Saturday, March 27, 2010

Anti-Federalism 2010

Wow, not since the 1780’s when Patrick Henry was running around doubting the sincerity of this nation’s constitution has there been such a rapid resurgence of anti-federalism. With the recent passage of the so called “Healthcare Bill” into law, the public at large seems to be once again, questioning the over-reach of our Federal government.

Far beyond the specifics of the now healthcare law, a considerable majority of the public have found the legislation too cumbersome and the legislative process too rife with rampant deal-making. I believe most Americans accepted the fact that some effective changes could better serve the health care industry and public at large. However those changes should be COST based rather than access based. Tort reform alone could relieve medical professionals of huge cost burdens now and result in lower insurance premiums, and increased access down the road. The funny thing about Americans is, if you provide them with good value you won’t need to make special giveaways to entice them to participate.

As for the Attorney General’s of nearly a third of the union’s states, they have already filed suit in court to block the healthcare legislation from burdening their respective state’s rights as well as constitutionality of the law to their individual citizenry. No less than two dozen additional states have immediately offered up State resolutions or bills to limit the over-reaching scope of the healthcare law. They argue appropriately, that it is unpalatable with the Constitution that individuals are now forced to engage in REGULATED commerce (buying health insurance). By definition NOT buying insurance is NOT commerce therefore unconstitutional to regulate or effectively TAX citizens who make that choice.

States are starting to feel like they are being burdened disproportionately as Congress seems more interested in symbology rather than substance in its legislation. Our nation’s lawmakers misguided desire to ‘save face’ for the President by shoehorning in ANY WIN at ANY COST is unprecedented and a slap in the face of all fair-minded Americans. Indeed Patrick Henry would be reinvigorated, nay terrified to watch the path his country has stumbled upon. Where are the true anti-Federalist patriots like Samuel Adams, to wake us up this generation of Americans and set them straight again? Oh, that’s right I forgot … they drank a six-pack of HIM and are sleeping it off in the Congressional chambers.

The UNCLEAN roommate

I have a friend whose son attends a University with a fairly strict residency requirement and housing rules. Once you get to know a few like-minded pals, this policy is not much of a problem. But for first year students, it is kind of potluck when it comes to compatible roomies. You fill out a form and check off a few characteristics about yourself, but in the end it is too much to expect that every match will be a perfect fit.

Such is the case for my friend’s kid. His son is fairly studious and so is the roommate, BUT the roommate cannot stand to have anyone else distracting him in the dorm room. As you can imagine, this makes for some uncomfortable tensions among the new roommates that are FORCED to live together in close quarters. Since University policy prevents midterm roommate switching, my friend’s son simply endures by studying in the closet or at the library, anxiously awaiting next year and a more flexible roommate.

During Spring Break, my friend’s kid did some outreach volunteer work with his new Fraternity. It was a chance for the Frat to bond and complete a service project at the same time. The service chores included cleaning restrooms, kitchens,normal household chores, and small carpentry projects. At the end of the week, the kid returned to the dorm but was lethargic and unusually sleepy.

Once the persnickety roommate returned, he found my friend’s son to be running a fever and showing signs of a rash. Over the next two days the rash would grow to a bright crimson in patches all over. My friend’s kid sought medical attention of course but no one understood what was happening (Where is Dr. HOUSE when you need him?). After a couple of days of testing, the symptoms were finally diagnosed as an irritating form of Coxsackie virus but fully treatable with antibiotics and steroid creams. It was assumed that the kid had picked up the nasty bug in the latrine cleaning the prior week.

As the rash ran its course, the sick kid’s skin would dry out, flake, and peel away in chunks especially around the feet and hands. Needless to say, the touchy roomie was now legitimately afraid of BEING TOUCHED and contracting something akin to leprosy. So he started staying at home instead of the dorm hoping he had avoided the virus. He was much nicer though and would offer water and verbal comfort whenever around, but always made a hasty retreat from the dorms as soon as possible.

My friend’s son is doing fine and is on the road to full recovery. He has NEVER been happier with his current University living arrangements. But it's that strict school policy that requires the Freshman to wander the dorm halls at night screaming, ‘UN-CLEAN, UN-CLEAN!’ - that rule is still a bit of a burden!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Vicks knows Noses

If you have a Mom and Dad, then you probably have some form of Vicks products stuffed in the nooks and crannies of your medicine cabinets as well as your nose. Since the 1890’s this opaque petroleum salve has been a pretty big hit and put the Vicks Chemical Company (now owned by Procter & Gamble) on the map. Vicks’ product line includes the popular ‘NyQuil’ nighttime liquid cold remedy and my personal favorite the ‘Vapor Inhaler’.

