Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The three wedding crashers

Some of you know that my daughter runs a bed and breakfast/event center in another city. So far they have been able to fend off the attacks against small enterprises, survive the slowdown and stay in business. Thankfully, some people still get married.

She has three sons who are true to their gender stereotypes and stay as far away from weddings and receptions as they reasonably can. However true to type, again, they exhibit a little interest when it comes to food at weddings.

They will typically come out of their boy caves just before an event and saunter next door for long enough to see what they might be serving at the current reception. They have tasted every kind of wedding cake they make and every kind of dessert dish there is. There are usually leftovers at these events. Did you ever wonder what people do with their leftover wedding cake?

In fact, if knowing what they were eating could make these boys chefs, they would have CPC (Certified Personal Chef) credentials by now. How many of you, especially you males, know what chocolate ganache is? These kids even have ganache preferences.

So usually they aren't terribly impressed with most of the reception fare, but occasionally they wish they were actually invited to the wedding next door so they could eat the food.

One summer Friday, they found out beforehand that Cold Stone Ice Cream was catering that night's wedding reception, and they were impressed.

“Mom, can have some of the ice cream at the reception?”

“No, the only way you would be able to get food at that reception is to get dressed in your Sunday clothes. I think they would notice that you were uninvited guests if you showed up dressed in worn out shorts and flip-flops. You haven't even combed your hair today. Don't even think of going over there.”

Remembering what a struggle it was to get her kids dressed for church on Sunday mornings, Mom patted her own back for cleverly and successfully deflecting that request.

Later that evening, Mom was “working the reception,” making sure that everything went smoothly for the wedding party and their guests. She was in the corner visiting with a guest when she looked across the room toward the food tables and saw three nicely dressed boys being served by the caterers. They seemed to have quite an unhealthy assortment of toppings being mixed into their ice cream too.

“Look at those cute little boys over there; I wonder who they belong to?” she idly asked the guest. Then she squinted a bit harder.

“Oh my gosh, those are my boys!”

“No wonder you thought they were cute.”

“I thought it was safe to tell them they couldn't eat Cold Stone unless they got dressed in their Sunday clothes. I certainly didn't think they would do it. You should hear them complain about tight shoes and stiff collars on Sunday morning.”

The boys successfully and happily got away with crashing the party. And just to make it worth getting dressed up for, they went through the line twice.

I am tickled to think that my grandchildren are resourceful, but my other thought is that serving Cold Stone at church could just possibly change the world.
Dave Barry, who is a hero of mine has said, “If God had wanted us to be concerned for the plight of the toads, he would have made them cute and furry.”

I am assuming that those words are part of some humor column he wrote about endangered species. There are a lot of people who know more than I do about species and such, but worrying about some of them (not the people) is just beyond my realm of concern except for when I accidentally step on one, in which case concern is hardly a strong enough descriptor.

Yes, it's hard to register alarm when we are talking about the possible disappearance of toads, snakes, bats, or anything with rodent or spider in its name, scientific or otherwise.

Getting excited about prairie dogs and desert ragweed is difficult too.

I did a little research and read that many ecosystems are delicately balanced and the endangerment of one species can effect many others in the same environment. In fact the biggest concern is that since humans and wildlife inhabit the same natural environments, it is important that the balance be maintained for the good of humans.

All this time, I thought that environmentalists were altruistic in their desires to protect species and that they were being protected for their own sakes. Silly me.

Although species become extinct as a natural occurrence, we should be concerned when they are helped along by the activities of humans.

Okay, which is it? Are humans the good guys or the bad guys here?

For myself, I am perfectly willing to get along with the grizzly bear, the gray wolf and for that matter, the black-footed ferret. In fact I have a suggestion for preserving their native habitat which I think is somewhere in the mountains. Simply post signs that say, “Caution, grizzly bears live here.” Nine tenths of us would gladly turn around and go home, or at least camp a hundred miles away. The one tenth who persist in hanging around would probably be the kind who leave no trace for one reason or another anyway.

One reason for preserving every species is that they might be useful to us someday. Fifty percent of prescription medications have active ingredients that come from plants or animals. However, by my count, fifty percent of plants are classified as weeds or are the kinds of plants that make us take prescriptions.

In fact, most of the plant species have not been studied sufficiently to determine what they are good for. Similarly, the complete nature of the relationships of most all of the of the species to each other and their habitats is not clearly understood. I suppose a good share of the mitigation programs involve some guesswork.

