Friday, September 30, 2011

The Rhino

“Ugh, there’s my ex,” Janice said, tilting her head toward a man in an open-necked black shirt standing at the bar. He leaned against it casually, acting as if he owned the place. The bartender ignored him and continued slowly wiping out glasses one at a time while Rick stood awkwardly at the bar, trying to be cool, but losing his smile as he tried in vain to get the bartender’s attention.
“I call him The Rhino,” Janice told Maggie.
“The Rhino? Why?”
“Because that’s what he reminds me of, always acting like he has some great big horn that we should all bow down to and be afraid of, but believe me, it’s not that big.”
Maggie snorted her drink and flopped back in her booth. “Oh my God, you’re going to make me choke!”
Janice smirked and leaned into the table. “Between you and me, he doesn’t even know what to do with his horn.”
“Oh my God, Janice. Stop!” Maggie clutched her side as she laughed and howled. Some of the bar patrons turned around to look at her. She waved them off and continued laughing silently.
“Uh oh. Looks like The Rhino spotted us. Here he comes, ready to charge over here.”
Maggie wiped the wet mascara under her eyes and settled into a few chortles as she turned to watch Rick make his way past the cluster of people at the bar. He knocked into the arm of a woman in red. Her margarita sloshed over the top of her glass and she jumped back, protecting her clothes while a dribble of icy mess fell onto her shoes.
“Hey, watch it!” she said. Rick ambled on, oblivious to the woman’s date, who came storming after him.
“See,” Janice said. “He’s like a rhino in the wild. He can’t see the obvious, so thinks he owns the place and comes charging, ready to do battle and wield his big ugly horn around.”  Maggie collapsed into a new fit of laughter as the woman’s boyfriend caught up with Rick and started poking fingers at Rick’s face. Both men puffed up their chests and grunted a few obscenities. Rick must have offered some sort of apology, or at least offered to buy another drink because Maggie and Janice watched him reach into his wallet.
“Rhinos have square-shaped lips, you know,” she said absently as Rick continued his approach.
“How do you know so much about rhinos?” Maggie asked as Rick drew to their tables.
“I dated one for over a year,” Janice said. “They’re all charge-first-and-ask-questions-later. They seem big and strong, but really they’re just idiots who can’t see what’s right in front of them and charge into trees and rocks, marking their territory. Like now. Here comes Rick to mark his territory. Hope he doesn’t get his horn out.”
Maggie shook with laughter. “Stop it.”
“Hi Ladies.”
“Hi Rick.”
“You here alone? Can I buy you a drink?”
“We’re drinking wine. Out of bottles. But feel free to go get yourself a box of wine instead.”
Maggie choked.

"Their horns are nothing but useless cartilage, you know." Janice sat back and sipped her drink, satisfied that with Rick's retreat, the safari show was over.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

10 Diet Tips I Cannot Stick To

Generally speaking, most diet tips offer good advice. Drinking lots of water, filling up on veggies, exercising routinely and watching portion sizes all make sense. But there are a few diet tips that I cannot adhere to, no matter how hard I try.

1. Eat five small meals a day.
It sounds like a good idea, but when I try this, my reality is '5 meals a day' and they're not all that small.

2. Don't eat after 6pm (yeah, right) or (more generously) 8pm.
I will rationalize eight dozen ways that I should feel justified in breaking this rule because I "didn't eat much earlier" and then, by the time I give in and have a little snack, it's closer to 10pm which has got to be worse than if I'd eaten at 8:00.

3. Switch to skim milk.
Yuck. Then I need ice cream because I'm still craving the taste of milk that I didn't get when I downed a glass of white water.

4. Skinless, grilled chicken breasts.
Come on! The skin is the main reason to eat chicken!

5. Vary your exercise routine.
This one confounds me. I love to walk and could walk for an hour without thinking twice. But when I try to change up my routine and do something different -- basketball, kickboxing, bicycling, etc., I last about 10 minutes and call it quits.

6. Exercise with a partner.
You know the saying, "Never let them see you sweat"? That's my motto.

7. Order dressing on the side of your salad.
I know this makes sense and that I eat less dressing when I do this. Until I drop half my salad in the little petri cup of dressing and then end up pouring it on my salad because I've made such a mess.

8. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
It's also the make-it-or-break-it point for dieters. Blow your diet at breakfast and suddenly the whole day is shot to hell.

9. Put your fork down between bites.
This starts to feel like "playing with your food."

10. Only eat when you're hungry.
HA! If I could do this, I wouldn't need to be on a diet!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Car Spotting

There’s his car. I don’t know why, but it makes my stomach flutter every time the bus pulls into the parking lot and I see it. I love Mr. Carter. I love his car. I’m so excited. He’s here!  Only three more hours until I go to his class. I wish I didn’t have his class after gym. I look so much better in the morning before I get all sweaty and my hair gets crazy. Maybe I can skip gym. Maybe I can ask Mr. Carter for a pass. I wish everybody would hurry up and get off the bus, so I’d have enough time to walk past his car real quick. I know that sounds stupid, but I like being close to him. Who knows? Maybe he’ll have to run out to his car for something and I’ll get to see him an extra time today.
Oops. Better get to class. No time to go by his car today, but at least I saw it. He’s here somewhere. I’ll see him pretty soon.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Civil War Fashion Show