Oddly, despite my family’s liberal use of the ‘VapoRub’ to goo up, in, and around the nose when sick, it is not an approved use for the product due to the petroleum based fumes possibly contaminating your lungs. Maybe true, but with a $14 trillion dollar U.S. deficit, I think we all have far worse things to worry about. But I will say, I have recently started to question Santa’s perceived benevolence. Since as far back as I can remember, a Vicks Inhaler has found its way into my annual Christmas stocking?

In researching this post, I naturally found my way to the Vicks’ website. It is fairly standard with the plain vanilla impersonal corporate template. I was impressed though with the great interactive timeline which I have linked here. Even if you are not as much of a fan as I am, you’ll enjoy remembering the package designs and familiar ads of your youth. Also I’ve linked here the P&G solutions website so you can register to get free coupons and product samples if you are so inclined.

Digging deeper into Vicks’ site, I also perused all 86 frequently asked questions (Hey don’t mock me – I DO have a life). The company offers their expert help to solve FAQ #60 (Cough drops melted/stuck together?) and FAQ #21 (Can I buy an empty package?). These questions are most frequently asked – REALLY? Now I have a little better understanding as to why our populous seems blissfully unconcerned with America’s crushing national debt!

Another favorite is FAQ # 7 (Is there gluten in Vicks?) – why, are you buttering up your corn with the stuff and worried about the calories? And presumably the #1 frequently asked question on Vicks’ website, (Is VapoRub safe to use for toenail fungus?) – SERIOUSLY folks, as the kids would say - O.M.G.!!!??? NO by the way, but who are these people that are asking this stuff?

Ok, you get the idea, even if you love Vicks, it’s clear that some fans have been sniffing their inhalers too long. I don’t really blame them though. Vicks’ menthol-heaven scent has been a part of my life since before I knew what a ‘toenail fungus’ was. Because no matter if I was congested or achy, stiff or stuffy, young or now old, like an after dinner mint, my Dad will still thrust out a jar of Vicks and say ‘Want some?’ Who am I to argue - we all know ‘Father NOSE Best’!

Use your 'Bean' to buy Chocolate

With Easter around the corner I have to pause and reflect on chocolate. That ultra smooth and milky choco-confection has consumed one or two of my synapses over the years. As a rule I am not an indiscriminate consumer of the stuff and Easter tends to bring out the worst examples of cacao beanery. It goes without saying, if I am going to invest the calories in a choco-licious treat it has to taste good first and look good second.

I do enjoy Hershey’s products but they tend to be a sweeter chocolate overall. Their Reese’s brand peanut butter cups, chocolate kisses, and of course the Hershey bar are their mainstay top chocolates. Hershey’s even has a theme park in the best smelling town in America – Hershey, Pennsylvania (of course). My chocolate does not have to be a thrill ride, but rarely would I consume a plain chocolate bar. Usually I like my chocolate with some kind of surprise inside. That means, cookies, nougat, nuts, rice, coconut – just about anything dunked in a healthy coat of chocolate will be instantly edible.

When my wife and I traveled overseas, our first stop was to acquire a pound of delectable Swiss chocolate minis, individually fancy wrapped. Our role as interloping guests in foreign lands was easily overcome with an opening gesture of friendship and a tasty chocolate gratuity. It seems that EVERYONE appreciates an unexpected chocolate treat regardless of border or national currency. In England, I grew a fondness for Cadbury’s Dairy Milk especially as a stick with a scoop of ice cream. Their chocolate tends to be creamier and a tad more bitter due to higher cacao solids. I prefer still darker chocolates (up to 50% cacao solids), which counteract some of the sweetness and make them a far richer, satisfying and yes, healthier eating experience.

The Mars company has seemed to embrace this fact as they have introduced Dark Snickers, M&M’s and what else – the MARS bar. If you are ever in Las Vegas, make sure you visit Mars’s Ethel M’s factory and store. Not only do you get a free sample at the end of a no-cost self-guided tour, they have a lovely cactus garden fully decorated for the holidays between Thanksgiving and the end of the year.

If I am in a cheap mood and want to abuse my palate, I will buy low temperature melting chocolate from the grocery. Now mind you, this stuff is fairly waxy overall and not as delectible as the luxurious name brands. But it is magically smooth when melted and is great for strawberries, pineapple, marshmallows, or left over party peanuts. I have not tried it yet, but I even noticed the store has begun selling choco-dipped RITZ crackers; once again proving that anything topped in chocolate is ultimately MORE delicious.

