Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cookie Conundrum

I had intended to skip buying Girl Scout cookies this year but I opted to HOP instead. The Troop mothers frown on the practice but it helps me work off calories. No actually my intention was REALLY to avoid buying ANY Girl Scout cookies this year. I’m not mad at the Girl Scout Organization or those little hunks of butter ( uh … I mean the COOKIES not the SCOUTS) . My baked good affection has long been established as dangerous, so I just was trying to avoid testing my cookie willpower that’s all.

But as fate would have it, the year I choose to make a principled stand, the underground cookie cartel thwarts me at every turn. In the old days it would be impossible to avoid those insidious cookie pushers because all of my daughter’s friends, and the kids of co-workers would be dealing cookies from street corners. An obligatory box from these people, another from a workmate, two from the kid next door – you know the drill. Eventually caloric crenellations were formed around the house from boxes upon boxes of Girl Scout’s finest.

Since most of the neighborhood cookie kids grew up to be productive adults, I thought finally this year I would have a chance to shun the little crumbs and their cookies. But ‘NO’, I try to get into a Home Improvement store and there is a NEW batch of girls hawking cookies and wanting my dough. The next day, when I went into the grocery store, the exits were clear; but by the time I left and was on my way out – “BAM”, another barrage of cookie girls. This is unbelievable especially since I had bought one of those packs of ‘duplex sandwich ‘ cookies at the grocery at twice the quantity and HALF the price of the Scout’s stuff.

To top it all off, my Aunt stopped by in her impossibly happy glory. She had not one but TWO boxes of Thin Mint cookies. She and my Uncle are on a NEW diet so APPARENTLY the first person they thought of to kill-off with 10,000 calories was me! Thanks Aunty for dumping your highly addictive minty discs packed in two convenient glassine packs. My former overweight brother-in-law referred to those as “magazines”. He could unload a couple of those bad boy magazines with a quart of milk as fast as I could un-box them.

So once again my house is surrounded by stacks of habit-forming cookies. I froze some of the ones my Aunt brought. My wife oddly, keeps a tray of the Samoas by her computer and protects them like a Lioness with a little coconut cub. I used to prefer the Trefoils but then they eliminated the sugary top so now I literally get LESS for my money. I’m truly in an addicted conundrum. I am hoping there is some kind of 12 step program to help me - ‘cause it’ll take at LEAST that many to grab a box of Tagalongs and a tall cold glass of milk!

Burgers Three not for ME!

I have lived a reasonably honorable life. Unlike the ACLU, I don’t run around demanding respect for every little thing that marginally rubs me the wrong way. But lately, just because I don’t have the physique of say 2 or 3 runway supermodels all squished together, these burger joints are starting to bug me.

After a really long work day, my wife and I agreed that I would stop and pick up some food which we could eat at home. So as nice as you please, I popped into our local McDonalds and ordered 2 Big N’ Tasty burgers, 1 regular hamburger, and an order of chicken strips. The girl behind the counter was efficient and got the order in quickly. I always order something non-standard like ‘without mayonnaise’ for my fast food so as to ensure it is freshly made.

While we waited for the hot cow to grill, the kid made herself busy managing her cash drawer. Then suddenly the clerk looks up at me as if she had forgotten something and asks “ For here or to go?” I kind of look sheepish and begin to shift my weight nervously between both feet. I am at a loss for words to the simple query since I am conspicuously alone in the vacant restaurant. I look around trying to give the girl a hint, or any kind of a clue that I’m obviously a ‘To Go’ order!

My elephant sized ego was bruised, or maybe that was my girth? Have I grown so beyond the limits of social norms that now, society EXPECTS that I must be eating vast quantities of food; and worse IN FRONT OF PEOPLE? I mean my order was not only for ‘dinner for two’ but also an extra burger for my wife’s lunch the day as a surprise bonus. Even if I was a walking Whale and going to try and stuff 3 meals worth of food into my blowhole, I would have the decency to do it locked away, behind closed doors, in the safe harbor of my own home.

So as I exited the place with two bags – one in each hand, I thought … “ Hmmm – yeah it MIGHT be possible, but is it RIGHT?”, then I came to my senses. Even if I do have the physique of SEVERAL combined supermodels , stuffing 3 burgers down would make me diet like supermodels too; praying to the great god of porcelain – “Hurley McBuick”!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh So Negative

Our family belongs to a number of groups and associations who routinely do some kind of charity outreach activities. In addition to those groups, I have succumbed to peer pressure (Ha!) from my daughter so I give blood once in awhile so she will love me more. My kid is a certifiable vampire and LOVES to give blood and gives it as often as she can. She somehow becomes more energized when they start to drain her? People like her that hang around blood banks make me a tad nervous, so I always eat a bunch of garlic before these trips.

