Monday, September 29, 2008

Might as well laugh

Well, no, I'm not really laughing all that much. However, there I was at work, purposely avoiding any peek at anything remotely able to tell me how "the market" was performing. But then at the end of the day, it was evident from the headline on my home page that we had a brand new record loss to deal with - the Dow headin' south to the tune of 777 points, which as I recall is supposed to be a nice number, Biblically speaking. I mean, if it went down 666, that would be almost more cause for worry in some quarters.

So I was poking around on the XM radio (love it!) driving home, flitting from Bloomburg financial news to CNN news, listening to the experts expound on this notable, indeed SEISMIC drop in the market, which if unchecked, will bring the domestic capital markets and, in short fashion, business as we know it, to a grinding halt, making it tough to send little Johnny and Sally to college, let alone finance Santa's scheduled visit in a mere three months.

So there I was, thinking about how maybe 7 percent of my retirement kitty had been vaporized by the closing bell, wondering how to commiserate with my life partner over dinner. I got in the house, and she went first.

"I went to that teacher in-service today and they had a great speaker, very motivational, talking about things to avoid, like STRESS, if you want a long life. She talked about how humor is important to longevity. Look at how long George Burns, Bob Hope, and many others lived. I mean, that Cloris Leachman is on Dancing with the Stars at age 82! How crazy is that?"

I'm glad she went first. It sort of put it all in perspective. Short of selling off and putting my millions (ha!) in gold, there is not much I can do, anyway. I continue to heed the "experts" who say if you have the time, just ride it out. And so I keep riding it out. You are welcome, Corporate America. Glad to help prop you up.

So now I am pondering the irony. Here's the thing: I'm sitting here feeling pretty good because I decided not to stress out just because our Congress can't figure out how to right the wrongs of a bunch of financiers gone wild, in order that I can live to a ripe old age - while I haven't a clue what's going to pay the bills in those extended golden years if things continue on the current track...which looks something like this:
But, hey, might as well laugh. It's good for you!

Friday, September 26, 2008

W.O.F. 31 Steve Canyon Thermos

..and now I'm too ridiculously nostalgic to eBay this sucker...

This was on the "take home or discard" pile the last time we visited Dad's house in Baltimore. It is a thermos that came with a long-gone lunchbox that I took to school for many a year in elementary school. I believe I took my own lunch for the first few years, but converted to the hot lunch - that must have cost all of thirty cents - in my later elementary school career.

Anyhow, this Milt Caniff masterpiece does remind me of those elementary school years, which I look upon fondly. I believe I enjoyed the elementary years as much as any in the Baltimore County public school system. Pretty good times, but way too much dodge ball for anyone's good.
The weird part? I don't remember ever, EVER being what
you'd call a big Steve Canyon fan. I think the parents bought
this thing on a whim, or got a heck of a deal, or something.

Yeah, looking at this thermos is a memory-starter, just as smelling freshly mimeographed paper used to be. You just can't find freshly mimeographed paper anymore, can you? With all this fancypants digital technology, mimeo has gone the way of the slide rule.

A friend and I used to publish a little monthly magazine on his $20 used Gestetner mimeograph. We sent it to a random California address one month just to say our 'zine went coast to coast. Man, that mimeograph was messy. We'd end up with ink all over our hands. But it was our love of solid journalism that kept us inking up our hands, month after month. I think at our peak, our little product, called "Interests Illustrated", had a circulation approaching, um, twenty.

Anyhow, the smell of that mimeo paper - I think a schoolkid could get a bit high off that stuff. Then there was the sweet smell of all that homemade flour paste they would mix up for first grade projects, cutting pictures out of magazines to make barnyard scenes (or whatever). I wonder what magazines they would use now.
Detail from the opposite side of the thermos.

OK, so much for this little overly long trip down memory lane. What sends YOUR mind racing back to elementary school? Have a great weekend...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

another orbit completed

My father always refers to birthdays as celebrations of completing another orbit around the sun. As of 8:15 or something tonight, I will have completed another one. That makes half a century plus half a decade for me.
I have never been one of those people who goes nuts about turning the big whatever-oh. And this one is not particularly troublesome. What usually gets me is when I start thinking "Geez, in ten years, I will be ______. That's OLD!"