I love the Russell Stovers marshmallow eggs and who can forget their famous Whitman’s yellow box? To this day I always remember that little ‘delivery guy’ chocolate rectangle in the middle of that distinctive box. My mother still prefers See’s candies which is primarily a West Coast chocolatier with an excellent product. Also in California who can forget the spelling bee contestant’s favorite brand – "Ghirardelli", San Francisco’s most famous chocolate.

So another Easter will bring out the heavy artillery in novelty chocolate confections. Yeah you’ll be tempted by the nasty chocolate eggs with the sickening sweet yellow and white gooey center. You’ll think your kids need those giant choco-wax bunnies as a centerpiece to their Easter baskets. It is so easy to over-indulge on Easter with endless attractively packed, yet tasteless, brittle, and sugary off-brand treats. But do yourself and your family a favor, consider ‘quality’ chocolate over quantity this Easter. You’ll not only save the calories and cash, but your taste buds and dentist will thank you too. Now that’s called using your ol’ BEAN – the CACAO BEAN that is!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Congressional Babies

Ok since we’re going to talk governance for a minute, you’ve got to have preamble right? So before I go a step further, REMEMBER, nobody sane (and even the border-line folks like myself), subscribe to promoting violence or real threats against anyone or any group especially our lovable politicians. Uh-Oh, I forgot about Al Qaeda; I think it’s still ok to threaten them? But just in case, I’m not going to call Bin Laden and wish him ‘ill will’ on his answering machine, or drop off that protest coffin in front of his cave.

Yes, the drama continues just days after the healthcare bill becomes law. Congress people (presumably ONLY the 51% who voted FOR the bill), have been receiving distasteful comments and threats due to their recent vote. Without being too much of a smarmy ‘fence-straddler’, I understand the frustrations and frankly ‘fear’ on both sides of the debate. Nobody feels at ease, especially public figures, when the masses are offered a truckload of CAKE, yet remain frustrated and pointedly angry regarding a particular issue. On the other side, it’s just as frustrating to be one of those masses, speaking out, waving your hands wildly, and sending warning flares to your Congress people and oddly they just don’t seem to get it, or worse care?

Regardless of your take on the healthcare issue, EVERYONE knew that the rancor was already getting fairly high pitched when the public started to feel that their ‘majority will’ was being ignored by their Congressional representatives. But then before the vote, Speaker Pelosi, chose to smugly march defiantly up the House steps grinning ear to ear with a giant 'Wile Coyote' gavel. To the general populace, Pelosi acted like a botoxed Cheshire cat, thrusting her thumbs up as an ‘in-your-face’ replacement for the ’more central’ and distasteful digits that she actually wished to show the public.

Is it any wonder, that once this bill was rammed down America’s collective throat that it comes out looking like Foie Gras in the end? Even people who loved some of the ideals of the bill, hated the way Congress behaved. It is unconscionable to think that these bureaucrats WORK for us and yet they repeatedly ignore our calls to slow-up and get the RIGHT healthcare bill, not just any bill. I looked through every dictionary in my house, and next to the word “Representative”, I nowhere found the words or concept equivalent of, ‘Blatantly Ignore and Discount’ as part of the definition.

So to the Congressional babies who cooked up this crock and are now whining about a little heat in the kitchen, don’t worry it will pass. In the short term, we the people might enjoy a little venting and what’s left of free speech at your expense. But by November 2010 we’ll help relieve you of your misery. Yes by then, the air conditioning will really start to kick in as you’ll soon find yourselves voted ‘Out in the Cold’!

Excess by definition is unhealthy

As much as I have been a fan of diet soft drinks in my life, in recent times, I have started to take steps to curb my consumption. Sadly most of my concern has not been with my health but more with the issues of cost and waste. But motivations aside, it is important in one’s life to avoid excess and constantly seek moderation in all things that you do to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

With regard to soda, recently I noted a health study conducted over 11 years that women showed decreased kidney function twice the normal rate when they consumed more than 24 ounces of artificially sweetened soda per day. Though not part of the study, men biologically speaking are functionally the same. Beyond the acids in both sugared and sugar-free soda, even traditionally ‘healthy’ things like orange juice also contain large amounts of sugar and acids which can adversely affect dental health. Obviously drink water and flush your mouth out after acidic or sugary drinks.