I can practically recite all of Scarlett O’Hara’s lines in Gone With The Wind. So when I saw an advertisement that the Ladies Living History Society of Greater Cincinnati would be modeling “fashions of the 1860s,” I had to go.
Of course, Scarlett didn’t dress like anyone else in the movie, so if I thought I was going to see dresses like Scarlett’s, I would have been disappointed. Instead, the dress these ladies wore in their Civil War Fashion Show was more akin to what Melanie Hamilton and India Wilkes wore.
They started with a common day dress. This is the type I associate with Melanie. (Yes, I will relate all Civil War information back to GWTW. It’s all I know.) The day dress had many layers to it and the woman wearing it was kind enough to disassemble her outfit so that we could see just how elaborate dress was back then.
On the outside was the dress itself, made from 9 yards of fabric. Apparently, that’s where the expression, ‘the whole nine yards’ comes from. The collar was detachabale and the pagoda sleeves lay over removable undersleeves that women could launder much more easily than nine yards of fabric. Despite the expansiveness of the fashions then, they were actually pretty functional. Since collars and cuffs show dirt the most quickly, those pieces were removable and easily washable. 
Under that dress was a chemise, covered by the laced up corset. Over the chemise was the hoop skirt and an over-petticoat. Under the hoop skirt was another petticoat – an under-petticoat or modesty petticoat, in case the wind blew the outer skirts up. And under the bottom petticoat were drawers, which Rhett told Scarlett no one in Paris wore anymore.
Naturally, the women also wore stockings, gloves, and bonnets – except for the woman who wore a Glengarry cap instead to show her allegiance to the Irish. The cap, unlike the more popular women’s bonnets, was not tied to her head.
Another woman wore a work dress, which was similar to the ones that Mammy and Prissy (the slaves) wore in GWTW. Scarlett wore something similar when she was trying to revive Tara before the carpetbaggers came, but who are we kidding – she still looked glamorous.
The work dresses (the brown dress pictured at the top) weren’t glamorous, but they were surprisingly functional. The sleeves were shorter and tighter so that they didn’t drag through flames and other such things. The host of the fashion show said that burns were the second leading cause of death among women during that era.
The work dress had an apron pinned to it, and it had a corded hoop skirt which was not as pouffy as the wider hoops skirts, but was helpful in keeping the dress from twining around a woman’s legs as she worked. And though hoop skirts and dresses looked like they went to the ground, the hoops came about mid-calf. Otherwise a woman might be stepping into the hoop and tripping all the time.
We saw a typical child’s dress. It had a gathered neckline and grow tucks sewn into the bottom so that they could be let out as the child grew.

One woman wore a Swiss waist, which was almost like a corseted vest worn on the outside of the dress instead of underneath. It had arm straps that went over the shoulder and was worn over a blouse.

We saw swimming attire: full pants, long-sleeved shirt, stockings and shoes!

And we saw a fancier gown, more like Scarlett’s wardrobe. It was very pretty and had tuckers on the top. Tuckers are the lacy neckline that shields a woman’s bosom from a taller gentleman’s glance as he dances with her. I don’t think Scarlett wore those, but I’m sure Melanie did.

Last but not least, we saw the black mourning clothes that were very similar to those Scarlett did wear in GWTW. I couldn’t stop picturing the society dance where Scarlett works the bazaar booth, tapping her toes and dancing in step all by herself. The woman in the fashion show was dressed just like Scarlett, though I don’t think Scarlett wore black gloves. I’ll have to watch the movie again to see, because this was a crucial element to mourning attire. “Black gloves” actually became slang for mourning.

What I didn’t know was that women were expected to stay in mourning for 2-1/2 years. First in full mourning, meaning all black including gloves, bonnet, and perhaps a veil, for one year and one day. Then she could move into the next stage of mourning or even “stay in mourning” permanently, such as Stonewall Jackson’s wife, who was widowed at the age of 28 and lived to be in her 80’s.
Men had to mourn for 3 months.
The women in the fashion show had made their clothing and talked about that and their desire to be as historically accurate as possible. They said that GWTW wasn’t historically accurate. No? That’s a shame, because that’s where I’ve gotten most of my knowledge about the Civil War. I like to think I look at the war through Scarlett’s eyes. As skewed as that might have been, I loved the dresses.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Eiffel Towers

Can you tell which of these is the real Eiffel Tower? 


Boy, I hope so. One is the genuine article in Paris, France. The other is at Kings Island amusement park in Ohio.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I Think You Can Guess I'm Traditional

These days, it seems like there are two types of churches: Traditional or Modern.  I've been in many churches with pricket stands and votive candles that worshippers can light in prayer. The two displays I'll show below symbolize the two different kinds of churches, though they do not actually describe the two churches where I took these.


San Antonio, Texas
 To me, this votive display symbolizes traditional churches with pews, hymnals, an organ, a minister and choir wearing robes, and a Sunday morning devoted to church, which means that everyone is dressed in their 'Sunday Best' in reverence to God and will stay that way through Sunday dinner with the family at 3:00pm. Though I'm not very religious, these churches make me wish I were.


Grecia, Costa Rica
 In contrast, these coin-operated lightbulbs immediately make me think of huge megachurches with folding chairs to accommodate a crowd in a multi-purpose room, with plasma screens, power point slides, a congregation clad in jeans, shorts, and t-shirts, and a rock band of "American Idol" hopefuls.

I know these churches are becoming more and more popular, and that it isn't as important where you worship as that fact that you do worship. But I'm old-fashioned. If anyone lights a candle for me, I hope they'll find a church with a steeple, stained-glass windows and a robe-clad choir singing "Amazing Grace" though I think those churches are becoming harder and harder to find.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bike Ride Over

Joe wasn't impressing anyone with his newfound zeal for bicycling to work. His co-workers knew that the real reason he rode a bike to work these days was due to a drunk driving violation and not a new appreciation for "going green" as he claimed. He came to work these days in sweaty shirts and pants sprayed at the hems with dirty gutter water. He spent the first hour of work gorging on doughnuts and panting with exertion every time he got out of his chair.

He excused himself at lunchtime every day, saying that he was going to take a few quick laps around the park so that his muscles stayed loose, but his co-workers weren't stupid. They could see him from their office windows, pushing his bike across the street, opening his flask, and passing out on the grass until he had to make a reappearance at his desk, sweaty and tired again from his noontime 'laps.'

Friday, September 23, 2011

Passions for Art

I've always admired artists. I have absolutely no artistic (drawing) skills myself despite the fact that my mother is a wonderful artist and my father draws engineering designs. They didn't pass that gene on to me. I've tried. In fact, my mother let me take art lessons when I was younger and I improved a smidgen, but my drawings never progressed much beyond what you might see a 2nd-grader do. I'm okay with that. Even when I do try to sit down and put a picture on paper, I don't get any real enjoyment from it; no sense of accomplishment or appreciation for what I've created. I'm simply not a visual artist.

