First Class is now un-American

On our return flight from Denver last Saturday, the woman across the aisle coughed so many times I lost count before I had a sip of my complimentary beverage. Another woman ten rows back had a speaking voice so loud you wondered how she could hear herself think. And then there were the backpacks, so… many… backpacks. Nothing wrong with carrying your stuff on your shoulders, except when walking down the aisle and the slightest turn of the hips gives me a not-so-gentle whack as I sit in my aisle seat. Which pretty much confirmed what I already knew.  I should’ve flown First Class.

Heads up, weary travelers.  If your brand of travel abroad is a first-class seat, you’d better book one while you can.  American Airlines (AA) just announced they’re removing those premium seats in favor of several more in Business Class. Why? Because nobody wants them.  It’s not rocket science.  Airplanes need to be full (like, 97% full) or airlines don’t make money.  If a class of seat doesn’t interest a passenger the airline will find one that does.  Put the champagne on ice, flight attendants.

Even if dropping the very best seats makes good business sense, it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it.  I’ve never deliberately flown First Class but I still get to walk down their aisle on the way to the cozier confines of Cattle Economy.  As I do, I steal a glance to the left and to the right.  What are they wearing?  What are they drinking?  Most importantly, what are they talking about?  After all, these are America’s movers and shakers.

Except they’re not anymore, now are they?  Tell me who (or “what”) you see the next time you pass through First Class.  The domain of the rich and famous is now diluted with passengers who simply rack up enough frequent flyer miles.  Thus, next to the woman in the stylish suit with the glass of Pinot Noir, wrapping her important business call, you have the young tattooed character in tank top, shorts, and sandals, slurping a Rockstar energy drink while obliterating his latest Call of Duty foe.  No wonder these seats aren’t selling anymore.

My kids don’t believe me but there was an era when people dressed up to travel.  When I was young I wore a suit and tie on airplanes, as spiffy as a Sunday morning in church (although church attire has changed too, sigh…).  Instead of a palm-sized bag of peanuts in Economy, you still got something of a meal.  Flying was, back then, a classy step above other forms of travel.

Just because I can – and knowing American’s about to crash the party (poor choice of words) – I decided to book a first-class ticket to London for Thanksgiving.  Get me to jolly ol’ England the day before (so I can overcome jet lag before the big meal) and have me back in my own bed by Sunday night.  I know, I know, it’s practically Halloween already but guess what?  There are still plenty of first-class seats for my un-American Thanksgiving. They’re just a little – ahem – pricey.

My least expensive option on AA is $6,054, which includes two stops, choice of seat (but isn’t every first-class seat equally wonderful?), free baggage, and a full refund if I have second thoughts (which I will).  My most expensive option is $12,966, with identical terms as the first option except this ticket is nonrefundable.  Huh?  Whatever.  Even the least expensive option is more than my annual grocery bill.  Let’s not book this trip after all.  Let’s have turkey at home instead.

You can see where this is headed.  Next thing you know AA will get rid of First Class on all of its flights.  Then passengers will lose interest in Business Class so that’ll have to go too.  Premium Economy will be the last to fold, until all we’re left with is a planeful of Cattle Economy, every row and every seat.  But given the attire and attitudes of passengers these days, isn’t Economy a perfectly-fitting shoe?  As a friend described it, air travel these days is effectively a Greyhound bus with a couple of wings.

I just ran another itinerary on the AA website.  I can visit my son in Dallas over Thanksgiving, flying First Class, for just over $1,000 roundtrip.  That’s a bargain compared to London and I can get my turkey from a smoker (delicious!)  Maybe I’ll splurge.  After all, there may come a day when my grandchildren ask me, “What’s ‘First Class’?”

Some content sourced from the Fox Business article, “American Airlines ditching first class…“.

Cute Tips

I find it interesting a horse has its eyes on the sides of the head, not on the front like us humans.  If a horse wants to “look you in the eye” he or she needs to turn its head ninety degrees one way or the other.  On the other hand (or hoof) a horse has a clear advantage here in that it can see in two directions at once.  If you think about it (er, “listen about it”) it’s the same setup as human ears.

Last week, my sister-in-law came home from an acupuncture appointment to discover a few needles still stuck in her ear.  Can’t blame her for not being aware, since those tiny needles are painless once they’re in.  But removing them must’ve been tricky, either by pure feel or with the help of a mirror.  You can’t see your ears.  It’s kind of like a backscratcher for those places you can’t reach.