For me, I help out where I can. If I have time and the blood wagon is in the area, I will stop by and let them tap me like a keg. I am not afraid of giving blood, but sometimes the time required turns me off. Even if there is no line in front of you, it takes at least an hour to check blood iron, answer the obligatory lifestyle questions, and then that magic time on the gurney.

Given my personality, especially if I give blood at a High School or University location, I try to be fairly up-beat if it looks like a couple of the younger folk are first-timers and tense. I usually make a big deal out of what kind of ‘hand squeezy’ ball they try to give me. I prefer the foam ones in the shape of either the human brain or the world. Yes, I am sure there is a Freudian implication of some sort there – but at least it wasn’t a HEART!?

You can guess by the blog title that my blood is Type O Negative. With that type, In the world of blood, I am a ROCK STAR! Donors with O Negative blood represent only about 6% of the blood supply in the U.S. In an emergency, when there is no time to match blood, an O negative donor can donate to anyone. So that makes me fairly popular every 56 days by anybody with a rubber bag, a needle, and oh yeah - the obligatory end-game cookie!

If you have never given blood, I would encourage you to try it at least once. If altruism won’t convince you then maybe the little donor card they give you will. Somewhere in the Vampire accounting office, they keep statistics on how much blood you have donated. If at a later time in life, you need a blood transfusion, the blood bank will give you the same amount back free if you need it. It has been awhile since I checked but a unit of Red blood cells in many hospitals can be a whopping $200 or more. If a gallon of milk was priced in the same range it would set you back around $1600. (Ouch and Yuuch – all at the same time?) If you're still bloody interested, check out this link for some ‘Salient’ facts!

Ok, I know my 56 days must be up again, because this week alone I have received 3 phone calls from my various bloodsucker paparazzi. Once they bandage up my arm, I hope I will have the strength to carry on blogging. Oh don’t you fret … I’ll load up on garlic shrimp before I get tapped – I’ll be STRONG enough to make your browser cry - Whew!!

Census Redux

It’s Here – It’s Here! I cannot believe it but finally the ACTUAL census form has arrived. I know I am impatient but it feels like it has taken 10 years to get here. Better still, it is not some ordinary ‘utility bill sized’ thing but a big, grown-up, 6 inch by 9 inch envelope with a plastic window in it.

Usually the mail’s importance in our home is ranked by exterior size. Little postcards are on the low rung and of little importance, followed by small envelopes and the normal size envelope majority that you see every day. The queen of envelopes is our census-sized letters, followed by the KING - the catalog sized flat which demand a high level of respect regardless of contents.

Oh sorry I got off topic – must be too much excitement? It’s just so overwhelming to get a REAL letter from the government rather than a letter telling me ANOTHER letter is coming. Anyway, the Census ... well it looks like it won the fight despite being black and blue all over. It actually folds out rather nicely like a menu. I kind of wish there were brightly colored pictures after each item like at Denny’s. Then I would not have to fill out anything, I could just point to my answers to the census questions.

Speaking of questions, there really are not that many. We were a little surprised that after all this work, there wasn’t a single query about income? I guess the government knows that after they get through with each of us, everyone will be in the same financial bracket as them – BROKE.

Right off the bat I was a little confused because the paper delineates who in my family NOT to count. I guess they assume my kid in college and the rest of my family in prison will take the time to fill out this form on their own? Fat chance – college kids won’t even take the time to VOTE and Prisoners are not known for executing their civic responsibilities with pride?

Next I could not remember my age and sadly my wife could not either. So we had to count backwards using BOTH hands. It was really hard because I am all thumbs at such things? There is a bunch of confusing stuff on race so I just skipped all of it and wrote-in “all of the above” because I am well bred. Question #10 then proceeds to ask if I live somewhere else sometimes like college or in a prison? WHAT? – I thought they specifically said I should not count those people back in question #1? It’s obvious, I am just not a good test taker.