We all know that too much sodium leads to high blood pressure but what about vitamin C or let’s say protein? Yes even too much SUPLEMENTAL vitamin C can lead to intestinal distress, kidney stones and even dizziness. Oddly excess vitamin C consumed through oranges, strawberries or green veggies like broccoli in your diet will simply flush out with no ill effects. A higher protein diet in excess of about a ½ gram per pound of body mass will metabolize ketones, which are toxic to the kidneys. Usually to counteract this result, exercise and more water intake than normal will help flush the system.

Ok, with all this flushing going on, what about water – can you drink too much? Yes, water intoxication is possible but more likely in ultra low weight people (like babies) or extreme athletes who sweat and consume large volumes of water very quickly. In all cases, It is the sodium and electrolyte balance that can get out of whack when water floods your cells and particularly your kidneys all at once. Sleep, though not proven conclusively regarding excess, seems optimal at the proverbial 8 hours per night. Significantly less sleep is associated with lethargy, weight gain, and very, very Grouchy blogposts!

So the moral of this story is all about moderation in everything you do. You can eat pizza or pecan pie once in awhile but don’t eat a WHOLE pizza or pecan pie. You want a cup of coffee or two – great, but don’t drink the whole pot. Also lose the ‘choco-mocha whippa lotta latte’ gunk that adds calories and un-needed sugar. Maybe like me, you can use economic motivators to help you moderate your bad habits and shed your excess addictions. Regardless of technique, you owe it to yourself, and your family, to control your extremes to get healthy and stay that way. By anyone’s measure your long-term quality of life IS the definition of ‘true’ happiness and THAT you can enjoy in EXCESS!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Like a Caged Animal

Many of us seem to have an unusual compunction to take care of our animals in extraordinary ways. Now I am not suggesting that this is aberrant behavior, or one should be condemned for focusing on pet care over more pressing issues. No actually I think if you want to 'Pamper up' your pet monkey and sleep with it in a crib, then that’s your business. But recently I saw a Snuggie for dogs at the drugstore and it took me back to my own indulgent pet care proclivities.

Come on though – what’s with the Snuggie for dogs? I am all for pet warmth and comfort, but wasn’t the original design purpose of the human version of this product, to allow your ARMS to access things like hot cocoa or the TV remote? I mean I have seen pictures of dogs playing poker but never while wearing a ‘4-holed’ pink blankie?

I have had mostly cats on and off in my life so those are the creatures that I have catered to most often. The recent cat did not ‘prefer’ to drink water from a bowl. So we had to invest in this motorized thing that continually circulated and aerated water for the cat to drink from to stay hydrated. Can you imagine doing this for your spouse? “I can’t possibly drink a thing unless you ladle in Perrier into my craw”! Oh, yeah I can tell you right now – that is a formula for a long and happy marriage.

The cat before that grew up along side my daughter and therefore my kid was responsible for its care. One summer, my daughter showed up with elaborate drawings of a “cat condo” of sorts which consisted of a multi-level living area, a scratching post, and a toy hanging from the balcony for play. The giant abode as designed, was nearly 6 feet tall and all my daughter’s idea (although I think my frequent doorframe stops were the inspiration for that scratching idea). We ended up building the project together for about a week and there was no doubt, even Liberace’s cat would have been ‘catty’ with jealousy.

At one point our family was also graced with a pet chicken. The chicken was already a teenager by the time we got her, so this was not some downy Easter chick that grew up unwanted. No a friend just thought that this chicken would fit well with our odd family. They were right. Soon the chicken became not only a buddy to my kid, but to my wife as well. That chicken would follow my wife while weeding or anywhere and was kind of like a dog, but better. The chicken would lay eggs! (Try that with your dog without carrying a plastic bag) Eventually with the fear of nighttime predators I constructed a cage. I built a giant pen that sat atop a large base to hold supplies. The chicken had water, a feed tray, a paper and straw nesting area and a “dirt” spa to kick up her spurs in. In chicken socioeconomic society – that hen was the ‘top dog’.

I made real shingled roof houses for dogs too but they never seemed to be quite to the elaborate scale of the projects for the more diminutive pets. Dogs don’t care if they have a roof over their head anyway - they just want to be with YOU at any cost. I guess that’s why it makes sense to go ahead and break out that puppy Snuggie and bundle up to watch TV with your BEST friend ever. But let’s get one thing straight on whose the alpha mutt around here. You keep your doggie paws out of the Cheese Doodles – those and the ‘Beggin strips’ are ALL MINE!