But I do love words. I love sitting down and putting words on paper. I read sentences back to myself and get immense satisfaction from the words I've chosen, the way I put them together, what they might or might not say. I can't imagine my world without words.

When I meet someone who doesn't like to write, it almost astounds me. How can you not like to make up stories, or write down your thoughts? I think. I'm sure many art teachers, and maybe my own mother have wondered the same thing when I pass on picking up a paintbrush, clay, or scissors and glue for that matter. I just don't. I don't even like to doodle. But I do love to sit and watch other people draw and paint and create.
They always seem so content.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tobacco Fields

These yellow crops looked so pretty as we drove through the Indiana countryside. They're tobacco plants.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Glee cupcakes from my daughter's birthday party.

I am so excited that the new season of Glee has started. I love that it takes place in Ohio, though I don't think my high school had a glee club. Or maybe they did and I just didn't know. Glee clubs were never on my radar, despite the fact that my father was in his.

My dad is a mechanical engineer by trade. If you talk to him, the conversation will be the epitome of any engineering conversation you can imagine. Lots of details, facts, measurements, and mechanical terms. He never, never seems to realize that I don't know what he's talking about. He goes on with his explanations for hours. But I'm fine with that. Every once in a while I do have a glimmer of understanding and get the chance to really talk with him because he's telling me about his work and what excites him.

So, imagine my surprise when I was working as a hotel auditor near Mason, Ohio back when I was 21 years old, and Sgt. Hornsby stopped in on his nightly rounds to make sure everything was okay. He knew me by face, but looked at my name tag a little closer one night and asked, "Are you by any chance related to Elaine Wetz?"

"Yes, she's my aunt."

"I went to high school with her."

The next night he came in with a high school yearbook. He opened it up and showed me my aunt's picture, and his. Then we looked up my dad. I'd seen his high school picture before, but then we looked at my dad's name in the index and there were several numbers next to it. We flipped back through the pages and there he was as the star in his high school musical, The Music Man. There he was at the prom (prom court?). There he was in the orchestra with a violin. And there he was in the glee club. The glee club! My father played the violin and was in the glee club, and I had no idea until a policeman came into my workplace at 3:00am when I was 21-years-old and showed me his old yearbook.

Naturally, when I got off work I called my dad and asked him why he'd never told me that he was in The Music Man, or played the violin, or sang in glee club? He gave me a typical engineer answer:

"You never asked."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Honey! Who Knew?

This past summer, when we picked our dog up from the dog sitter, she mentioned that his paws were swollen and bothering him. He kept licking them and gnawing at them. We could see they were red. She said she thought it might be allergies and that we should take him to a vet. We did, and she was right. He had allergies and had been licking and gnawing one paw so badly that it was infected.

We gave him his rounds of medicine and it got a little better, but not completely. Then a friend of mine said her dog had allergies, too, and did the same thing, so they gave him a spoonful of local honey every day. In fact, she and her husband were taking a spoonful of local honey every day to combat their allergies, too.

I must be the last person in the world to know this because I started telling people and they all knew this secret home remedy. Even my son. So, we went to the local farmer's market and bought some honey. If you don't know, the 'local' part is important because it has the same pollens that you're allergic to in your area.

So, we give Chipsy a spoonful of honey everyday. As soon as we ask him if he's "ready for his medicine," he runs to the kitchen and stands by the pantry. He loves the taste and it seems to work. He rarely licks his paws at all any more.

Monday, September 19, 2011

What Children Remember

Jardin des Luxembourg, Paris

My son Mac was was looking at pictures from our recent trip to Paris. He didn't go with us on this trip, but I'd taken him there when he was younger, so he was familiar with most of the places we went. But when I showed him this picture of the Jardin des Luxembourg, he didn't remember going there. I wasn't surprised that he didn't remember this park specifically because we went to a different park every day on our trip. (I learned a hard lesson about traveling alone with a 9-year-old child-- you spend a lot of time at playgrounds, despite being in a city with a million other sights to see.)

Anyway, I told Mac that we had visited this park. He still didn't remember. So I said, "You played boats on the water with a little French boy at the reflecting pool." Ah, then he remembered!

It struck me how unique our memories are. There have been many other instances when my children recall small, inconsequential details instead of the major events that I think they'll remember. I took Mac to a festival when he was little. There was a concert and a few other big draws for him, but what he remembered most was the bank of blue mailboxes that he kept walking around.

My daughter remembers all sorts of details. She's very observant. But her memories are still very different than mine. She may remember a trip because of the breakfast bar at the hotel, or the elevators. The thing that left the biggest impression on her during our Sesame Place water park and the Atlantic City boardwalk was the sunburn my husband got on his back. Ironically, a sunburn is almost all I remember of my childhood trip to Disneyworld. I remember very little of the park itself, just the horrible sunburn on the backs of my legs.

So, would I change anything about these trips? Or stop taking my children to all these places that they only vaguely remember? No, certainly not. I just find it interesting that the things that make the greatest impressions on them aren't the things I actually take them to see at all.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Marathon #2

Yesterday was the Air Force Marathon at Wright-Pat AFB in Dayton, Ohio. All 13,000 spots sold out. People from all 50 states came to run the full marathon, half-marathon, or 10K, including my son, Mac, and his friend Nick. This was Mac's second marathon and my second time to be a Marathon Mom. I was ill-prepared both times.

Last year, I had no idea what to expect. I'd never
been to a marathon before and am not a runner, so don't understand the allure of running so much that your muscles cramp up, your body feels sick, and you may cause injury to yourself. Still, I supported Mac's endeavor and cheered him on as I waited four hours...five hours...and a little bit longer for Mac to cross the finish line. When he did, he was triumphant, though we soon learned that he'd hurt both of his feet in the process. He'd walked a good part of the marathon and would hobble around with stress fractures in his feet for the next few months. I was proud of him for finishing a marathon, but was glad it was over. He'd hurt his feet before. Surely he wouldn't do it again.