So it is with ears.  Just because they can’t be seen doesn’t mean they don’t need occasional attention.  The phrase has been lost on younger generations but parents used to double-check their kids’ hygiene by saying, “Did you wash behind your ears?”  I did, and I still do.  I also wash in my ears.  With cotton swabs.

We’re all built differently, which means some of us need cotton swabs for the ears and others can get by without them.  For me, it’s two a day, every day (that’s over 700 a year for you counters).  I’m an earwax factory and if I don’t attend to my canals regularly, I’ll be heading to the doctor for a rather awkward “irrigation” treatment.  So I swab.  Not like a sailor swabs the decks but you know what I mean.

I’m also built to collect water in my ears (the dreaded “swimmer’s ear”).  It’s not too bad after a shower but I can count on it after a dip in the pool or the ocean.  Sometimes swabs don’t do the trick and I have to resort to alcohol drops to dry things out.  It’s messy business, this cleaning of the ears.

Cotton swabs (or “buds” for you Brits) have a succinct history.  They were invented a century ago by a man who simply attached cotton to toothpicks as a way to clean his infant’s ears.  He gave his product the name “Q-tip” (the “Q” for “quality) and eventually sold the patent to Unilever.  About that time a woman came forward to say she invented the very same thing.  Unilever settled the claim with her, and a hundred years later they’re selling $200 million in cotton swabs every year.  That’s a lot of “cute tips”.

Cleaning ears with Q-tips, by and large, is discouraged by the medical community.  Most of what you’ll read suggests you’re putting your hearing at risk by inserting anything into the ear canal.  Common sense, yes, but there was a time Q-tips were marketed specifically for this reason.  Today the advertising is for anything but, like dabbing makeup or sanitizing computer keyboards.  The last thing a company wants is to promote a product that can potentially damage the body.  Like the person who forgot they had a Q-tip in their ear and then whacked the side of their head.  Ouch.  That’s a trip to the ER if I ever heard of one.

Q-tipping also feels good (to which those ER doctors say, “don’t try this at home!”)  It’s like a tiny massage inside the ear and it’s addicting.  You’re stimulating nerves that are hypersensitive because they don’t get much attention.  For some, it generates an itch-scratch cycle that is difficult to stop.

But enough about cotton swabs.  Enough about ears.  You can re-forget you have a pair on your head.  Except if you’re me and they itch a lot.  Or you live in the South, where gnats are attracted to them (a serious annoyance).  Just remember to wash behind them.  Use cotton swabs very carefully.  And be thankful you’re not an elephant.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

I Made This Up

Words get stuck in my head – often.  If I hear “cattywampus” or “chartreuse” or “onomatopoeia” (and for the record, spellcheck didn’t flag any of them) my brain hangs on for a while because I’m entertained by the sound or the meaning. Sometimes a word repeats so often in my mind it doesn’t sound right anymore, like putting the accent on the wrong syll-AH-ble. But this is the reason I never struggle to include a unique word in every Life In A Word post. It’s the reason my topics often become unexpected adventures in writing – several hundred words spun from the single word ricocheting around in my brain. So what word am I stuck on this week, you ask? Make.

I know, I know.  You expected a more sophisticated word; something you could really sink your teeth into.  Certainly a word with more than four letters.  But here’s the thing.  Some words have one meaning while others have a list of definitions a mile long.  “Make” is wonderfully (sometimes confusingly) versatile.  It seems to have limitless uses. So, while “make” shows up in, like, every other conversation we have, consider just how many different ways we’re using it.

Here’s an example, probably my favorite for today’s topic.  We contracted with a bakery in Denver to create the perfect cake for my daughter’s upcoming wedding.  You call them first to make a sit-down appointment (yes, I’m aware I just used our word-of-the-day).  Then you work with a consultant on sketch paper to design exactly what you’re looking for. Then you taste-test six cakes and six frostings (using a tray of cupcakes) to come up with your dream combination.  The name of this establishment?  The Makery.  At first I thought it was a strange name, but then I realized, no; it’s a cool, tidy spin on words.  The Makery is not just a bakery.  A bakery would fill their glass display case with creations for you to choose from.  The Makery is all about custom creations, based on your input and your preferences.  In other words, The Makery declares “baking” a subset of “making”.

Without peeking at your Webster, guess how many definitions you’ll find for “make” in the dictionary.  Five? Ten? Two dozen? How about fifty-six? “Make” has forty-seven definitions as a verb and another nine as a noun.  I told you “make” was versatile, didn’t I?