This Bud's for you

Can you feel it? Yes all that green is not just Walgreen’s leftovers from St. Patrick’s day, but the Spring buds on trees are beginning to appear. For several regions of the country, there has still been some unusually late cold air and even a snowflake or two. But overall, for most of us, you can tell the season has changed and you and the Robins don’t need to check the calendar to confirm your suspicions.

Kind of like a lot of the “good” celebrations of the year, ours is a bit tempered with taking care of the government before we can relax and enjoy the appropriate season. With taxes looming on April 15th, this is not exactly my favorite time of year. But the warming air and lingering sunshine since daylight savings time, certainly gives us just the boost we need to make it to the ‘other side’ of the hill.

Lacrosse season and other Spring sports are in high gear by now. As much as I won’t miss the dwindling days of frigid air, the increasing temperatures actually make it a bit harder on the athletes to stay hydrated and in top form. I watch the kids a bit more carefully in training now, to make sure the normal complaints of being over-worked and overheated are nothing more than their self-doubt rather than their actual health.

My lawn irritatingly maintains its brown undertones, but shoots of green rye and fast growing grasses start to sprout in random patches. This gives the lawn the distinct character of a mangy disheveled cat pelt. I will receive several door solicitations a season from firms telling me about grubs, fertilizers, acidity, aeration, and the good old Midwest standby – MULCH. In California we don’t need mulch because we cover everything in ice plant if it cannot sustain grass, flowers, or concrete.

Happily my gas bill magically starts to decrease so I start thinking about complaining less. But as the heat begins to win the war over the cold, the electric bill takes over and my complaints return to their normal level. Overall though I feel happy and I think my neighbors and friends feel good as well. It is yet one more reason why global warming is not my greatest concern – people seem happier when they are warm. It’s those sub-zero winters, where everyone is wrapped up like flannel burritos, that makes people crazy. I don’t need to remind you that only insane scientists or polar bears live at the North pole, and even nuttier scientists and penguins in the South.

So I think it is safe to say Spring is really here. I’ll know for sure when the winds begin to whip into a frenzy and the weekly clap of thunder and lightning arrive. If that won’t get the point across, the straw colored grass will turn dark green and my neighbors will disappear behind a screen of leafy branches.

As summer approaches, the glasses of lemonade and the fishing poles will begin to sprout like the flower bed perennials. And oh yeah, that Robin will still be there too, and he’ll break often from his worm-pulling duties to wipe his brow and complain. What did you think, fishing worms grow on trees? I know - I know, I’m a tough coach; but trust me he’ll be fine – Really!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Just Zip it!

I think both men and women have suffered the fleeting embarrassment of an open zipper at one time or another. Although very exhilarating (depending on the season), I doubt your exposure would compare to the pure joy, excitement and freedom of a “Zip line tour” and amusement rides popping up all over the U.S.

Wow, I’m sorry for the redirection in the topic sentence. Oddly I have so much to say on both subjects that it’s just too hard to contain myself. My first brush with the mighty ‘zip line’ was on a long flight back to Los Angeles. I had exhausted my feeble attempts at the crossword and had moved on to the “Sky Mall” magazine. The whole concept of a mall in the sky generally intrigues me anyway regarding American consumerism. We cannot even last 3 or 4 hours, 7 miles up in the air, without the ‘opportunity’ to buy something. I’m just as guilty. I like the magazine and to this day get at least a half-hours worth of distraction from it when flying.

Anyway, within the colorful pages of the magazine, I noted an ad for a bright yellow plastic trolley with two handles sticking out of it. It had a pulley that hooked on to the included 25 feet of rope. It was a genuine Zip line but obviously designed for light loads and kids only. I do not remember the price but clearly it was more than I wanted to pay for a mere toy, especially one that if improperly weak, could kill you.

So when I got home, I set out to design my own durable and ’safe’ zip line. I had a hill; I had cable; I had both the large and small test dummies (me and the kid) – what else did I need? I ended up buying heavy industrial bearing pulleys and encapsulating them between two aluminum plates. I mounted a continuous steel handle bar through one corner of the diamond-shaped trolley and wrapped the handles with tape for all-weather grip. We were all set to go except for one thing – we moved permanently away from the house on the hill.

As fate would have it, I rarely willingly walk away from anything. If an idea is not complete, I simply put it down for awhile, let it percolate, and then resurrect it in all its Frankenstein glory down the road. So I kept the trolley and moved it with the rest of our sacred possessions half-way across the U.S. The Zip trolley stayed box-bound for two years until a suitable landscape was found to finally attempt its ‘first flight’. I ended up mounting 60 feet of quarter inch stainless steel cable between two large trees. The attach points were triple reinforced with ‘slip markers’ so I could determine if the cable was giving-way under load. Even at a mere 15 feet of altitude difference between the attach points, our Zip line was born and was fabulously ZIPPY! Yes it required some strength and smarts to use and was not without risk. But it was also addicting, and so much fun that all the neighborhood 'wanna-be pilots' wanted a turn at flying - even the kid next door with the broken arm.