But he did. He signed up for the marathon again, this time "rucking" it -- meaning he would be in full military gear with 70 pounds of gear on his back. I was nearly beside myself worrying. I'm his mother; I can't help it. I reminded him of the injury to his feet last time. I tried to talk him out of it, but he's a grown man and wouldn't listen. I was grateful that he knew it wasn't a lack of confidence in his abilities on my part, but a mother worrying over her son's safety. He said he understood and I drove him and his friend to Dayton at the crack of dawn and wished them luck as The Star Spangled Banner was sung and a B1B bomber flew overhead. The race began.

I sat in the bleachers and waited. One hour passed, then two. I wasn't expecting him yet anyway. Three hours passed, heading into four. We thought Nick might cross the finish line at any moment, but knew that Mac's race would take a while. He hoped to finish in 5 and a half hours. Then my phone rang. It was Mac.

"I had to quit."

I could barely hear him over the cheering and music as runners rounded the bend and came down the home stretch. They were transporting Mac back to the area. He'd meet us in the bleachers.

My anxiety was relieved when I saw him walking down the tarmac. He seemed stiff, but okay. We met and he said that his hips were hurting too bad to finish and that he didn't want to do any damage to his feet or knees since he is signed up to run (not ruck) the Marine Corps Marathon next month and undergo physical tests for special forces sometime in the next month.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief that he wasn't injured and was so impressed with him for quitting while he was ahead. I know that must have been hard for him. He'd hoped to be one of the few people who ever finish a full marathon rucking. I couldn't be prouder of him for trying and knowing his limits.

He sat in the bleachers with us as we waited for Nick to finish his first marathon. He came in at 5:13, stiff and cramping and proud that he'd done it.

We've been through two marathons now. They start the same: carbo-loading pasta dinners the night before; waking up at dawn to wolf down a high-protein breakfast; them sleeping in the car as I crawl through marathon traffic outside the base; walking briskly 1-2 miles from the parking lot to the start area; warm-up stretching exercises; the national anthem; the sonic boom of an Air Force jet overhead; the start, and then the wait.

They've been just the same, but so different emotionally.  I know Mac was disappointed that he didn't finish but I hope he is proud that he made a wise decision. I am.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Pictures for George

Sometimes Kay took her camera with her. She walked along the trail, stopping every so often to snap a picture for George. A hummingbird. A squirrel suddenly still. Leaves fluttering to rest atop rocks. George would have loved it.

During their first year of marriage, Kay and George had camped nearly every weekend of the summer and fall. It was all new to Kay, who'd never spent much time outdoors and certainly never expected to like it. George changed that. He took her to a scenic state park and cajoled her into hiking a wilderness trail with him. She'd sweated and slipped a few times, catching herself with her hands. She was uncomfortable with the dirt at first. But George said he liked a woman who wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty, and she'd so desperately wanted to be everything George ever dreamed of in a woman. He told her she was.

Once they had kids, they bought a camper and took them on family holidays in the Smokies and Cumberland Gap. They'd even considered buying a cabin on the lake, but never did. Then the kids were grown and gone. George and Kay had reverted back to their newlywed days, walking in the woods when they could, a little more slowly, enjoying the sights rather than the exertion. They'd even started watching birds and often carried binoculars with them.

Kay didn't have binoculars with her today. Just her camera. She snapped a picture of a flower growing between two tree roots. George would have liked that. In fact, she had a whole album full of sights George would have liked. She sometimes expected to see him out on the path; bending over a log to see who lurked behind it, or looking up into the tall branches of a tree, looking for nests. He would have called to her and pointed, wanting to share the moment with her. Kay obliged, staring into the tree limbs and snapping another picture.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Restaurant No-No's

Sean Elder wrote an article for the digital magazine Real Eats titled 5 Things You Never Want To Hear Your Waiter Say. That immediately caught my attention, but I was disappointed to open the link and find such innocuous things such as:
  • "It depends on what you like."
  • "We have two orders of the [blank] left; if you're thinking of that I'll put the order in now."
  • "We'll bring the dishes out of the kitchen as they're ready."
  • "We can't turn the air conditioning/heat/music down because the chef likes it like that."
  • "What are we talking about here?"

Here are 5 things I never want to hear MY waiter say:

  1. I lost one of my ear gauges (or fingernails, or teeth). Can you check your food?
  2. Hhhmm. That dish doesn't look right. It's not usually green.
  3. We've only had 3 reported cases of food poisoning this week.
  4. Aahh-ch-o-o-o-o!  Sorry, I'll wipe that off.
  5. I think I'm going to throw up again.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Two Different Rides

"I wonder how high we're going? This is probably as big as the Eiffel Tower. I wonder who built this? They had to use a really big ladder and carry up a lot of tools. I don't think it can break. But maybe if there's an earthquake or something. Then it would rattle apart and those screws would come out. Or it could break in half and we could be stuck to one rail, hanging up in the air. If we hold onto these bars, we should be safe. We wouldn't drop out of the side. I wonder if I could climb down? A monkey could. I could climb down like a monkey. Or a squirrel. No, a squirrel would run down. I'd do it like a monkey. What about you?"

"I don't know. I guess I'd wait for the firemen to rescue us."

"You mean, go down a ladder? Cool! Or they could bring a helicopter and come down on one of those rope ladders and get us. Or wait! They could set up an inflatable slide and we could all slide down it. I wonder if they'd bring a crane? A helicopter would be my favorite. What about you?"

"I don't know. The ride's over."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

If you like documentaries, Morgan Spurlocks' experiment in creating a movie about marketing that was funded entirely by company brands, is definitely worth a view.

In Pom Wonderful's Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Spurlock calls on various national and international brands, looking for sponsorships to fund his $1.5 million movie. As you can tell by the film's title, Pom Wonderful (pomegranate juice) anted up to be the title sponsor.  Spurlock videotaped the sales pitch he gave them, some of their follow-up meetings, and his ideas for advertising Pom products during the film.