The balance of the census is much the same except after 6 people living in my home, they quit asking about all the race stuff for the rest of my commune. I figure by ‘Person 7’ they’ll decide I’m lying anyway and will just throw out the whole form? So what if I mistakenly add a few people – what are they going to do sue me? Oh yeah I forgot, they also sent a form which says, my answers are SO CONFIDENTIAL, that law enforcement, tax collectors or lawyers cannot use them even under a “Freedom of Information Act” request for the next 72 years?

So if nobody can use any of the information by law – what’s this stuff for again? Oh that’s right - so we can ensure the People of the United States have a REPRESENTATIVE Congress! That will be a welcome change, considering the way our current Congress ignores our wishes and rams through budget-busting bills. You’d think, census or not, the way our government behaves now - We the people really JUST DON’T COUNT!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

To 'Gnome' me is to hate me

We already know that everyone has their own opinion on art. But with that said, in my travels I have developed a strong sense of what is and what SHOULDN’T BE lawn art. I really do not mind a little non-standard creativity outside the faceless boxes we all live in. However I have never really understood any attraction at all to lawn gnomes? My rejection of the dopey gnomes is probably based on some childhood trauma that I have masked with other odd behaviors as an adult? Nonetheless, some people hate clowns – I hate bearded gnomes and it’s time to come out of the tool shed about it.

Once on a trip, back to see my wife’s extended family for a get together, I was invited to the home of my wife’s Uncle. They are nice normal folk who live in a nice normal Indiana town and I had met them a couple of times before. We pulled up to their attractive brick home in anticipation of a fun chat for a couple hours before heading off for dinner. The front and side lawn were manicured expertly and I learned that the Uncle did ALL the lawn work and maintenance himself.

Indiana in the summer can be hot and a tad sticky at times. Since air conditioning is expensive and houses can get a bit stuffy, my wife’s Uncle invited us out to the back yard porch to relax and have a glass of lemonade. Horrors upon horrors, this pretty little home with nice ordinary people in it, had not one or two gnomes, but DOZENS?!

I mean this was the house of gnome horrors. This was probably the place where gnomes went to die but it sure didn’t look like heaven to me? Remember these are ordinary people like you stand next to in any grocery aisle in America and think nothing of it. For me, this scene was akin to what the cops must have felt when they started rummaging through Jeffery Dahmer’s memory albums.

In fairness, the scene would have been termed quaint or eclectic by less gnome-challenged people than myself. There were all kinds of concrete and ceramic figurines decorating the back yard. Every space had meticulously detailed outcroppings of decorative rocks with varied statuary. The collection consisted of dogs, little girls with umbrellas, frogs playing instruments, birds, pots, stepping stones and gnomes of all races, creed, and creepy origin.

Needless to say I was more than happy when we extricated ourselves from the home of gnomes. Whenever I travel now, I don’t use Travelocity since their website and ads feature that stupid talking gnome. I have to switch the channel when his cocky ceramic head appears in commercials. I’d like to lure that little gnome somewhere ‘down under’ on vacation and bury him in the same way. Or better yet invite him to a spirited game of lawn darts with the real sharp BANNED darts from the 70’s. Given his short little legs I doubt he can out-run me for very long and the bright tunic he sports will make him a much easier target.

America's Top Robot

Well it may not be as flashy or trendy as models, but today marks the beginning of the mighty St. Louis FIRST robotics regional at Chafeitz Arena at St. Louis University. This is one of dozens of venues around the country (world actually) where High School teams build and compete with their robots over 3 days. There is a specific game, set of rules and objectives to conquer, that changes from year to year. However the REAL point is not the competition as much as it is the relationships between students, mentors, and the THINKING steps before their robot ever becomes a reality.

My wife got our whole family involved in this event around 8 years ago. Since then for a couple of months at the beginning of the year we meet after school and mentor kids on the design and implementation of the robot project. We have lots of help from engineer volunteers and both boys and girls on the team. The high school students receive a unique experience as adults act as peers as well as traditional teachers.

As we mentor students, we try to take advantage of their natural talents and teach them other skills in design, software, and engineering production. These skills taught in this way are not experiences that average teens get to perform in a normal theoretical math or science class. These students learn by doing, thinking, and RE-doing real-world problems until they discover a workable solution.

All of our students go on to college and many, including more girls than the general student population, enter engineering colleges. We were very proud this year that 3 out of the 4 (2 boys and 1 girl) regional scholarships to Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla went to our student team members.