I guess I go by the old cliche of "You're only as old as you feel". And when you are up past the half-century mark, sure, you've been around, but as the Baby Boomers age, 50 is the new 35, 55 the new 40. And so forth.

My advice to those of us who want to continue to consider ourselves as young and vital - is to hang around younger people, and observe their ways. We used to enjoy hanging around our kids' friends (in moderation). And then I've been teaching a high school Sunday School class for quite a few years. This keeps me "hep" to the "jive" of our young people. (OK, they don't talk like that. It's like "word, dudes". No, they don't say that , either.) Try to be somewhat familiar with the youth culture, too. At least superficially. This helps one to be conversant with these young people. If you really get into the culture, though, you are likely to become somewhat disoriented and possibly nauseous. But maybe at least know how to rattle off names of bands (do they still have bands, or is it all rappers now?), or actors younger than Tom Hanks. I know Johnny Depp was all that just a while ago, but I fear he has aged enough to be borderline geezer. Now it would be Shia LaBoeuf or whatever that faux French name of his is. Thumb through a "People" or an "Us" the next time you are in a checkout line. That should get you up to speed enough on pop culture.

Evidently, to feel young at heart, you should NOT watch the network news. Every ad paying the bills for Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric or Brian Williams is about someone with some body part falling off or malfunctioning, then some brightly colored pill that will replace or repair the body part. It is downright depressing when it finally dawns on you that the actors in the ad look ... about your age. Then we find ourselves watching "Wheel of Fortune" and/or "Jeopardy". Not an envious demographic to find yourself in. Geez, if Lawrence Welk came on, would we stay tuned for that???

I don't know where this is going, which is another sign of advanced age, rambling on without structure, content, or point. So I will quit this and append some pictures of two events in my actual birthday activities. First, I really like walking on paths in woods, and we found one in a county metropark about a half hour away, on massive acreage that was once going to be a nuclear power plant but never came to fruition (or to fusion, or fission, for that matter). Not a lot of wildlife, but we saw a snakeskin and a few fall weed flowers. And the dog drank water that I poured onto Linda's hands from her water bottle. She (the dog, that is) was thirsty.

Second, I have had a tradition for well over 45 years - my requested birthday dinner always, ALWAYS consists of hamburger, mashed potatoes and peas. It is not my favorite dinner, but it is TRADITION and there is no stopping it. My sister used to order something a bit more, let's say, sophisticated, like shrimp scampi. Not me; I was all about the meat and potatoes (and peas).

That's it. Another year, another 360 degree turn around the sun, some new faces in the Sunday School class (they brought in birthday donuts, bless their hearts), another burger down the hatch (grilled to perfection on the new grill). Oh, and since I divulged my age, I will just note that I am my sister's OLDER brother. On to orbit #56...

Friday, September 19, 2008

W.O.F. 30 Ike

This week's weird object was huge - hundreds of miles wide - but, thankfully, is no more. I'm talking Hurricane Ike, the one that rolled through a week ago and did a lot of damage.

We live in northern Ohio, and we got to experience a hurricane last weekend. Ike blew right up through the North American continent and treated a central slice of Ohio to sustained 65 mile per hour winds, for hours and hours - most of Sunday. Thousands in Ohio are still waiting for power to be returned. I mean, when you live in northern Ohio, you tend not to think about hurricanes as a danger. Tornados, sure; hail, blizzards, plagues of locusts---but not hurricanes.

We were taking our son back to college - Linda, me, and the dog - down in central Ohio Sunday afternoon, oblivious of the weather forecast - until we noticed the corn husks blowing horizontally across the roadway. By the time we got near his home, traffic lights were out. In his neighborhood, several trees were down and one tree had taken out the front of a house. His house was in fine shape, although there was no power (they finally got it back last night; they had transferred food to friends' apartments, and presumably went elsewhere to use their laptops).

We didn't hang around long; headed back out with plans to return by I-71, since the traffic had backed up at the non-functioning lights along our usual route. Then I noticed the needle on the gas gauge near "E". This was interesting, as every exit along I-71 had the same thing. Gas stations with no gas to offer since the power was out, but people pulled up to the pumps anyway since they were basically out of gas and going nowhere. It was eerie.