We also watch Spurlock make cold calls and sales call to several other businesses, sometimes landing the sale; sometimes not. If you've ever worked in the corporate world, you will feel right at home. If you haven't, you may shake your head in wonder at the goings-on in those company boardrooms as marketing teams promise tens of thousands of dollars with little promise of return on investment. Or so it first seems. But then Spurlock lets the audience in as he starts to receive complex contracts from these sponsoring companies, demanding specific product exclusivity, advertising slants, and quantitative bang for their buck. Spurlock gets frustrated and wonders if he'll actually have any freedom in producing his film at all.

That's where I sympathized with him completely. I have been in his shoes and know how hard it can be to try to please so many people in so many ways without losing sight of what your intent was in the first place. I know, because I used to be a fundraiser for national non-profits and sometimes felt like I was selling my do-gooder soul to the highest bidder. I had to get title sponsors, corporate sponsors, media sponsors, food sponsors, etc., and almost all of those sponsors expected exclusivity and some sort of public relations return on investment as well. Certainly understandable on their parts; they were the ones funding the project. But it was difficult at times, and Spurlock quickly learned how complicated things could get.

The movie is worth watching for all of that insight into the inner workings of branding and sponsorships. But it also included one tidbit outside of this realm that I found to be the most fascinating piece of the movie. Spurlock travels to Sao Paolo, Brazil where they have outlawed outdoor advertising completely. There are no billboards or signs promoting products. There are no advertisements painted onto the sides of the buildings, buses, or taxis. You could still see where those ads were and the city looked somehow stripped of color, but it was incredible to see. Spurlock interviewed a few retailers, too, asking them what they were doing to boost sales now that they couldn't advertise publicly. Most said they were relying on word-of-mouth and referrals.

Interesting. I cannot even imagine that happening here, and you won't be able to, either, if you watch Pom Wonderful's Greatest Movie Ever Sold and realize just how pervasive advertising is in our society. The De Bonis and Peterson marketing group, as well as the Business Journal, say the average American is exposed to 600 advertisements a day. Even more frightening, the Union of Concerned Scientists Website estimates that number to be more like 3,000 advertisements a day. Whatever number, it's too much. We're bombarded with commercial messages in one form or another. I don't think we even notice most of it. Or do we? By the end of the movie, I desperately wanted a glass of pomegranate juice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Powerful Message

Written on this "bathroom wall":

For an electrifying time, call Sparky


Monday, September 12, 2011

A Difficult Topic

Not exactly a "sagging cabin..."

As I mentioned, I took part in a 24-hour Short Story contest over the weekend. We were emailed this topic and had 24 hours to write a 925-word story:

She was standing on the porch of a sagging cabin with bright
yellow leaves collecting around her feet. As the cold wind
billowed her skirt, she shivered and wondered if the owner
of the purse really lived here. She knocked timidly and the
door quickly opened, revealing a tiny girl holding a
hideous, bald doll...

I found this writing prompt very difficult. As always, Angela at cautioned writers not to use the first topic that came to mind. She encouraged us to think outside the box. I heeded her words because I know that the first thing that comes to my mind is likely to be the first thing that came to the minds of many others. Or maybe not. Here are the ideas that came to my mind first:

  • The purse would be an expensive designer bag that seemed in sharp contrast to the sagging cabin.
  • The purse belonged to the girl and it was full of things she shouldn't have, like stolen goods, a big wad of money, or a gun.
  • My daughter thought the purse should contain airline tickets and passports. I almost went with this storyline.
But then, my daughter and I brainstormed some more and we came up with a storyline that didn't center on the purse much at all. I won't share my story here until the contest results are in. But I'm happy with what I came up with.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Guest Post: How I Felt That Day

by Michael Jones

Flag at half-mast. 9/11/11

           I think everyone can say where they were on 9/11 and what they were doing at the time they found out. My wife, and every other adult I knew at the time, was at work. Our son was at school, in the sixth grade. I was a stay-at-home dad with our daughter who was a little over one at the time. The generic question that we teachers ask every year is what were you doing? Or, what were you thinking? How has the world changed?
            What hits me most as I think back was the noises and silence. I can almost feel them.

            The day was like any other, watching Bear in the Big Blue House. It was a fascinating show. An overgrown bear, living with his friends and playing games. My daughter’s favorite part was when Bear would hold his nose to the TV and “smell” what the children watching had eaten for breakfast, shrinking into me as his nose came closer and the snuffling started. Bear and his friends would noisily sing songs and I would bounce her, giggling, on my knee as I sang along, sometimes making up the words to fit whatever mood I was in.
            The phone rang and it was my mother-in-law, frantically trying to find out if Julie had flown anywhere that day. Weird question since she had only flown one time for work and it had been a month previous. I stated no and asked why. She explained that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and it looked like we were under attack.
After she shrilly convinced me that she was telling the truth, and I convinced her that Julie was at work, I switched the channels and sat. I watched as the footage was replayed over and over. Sounds merging into each other. Planes crashing, people leaping to their deaths and the towers falling. Plumes of smoke, people crying, wanting, no feeling in my soul, like every other able-bodied man, that I needed to run out and join the military. I was hypnotized.
Throughout the morning, the cacophony of the phone ringing over top of the newscasters’ voices interrupted my thoughts. I spoke with my wife and all of our parents, holding Izzy on my lap, wondering what kind of world we had brought her into. I briefly debated getting Mac out of school and heading to my in-laws farm and decided against it. What good would that do?
Still I sat and stared at the TV.
I looked at another image of people dying and wailing and looked at my daughter. What the hell was I doing? I was sitting here subjecting my daughter to this. I knew that she was captivated by Disney Channel so surely she might be captivated by these images, too.
I thought back to some of my college professors who had lived with the threat of terrorism in other countries. They had said that while they were always on guard, they knew that life had to go on. Experts on television were saying the same. If you lived in fear, the terrorists would win.
I made a decision then and there. I switched off the TV and got her dressed. I placed her in her stroller and went outside. It was the hardest step of the day. I did not want to leave the chaos of noise, crying spectators, buildings crashing, phone ringing non stop.
The sun was blinding as I started down the street. The first thing I noticed was that our street, which was normally busy with cars, had only a few cars slowly making their way down it. The people driving them looked slack jawed and scared, almost like zombies. Some were obviously crying and distraught. Others were staring absently forward. The sound of talk radio wafted from their cars as they passed. No one else was outside walking.
I looked down at my daughter. She was sitting up, looking around, having a great time. As I continued to walk, the second thing that hit me was the silence. No booming stereos, no yelling, even those few cars on the road were quieter. We were the only two left in this apocalyptic atmosphere, walking to God knows where. Not fleeing attacks as the poor souls in New York were, but fleeing none the less.
I heard birds, looked up and noticed what every one would later say was the eeriest part: no planes. No trails of exhaust, no engine sounds, just bird song.
I would return to the house after an hour or so and it took strength not to watch the coverage with Izzy there. I would wait until she took her nap. The silence would evaporate as the television hissed and warmed up. We would talk about the attacks later with Mac who was scared by some of the insanity that would be prevalent for the next few days, in particular a grown man walking the streets of our village wearing a gas mask.
With time, the planes started flying again, cars were booming, a much called for war was looming and life went on.  Every year at this time, I can remember what I was doing, what I saw, where I was. What I try to remember is what I felt as I sit and type this. The silence. The silence of the skies, cars, people. The feeling of that silence in my body as it weighed down on me then and now, still struggling to grasp that short amount of time when the world stopped.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Writing Contest Today