Well wish us luck for our 2010 top Roboto. This FIRST website link will provide more details if you are interested in getting involved or seeing an event near you. Typically NASA TV broadcasts some of the competitions this time of year as well, so check your cable listings. This year I will be inspecting the robots for compliance so if they break … well you will understand why. I know I could do so many things better, if I could just get that “THINKING” step mastered!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Just ‘A-nutter’ Blog Post

As I sat here pondering the glamorous and highly paid life of an on-line blogger, I became a bit ‘peckish’. Now that is not unusual especially since many of these posts are created at odd hours long after or long before normal mealtimes. I opened the cupboard and after a minute to ponder options, my hand landed upon a handsome clear jar of mixed nuts.

Now mind you these are not just any nuts – these are Jumbo Deluxe Mixed Nuts with Sea Salt. Each nut is about the size of your kid’s thumb (preferably the one that’s not got something wet on it) and they are my wife’s favorite. Now my Dad will suffer through the cans of those stale little slivered ‘broken’ pieces you get at the dollar store. Honestly they aren’t bad, but it is a bit dissatisfying to try and enjoy a handful of unrecognizable nut slivers that are only one step removed from peanut butter. Let’s face it, even the grocery store nuts, especially those snobby Pistachios, make fun of my Dad’s dollar store nuts.

I do not feel as extravagant as you might think in buying these mega-nuts. Routinely if a recipe or dinner entree begs for a hearty garnish, our monster nuts come to the rescue. I chop them up on salads or on ice cream – it is actually more practical than having 10 different bags of chopped nuts locked in the baking cabinet.

As for the sea salt thing, I am not sure what to make of it? Yeah I know the gourmets believe it has a more subtle taste and no additives like iodine. To me all of it seems to do the same job and tastes – uh well … SALTY? I think it’s more about marketing … clearly the specialty stores simply see the sea salt snobs ‘coming’ and charge them for the privilege of EVAPORATION as opposed to mining the cheap stuff?

Well I had better get back to work – If there’s one thing this world needs, it is another random blog post written by a ‘nut-job’. But as a bonus, I will send you off with a ‘nutty’ riddle:

( Q.)“What did the scrawny Almond say to the Brazil Nut bully?”
( A.) ‘ Pecan’ somebody your own size .

Ok, Ok I know that was great b…but – Here’s aNUTer one:

(Q.) “What did the Black Walnut say to the Cashew with a cold?
(A.) Gesundheit !

Shamrocks and clutter

Well the greenest of the calendar celebrations is upon us. Yes, I am referring to St. Patrick’s Day and all its Irish glory. Most people associate this day with a furtive pinch should you dare venture off to work or school devoid of green attire or accessories. Others can’t wait until the work day ends so they can begin a more alcohol-centered celebration, consumed with frothy green mugs of malty brew. My family most associates this day with disorganization and clutter.

Now why ‘mess up’ a perfectly innocent day worthy of taking on St. Pat’s famous name? Well I am not picking on the day itself, we actually quite like it around here. In fact I used to have friends and family chide my wisdom for making basically a drinking holiday into something kids would really look forward to year after year. Yes if you’re ever exploring a way to generate more housework for yourself and somehow sneak in a “greener” holiday between Valentines and Easter, then our formula for St. Patrick’s day is just up your alley.

To prepare our kid for the St. Pat’s festivities, we would tuck her in the night before and talk about the tiny little, and VERY messy Leprechauns. The story went something like this … “Not unlike the more refined ‘Elves’ of Santa’s clan, the ‘Leps’ will sneak in the house overnight and leave some treats to be found. Now they are very curious and a little messy, so we’ll need to clean up after them as we look for clues and follow their tracks.”

In later years, the rules of the game were well known, but when this tradition began, you could see the wonderment (or was that horror) on my daughter’s face at the thought of ‘little green men’ sneaking around the house while we all slept. In the morning, as if by magic, a thin trail of glittered shredded paper & shamrocks would appear. This line of greenery would wind its way from my daughter’s room throughout the house and finally to a waiting bright green velveteen Derby overturned and filled with snacks, candies, little toys all in various shades of Shamrock green.

The real fun of this (and maybe a little bit of a lesson) is that as my kid would go from room to room following the trail of shamrocks. She had to help clean up after the Leprechauns so they would return the following year. Imagine the reaction, even for the most clutter-conditioned, to see every drawer half opened; every door ajar; and pillows randomly tossed about. It was obvious – those little ‘pot-o’-golders’ were sure BIG PIGS.