Linda got into the convenience store at a Speedway station that had no gas, up toward Mansfield, and bought anout ten packages of crackers with peanut butter. She was figuring this could be supper and breakfast for us (and the dog) in the worst case. The guy working the "register" was logging in all the purchases by hand with a pencil, bar codes and all, and after he had had about all of this he could stand, he closed the place. So Linda, bless her heart, bought more crackers than we needed and went out to the pumps, from car to car, asking if anyone wanted to buy a pack of crackers at cost. She had at least two takers - people who were traveling with diabetics who needed something to eat.

The guy who was closing up did us a service and called some gas stations up in Mansfield - and the word was a "Duke and Duchess Shop" on Route 13 was still open. So, with the "out of gas" light blazing, we scooted on up to see the Duke and Duchess. We made it fine, and I have never been so happy to buy a tank full of $3.99 gas (Actually, I have never, ever been happy at ALL to buy $3.99 gas before this). We got home, found our ancient maples on the tree lawn to still be vertical, and cleaned up a few branches. Most of our town was spared; only a handful of trees down, and power, cable, and phone service operating.

So, Ike, this WOF is for you. You made it interesting, but please don't send any of your brothers or sisters our way, 'kay?

PS- I'm guessing that WOF blogger Pigeon may have her own Ike stories to tell...she's been without power...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Outta Here

It was only about 24 hours, and a half-hour drive away, but it felt far, away, and it was well worth the small expense of a cottage rental. We got together with the kids and had a great time, about a stone's throw from Lake Erie. It rained and rained and, yeah, rained, and Linda finally said we were going down to the beach no matter what, and the rain gods relented, and we had a dry three hours or so on the beach. And the rainy periods were not so bad, as we played Apples to Apples and a rather obscure favorite of our son's, Settlers of Catan, late into the night on Friday.

We ate Chinese food on Friday, and some great lasagna (three of us, anyhow) at a regionally well-known place called Berardi's on Saturday. Lots of left-over boxes to bring home.

After some cake and ice cream, we all dispersed late Saturday night, as we all had to be places Sunday, leaving us to mourn the rather abysmal play of the Ohio State Buckeyes and deal with other events back in the real world.

This was a sort of birthday get-together for me (seeing as how there were TWO cakes, I should say it was more than "sort of"), and I'd have to say that, given our crazy schedules and obligations, just being there together at the same place and time was about as good a birthday present as I would want. A couple photos (from when it was not raining)...
The traditional marble cake with the chocolate icing spread over the white. We will not "decode" the candles just now...
Lots of seagulls.
Yeah, not so many humans on the beach, but these guys were all over it.
Our daughter got to work on this sandy sea turtle.
And we got a special fly-over by this team, reminding us that it isn't long until things turn a bit colder and those with the inclination to do so depart these colder climes for warmer regions.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

W.O.F. 29 a tad early

I guess it's a W.O.Th. but it cannot be helped, as I will be home tomorrow just long enough to walk the dog, then take off for our WEEKEND GETAWAY - yes, a weekend that will be Internet-free 'til Sunday evening - so I may be tardy in responding to other WOFs, for which I apologize.

So, with some trepidation, I introduce this week's W.O. from this corner - the RAIN STICK. These things allegedly originate from Chile, but you find them in touristy places all over the American Southwest (where they evidently do little good, as much of that territory is arid desert.)
Anyhow, these rain sticks are alleged to cause it to rain when they are shaken or just turned over. This one is a cactus rainstick, where they stick the cactus needles inside (it's hollow), so when you flip the thing over and hold it upright or at a 45 degree angle, the sound of the needles sliding and falling down inside the stick is a fair approximation of the sound of rain.

I introduced this with trepidation since, as we are going to be near a beach and my wife really wants to enjoy said beach, we would prefer that it NOT rain until, say, Sunday night. But the forecast is not too accommodating, with rain probability in the 40-70% range most of the weekend. I say, rain away all night, clear up in the morning, go at it again the next night.

Have a happy WOF-Day and a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Is it Friday Yet?

