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Monday, March 30, 2015

Instant Vacation!

The other day, the company for which I slave… I mean happily work… had another “Lunch and Learn”

These are fairly regular casual times, over lunch, during which a very nice lady named Roni comes by and patiently tries to teach a bunch of old dogs some new health, dietary, and wellness tricks. A bonus is, that as the name implies, there is food.  Our Human Resources department adheres to that time-honored adage of PTA’s, church rummage sales, and political fund-raisers: “If you cook it, they will come.”

There have been a variety of topics; how to make sense out of nutrition labels on food packaging, controlling hypertension (in the old days, it was called “high blood pressure”) without a truckload of prescriptions, to healthy snacking. An oxymoron if ever I heard one.

The most recent was quite intriguing: How to Reduce Stress. Although determining alcohol was not part of the regimen, I signed up anyhow. 

How apropos that the day in question was one rife with stress.

Our senior dog, Mimi, gently awakened me conveying her need to go outdoors.  I sleepily groped for my glasses, shoved my feet in the ugly dog-walking Crocs, and hoisted Mimi up. Making our way down the stairs, I absently hoped my pj pants would stay in place. While Mimi waking me is hardly noteworthy, at quarter past five in the morning I did notice the paper carrier stopping at our neighbor’s, a car running the flashing stop light at a nearby intersection, and a roving raccoon snuffling around the dumpster.

Mimi must have been reading Pavlov’s laboratory notes as of late, as she has determined that following going outdoors, she must have breakfast; regardless of the time. She expresses her desire with a series of short, high-pitched little yaps until I finally relent, plopping her food bowl before her. Hmm… wait… she gets me up, gets me to take her outdoors, barks at me, resulting in me getting her food. I am beginning to pick up on a pattern here.

This commotion results in Ike being roused from his slumber. He is demanding equal time, so back out-doors we go. The raccoon has satisfied himself at the dumpster, and is now waddling into the tree line. Another paper carrier stops by the neighbor’s, and I discover something on the ground I would rather have not discovered. It confirms the Canada geese have returned. Coming back indoors, Ike gets his breakfast, a couple pats on the head, and Mimi is packed off to bed again.

I gratefully lay down for a restful 30 minutes power nap. An hour later, I leap out of bed. In a breakfast less whirlwind, I prepare to leave for the office.

Naturally, I was totally unaware this morning was “National Drive Like You’re Going to A Root Canal Day.” Every vehicle I got behind was cruising along at a leisurely 10 miles per hour BELOW the posted speed limit! Toss in an unexpected school bus for additional giggles.

This on one of the few times I had a first thing, must-be-on-it conference call!

I slipped in under the radar about 5 minutes after the call started. Things just sort of continued to unwind from there. It was non-stop phone calls, e-mails, “Oh! Can you help with this? Can you work on that?” Three large bids I had been working on lurked at the side of my desk, silently imploring  “Don’t forget about us!”

Naturally, due to a last minute phone call from one of our sales people, I slipped into the conference room about 10 minutes late. Roni had soft music playing, lavender scented candles aglow, and the lights lowered. Seated around the table were several of my co-workers munching away on wraps, salads, soup and other goodies.

Following a presentation regarding several different ways (no, alcohol was not one of them) to spur on relaxation and kick stress in the chops, Roni offered to lead us in a visualization exercise we can use any place, any time we are feeling stressed.

While we closed our eyes, she led us to a beautiful tropical beach, white sand stretching for miles along a picture perfect blue ocean. White combers rolled ashore, retreating with that mysterious hissing  sound only a returning wave can make. Gulls wheeled over head in graceful flight, their cries adding harmony to the melody of the waves. The fronds of palm trees rustle in a soft, warm breeze; replete with the salty, primeval fragrance of the sea. I sit upon a small hummock of warm white sand, watching the endless advance and retreat of the ocean. I can feel the grains of sand between my toes; I revel in the wild symphony of color the setting sun provides. I feel dampness about my derriere. I notice the dampness becoming a warm surging wetness. It is then I realize I had neglected to visualize checking the tide table in the local tropical paper!

Yet, as the afternoon rolled on, I found myself taking several visual vacations.