I always wondered what some of those St. Patrick Day school yard discussions must have been like when my daughter was young? Since this tradition is not as common as the more popular holidays, I’m sure more than a kid or two wondered why the ’Leps’had missed their homes? I’d bet the parents were happy though? While they could have handled the clutter and shamrock snacks, it takes a special breed of folk who can 'chug' down a glass of green milk while banishing ‘snakes’ to the neighbor’s yard! Happy Pat's Day!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Obama’s Not So Foreign-feeling Policy

I remember looking back to over a year ago to when President Obama was in the final throws of his campaign. “Change” was the word of the day and a seemingly endless parade of nations the world-over, were downright ‘giddy’ at the prospects for a ‘New and Improved’ US foreign policy (whatever that meant?). Well its 2010 and the same old actors are STILL seething with contempt for the U.S. and its way of life. Oddly, with all of our President’s perceived charm offensive, we have even added a few new global grumps like Israel – and they used to actually like us?

Now honestly, unlike the President and some of his ‘super-fans’ I am not surprised by the world’s lack of attitude change or adulation. Except for handing the keys to Whitehouse and the Presidential limo, the world will ALWAYS complain about America’s foreign policy because, to put it bluntly, they’re JEALOUS.

Oh boy, now I have done it. Talk about the arrogance – who would make such unfair recriminations against the motive’s of other the countries of the world? Shouldn’t America consider the ‘feelings’ of all – not just its own people? Well as warm and cuddly as that all sounds and ‘feels’ the answer is a resounding ‘NO!’ and the President’s foreign policy team would serve themselves better if they understand why.

You can never make everyone happy. For many nations, their foreign policy objectives are exactly polar opposites of our own so there is no need to apologize or complain. Our nation should simply follow OUR best path which best fits OUR long term goals. This would equate to China’s recent frustration with U.S. arm sales to Taiwan. Obviously China someday wants to absorb Taiwan back into mainland China. It is counter to the United State’s best interests for this to happen and therefore we ‘risk confrontation’ with China but maintain our principles and relationship with Taiwan.

Policy decisions like this may seem to provoke China or other nations who disagree with America’s overseas objectives, however I think it is FAR BETTER to set clear principles for both allies and enemies and act accordingly.It's kind of like a RATIONAL parent when you were a child. You knew if you set your toys on fire there would be BAD consequences. You weren’t quite exactly sure what ‘BAD’ meant really, to your personal health and freedom, but you were smart enough NOT to light a match to find out. In other words, your parent’s reputation preceded them. You did not always understand the intimate details of their reward/punishment plan, but for the big stuff – you knew where the line was and in a funny way – that was comforting. Our friends and enemies don't have to always 'love' our methods BUT if they can consistently understand them, then foreign policy STABILITY is almost as helpful.

America’s foreign policy by definition should be of unapologetic motive to benefit AMERICANS! Why is this so hard for not only our own people to grasp, but for everyone else outside the borders as well? I think it is noble for nations to cooperate and come together in principle on how to behave. However, at the end of the day, the truth is, that it’s ‘every man (or nation) for himself’. Yes, I know you are recoiling at my abrupt cave-man grunt, devoid of convolution (oh great – its back again …). The point is that America can have high goals and ambitions which INCLUDE other nations. However, our foreign policy team should NEVER FORGET that our nation’s desires must always come FIRST. Yes, the United States makes errors in foreign policy decisions from time to time just like EVERY political entity has done since the beginning of time. But the difference is you don’t see other nations constantly falling over backwards apologizing, rejecting their nationalism, and putting off long term interests to quell the temporary criticism.

So I continue to be hopeful too that ‘Change’ is still on the horizon for Obama’s foreign policy. But my hope will NOT BE for more world cooperation and self-flagellation but conversely it will be for more SELF-RESPECT and blatant SELF-INTEREST. America is the strongest, richest and most generous nation on earth and we should not be ashamed or apologetic of our heritage of success. It’s understandable that the world is jealous – and it is America’s job to ensure they CONTINUE to feel that way!

Sprain Solutions

Invariably in an active life, you are sure to face a sprained joint or ankle at some point. In my coaching experience, when that happens, we call in the training staff who routinely ices the injury first and then wraps it tightly with athletic tape for temporary stability. The athlete is asked to keep weight off the ankle or excessive movement from the joint for the first day. Thereafter the goal is to begin slowly working the offending body part back up to normal activity levels over the next week or so.