I’m not about to go through fifty-six definitions of “make” because you can make better use of your time.  But here are my favorites:

  • To bring into existence by shaping or changing material, combining parts, etc. (as in, “Dave is making his Lego Grand Piano”).  The formality of this definition – the first in the line-up of the fifty-six – cracks me up.  It takes a lot of words to explain the most basic use of “make”.
  • To put in the proper condition or state, as for use; fix, prepare.  “This morning, Dave made his bed.  Then he made his coffee.  Tonight, Dave will make his dinner.”
  • To become by development; prove to be.  “Someday, Dave, you’ll make a heckuva writer.”
  • To be sufficient to constitute.  “One blog post does not make a writer, Dave.”
  • To arrive at or reach, attain.  Dave just turned sixty years old. Will he make it to sixty-one?
  • To plant and cultivate or produce (a crop). “Dave makes some of the best corn in the entire county.” (Note: this one is specific to the U.S. South.  Since I’m moving there soon I’d better get used to it.  And no, I don’t have any plans to “make” corn when I get there.)
  • To cause oneself, or something understood, to be as specified.Make sure this is a good blog topic, Dave.”
  • To show oneself to be or seem in action or behavior.  “Dave plans to make merry the day his daughter gets married.”

Make Love, Not War” was a slogan born out of protests over America’s involvement in the Vietnam War but it’s probably getting renewed use in the last couple of months.  Not that I can explain what “make love” really means.  Something physical?  Metaphysical?  Peace treaties?  Making out? I can’t make up my mind (and don’t make me).  Besides, it’s time I make for the exits with this post.


Lego Grand Piano – Update #20

(Read about how this project got started in Let’s Make Music!)

Today’s section of the Lego symphony was a ten-minute sprint.  Bag #20 – of 21 bags of pieces – assembled nothing more than the underlying support structure of the piano lid, with hinges to anchor it in place on the left side of the instrument. The dark, raised bar you see running across the top of the lid is part of that structure.  The support “stick” to the right was already there, lying quietly across the piano strings from a previous build, just waiting to be raised.

Bag #21 will be a rapid final chapter, perhaps as fast as this one.  We only have the free-standing bench for the pianist to go, and (with a final flourish), the sheet music we’ll center on the stand above the keys.  We’ll bring the entire assembly to the finish line inside of fourteen hours. Then you and I will step back, admire all that we’ve accomplished these last twenty-one weeks, and take a well-deserved bow.

Next week: the final movement!

Running Build Time: 13.5 hours.  Musical accompaniment: Liszt’s Liebestraum No. 3 in A-flat Major (two times through). Leftover pieces: None again!

Conductor’s Note: Liebestraum means “love dream” in German. This short piano piece could certainly be interpreted that way. It starts out soft and melodious, a soothing lullaby. But it picks up steam in a hurry, building to a crescendo and using the entire keyboard.  It’s a beautiful piece, which is more than I can say for Franz Liszt’s last name.  Every time I say “Liszt” I sound like I have a lisp.  Maybe he did too?

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Beyond Words

Life has moments of joyful happiness, overwhelming sadness, breathtaking awe, and quiet gratitude. Also moments – a select few – where these emotions come together as a powerful force of transcendence. This was a week with one of those moments. As I reflect (and a gaze at the Pacific Ocean is the perfect way to do so), I realize the moment deserves my undivided attention. My complete focus. So I pause, lift my hands from the keyboard, and simply say…….. we’ll chat again next week.

O’ Come Let Us Adorn

There’s an older fellow in Egypt who wakes up every morning, throws on a flannel shirt and well-worn pants, and goes to his workshop behind the corrugated roll-up door of a small, industrial warehouse. Using ancient tools and techniques, he churns out hundreds of colorful, ornate, square cement tiles. He’s a true artisan, our tilemaker, carrying on his craft from many generations before him.  His product endures amid countless mass-produced ceramic and porcelain alternatives. Perhaps our tilemaker would feel more at home in Lauscha, Germany.  Lauscha is home to dozens of glassblowers, who still create colorful, ornate, Christmas ornaments by hand.