Along about 2:30, I was somewhat surprised to be walking through a mountain meadow. The sun was warm upon my back, a blue sky dappled with white fluffy clouds stretched far and wide. The chuckle and gurgle of the wild stream played in my ears. My fishing rod felt good in my hands. I knew a cut-throat trout was just waiting for me. Carefully, I affixed a 5 inch Pinkie to the hook. With a flick of the wrist, the line arched gracefully over the clear as crystal water; landing within 4 inches of that singularly perfect trout’s lair. I feel the slightest vibration in the line as the wild fish tests the offering. Easy, easy… wait, just a bit.. NOW! I set the hook, and the fight is on. The desk phone in my creel on the stream bank begins to warble…

POOF… like that, a perfect Wyoming fishing trip gone!

I persevere with the matters at hand upon my desk, my in-box, and lurking behind that nagging, diabolical,  flashing “msg” light on my phone.

Oddly, about 3:45, I took a couple deep breaths, closed my eyes for a moment… and… my Lovely Bride and I are strolling along the Champs Elysees on a gorgeous Parisian spring day. The flowers are beyond description; the colors so vibrant. We stop by a small cafĂ© for a demitasse of freshly roasted and ground coffee. With delight, we look over the shoulder of an artist painting the Arc de Triomphe. Stopping by a brazier tended by an elderly man who looks like he came from Central Casting; we are intrigued by the skill with which he grills breasts of squab. In the distance, I hear the gendarme who resembles Claude Rains*, with a voice similar to that of the boss, but with the most charming French accent; “Hopkins, what in the world are you doing?” I am astonished at the officer’s excellent grasp of English and being on a personal name basis with him.

Roni had failed to mention that Visualized Vacations can seem to be real; embarrassedly so at time.
I enjoyed little mini-trips throughout the evening. Skiing in the Swiss Alps, strolling the streets of Old Jerusalem, watching lobster boats return to port along the Maine coast; the list was impressive.

As I climbed the stairs for bed, I eagerly anticipated tomorrow’s travel itinerary.

*Played Captain Louis Renault, Casablanca, 1942

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Super? Foods

The other Sunday, I was listening to the radio in my Jeep on the way to church. It was early, as we hold Worship Team practice (or in my case, Worship Team Comic Relief) 90 minutes before the service begins.  Being early on a Sunday morning, the variety of programming on the radio is somewhat limited.

A press of the button and one station brought forth the obligatory “Elderly Screeching Soprano” conspiring with a wheezy pipe organ to commit auditory homicide to a here-to-fore much loved hymn.

With a push of the button, my ears were treated to “Classic Polka Hits from 1948” being played on four accordions; none of which were in tune with the others.

My frustration rising a tad, I took a swig… I mean a sip… of my coffee and punched another button.  The nasal hog-calling voice of a country preacher filled my Jeep, nearly causing me to dump my coffee. I have not the faintest idea what he was carrying on about; I just knew I wasn't up for it.

Mashing another button and the hyper-excited tones of the discoverer of Hooka-Pooka rattled about my brain. Hooka-Pooka! The NEW Super Food! The intrepid discoverer disclosed how he and he alone, found this extremely rare, yet extremely powerful food while lost on an exotic island in the South of Lake Erie.

There, hours from the nearest winery, burger and beer joint, or t-shirt shop; the prospect of ever having frozen custard again fading fast, he stumbled upon it.

Tucked away in a crevice of a South-southeast facing ravine he spotted something unusual. It was not an empty carry-out container, it was not a token from an arcade…. It was the dim outline of the mythical Hooka-Pooka plant!

This plant was practically revered by the Original Inhabitants of this remote island. Old French fur-trapper’s journals tell of “la puka-d’ huka” being eaten and being “tres bon” in flavor. The accounts would go on to claim an increased “joie de la vie” and having “un coer de lion”. The first recorded use of the exclamation “Laissez la bon temps rouler!” in the New World was discovered in the midst of a lengthy, enthusiastic recounting of Hooka-Pooka.  Oh sure a few malcontents also recorded the next day they were “malade conne une chien”. Some even claimed to have heads “gros comme une maison”.

Somehow, the Hooka-Pooka had been lost. It had been assumed the Year Without a Summer of 1816 had caused the delicate, fragile plant to become extinct.

NOT SO, exclaimed the discoverer. Quickly he sold his house, car, liquidated his stocks and bonds, and borrowed himself up to his eye-balls in order to purchase the pristine half acre of real-estate which housed the ancient herb. Paying off some zoning board members, and a couple of building inspectors, he soon had a modern state of the art processing and packaging facility erected. Now, his mission (besides paying off loan-sharks) is to spread the Good News of Hooka-Pooka to the entire world!