After all that work over many years, just to build a toy, you might now understand why I’m intrigued with the rapid expansion of commercial zip-line amusements and canopy tours around the world. This has become somewhat of a rage with the $50 - $150 rides available at most every tourist venue. I have attached a link here with video so you can get an idea of the comfortable advancements in technology since my first primitive effort. Now anyone can safely feel the wind in their face and true exhilaration of zip line flying regardless of age, experience, or strength. Just one thing though; make sure to break out the suntan lotion and ‘ZIP UP’! No sense starting your holiday out with a nasty, and embarrassing, sunburn!

My last teenage year

I received a Twitter message from a friend of my daughter. It simply announced “I’m Nineteen today, my last teenage year” followed by a ’happy’ text smiley. Oddly, that message struck me with both sadness and joy, for this friend and of course my own kid who would soon be facing the same chronological marker.

I am thrilled on a number of levels. I can think back to my own youth and although you don’t know it at the time, you are as about as free as you ever will be. You are in that stage between being a kid not taken seriously, and an adult who is all too serious. You may work, but it has not yet likely become a career to which you and your bosses demand undivided loyalty and lifetime devotion. You still giggle for no reason and screw up but don’t feel sorry about it. Life is scary but in that ‘goosebump-inducing” ‘excitement of the unknown’ kind of way.

I am sad too because this time of freedom is oh so fleeting and nearly at an end. Suddenly nature takes its toll and soon you have a significant other involved in your affairs. Now the simplicity of doing even little things becomes more complex. Who’s parents do we see when; When can we meet that does not conflict with work schedules; What bills did you pay and what did you forget? You’re busy, so busy in fact that the years roll by and speed up with each turn of the calendar.

Now despite the tone, the message is not as it may first appear. Like most parents, my sadness is truly tempered with overwhelming awe and pride. Given all the pitfalls of life and the chances to be hit by cars, trees or the business end of sharp things – these kids have made it. Through all the high school drama, the (not so) friends who talked behind your back; the uninteresting teachers; the PE classes that you just could never quite make it to the top of the rope – it all doesn’t matter anymore. That’s old news now and an unlimited future is fervently knocking at the door.

As a parent, I stewarded my kid through all of it, just as my folks did for me, and their parents before them. We nurtured, taught, fought and cried, and got up the next day to do it all over again. We relished in every moment through the “last teenage year” and we’ll get up and cherish all others that follow, no matter how fleeting. We have done our jobs well and we’ll never be more proud of anything else we’ve ever done, or will ever do. :)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Address me carefully

One of my favorite jokes is short and sweet : “You can call me anything as long as you call me to dinner”. My father told me that funny many years ago and its one of the few I can remember easily due to its short and pithy punch line. Really, I don’t mind what people actually call me, but I’ll admit as manly as I try to be, I am a bit sensitive of how my name appears in print.

Between various organization’s normal marketing efforts and charity contributions, we often receive ‘free’ address labels along with a solicitation envelope for another hopeful donation. It used to be kind of a unique and welcomed promotion since it saved me writing our return address repeatedly at Christmas. But now, I think so many organizations have stepped into the fold, unless you move to a new house every month, you’ll never want to see your name in print again.

It must be very difficult for the places that actually want to SELL address labels. Why would I ever buy more of these things? I also used to purchase a rubber stamp with my current address on it. But with the advent of online bill payments and these charity address labels, who needs ‘em?

The real thing that drives me nuts about the charity address labels is that they always come with some kind of ‘icon’ on them. Now given my thrifty nature, it is impossible for me to throw away a perfectly good sticky label no matter what the graphics are. BUT even I start to cringe when those labels have a little gold butterfly on them or interlocked rainbow hearts next to my name and address. Better still, how about the labels with a Cupie doll character shedding a single tear or the silhouette of a sparkly ‘fairy’. My GOD, what man, except cheap old ME, would mail letters with this stuff by their name?

I am not slamming anyone’s lifestyle or choice in art. I like little cuddly panda bears and colorful umbrellas as much as the next girl. It’s just typically NOT the representative image that I introduce myself with when first meeting someone. Once they get to know me and my personality, then fine, let them see the real Oz – smiling ladybugs; pink bunnies; … go ahead, BRING ‘EM ON!