Lauscha “baubles”

Every December about this time, my wife & I bring home our Christmas tree (real, not artificial – see Is It Live or Is It Memorex? for that debate).  We take our tree through the same steps from start to adorned.  First, fresh-cut the trunk, set the tree into the stand, and fill with warm water (and one baby aspirin!).  Next, let gravity bring the branches down for a few days.  Then, bring out the ladder, top the tree with the angel, and string the lights generously down all sides.  Finally, adorn with ornaments.  Our collection is larger than the real estate of any Christmas tree we buy, so there’s always debate on which ornaments make the tree and which are re-relegated to the closet for another year of waiting.  In the end, we stand back and admire a pleasing mix of homemade, school-made, photo-framed, and collectibles.

You can never have enough ornaments, and the glassblowers in Lauscha would agree.  The process they use to create the simplest of glass balls is already beyond my artistic abilities.  For one, you must work fast because the molten glass cools in a hurry.  For two, you must have steady hands as you add color and detail.  Have a look at the following short video and you’ll learn a thing or two you never knew about making Christmas ornaments.  My favorite part of the process? “Silvering”.  Who knew the mirror-like aspect of a Christmas ball is painted on the inside of the glass?

Germans (and more people than I’d probably guess) refer to Christmas ornaments as baubles, which is ironic because Americans define a bauble as a “showy cheap trinket”.  Nothing produced in Lauscha, Germany is a showy cheap trinket.  Then again, Americans figured out how to mass-produce Christmas ornaments and the result is a generic, sometimes-plastic alternative to the real thing.  “Bauble” indeed.

The very first Christmas ornaments were anything but glass-blown baubles.  You had fruit, candy canes, pastries, strings of popcorn, and whatever else you could find around the house.  The Lauscha baubles then came along in the mid-1600s.  Short of the post-WWII years (when the German government used the glass factories for more important products) they’ve been making them ever since.

Credit Woolworth’s once-popular department stores for the proliferation of Christmas ornaments in America.  In the late 1800s, Woolworth’s started carrying the Lauscha baubles.  Soon after, they stocked mass-produced American-made versions, taking tree-decorating to a whole new level.  By the mid-20th-century, Woolworth’s was banking $25 million on Christmas decoration sales alone.

Hallmark “Keepsake Ornament”

Hallmark jumped on the bauble bandwagon in the 1970s.  Clever folks, those people at Hallmark.  Their original ornament collection was made available only for the current year, followed by a new collection the following year, and so on.  Today, Hallmark Keepsake Ornaments are so popular you have to join a club (just $49.95!) if you want to own their newest limited-edition ornaments.

As much as I’d like to add a Lauscha bauble or two to my tree, I prefer the more personal ornaments we hang instead.  A dozen or more of them were designed around primary-school photos of our kids (“art projects”, they called them).  Souvenir ornaments from favorite trips we’ve taken over the years.  Several more with imprinted dates, to remind us of special occasions like weddings, births, or passings.

Five years ago, I wrote my one and only work of fiction on this blog, a post about a Christmas ornament.  It seems fitting to include a link to The Best Branch on the Tree, assuming you haven’t followed me that long.  Because, you know, ornaments – er, baubles – have feelings too.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

My Dandy-Lion Pine Tree

Angel Oak – Johns Island, South Carolina

Just outside Charleston, S.C., you’ll come across a mystical tree called the Angel Oak. It’s a massive growth with dozens of meandering branches, some almost 200 feet long, others big enough to stand on. The Angel Oak has survived for centuries despite hurricanes and ever-encroaching urban development. It’s named after the settlers of a nearby plantation but you’d swear it has more to do with a supernatural being. When you stand within the calm and quiet of the Angel Oak’s wing-like branches, you can feel the embrace of a higher power.  You might as well be in church.

I have a similar tree in my front pasture, here in Colorado.  It’s a singular, lonely, rather sad-looking pine, about seven feet tall, standing sentry beside a swale running through the property.  My pine has very few branches, and on those, very little growth.  I could accurately describe the profile of this tree as a Tootsie Pop, or perhaps one of those ball-and-stick trees you see on architectural renderings.  I prefer a more organic comparison instead.  My tree reminds me of a dandelion, only with a very sturdy stem.  I’m tempted to puff up and blow on his modest ball of pine needles, but he looks so feeble I’m afraid they’ll actually take flight.

My pine tree is as cryptic as the Angel Oak is mystical.  There’s so much I can’t explain about him.  He was standing out there fifteen years ago when we moved to this property.  For all I know he was out there fifteen hundred years ago.  Despite our high-desert drought, winter blizzards, gusty winds, and other fill-in-the-blank weather events, my pine tree stands resolutely and takes it all without bending.  Never seems to grow, wither, or even lose those few pine needles.  In fact, he seems to be waiting for something – or maybe someone.  It’s a day-in-day-out mystery.