This is one of those weeks where you just hunker down and move through it. Monday evening was a meeting in a small town about 90 minutes from here. It was a good meeting, but a reality check. It was a feedback meeting with a bunch of building owners concerning revitalizing their declining downtown. Here we were prepared to talk about big funding schemes involving big matching money from the owners, and they were talking about how it takes all their profits to fix a leaking roof. One guy found it cost $500 to rent a bucket truck for one day, so he used it to paint his building in nineteen straight hours - a second day's rental was not in the budget. So we are toning down our recommendations. No pie in the sky -more along the lines of how to save a buck or two here and there by pooling resources, etc.

Tuesday was one of those meetings where you get thrown the proverbial curve. I call the Village Administrator to make sure the meeting is on that night, then I tell him "OK, I'll be there, but I'm not preparing anything - I will just be there in case people have questions." The Administrator says that will be fine, and very helpful. So at 7:00 I show up for this meeting where they are going to discuss, with the new committee of volunteers, whether to revise their old master plan or develop a new one. After some procedural stuff, selecting a secretary, etc., the guy running the meeting says "Now I'm gonna turn this over to Ben who is going to tell us all about what we need to do." So it's my show, thank you very much. The Village Administrator is not even in attendance. I wing it - sort of long-windedly, I fear - take some questions, and get outta Dodge.

Then today all I had to do was pick up the Mayor of my City at 5:45 (I had not been conscious, let alone driving a local dignitary, at such an hour in a long time) for a meeting down in Columbus, 100 miles south. It was a pretty interesting meeting, with the Governor and various legislators and private sector types and bureaucrats, all talking about how Ohio needs to step up and compete in the global economy. Lots of research findings, papers, etc. We will see how this translates into "real change", which seems to be the mantra of the moment.

As they say, "change is inevitable, except from vending machines".

Anyhow, there has been a dearth of pictures on this blog lately. I think it has to do with my not being home except to eat, sleep, maybe read a little. So, feeling all incomplete, I just went out in the dark and took this picture - with a flash - of our crazy sweet autumn clematis that totally takes over a host bush or two toward the end of every summer and flowers out with these little blooms. If it were sunny, I would have also taken a picture of our goofy grape vine that now extends all over a nearby lilac tree. It is fairly interesting to see bunches of grapes draping down from a lilac tree. Hmm...a WOF in the offing?

Tomorrow is a regular eight hours in the office, then home for supper. Sounds pretty normal, even boring, but I am looking forward to it.

I'm not really whining - the meetings I attended have all been interesting, and it is always sort of fun to see how people think (or...not) and interact. I hope your week is going well.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


Yeah, whoosh - that's the sound of a weekend flying by. Didn't even get the camera out all weekend, although I wanted to get a shot of the rotten cardinal out there that repeatedly raids our grapes. Oh well, I guess there's enough out there for all this year, and cardinals literally put just a dent in the "harvest". Certainly less intrusive than the night we looked out about three years ago to see three raccoons and a possum that had climbed up the trellis to avail themselves of the fruit.

Let's see, on Friday, six couples from the squaredance club went through a few dances with our caller up at one of our town's nursing homes. I think the residents were suitably entertained. This seemed to be a pretty nice nursing home, as those places go. We have gotten fairly familiar with the concept of nursing homes, as my mother in law resides in one, and when we take her out somewhere, she is often anxious to get back - seems to really think of it as home (plus she has a very friendly and agreeable room mate, and they can chat a lot, which really helps).

Anyhow, the most humorous thing to me was the house dog. This is one of those nursing homes that has an official dog, who has pretty much free reign (I imagine any resident who is really anti-dog can have a policy of keeping the pooch out). Anyhow this dog, a big ol' black lab, is obviously well fed, and some of the residents clearly enjoy feeding it more biscuits than are needed.

We took a break and walked into this very nice, well-appointed living room or lobby. There, sprawled out on the couch, right in front of the 50 inch HDTV, was this canine. That dog has it made - but it really needs to get up and walk off all those biscuits.