Also you would think with the vast amount of address labels out there, at least a few would be geared towards the male perspective or at least be a bit more edgy. I’d like to see some address labels with ‘underwear’ on them. Why not some kind of tool like a pair of pliers or my personal favorite, a ‘dogbone’ wrench? Men’s labels should be printed with big blocky letters so ‘rivets’ dot the ‘I’s’ rather than flowing, graceful script. Men are not delicate and clean – we like metal looking, wrinkled stuff with stains and oily grime all over it. Men still lick their labels – none of that girly self-adhesive for us!

Ok, enough ranting. I’ve got to get to the post office and mail off my Census form. I used a happy rainbow self-sticking return address label. The icon depicts people crawling under the U.S. border fence grabbing the pot of gold (No hidden message there?). It’s about to rain so I’ll unfurl my ‘strawberry shortcake’ child-size umbrella on my way out. Hmmm, I sure need to ‘man-up’ a bit more before people get the wrong idea. Anyone seen a can of WD-40 and my underpants?

The end of the Riverboat Road

When I moved to the St. Louis area about a decade ago, there were still remnants of its colorful past. I was quickly educated that the Zoo’s birdcage aviary, stables, and Forest Park in general were all part of the 1904 World’s Fair. But probably no other icon better represents the rich history of life along the Mississippi than the glorious Riverboat. At the turn of the century the boats were the work horses in modern river transportation.

My first visit to the Arch also featured a visit to the one and only McDonald’s restaurant on a riverboat. It was docked on the riverfront and a unique way to share a burger and a truly ‘Happy’ meal. I was lucky to eat there because by the Millennium it was gone. Also from the vantage point atop the Arch you could clearly see the Admiral riverboat casino though I never have been on it. Soon it too will be gone, as it surrenders it’s gaming license and place on the St. Louis riverfront by Summer 2010.

My favorite riverboat memory was boarding the Goldenrod dinner boat theater over in St. Charles. I really would look forward to those fun Sunday Matinee shows. Yes, the boat was a little seedy and the food was average, but the experience and history on board was unmatched. Many a famous performer had worked the stage on that little boat over the decades. Sadly it was sold off and removed from the St. Charles riverfront about 5 years back.

So today I see that the old Robert E. Lee replica riverboat restaurant caught fire and burned to the hull in Kimmswick, Missouri. I had the pleasure of eating at the place with my in-laws a few years ago. The food was average for a dinner house, but again sitting dockside on top of a big sternwheeler, looking out over the river, is an experience we will never forget. Its death basically leaves the river in the hands of a few remaining stalwart commercial businesses.

Barge jockeys still move salt and coal up and down the river. There are a few small tour boats with quaint names like the ’Mark Twain’ that roam the Mississippi too. These are little more than highly decorated flat boats with a wheel house and fake smokestacks to entertain tourists for hour-long rides. A few ferries run back and forth between Illinois and Missouri and of course the mighty casino business has flourished nicely as the State’s lick their chops for tax revenue, but they're “boats” in name only.

Yes, the river has quieted somewhat since the days when Riverboats were king. What might have been if St. Louis had chosen the railroads expansion West over the mighty Riverboats is anybody’s guess. The complexion of the country and most certainly Chicago as a major rail hub would have changed dramatically. One thing’s for sure, today would be much the same for the mighty Riverboat – its time has passed by literally and is coming to the last bend in the river.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

People want to be led

Leadership is a fickle friend. As much as I sincerely believe that this valuable skill is a learned one, I also feel that it can be tempting to quickly forget about developing one’s leadership ability. I mean why not let somebody else take the bullets and leave me in peace right? Sadly that seems to be more and more the operating philosophy of modern times . As more problems prove tougher to solve, fewer people are willing to embrace active leadership in favor of passively being led.

Like speechmaking, in leadership, practice makes perfect. Sounds simple enough but let’s face it both tasks can be scary. Throw yourself in front of a conference room or classroom full of eyeballs, or worse yet, eyeballs attached to brains judging your every move and thought – then WHEW! … makes me sweat just writing about it! Further, leaders are typically on the front line of new policy and uncomfortable change which can affect established political power paradigms and personal relationships. With all that at stake, it is easy to understand why most folks prefer to be led than be a leader themselves.