A tree, a horse, and an endless forest beyond

Five hundred yards to the east of my lone pine, we have a dense forest of trees that goes on for miles.  These pines stand so close together it’s a wonder they get enough sunlight to grow.  These tall timbers strike me as an army, standing silently at attention, ready to march forward with the given command.  Perhaps my pine is their evergreen general, ready to declare “CHARGE!!!” against some unseen foe to the west.

I don’t have to turn the clock back fifteen hundred years to come up with a logical explanation for my solitary tree.  Maybe just two hundred years ago, when there would already be no pasture, no horses, and not much of anything in any direction.  Settlers here and there at best, or pioneers in search of the promised land.  Perhaps one of these travelers lost a child at too young of an age.  Perhaps a tree was planted in memory of that child.  An angel-like pine carrying on in the sometimes harshest of conditions.

If I had any measure of courage, I’d get up in the wee hours of the night – no guiding light except for the inky blanket of stars overhead – and slowly, silently approach my pine tree.  In those bewitching hours, with the howls of coyotes in the distance and the soft rustle of grass beneath my feet, I might witness a presence from beyond.  Perhaps a subtle glow surrounding his branches, suggesting an endless lifeforce within his roots.  Or even better, the nightgown-clad ghost of a little girl sitting against his trunk, bare knees pulled to her chest.

I know my little tree is no Angel Oak.  In a forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir, my pine would be first choice for a Charlie Brown Christmas.  Yet there he is, steadfast and strong, the king of the jungle pasture, the unchallenged ruler of his domain.  He must have the heart of a lion and a confident aura to match.  I hope someday he’ll reveal his purpose, but in the meantime one thing seems to be certain.  My dandy-lion pine will still be standing when I am not.

Some content sourced from Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Cookie-Cutter Cinema

We’ve collected a pretty good stack of Christmas movie DVD’s over the years but most are one-time-watch forgettable. Yet no Christmas celebration is complete without sitting down to “It’s A Wonderful Life” (1946) and “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947’s original). Add in a televised version of “A Christmas Carol” (hopefully 1938’s original) and you’d swear all of the best Christmas movies were made before 1950. Of course, the Hallmark Channel would respectfully disagree. Love ’em or hate ’em, Hallmark’s been baking their cookie-cut Christmas movies for over twenty years.

Unlike most companies, even a global pandemic doesn’t slow down Hallmark.  I just checked my Hallmark app (yes, they have an app) and another forty Christmas originals are coming out of Hallmark’s holiday oven this year.  The first of these (“Jingle Bell Bride”) premiered on October 24th, so if you didn’t find the Christmas spirit before Halloween you’re already way behind.  Drop everything and grab the TV remote – you’ve got movies to watch!  Fresh cookies await: twelve of Hallmark’s 2020 offerings haven’t made their debut yet.

In life before electronic media Hallmark was the, well… hallmark of the greeting-card industry.  You bought a Hallmark card “when you cared enough to send the very best”.  You went to their “Gold Crown” stores to purchase wrapping paper, stationery, Christmas ornaments, and picture frames.  In brick-and-mortar days Hallmark seemed like anything but a media empire.  So they kind of snuck up on us with their bonanza of Christmas movies, didn’t they?

We should’ve seen this coming.  Hallmark quietly sponsored a couple of radio-based storytelling programs in the 1940’s.  Then they jumped into in-house productions with their “Hallmark Hall of Fame” (HHF) series.  You never knew when an HHF movie would pop up on TV but it must’ve been fairly often.  HHF is considered the longest-running prime-time series in the history of television.  For the record HHF movies were better than Hallmark Christmas movies.  Way better.  Maybe that’s because Hallmark Christmas movies run a budget of about a million dollars.  That’s not very much, even for a made-for-TV movie.

Admit it, you’ve watched a Hallmark Christmas movie.  You might’ve even enjoyed it.  But once you stood back and gained perspective you realized Hallmark Christmas movies are really bad.  They’re the very definition of schmaltz.  The acting is God-awful.  The outfits are dusted off from last year’s Hallmark movies.  The piled-up snow looks a little too perfectly placed around porches and lampposts.  The sets are nameless little towns in western Canada with same-looking Main Streets.