Enjoy this pretty picture of leaves while I take a brief hiatus from the blog today. Well, not really, 'cause here I am. But I'm saving my writing energy for the Writers Weekly Fall 2011 24-Hour Short Story Contest. It starts at 1:00pm EST today when I'll be emailed the topic for this fall's contest. I then have 24 hours to come up with my story.

My niece is doing it, too. There may still be spots if you want to participate. Winners will be announced before Halloween.

1st Place: $300
2nd Place: $250
3rd Place: $200

Entry fee is $5. You can see the complete list of 85 prizes and sign up here:

Friday, September 9, 2011


Robot connecting classes remotely during a recent company training.

The August 1, 2011 Sports Illustrated ran an article about a boy named Lyndon Baty who attends school in his tiny Texan town via robot. Lyndon was born with PKD (polycystic kidney disease), an often fatal disease. As Gary Smith describes it in his article "A Boy and His Bot," Lyndon was born with a hole in his heart, a quarter-sized stomach, dangerously high blood pressure, and enlarged kidneys full of cysts. He was given 14 days-2 years to live.

Today, Lyndon is a freshman in high school, though he doesn't actually set foot in the school. He attends his 68-student high school virtually, using a robot to maneuver through hallways and sit in class. Like the other students, he can go from classroom to classroom and interact with his schoolmates. His face is visible on the screen that is the robot's "head." The other students see and talk with Lyndon and he sees them. The robot braves the germs and dangers at school while Lyndon stays home controlling the robot through his computer. It is the only way he can attend school.

We use a robot at my workplace on occasion, too. Like Lyndon's, the person controlling our robot remotely is visible on the monitor screen. He or she can move about the room and interact with other people and can even zoom in if there is something particular he needs to view. Unlike Lyndon, we haven't realized the robot's full potential. Often, our robot remains stationary and simply replaces other virtual meeting tools like video conferencing and Skype. We're still exploring the many ways in which the computer can be used. For now, it simply replaces the need for people to travel to a meeting.

Who knows what the future might bring. In the SI article, one teacher quips that robots may be the wave of the future. Perhaps one day we'll all live virtual lives from the comfort of our homes. I, for one, hope not. But as Lyndon and other explorations into the world of robotic utilization prove, the robots are coming!

To read the full Sports Illustrated article, click here:

Thursday, September 8, 2011

I'll Have the Kibble du Jour

The first time I went to Paris, I couldn't get over the fact that dogs were everywhere. They were in the stores, the buses, the trains, and the restaurants. It was bizarre. Especially for someone like me, who didn't have a dog at the time and found it very strange to sit next to someone else's dog in a restaurant.

On my more recent trip to Paris, I expected to see this again, but only encountered one dog in a restaurant. He was happily eating french fries from his owner's plate. My dog loves french fries, too, but I cannot imagine taking him to a restaurant. He would be straining against his leash and devouring foods off of everyone's plates.

He is so not French.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

By The Sea

A dream. To live by the sea. To wander down to the pier and watch the boats swish atop the waves. To listen to the seashell-crashing white noise of the waves. To be entranced by seagulls gliding and diving along the shoreline. To become accustomed to breathing in the smell of salty air and fish, and look out onto the water with your back to the world. Truly, a dream.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My 9-1-1 Emergency

I received this writing pompt:  emergency room.  It wasn't an easy one for me, since I only have one emergency room story to tell. I have been fortunate. Very, very fortunate in many ways, but in particular, I consider it lucky that I have only ridden in the back of an ambulance once.

I was twenty-seven years old. I was sitting in my Tarpon Springs, Florida apartment watching Natalie Wood in Splendor in the Grass and munching on popcorn. It was one of my favorite movies. It should have been a relaxing evening -- it was a relaxing evening. Which made it even more strange when I suddenly had trouble breathing and thought I was having a heart attack.

My five-year-old son was asleep in his room. I didn't know what to do. Was I really having a heart attack? It didn't make any sense. I was generally healthy. But I couldn't breathe. I had pains down the left side of my body and through my shoulder. That was a sign of a heart attack, wasn't it?

Then the phone rang. It was a friend of mine from Ohio. "I think I'm having a heart attack," I told her. My breath was labored. She could tell something was wrong.

"Either you call 9-1-1, or I will," she said.

I knew she was right. I reluctantly called 9-1-1, not sure what I would do with my son. I called my grandmother who lived a few miles away. It was nearly 11:00pm. I'd never called so late. I'd never really called her needing anything, but I needed her now.

The medics got there before she did. They started running vital signs on me and asking me questions. They started to transport me to the ambulance, assuring me that they would watch my son until my grandmother got there. I felt panicked. What did they mean by "watch him?" Take him into custody? Stay there and babysit? Calling 9-1-1 had been a horrible mistake. I'd changed my mind. But then I saw my grandmother get out of her car and she got Mac and followed me to the hospital.