For only $19.95, you can have 3/5s of an ounce of pure, high-grade Hooka-Pooka extract. Use it in beverages, drizzle it on your granola, enjoy its robust earthy flavor by itself. All it takes is less than one milli-liter of this wonder concentrate to potentially see immediate results such as long life, increased vitality, and never-ending Joy. Toss in great hair, no BO, and a Mensa qualifying IQ; well, who can possibly say “no thanks” to a deal like that?

Great.., another new Super Food, be still my beating heart.

For seemingly eons, the news of some hitherto unknown food source screams from radio, TV, e-mails, inter-net side bars… you name it.

Seeds which one provided a verdant green coiffure to comic sculptures are now the key to vitality. Dried seaweed now may extend longevity, plus lowering your LDL cholesterol. This particular fruit will give you the complexion of an 18 year old! Drink this, you will shed years! Take this pill regularly, and you will live to be 108, and only look 35 when you cash in your chips.

Then, it struck me…why are no super-foods ever found in your pantry? Why aren't there headlines shouting “Generic mac-n-cheese clears arteries!”? Why are all the super foods found in exclusive markets clear on the other side of the next county? Places like Joseph the Trader and Global Marketplace? Why is it I can’t just drop by the local convenient store and snag a pound of chia seeds?

Which set me to thinking; the entire purpose of these wonder workers is to minimize, if not reverse, the effects of aging. We all want the wisdom of a 50 year old, but housed in the body of a 20 year old. This is not a whit different than Ponce de Leon’s quest for the Fountain of Youth.

Which then begs the question; if one does not want to age; why consume things which left to their own devices, will mold and decay? What type of sense does that make?

That makes as much sense as travelling East in order to go West. As logical turning right because you really wanted to turn left. This is akin to putting on a CD of bagpipe and drum corps music to help lull you to sleep.

Again; what type of sense does that make? Let me tell you what kind: Nonsense!

If you desire preservation, with not the least sign of ever being affected by Time; there is only one choice, my youth coveting friend.

And that esteemed choice is (drum roll, please)…
The humble TWINKIE!

Wait a minute. Don’t scoff. Don’t shut me out as a crack-pot.

When, I ask you, was the last time (or the first, for that matter), you've seen a spoiled Twinkie?
I rest my case.

Ages from now, archaeologists will pick through the ruins of our lost civilization. There amongst umpteen bazillion batteries of all sizes and types, various remote controls, discarded “electronic devices” and in-numerable articles about Oprah Winfrey will be perfectly preserved, golden colored, rather oddly shaped items of yet to be determined matter.

A museum display (virtual, of course) will state: “Supported upon a semi-rigid platform, the matching objects are lovingly protected by a clear plastic like film. This, in turn, is adorned with examples of a long extinct written language. Scholars have concluded these objects were highly venerated, as they are found in all cultures in all parts of the Earth. Earliest examples of these objects have been dated to c. 1930. Debate continues as to whether “Twinkies” is a singular term, or plural.  Most interesting, no one has yet to determine a purpose for “Twinkies” ( or “Twinki”). There is consensus, however, they would not have been intended as a food source.”

There, next to the Twinkies, would be a bag of potato chips. The plaque would read, in part; “Interestingly, these arbitrarily shaped flakes of matter share one thing with “Twinkies”: BHA”

Ethicists in the far distant future will debate “What was BHA and its impact upon ancient Earthlings?”
The central questions would be

--BHA; was it a form of religion?
--If BHA preserved things “for freshness”, Who or What was “Freshness”? What was the purpose for such preservation?
--Was BHA a substance so potent that it was used for specific, unique substances?
And The Biggie:
--IF BHA halted all signs of degradation, why didn’t the people use it themselves?

My puny mind wrestled with these problems, finding no resolve.

Getting off the freeway, I pulled into Rocco’s Snax, Gas, and Gas. Strolling to the welcoming bullet proof window to pay for my fuel; I saw it. There it was, a box of Twinkies.
Determining it is better to be safe than sorry, I snatched up two packages of those suckers.
If Father Time is going to catch up to me, that ol’ boy better put on his runnin’ shoes!

la puka-d’ huka – made up French gibberish for a made up plant

tres bon”- very good     joie de la vie- joy of life     un coer de lion-heart of a lion  Laissez la bon temps rouler  Let the good times roll    malade conne une chien—sick as a dog  gros comme une maison-the size of a house.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


The other evening I braved the frozen wasteland, the wolves and polar bears in my quest to retrieve the mail. It was amongst the most harrowing 80 feet I have ever traversed!