In non-professional sports environments, this is the traditionally accepted and a generally reasonable plan of action. Obviously the trainers are expected to quickly deal with the immediate problem with limited time / resources and then refer longer term rehabilitation issues to outside specialists.

Except for ligament tearing or joint and bone fractures (which WILL REQUIRE surgical repair), most sprains, can be effectively rehabilitated by yourself with a little discipline and fortitude. Temporary pain is part of the process, however if you put the effort in now, in the long run, you will risk far fewer painful injuries and extended downtime.

First, while wrapping is fine to allow immediate mobility, as soon as you can, rest the injury, remove the compression to allow fluids to leave the affected area. Long term compression risks prolonging inflammation and pain. As soon as practical elevate the injury and slowly begin to flex it and stretch. You should accept some discomfort, but the idea is not to suffer excessive pain. Do work the injury as often as you can increasing flexibility and range of motion more and more with each rehabilitation cycle.

More severe sprains may include an alternating cycle of both, hot packs (or hot water) and ice (or ice water). Dr. Kim's attached link from last year, found here, will describe the theory and benefits of this procedure. The main idea is to limit nerve damage and get swelling down as soon as possible. Most of the typical turned-ankle type sprains I have encountered as a coach WILL NOT NEED protracted therapy of this type.

If you have suffered repeated ankle injuries, you may want to add a little Zen in the training regimen. Balance is the key ingredient in keeping active ankles healthy. As you complete a sprain rehab, add the following final steps to reduce weak ankle sprains over a lifetime. Simply close your eyes and practice standing still while perched on only one leg. Then repeat the process on the other leg. Continue the cycle until you can stand a full minute on each leg without wobbling to catch your balance. Now don’t get too cocky - repeat the same procedure again except this time try standing on a sofa pillow.

So there you have it – an easy, up to date, and comprehensive method for dealing with sprains. With a little luck and a few hours of Flamingo standing practice on your pillow, you may never have need for athletic tape again? Is anyone else feeling hungry? - oddly I have a sudden craving for a WRAP!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coffee's the PITS!

Hey I am not being disrespectful to your favorite morning elixir, I’m just stating a fact. Coffee is derived from the roasted seeds (or pits) of the coffee cherry. For the last 600 years or so the berries have been grown on trees world-wide and they are one of the more appreciated exports from the Arab world. (and you thought it was oil – Ha! )

I once attempted to grow coffee with the idea that I could vertically integrate my personal habit from seed to feed. After all at only 2000 coffee beans per roasted pound, I only needed a ‘PITtance’ of trees to cover my meager bean-brewing need. Well sadly my little project never bared fruit (literally). We would try to water the plants less, more, or no water – you name it, the coffee plants refused to grow.

In the 80’s, ‘Oh thank heaven for 7-11' because they started making fresh brewed coffee a morning mainstay and a big seller at their corner convenience stores. For failed coffee farmers like myself, and the caffeinated corporate monikers such as Juan Valdez, this was indeed the beginnings of a game-changer. Up until then places like Denny’s, mom and pop diners, and donut shops (Dunkin) were the main delivery outlets for a cup of coffee. But in most cases, coffee was still a drink relegated as a side-show to other foods until it came into its own in the Nineties.

This is of course the era that Starbucks decided to turn on the juice. Though founded in the early 1970’s, Starbucks became a corporate golden child in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. Dunkin easily had a grip on the East Coast, but Starbucks, for nearly a decade was opening a new coffee house DAILY all over the United States. This rapid expansion all but eliminated Dunkin’s, already underpeforming and poorly managed, franchisee presence in the West. To this day, despite Dunkin Donuts’ meteoric resurgence in aggressive marketing and re-dedication to their proprietary coffee blend, they still have fewer than a hundred stores West of the Mississippi.

Starbucks developed growing pains by 2005 as well as increased competition by smaller coffee chains, store brands, Peet’s coffee and the behemoth McDonald’s corporation. McDonald’s, and to a lesser degree, Burger King set out on a campaign to directly challenge Starbuck’s coffee dominance by offering bolder consumer-tested coffee blends at a value price point. McDonalds pushed further into specialty coffees by 2007 and continues to gain market share every quarter on Starbucks. Both Dunkin Donuts and Peet’s coffee are recently growing rapidly especially in the East. Even smaller specialty chains like the Midwest’s Panera Bread are making inroads onto the national coffee scene as economy-minded patrons turn to home-brews or ‘grab n’ go’ value over the subdued ‘gourmet experience’ of the domestic pioneer, Starbucks.