Then there’s the storylines. Dear Lord.  Every Hallmark Christmas movie is the same sugary-sweet cutout cookie baked at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  The lead finds herself in a Christmas-related predicament.  She conveniently crosses paths with “him”.  He unwittingly steps in to help with her predicament.  They find themselves on screen together the rest of the movie (read: flirt).  Then – but not until the last two minutes of the movie – they figure out they’ve fallen in love.  Quick kiss.  Holiday smiles.  Roll credits.

Even the actresses look alike.  That’s because they’re all the same actress.  Well, almost.  A dozen women grace Hallmark’s pantheon of “Queens of Christmas”.  If you recognize Rachel Boston, Candace Cameron Bure, Lacey Chabert, Danica McKellar, Alicia Witt, or a few others, you know the Queens.  Perhaps you’ve seen them on Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas” (an hour of Christmas commercials movie previews).  Perhaps you’ve heard them pushing their movies on Sirius XM’s “Hallmark Channel Radio”.

Why stop at Christmas?  Hallmark Channels want to be considered your “year-round destination for celebrations”.  Accordingly you’ll also find their themed movies around Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, New Year’s Day, and – lest they feel like left-out seasons – the beginning of spring, summer, and fall.  You can even bask in “Christmas in July” if you missed some of the previous year’s premieres (but why would you?)

Hallmark is a much brighter bulb than any of the actors you see here.  There must be a ton of profit in schmaltz; otherwise why would Lifetime, Netflix, Disney, and Apple also jump into Christmas movies?  Gonna be hard to catch Hallmark: their productions can be found on four television channels, three apps, and that Sirius XM radio station.

Counting 2020, Hallmark has produced and aired over 250 Christmas movies.  Talk about a marathon: it would take you twenty days to watch them all (after which you’d be surgically removed from your couch).  Not me.  I’ll stick with George Bailey in Bedford Falls, Kris Kringle at Macy’s, and Ebenezer Scrooge and his ghosts.  Real actors, real stories, and genuine Christmas spirit.  No cookie cutters.

Some content sourced from the 11/17/2019 Wall Street Journal article, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year: Netflix and Disney Battle Hallmark for Christmas Viewers”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.

Losing Sleep (and other things)

So…. yesterday morning I misplaced my wife. Woke up and for Pete’s sake I couldn’t find her anywhere.  I swear she was right next to me the night before – dinner, tv, that sort of thing – but yesterday morning… nope, no wife.  Somehow losing her didn’t cause me too much pause so I went about my morning routine.  Stood in front of the mirror bleary-eyed brushing my teeth (and sometimes my face) before it finally dawned on me.  My wife had a late-morning appointment a couple hours’ drive away.  She had to leave at sun-up. I knew this Tuesday night. I did not know this Wednesday morning.  At least I remembered I have a wife, right?

Were you as sleep-deprived as I was after Tuesday night?  I had a few slip-ups yesterday to assure me it would be one of those days. After losing my wife I dropped my electric toothbrush mid-brush and just stared while it vibrated in little circles on the floor.  Then I cracked an egg on the edge of my coffee cup and almost dropped the egg into the coffee instead of the frying pan. When I moved the laundry from the washer to the dryer, I felt the need to check the lint screen twice before starting the load (I never check the lint screen).  You get the idea.  It was gonna be a fun-zone kinda day in my world.

[I’m fading in and out as I type thisssssssssssssssss…  <WAKE UP!!!> …. whoops… (wipes hand across face).  Yawn.  Okay… I’m back now.]

Actually, zoning out works well for let-it-flow writing; keeps it casual right? I was sleep-deprived because I watched too much election coverage Tuesday night. Turned on the TV just before dinner and turned it off six hours later, probably same as you. Once you realized the consensus wasn’t coming anytime soon you chose sleep instead of states.  And speaking of states, little red and blue ones danced in circles in my brain.  Like sheep over fences.  You’d think that’d help me fall asleep.

Only I couldn’t sleep (could you?) I tossed, turned, punched the pillow, stared up at the ceiling, but couldn’t knock out no matter what I tried.  I read a chapter on my Kindle, good for getting drowsy.  I let the dog out and for once, waited awhile at the door until he came back in.  Took a few laps around the house just to add to my step count.  Nothing worked.