In most facets of life I contend this is a mistake. Whenever an opportunity presents itself, you can only become a better leader by doing. Often times in life, this means taking a chance and pushing the envelope of your job description even if you are a volunteer. New leaders need to take charge of someone else’s generally accepted responsibilities before being entrusted with their own. Most overseers do not welcome such intrusions and perceived power grabs by unproven underlings, so that is where the practice comes in.

Instead of attempting an outright confrontational coup, it is imperative to make your target of opportunity receive your gestures with open arms. Oh yeah right, my boss is going to simply hand over the reigns of power? No, not yet, but who knows if you play your cards right it can and may happen down the road? Generally in new organizations that I want to ultimately influence, I ask for or ‘assume’ responsibility to lead the most detestable aspects of my supervisor’s job first. In most cases, as you hone your skills, your efforts will be received with relief and genuine appreciation instead of conflict. Nobody ‘likes’ firing people (except for the Donald) but if you KNOW you can do a better job than your boss, then take on tough chores like that one.

Your goal is to quickly become the reliable ‘go to’ person for leadership roles, no matter how small or how temporary. Practicing your skills reinforces your value to the company now and helps you become an actual BETTER leader in the future. The aforementioned ‘fired employee’ is not a theoretical example nor as cold and calculating as you may first believe. My specific goal was to fire the inadequate employee with more grace and dignity than my boss would have ever done. At the same time, I needed to know the good, bad, and ugly of the task because not only did the job have to be done, but I would need that leadership skill throughout my life.

If you keep taking on the lowly tasks of leadership first and build your way up to greater and greater responsibilities, you will soon find you are indispensable as a resource for your organization. Regardless of your desires for power or influence upon your firm’s direction, JOB SECURITY is reason alone to be an effective leader rather than a run-of-the-mill follower. By nature, most people may still take the easy way and follow. However, if you listen, learn, and accept responsibility quickly, very soon it will be you, your ideas, and leadership style that will be hard to forget.

Happiness through others pain

Wow, can I be that heartless? You mean the path to personal happiness actually lies in the road of someone else’s misfortune? The answer is a resounding ‘ Yes’, and a diminutive ‘No’ – all at the same time. Follow closely so I can explain.

First, I assume you are seeking happiness as the PRIMARY motivator for your own benefit as opposed to causing problems against others for personal gain. The latter already has a name and it is "VOODOO". While I do not know what a VOO is, I do know what DOO is and personally, like me, you should probably take it with a grain of salt or avoid it altogether. Second, if you have clinical depression, bipolarism or some medically significant form of chronic stress, then seek real medical assistance as opposed to my new age ‘hippie’ blog-talk.

But, if you are in the last group of stressed, occasionally unhappy or the emotionally insane (but only temporary), then this remedy is just for you NORMAL people! Try to put into perspective your true place in society, if it helps. For some folks, performance anxiety can be almost crippling when all the attention is directed towards you. In those times, remember, you are but a speck of dust upon the REAL dust in the world. There is ALWAYS someone better than you true enough, BUT there are always dozens, if not thousands, who are far worse too so stop stressing.

This is where the idea of getting in touch with your own ‘good fortune’ (no matter how bad it feels) by comparing it to someone else, suffering far worse conditions comes in. At times I have to do something physically challenging or do it on a particularly hot day. When I start to lean towards complaint, I try to put myself in the boots of the overseas troops. Yes I may be dogging a lawnmower up the side of a hill and hating it but compared to the work of a soldier – it’s a breeze! I mean imagine the constant feeling of torment and lack of personal fortune, trudging a 100 pound backpack while an occasional bullet pops off from sources unknown. I HAVE to be luckier than that guy right?

There is the ironic thing and the mushy mixed up ‘yes and no’ reality of this whole concept that I spoke of in the beginning. Even though you and I feel very lucky to be at home mowing rather than soldiering in foreign lands, that SAME soldier may feel fortunate to be in his reality over say being stuck in a 7 by 7 ‘Dilbert-esque’ cubicle back in the States. Yes our soldier example suffers occasional discomfort, but in reality he KNOWS he is the lucky one and becomes MORE APPRECIATIVE of his circumstance, regardless the toil.

Yes I guess there is an element of some ‘hippie’ philosophy when you consider the true Power of Positive Thinking *. However the “a-Peale” to this comparative therapy, is that everyone can learn to appreciate not only what THEY have, but what OTHERS give up as well. All in all, that should be enough to jump-start you off your self-loathing rutted road of pain and back onto the fresh paved highway of happiness.

* from the classic inspirational best seller “The Power of Positive Thinking”, by Norman Vincent Peale, Ballintine Books, 1996 ISBN-10: 0449911470