So the next time you grab a cup of tasty ‘joe’, take a moment to regale in its long hot journey. If you want to save some coin, blind taste tests show, that you can rarely buy a more flavorful or fresh cup of coffee than one properly brewed at home. Wow, too bad – NOW what are you going to do with that extra $3 a day? Take it from a failed coffee grower, save that dough, ‘cause when it comes to all things coffee – Life’s the Pits!

The REAL lottery winners

Just like everyone else, I feel a tinge of excitement when I hear news of a huge lottery payout. Hey, I’m human after all - we can all use another $100 million or so in the bank for a rainy day - right? No I’m not a gambler in general but I especially avoid the lure of those impossibly long odds of the multi-state lotteries. Even with elephant-sized lottery cash on the line, picking tickets is of little consequence, because I’ve already discovered how to pick the REAL winners!

This was not always the case. Once I made a 50 mile round trip excursion to buy lottery tickets from neighboring Illinois for a friend who lived in California. This particular “Power Ball” type game was not available in the West but my friend had heard that the jackpot had ballooned to $300 million so he asked ‘for a favor’. Yes, along with his $50 “investment”, I WASTED 5 bucks of my own on the off chance that I would not get hit by lightning 5 times first before collecting my winnings.

Needless to say it didn’t work out - I got hit by lightning twice that week (joking) and all that time, gas, and hard earned cash were now gone and just a poignant memory (not joking). So a decade later, I recently noticed that some guy in South Dakota won a massive $232 million dollar lottery jackpot. That is not really what caught my attention however. I understand that the winner took the ‘one time’ up-front payout of only $88 million instead of the 20 year low and slow delivery method for his windfall.

Wow, I knew the tax man cometh, but do you mean poor old Mr. Lucky only gets 38% for his trouble? I guess the government is REALLY working overtime trying to help us? Behind these numbers of course is our State government’s claim how lottery sales are such an important benefit to our schools. A little fact checking, at least in Missouri, reveals that the revenue generated to the State’s education budget is a meager 3%. I don’t know about you, but I usually can eat 3% more or less of something and hardly notice it at all?

Further still, since typically by State law, lottery revenue is a DEDICATED RESOURCE, it must be used for State school needs ONLY. Your legislators will begrudgingly honor the letter of the law outwardly, but craftily, behind closed doors, ignore its spirit. By simply shifting discretionary funds that would have ordinarily gone to education over to something else, your lawmakers use lottery revenue to REPLACE school funds NOT ADD to them.

Now that you understand who the big winners are in the lottery lore, do yourself and your loved ones a favor – DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY! If you want to beat the odds and have a better life for your family, run don’t walk to that school you park your kids in and DONATE 25% of your former lottery gaming budget to school supplies or equipment. 100% of your donation will go to where it’s intended (plus it’s tax deductible), and you’ll have 50% leftover to put into an INTEREST EARNING savings account. Oh yes … that final 25%? Well you need a reward for being so smart – so take the family out for an impromptu ice cream celebration! Now I'd BET you know how to pick out the REAL winners too?!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Reflections on glass

Oh boy, now I am really reaching into the exciting nooks and crannies of hot topics. Who in their right mind writes about glass unless they’re in the business, a collector, or simply loves PANE? Well maybe that sentence alone will serve as an adequate disclaimer before you throw caution to the wind and read further?

I started pondering how truly important glass is and how it’s made mostly because I am always trying to clean the stuff. Look around your house and count the windows, mirrors, kitchen items and table tops to see what I mean – glass and irritating ‘smudgey’ fingerprints abound!

Most clear window glass that you come in contact with is made from pulverized sandstone (white sand) combined with soda (yes Arm and Hammer’s corporate ears are burning) and lime. The additives to the sand basically stabilize the melting process, lower the melting temperature, and make the end product strong and impervious to water. Once the three main ingredients are fused together at around 2500 degrees Fahrenheit, other substances can be added to affect color, insulation properties, and reflectivity. All in all, despite the simplicity of the recipe, the results all around you are truly amazing.