The celebration might have to wait a few more days…

Maybe I had “election anxiety”. You know, where you’re not feeling quite right leading up to the count?  You figure it has something to do with the election but what, exactly? I voted for one candidate over the other like everybody else, but weeks ago I made peace with either outcome (a very Aquarius thing to do). Now here we are Thursday with the outcome a few states away from definitive. Do I still have election anxiety?  No (thank goodness).  “Annie” was right.  “The sun’ll come up… tomorrow…”.  It’s technically the day after tomorrow and the sun came up both days.

I usually fall asleep within minutes of hitting the pillow so now (for a few conscious minutes anyway) I have a couple theories on what went haywire Tuesday night.  One, my deep conscience convinced me the election outcome would be decided in the middle of the night (hence the iPhone by my bedside, hence the every-hour check of the results). Two, I went from six hours of staring at a big-screen television to… bed. I never do that. I wind down with a little light reading instead. So it’s true what they say: “Power down devices an hour before hitting the hay, or wide-eyed and restless you will lay”.  (Okay, they don’t really say that.)

Yesterday I made it all the way to noon without passing out – small miracle after my short night.  Took me two cups of coffee and a full breakfast to get that far.  Mid-afternoon I thought I’d be breaking out the peanut M&M’s to power through (junk food always beckons when I’m tired).  In fact, I was so tired I felt like I’d drop face down in my cereal bowl.  Cereal bowl… wait… I had eggs yesterday morning, didn’t I?  What day is this?  What time is it?  I’m so confused.  I should go take a nap and… and… and… zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Media Mainstream

Back when my wife and I raised the kids, we made sure to teach them the importance of good manners. “Don’t speak until you’re spoken to”, “respect your elders”, and all the other kiddo commands. We also taught them to use the good words often (“please”, “thank you”) while avoiding the bad ones entirely (esp. the four-letter kind). But the two words with the most challenge back then – ironically – are the ones we still wrestle with today: instant gratification.

“Dad, I want one now-w-w-w-w!”  I can’t tell you how many times I fielded a version of that phrase from my kids… then replied with the best defenses.  “You only want a <insert item here> because your friend just got one”, or “It’s not Christmas or your birthday, is it?”, and (perhaps the most effective), “You don’t have the money in your savings account to buy one.”  Whatever the reason, we did a pretty good job shifting gratification from “instant” to “delayed”.

Oh, if my kids could see me now (er, they can see me – I’m about to be called out on the hypocrisy of this post).  For you see, I’m a fairly recent Netflix subscriber.  My wife and I finally entered the tunnel to the arena; the one with the overhead sign blinking “Streaming Here”.  And boy is that arena vast, addicting, and instantly gratifying.  You can lose an entire week of your life in there (all you need is a pandemic).

Netflix is a revelation, especially for dyed-in-the-wool cable peeps like my wife & I.  “Cable” has a double-meaning here: a) a monthly subscription of a hundred or more channels (of which we watch like, four), and b) the hard-wired aspect of every one of our components.  But then we connected Apple TV and the streaming clouds parted.  Our son granted temporary access to his Netflix subscription (which became kinda-sorta permanent access until guilt drove us to our own account).  Amazon Prime reminded us our payment for free shipping included a bounty of movies and television.  And lately, we’ve been sampling several other apps – the ones that may finally, satisfyingly, get us to cut the cord on satellite tv forever.

Back to instant gratification and Netflix.  We never saw the addiction coming until the drug had long taken its nightly hold.  At first we tried a few movies – the one-and-done approach you could call no harm, no foul.  But then we tried a series (Heartland) and entire evenings suddenly disappeared in smoke.  After watching The Crown, we woke up one morning and realized winter had become spring.

Ultimately, I blame whoever recommended Outlander for our full-on succumbing to streaming.  Outlander (the violent/racy/but-oh-so-good time-travel romp through 18th-century Scotland) boasts five seasons of sixty-plus episodes; each an hour or more.  We became so invested in Outlander’s storyline and characters we started second-guessing any commitment threatening our nightly window (okay, binge) of episodes.  When we weren’t watching the show we were talking about it.  When we weren’t talking about it I was reading about it online.  Not gonna lie – Outlander was a full-on obsession.  The producers will eventually drop the sixth season and when it does, we’ll be at the front of the line ready to push “play”.

Five signs you’re watching too much Netflix:

  1. Every show Netflix recommends gets a “+ sign” move to “My List”.
  2. Your dinner-to-bedtime timeframe is a math problem, solved by: “number of episodes” x “length of episode”.
  3. Unlike New Year’s Eve, you’re not watching and waiting for the clock to strike midnight; it just gets there more often than you’d care to admit.
  4. You won’t watch the newer shows; the ones with only one season, because, well… there’s only one season.
  5. Your television screen frequently displays the message, “Are you still watching?” (meaning, you haven’t touched the remote for like, six episodes).