On Saturday, our town had a "trash to treasure" all-town garage sale and flea market downtown. They closed off Main Street and anyone could put up a table for twelve bucks or so. I found it interesting enough to tour the wares. One vendor gave us a fairly complicated lecture on doorknobs. Who knew there was so much to learn about old, historical doorknobs? I managed to spend about eight dollars - I got a book about Route 66, and a CD of Joe Cocker's greatest hits. I am fascinated by former major highways, and have traveled some of the old 66 (even stood on a corner in Winslow, Arizona once, just like the guy in the Eagles song). Also, grew up within spittin' distance of U.S Route 40 in Baltimore, the old National Pike, another major historical corridor. I'd love to take a month - or a year - and cruise some of the old roads, snapping pictures of what's left of the old motels, eateries, tourist traps, and amusement parks (like the Enchanted Forest back home out past Ellicott City).

And the Joe Cocker CD - well, has anyone ever done a better cover of a Beatles song than Joe belting out "A Little Help From My Friends"?

Anyhow, I am sure that by not bringing my camera down to this flea market, I have missed out on a wealth of weird objects. Oh, well.

Today had a new twist for me. At my ripe old age I am trying something I've never done before. I have always enjoyed music, listening to it and playing it as best I can. I was approached to play keys in a new band they started up for an 8:30 "contemporary" service at our church. I told them if they were looking for someone who could fill in the chords and basically keep up with the melody, sorta winging it as we went, I was their man. It seems that, after some research, this is the best style for such a band - play the chords, sort of hold the middle, note wise (since we have a bass player, drummer, and electric and acoustic guitar players, plus three female vocalists). So despite the challenge of trying to be awake and cognizant at an early hour, I signed on. Today was our first service; we ran through about seven songs in the course of the service, and it was quite rewarding. I always wanted to have that "band" experience, and the others are quite up to the task (the bass player does things with music for a living; our Pastor is an accomplished drummer!) and fun to play along with. And most important, I think the result was a pretty good worship experience for the 94 or so people who showed up.

Later on, I came home, took a nap, watched about as much of the Browns playing football as I could stand, and we walked the dog. That walk was kind of interesting too, come to think of it. We went by a field where, every Sunday, a large number of Hispanic folk come out to play or watch a game of soccer (futbal?) This is getting to be a pretty big deal, as there are Mexican food vendors set up, and quite a few families on the sidelines. I understand they come from several counties to these games. It is sort of interesting to see another culture in our midst.

Anyhow - empty nest? Didn't notice this weekend.

Friday, September 5, 2008

W.O.F. 28 From Down Under

This week's entry has never actually flown. I guess I am a bit skittish. I used to toss boomers all the time back in college. There were several of us who would throw them in formation, four at a time, and watch them circle and, we would hope, return. "Flinging the wing", we called it. I was at a disadvantage because I was a lefty (still am, come to think) - they get tossed at a bit of an angle such that I would have to duck my own delivery a little or risk head injury. Anyhow, it was great fun. Sometimes a low-flying one (the kind that nail jackrabbits in the Outback, I suppose) would cause a student to hit the ground abruptly. But that was all part of the charm, we thought. Also, sometimes a 'rang would wind up on a roof. But back then we threw Wham-O brand plastic boomerangs costing about a dollar apiece.

Fifteen years ago or so someone gave me a nice wooden one like this. I was at a picnic one afternoon and decided to give 'er a toss. She rounded the corners, headed back to the target (that would be me), but she overshot, right into some woods behind me. We spent the better part of an hour tromping around, looking for her. Never came up with her. By now, she's just part of the rich dirt out in that woods; ash to ashes, I suppose.

So that's why I am hesitant to let 'er rip when I again have such a fine looking wooden, colorful one. Purely decorative at this point.

If you have not already, I recommend the "WOF friends" to the right who also post on Weird Object Friday. You just never know what will show up.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Our little Labor Day tradition

For as long as I can remember, our little tradition has been to quietly visit some body of water and stick our feet in - or near - the water. I am not sure of the symbolism, but for years it was our last visit of the year to the swim club we used to belong to when the kids were young and amphibious.

This year it was the reservoir. Here we see Linda's feet within close proximity of the water.
While we were visiting, a guy we know named Al drove up, launched his kayak, and paddled around the circumference of the reservoir. Al has to be well into his 70's. I hope I'm doing cool stuff like that when I'm in my 70's. Before we left, he had returned, dragged his kayak back to his pickup, and departed.
While Linda was lost in her summer's-end thoughts, the dog and I explored a couple paths like this one leading to the water, and also saw some nice sights along the shore.
Then back to the car and home.