Now that YOU are the expert on making the stuff, can somebody help me figure out how to clean it? Yes I use that expensive blue juice but even that can haze. Most of the time AFTER I clean the glass, I have to go buff the surface with a soft cloth to seek reflective perfection. Yeah I tried the newspaper thing too to save paper towels, but in the end, the newsprint makes my hands look like they are covered in shoe polish. The car is no different. I have tried those microfiber cloths with spray foam cleaner. It is not bad, but impossibly difficult to clean that film off the inside of the windshield, built-up from breathing I think? The next time I drive, I have to try holding my breath until I get to the store?

On the outside windows, I use a wet rag at the end of a long pole to try to remove the bird’s disrespectful graffiti. I mix a little vinegar and water so it won’t kill the plants like ammonia will. Squeegees are great but more often than not they bomb me with drips of water and the head slips off repeatedly? Secretly though, when that pole is deployed in all its ’two-story glory’, I do achieve a sense of ultimate power.

Yes It’s as if I am ‘ONE’ with the long lanky finger of God himself as he reaches heaven-ward to personally touch my humble ‘efforts in translucence’. Now I’m not naming names, but when it comes to glass, even with divine intervention I mysteriously seem to always miss at least ONE greasy fingerprint? Coincidence? … I think NOT!

Undercover Boss needs a ‘blankie’

I know ‘Areola Huffington’ loves CBS’s Undercover Boss as somehow the penultimate expression of today’s troubled working class waking up against the corporate elite. I don’t mean to throw cold water unfairly but - Uh … really? I honestly just don’t see this show as being that deep or monumental towards the advance of egalitarianism? If you’ve missed it, the gist of this reality series is, each week a REAL corporation CEO, dons workin’ duds (and invariably at least one scene with a hair net) to become a secret mole ‘average joe’ inside their own companies.

I admit I was initially intrigued to see how the big boss would handle the work drudgery which greets faceless millions everyday bringing consumers what they demand. But you know what, in most cases the boss’s do just fine in their new jobs as do the regular workers? The waitresses and production folks do the jobs for which they have been hired and for the most part don’t complain. Yes the work is tough at times, but what in life that’s worth anything isn’t? Once in awhile, the boss finds, (LIKE IN EVERY WORKPLACE) a couple of shining star employees and an occasional dud.

The whole idea of this show seems unbelievable to me anyway. I mean ANY worker that shows up with a camera crew to film a “documentary” about his job search is GOING TO RECEIVE SPECIAL TREATMENT even if nobody knows he’s ‘somebody’. There is no way this ‘boss’ will get a true snapshot of the innards of the organization with cameras in tow. Even the dumbest first-line supervisor understands that cameras DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. So if you see outrageous behavior on film in this show, then I am fairly certain the producers have PLANNED it that way?

Regardless of the set-up, everyone loves a good ‘reveal’ right? So the best part of Undercover Boss should be when the big boss calls all those underlings in to his ivory tower to tell them his TRUE IDENTITY? Gee my fingers get all tingly just thinking about this part – oh sorry, I think my hand fell asleep for a sec.? Anyway the truth is the payoff in this show is lame. Nobody gets fired even if justified? The oddball ‘loser’ that the boss may have ferreted out is simply given a ‘serious’ talking to or a parental look of sad disapproval.

There are no million dollar prizes or beautifully remodeled homes for the unaware schmucks who unknowingly worked admirably and interacted with the company’s top dog. For a frazzled staffer, the boss may foot the bill for a nice vacation to ‘recharge’, or provide a couple thousand bucks for a college scholarship. But my favorite reward is (drum roll) – a chance to GET MENTORED by the top boss??? I want to crawl out of my skin, when the worker looks stunned by this generosity and then starts to cry in heartfelt emotion. In reality, they are thinking, ‘they flew me out a thousand miles to HQ, in first class to the meet the CEO and he wants to help steward my career? I make $7.50 an hour buddy – how ‘bout some cold hard SCRATCH with that big bowl of NUTHIN’ ?!”

CBS’s low budget generosity and oddly the corporate boards, or private CEO egos, who willingly CHOSE to subject their national brands to this ’tripe-fest’ are obviously misguided. I know the top brass believes they are representing a compassionate and caring ‘ground-up’ corporate image. I really hate to be the wet blanket on these undercover dudes. But after the cameras are gone and the tape is in the can, everyone will happily go back to their side of the bed to snuggle into that oh so familiar niche, and mightily try to sleep this nightmare of a show off!