Binge is a bad word by any definition, especially in these pandemic times.  Maybe that’s why creative minds now label your Netflix habit an “experience”.  And that experience is getting more and more tailored to instant gratification.  The commercial pauses have already been removed.  Now take away the recap of the last episode and take away the credits.  You’re talking about a pure dose of entertainment, rolling from one episode into the next, one season into the next.  You want it now and Netflix is only too happy to oblige.  Sounds like a drug, doesn’t it?

Man, I gotta get out more.

Edgy Veggies

Thanks to several weeks of mandated “stay-at-home” here in Colorado, my wife and I limit our trips to the grocery store to every ten days or so. In turn, we’re digging deeper into our freezer, discovering a rather exotic world of forgotten foods. We found a box of gourmet croissants the other day that hadn’t quite earned their expiration date (score!)  We also found ingredients to a “healthy” dog food recipe, which will probably never become dog food.  But mostly we’re unearthing frozen vegetables; the ones passed over for months (years?) in favor of peas and carrots. And now that we’re out of peas and carrots?  Suddenly we’re eating more cauliflower.  Cauliflower?

flower power

Here’s my earliest nightmare memory of cauliflower; maybe yours too.  1) steam the florets fresh in a big pot.  2) sprinkle a little Parmesan cheese on top.  3) call it good.  News flash: cauliflower isn’t good that way – not at all.  It’s just colorless and tasteless, and I remember thinking what in God’s name am I eating here – tree roots?  In my childhood evaluation, cauliflower rated below spinach and broccoli.  Miles below peas and carrots.

Today’s cauliflower is a whole different animal (er, vegetable).  It’s being described as “the new kale”.  You see, someone discovered how to “rice” cauliflower a few years ago and suddenly it’s a trendsetting side dish.  Someone else discovered how to make crust out of cauliflower and suddenly it’s an option for pizzas.  Cauliflower’s popularity surge is probably because of what it doesn’t offer.  85% fewer calories than white rice.  23 times fewer carbohydrates than a wheat pizza crust.  There’s even a vegan form of Gruyère cheese out there, with cauliflower as the main ingredient.  Keto and Paleo fans are flocking to this great imposter.

The data backs up the newfound power in the flower.  Sales of cauliflower are up 40% in the last four years.  We’re now buying less cabbage and garlic than cauliflower (in my case, way-y-y-y less cabbage).  Cauliflower’s green leaves are the latest addition to salad bars.  Aldi, the German company with a delicious cheesy-cauliflower rice (more cheese, less flower), claims it’s now its top-selling product.  Aldi capitalizes on this volley of cauli with other products, like tortilla chips and gnocchi.  Tortilla chips made out of cauliflower?  Now that’s just wrong, people.

THIS is how you eat Brussel sprouts

Cauliflower falls under the same veggie species as the Brussel sprout (as well as broccoli, cabbage, and kale), and I think those little green buds deserve a debt of gratitude.  Brussel sprouts may be the original edgy veggie.  Back in the day, Mom prepared them the same way as cauliflower (and the same way she prepared every other legume in the world) – steamed with a sprinkle of canned cheese.  They were awful.  But years later we have sliced and diced Brussel sprouts buried within liberal helpings of grilled bacon and onions. Genius. It’s like you’re only eating bacon and onions, with a slight aftertaste of Brussel sprouts.

Taken the same way, cauliflower now lands on my “consumables” list.  I prefer the riced version with cheese (cheese makes everything better).  The hybrid pizza crusts aren’t too bad, like cauliflower with cornmeal.  Maybe I’ll even give the vegan Gruyère a try.  In other words, as long as cauliflower is an ingredient – not the whole enchilada – I’ll bite.

Kale may now be passé, with white becoming the new green (although cauliflower also comes in orange, green, and purple).  Take your pick: roasted, grilled, fried, steamed (aka boring), pickled, or raw.  Plant cauliflower seeds in your garden and you’ll have full heads in 30 days or less.  With all this demand for stand-in veggies, your next bite may beg the question, “is it flour or is it flower“?

Some content sourced from the 3/4/2020 Wall Street Journal article, “‘The New Kale'”: Cauliflower Becomes a Bestseller”, and Wikipedia, “the free encyclopedia”.