Upon opening the mailbox, dimly illuminated by the streetlight,  I saw it! The envelope! No, not THE Envelope; rather it was the regular monthly blue envelope packed with value coupons.  Yippee.

The envelope languished on our table for a few days until  in a moment of reckless abandon, I tore it open. I have to admit the reckless abandon was borne of abject boredom. Flipping through the roofing companies, the heating and air conditioning guys, and pizza joints; it struck me.

Why do virtually all of these super deals say “New Customer Special!” or words to that effect?

Let’s say, for example, I am a regular customer of “Cheezee Louisie’s Pizza” There it is! A coupon…three dollars off a large super-deluxe pizza! Oh happy day! My favorite one! While visions of pepperoni are kicking up their heels, I see the fine print: “New Customers Only”

“What the heck?” I ask. For all these many years I have been a loyal customer! My money helped keep the lights on! I have helped pay for Louisie’s BMW! Not once have I ever gotten an extra topping for free! Never have I had a “large” upgraded to an “extra-large” at no charge!

Now, some new-comer, an interloper… a… a usurper!... gets to save three bucks off a ‘za I helped to create?!? Putting bacon on it was my idea!

“Louisie”, I says, “You need to put some bacon on this bad boy!” Next thing you know, Bam!... bacon on the pie!

Where is the honor? Where is the fidelity? Where is the appreciation?

I’ll tell you where….in the big, brown dumpster behind the shop! That’s where!

All my life I remember my Mom, my Aunts, my friends’ Moms… all saving and using coupons while shopping. Some people even saved coupons from various cigarette brands. These could be redeemed for nifty stuff like picnic baskets, hand tools, a new putter… and the Grand-Daddy of them all: Your Very Own Iron Lung!

All of which got me to thinking.

What if coupons had been used throughout history???

Is the Sphinx a result of “Irsu’s Patios and Pyramids Company” offering a “free decorative statue of your choice with each pyramid purchased”?

 Did it end up in its present form due to a compromise between Pharaoh and Mrs. Pharaoh about the design? He wanted it to be a manly representation of himself; she was the Original Crazy Cat Lady and wanted a gigantic feline. And---taah daah!---we have the Sphinx!

Did Hannibal (the real-life one, not the fictional one of movie fame) end up with elephants on his military campaigns solely because he had a “Try ‘em! You’ll like ‘em!” coupon from Petrarch’s Pachyderms?

Did Herod send Three Wise Men to Bethlehem because he couldn't pass up the “Three can travel for the cost of two!” coupon from Belshazzar's Travel Agency?

All through the pages of History, the evidence of coupon usage is apparent.

I offer as evidence the choice of Columbus’s ships; the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.  Come on, we all know the guy was on a tight budget. He could have had ships with names like Round Earth Voyager, Plunderer, and Lollipop.  

But no.

Obviously, he got a coupon from “Smilin’ Al, the Seafarer’s Pal” in the mail.

A deal that was too good to pass up. “Buy two ships ending with the same vowel; get a third same vowel ship FOR FREE!”

Did the Dutch really cheat the Natives when they traded for Manhattan Island?

Incidentally, the name means either “hilly island” or “place of intoxication” in Algonquin, according to documents written at the time. Or it could  also mean, “let’s go to the hilly island and get good and drunk”.
But I digress.

Perhaps, the Algonquin’s; noticing first Henry Hudson sailing around, naming rivers, bays, and automobiles after himself; then the Italian Verrazano poking around naming the skinny part of the river after himself. Then the Portuguese explore Gomez was cruising up and down the rivers giving places impossible to pronounce Portuguese names.

Then, they hear the word on the street was the Dutch were antsy to establish their turf in the New World. They decided to write out some coupons:

” Crazy Land Deal! $24 in trinkets, beads, and what-not takes all! No Closing Costs! No Points! No Inspection! First $24 takes it!”
 Peter Minuit cut that puppy out of his weekly buckskin news, and cashed it in!

On and on it goes.

 Jefferson didn’t negotiate a super bargain with the French for the Louisiana Purchase. He had a coupon “Buy one city below sea-level, get half a continent FREE!”

Lewis and Clark didn’t just stumble upon Sacajawea. No, they saw the smoke signals: “Hire a guide for one mountain range, get discovery of ocean No Extra Charge!”

And so it continues. These little slips of paper spur commerce along yet to this day.

I continue riffling through the pile on the table top; window replacement companies, drive-way seal-coating, dry-cleaners…
Wait… what’s this?
Ten Dollar Haircut?

Gotta go! See ya later!!