They ran their tests and everything came out normal. The doctor decided I'd had a panic attack and that I needed psychiatric care. Psychiatric care! Panic attack? Why would I have a panic attack? I'd been sitting at home watching one of my favorite movies. They released me and I went home, worrying that I was stressed-out and delusional beyond belief. I'd had no idea I was such a mess.

Then I talked to my Dad. I was telling him about the night before: the movie, the popcorn, the heart attack feeling and the doctor's prognosis. "Hhmm," he said. "That sounds just like what happened to your mom when she had gallstones. She had to go to the hospital after eating popcorn and they told her it was all in her head. I think they said she was having panic attacks, too."

Sure enough, I had gallstones. I saw a surgeon and had my gall bladder removed at the age of twenty-seven; the same age my mother was when she had hers removed. But I didn't call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. I drove myself. I've been very, very lucky.

Monday, September 5, 2011

First, A Song

"My name is Pedro. I sing for you. The Spanish, they love the music. Is romantic."

Jennifer cringed. Her stomach tightened into a ball of knots as Pedro began to serenade them. Randy reached across the table and tried to take her hand. Jennifer saw a lumpy box poking out of his breast pocket and quickly grabbed a few tortilla chips. She dipped them into the salsa before Randy could touch her. Tomato juice dripped down her wrist and along her forearm. She dropped the mess onto her plate and wrapped her arm in the linen napkin.

Randy scooted his chair closer to her and draped his arm across the back. She was pinned in by Randy's chair on one side and Pedro on the other. Her stomach lurched. She had to get out of there. Desperate, she snatched another tortilla chip from the basket and scooped up as much salsa as she could. She hurriedly brought the clump of food toward her face and then dropped it into her lap. The salsa splashed across her skirt.

"Oh no! I've got to go wash this out."

Jennifer's chair scraped against the wood of the floor, momentarily drowning out the baleful sounds of Pedro's love song. She inched toward the singer, whose eyes closed with emotion as he crooned to the couple. Jennifer impatiently tried to squeeze past him, but didn't have the gumption to knock his arm and send his fingers skittering across the strings.

"Excuse me."

Pedro tilted his head back and howled his love. "Excuse me!" she repeated loudly.

Pedro opened his eyes and took in the scene. A panicked young woman. A red stain on her lap. A look of despair as she hurried away from her lover. Pedro's volume dropped and he quietly strummed the strings, moving out of Jennifer's way and turning his attention to other couples; couples who were smiling into each other's eyes instead of running away.

"Hurry back, Jenny-bear. I have something I want to ask you," Randy said in a sing-song voice to Jennifer's back.

Jennifer froze for a moment, stiffening slightly before grabbing her purse. She held her skirt away from her legs and hurried off. She hoped she looked like a concerned young woman on her way to clean up as she brushed past people and headed not toward the restroom, but toward the front door.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

An Interview With Sunny, Whose Child Is Autistic

Another insightful look into the world of autism is the movie "Temple Grandin."
Temple Grandin is an autistic woman who later earned a PhD for her work
with animal behavior, namely cows.

A year ago, Sunny’s two-year-old son, Wyatt, was diagnosed as being autistic. Now three, he still exhibits most of the symptoms associated with autism: stimming, a lack of any verbal and very little non-verbal communication, rocking and banging his head, and poor eye contact. Over the past year, Sunny has changed his diet to a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) elimination diet and has seen a change in his behavior.

ME: How did you first learn about the gluten-free, casein-free diet approach to autism?
SUNNY: I was looking through a gluten-free cookbook that I’d borrowed from a friend who has Celiac disease and it talked about how gluten affects people with autism. So I followed up and researched it more on the internet.
ME: What was Wyatt like before you started the diet?
SUNNY: He used to scream and throw himself down and throw tantrums. He’d bite me and pull my hair. I couldn’t discipline him. Sometimes I’d try and he’d just get worse and pull my hair harder and laugh.
ME: But he’s not like that now that he’s not ingesting gluten and casein?
SUNNY: No. He’s like a different person. He smiles and interacts with us. He tries to pronounce words, not just make squeals and squeaks. He’s a lot calmer and loveable.
ME: Do you know why gluten and casein affect him like that?
SUNNY: From what I’ve learned, gluten and casein act like a drug in him. He gets the same kind of reaction.  He gets crazed and wants more and more. And then you have to basically detox him again after he’s had it. His body can’t process the gluten and casein. It turns into peptides, which is like a morphine buzz, and then he has tantrums and gets vicious. I wonder if the morphine effect even blocks him from having pain because he does stuff that should hurt him, but he just laughs and goes on.
ME: Did the doctors mention the GFCF diet it to you?
SUNNY: No. Not at all. The doctors scoffed at me when I mentioned it at Children’s Hospital. When I kept pushing it, they said they’d heard of it, but that it wasn’t scientifically proven to be effective. They acted like I was doing something wrong; like I wasn’t giving him something he needed in his diet. But when I explained to them that I was using fresh fruit to make pancakes and using wheat-free and gluten-free flours, they said what I was doing was okay.
ME: Do you know whether autism groups endorse it?
SUNNY: Oh, yeah. It’s on every autism site I look at. They all talk about what a difference the GFCF diet makes. But still, the doctors won’t even mention it. It’s crazy.
ME: I know gluten is in wheat and other grain products, but what is casein?
SUNNY: Casein is the protein in milk. But sometimes it has hidden names on labels, so it’s hard to identify. Sometimes it’s called caseinate. Sometimes it’s not listed on the label at all. It can be in soy products, but there’s no mention of it.
ME: I imagine it’s hard to find foods.
SUNNY: Very hard. It’s getting a little easier to find gluten-free foods, but it’s hard to find gluten-free AND casein-free foods. Gluten is hidden in other ingredients, too, like MSG or malt flavorings. And it’s in all kinds of things you don’t know about: make-up, lotions, soap, shampoo, glue, Play-doh… all kinds of things. I’ve taken all those things away so that he doesn’t absorb gluten through his skin.
ME: And you found out it’s in paper, too.
SUNNY (nods): Yes. I didn’t realize it at first, but then Wyatt started chewing his books. He shut himself in my bedroom and literally started eating his books. I took them all away, but he still wouldn’t come out of my room for two days. He wouldn’t do anything; none of the things he usually likes to do. He started screaming and pulling my hair again, and throwing tantrums. It stayed in his system for a full week. And since we didn’t have any books or paper around, he started looking for other things to chew on: clothes, and the tags in our clothes. He was like a drug addict searching for a drug.
ME: Had he ever had reactions like this before?
SUNNY: Yes. One time he had a piece of a bun from McDonald’s and you could see the change in him that night. He went wild, biting and screaming. It took him four days before it went through his system and he was calm again.
ME: What did the doctors say?
SUNNY: They said there were some drugs they could prescribe.
ME: But not the diet?
SUNNY: Not the diet.

