moment.
Of course, now that I'm in that category, I see that "old" is a relative term. so, despite the loophole, I still had fish on Friday...though one wonders if a Filet 'o' Fish at McDonald's is actually fish anyway.
I know it's not pig or cow, though so I've done my penance for the week.
Along with giving up broccoli.

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mars...or At Least Peaceful Coexistence

There comes a point in most married couples' lives when they are together virtually 24/7. When both have retired and realize that the house/apartment just isn't big enough for the two of them to coexist peacefully, they have to find separate activities that allow some space and freedom. Apparently, "space" does not mean traveling to least here.
You've no doubt heard about the planned private mission to send a couple to Mars and back sometime in the near future (meaning"as soon as we can get the money together"). The promoters are looking for a middle-aged couple whose children are no longer living with them and who probably don't plan to have any more children (see...there's this radiation thingie about traveling to Mars apparently). Anyway, a trip like this isn't one would plan through Orbitz, and it probably also requires a couple who is used to being together in a small space. Actually, the promoters first thought of a farm couple since they would be interdependent with accepted roles, lived frugally, could entertain themselves and could repair anything that broke.
While that all sounds mighty fine, there is still the sticky issue of personal space. for advice, we turn to Deborah Shapiro, an Arctic explorer who spent a year in solitude with her husband on a research trip to Antarctica...nine months of which were spent in total solitude (sans cricket chirping). Folks are amazed that they emerged unscathed from the experience, especially since cabin fever in the Arctic has caused at least one death when researchers got in a disagreement over a chess match. As boring as a two-year voyage to Mars only to turn around and come fright back without even a drive-through at Starbucks, Shapiro contends that one "can only be as bored as one is boring."
all that being said, she noted a few things to consider when trying to share confined space with another person.

1. Give the other person "mental elbow room." The ability to keep quiet when close to another person is a discipline she says she leaned. For example, if the other is reading on the sofa, don't plop down and start a conversation. Leave that person alone.

2. Show tangible signs of caring about the other person by being sensitive to moods and concerns.

3. Never belittle the other person...memories are long and can fester into a sooting over a chess match when the real issue happened long ago.

4. Show care for the other person by doing things like alternating cooking days or cleaning days...anything to show that the work is shared.

Great advice for any two individuals who are trying to get along in a confined area...don't see much of that on the prison shows!
Mars is out for me, but maybe you are the person promoters are seeking.
I dodged the proverbial bullet when I applied to be the first teacher in space. No sense taking another chance.