The gluten-free, casein-free elimination diet has been endorsed by numerous families of autistic children but is still commonly dismissed by the medical community.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

New Orleans Levee

Standing on the levee

We all know that New Orleans flooded when the levees broke after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In case you've never been able to visualize what the levee looked like, here's a picture. It's not all that wide, and wasn't as tall as I'd expected, or at least, not as tall as I'd expect something to be if it was intended to hold back hurricane floods.

This picture is taken in the Lower 9th ward, which was one of the most severely damaged areas. The locals say a barge plowed through the wall, creating a huge hole that let the storm surges through. The grassy area in the background used to be a neighborhood of houses.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Year Two

This is it - the first anniversary of my blog. I managed to post and write about a picture for 365 days in a row and have been deliberating if, or how, I'd like to continue. I've had several ideas.

I thought maybe I'd change the focus, or actually, create a focus, since I don't have one. I toyed with the idea of switching to a travel blog, which I hope to do someday. I also thought about writing once a week instead of once a day. I could just write occasionally, though that seemed like a lot of pressure to write something good, if it was to be worthy enough to post. I thought about calling it a wrap and just letting "Daily Snapshot" be a wonderful memory.

But then I sat down with a man at work whom I only knew in passing. We talked about writing. His writing, my writing, and writing in general. He asked me about my process when I'm writing different pieces, and he said that he wished he could get back to doing some creative writing instead of spending all his energy putting words on paper at work. I understood completely.

Part of the reason I'd debated whether or not to continue blogging is because my work life is about to get a little crazy. It is getting harder and harder to strike a balance between work and home and blogging seemed like one thing that I could take off my plate. Why pressure myself to write every day when sometimes I just don't have the time or inspiration to do so?

But that thought is exactly why I have to continue. I was re-motivated and inspired after talking to that man at work. I left work that day more energized than I had in a long time, and realized again that I must keep myself connected to the writing world somehow, no matter how crazy things get. It would be so easy to just let go and write occasionally -- but how sad is that? It goes against the grain of being a writer and sitting your butt down in a chair every day and writing down words whether you're "inspired" or not. Writing takes work. Writing takes discipline. And most importantly, writing makes me happy.

So, I have decided to continue. I will continue to write daily because that's what I need to do. I have decided to keep the blog unfocused, and relish in the freedom that it gives me. I did change the background (slightly), but am otherwise keeping things the same. Hopefully Daily Snapshot will continue to keep me tethered to the writing world when I could so easily be swept away by the other demands of life.

Here we go. Year Two.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Gobblesnort Road

"There's no way I'm going down there," Ricky told his friend Jake. "I'd rather cut through the cornfield."

Jake looked down at his bike tires. The front wheel was nearly flat. "I don't think I can make it through the cornfield. It's too rough. Those stalk stumps might pop my tire."

Ricky shrugged and turned his handlebars away from Gobblesnort Road. "Do what you want, but I'm not going anywhere near there. Some kinda freak lives down there." He jerked his head toward the house down the lane. "My brother says he saw a goblin down there once."

"There's no such things as goblins," Jake argued. "Besides, we'll go fast. Nobody will even be able to catch us."

"No humans, maybe."

"There are no goblins." Jake pushed off. His bike wobbled onto Gobblesnort Road. Ricky watched as Jake awkwardly pedaled toward the old white house. A patch of weeds blocked a rusty metal mailbox. Ricky supposed it had once read 'Smith' though 'S  th' was all that remained of the ancient black lettering along its side.

"You coming?" Jake called over his shoulder.

Ricky shook his head but couldn't bring himself to turn his bike into the cornfield. Jake was right about the cornstalks being rough. He didn't relish trying to make his way through the bumpy, sharp shards of stalk sticking up through the ground.

He watched Jake near the white house and saw a hand move the curtain inside the window.

"Jake!" he screamed. "The goblin!"

Jake swiveled his head quickly, first back at his friend, then toward the window of the house where he saw blue drapes move inside. Startled, he drove into the gravel shoulder of the road and skidded into the ditch. Ricky raced toward his friend, pedalling fiercely as he neared the shoulder. "Are you okay? Come on!"

Ricky whipped his bike back around as Jake jumped up and ran beside him. They turned off Gobblesnort Road and paused, both of them breathing hard. Jake panted a moment, then crouched down to inspect his knee. He'd skinned it up in his fall.

"Man, that was close!" Ricky said as he looked back down the road at the sinister white house.

"I know. I saw him!"

"You saw him? The goblin?"

Jake swallowed and shook his head as he caught his breath. "No. It wasn't a goblin. It was some kind of... monster. Half pig and half human. It was creepy!" Jake backed further away as he told his tale. "I'm never going down there again."

Ricky nodded and stared at the house. Then his eye caught sight of the metal heap near the road. "Oh, man! Your bike."

Jake exhaled loudly and shook his head. "I'm not going back down there. He can keep my bike. I'm not going anywhere near that thing again."

Ricky nodded and made room on his seat for Jake. Then he stood on his pedals and began making his way through the cornfield. "Wait'll I tell my brother."