It's sort of like messing with the economy. Is endangering the housing market going to topple the world's economy? Probably not if we are busy counting fish instead of beans.

Perhaps the next question is whether protecting a fish or a plant is going to endanger a widespread economy? Or does anyone really know?

Valentine's Day according to Bertha

There may be a slow-down in the economy right now, but I am here to tell you that those who market goods and services to the American public aren't slowing down. In fact they remind me of that car commercial that takes you through the evolution of travel by putting you in the tracks of each stage of that development. The progression from one stage to another picks up speed as it goes along.

Well, of course it does. The whole point of the development of travel is go faster. Right? Well the whole intent of marketers is to get you to spend more money and spend it faster. I have never taken a marketing class in my life so I might be wrong, but I can tell you that I have learned in the school of hard knocks as a consumer that escalation is the name of the game.

I am very resistant. I have also learned in that school that “a fool and his money are soon parted” and to be careful not to “confuse wants with needs,” etc. etc.

The rate of escalation is especially noticeable when it comes to holidays. Take Valentine's Day for instance. Apparently it is an ancient holiday associated with a couple of Saints whose particular deeds have been forgotten. However, in the middle ages Valentine's Day was marked by giving flowers, confections or handwritten notes.

From the mid-19th century in the United States until the mid-20th century, people mainly exchanged valentine cards, either handwritten or manufactured, as an expression of love.

When I was in grade school we bought or made valentines which we traded at school. We put the valentines on the recipients' desk. That was it. We did spend a lot of time deciding which friend should get the biggest valentine (determined by measuring length and width with a ruler and multiplying) and sometimes the verdict was still out until the night before.

Then someone unwittingly invented the candy heart which was a huge leap ahead for retailers and changed Valentine's Day yet again. Ostensibly that happened long before I was born, but they didn't show up on my desk until mid grade-school years. Valentine's Day began to be associated with treats and candy again.

The practice of giving candy hearts at school necessitated the introduction of the Valentine Box. There needed to be a place to deposit those grubby hearts which incidentally were not originally packaged in individual servings. I remember one box made by one of my kids. It was made from a Quaker's oatmeal box to look like a can of Campbell's soup. The label read “Cream of Valentine Soup.”

Candy hearts were soon supplemented with candy bars, sticks of gum, suckers, etc. We did our share of escalating by putting red Jell-o Jigglers on the neighbors' porches and running. Since that time, there has been a huge upgrade in the nature of valentines which are no longer mere valentines but are now “valentine gifts.”

At some point, in the name of correctness, 28 identical valentines were sold in packages instead of a variety. Later valentine boxes were replaced by brown paper bags with hearts and a name colored on them, and valentine cards were replaced with identical packaged treats. Sort of like Halloween or Christmas. Everyone line up and trade candy or gift cards.

But marketers have really targeted the adults among us. No longer does Valentine's Day mean candy and flowers. Be thinking more along the lines of expensive and suggestive. Ignore the old adage which says you can't buy love. Think of diamonds, designer pajamas, dressed teddy bears and “deals” on jewelry like “buy one get one free.” I can only imagine the guy who thinks that is a deal.

The portable power problem

A couple of years ago I wrote an article about batteries in which I concluded that “if I couldn’t spell, I would think that “battery” is a four-letter word. It seems to me that they are the weak link in the universe.”

My grandson, who is my biggest fan, maybe the only one, wanted me to rewrite this article for one reason. He has the best actual example of the deficiencies of batteries that I have heard of.

Part of the article went like this:

With my cell phone, my iPod and my digital camera, I could possibly be described as a techno minimalist. Since there is a whole array of portable electronic devices such as laptops, notebooks, Bluetooths (or is plural Blueteeth?) Blackberrys (Blackberries?), Iphones and gaming devices that I don’t own or even know precisely what they do, I am not anything like a junkie. It’s a good thing.” (I have since acquired a tablet, only because I can't see much on a smart phone display.)

Do you know how many connectors/chargers it takes to run the few devices that I do have? I would hate to try keeping any more little black wires than I have now untangled and together with their devices. And don’t try to kid me; “wireless” does not mean that a device comes without any.

But worse than that, since all of these devices are portable, they all have batteries that have to be charged using one or more of those little black wires.

Think of it—my iPod could conceivably hold enough music to play non-stop for more than a week, which seems over the top considering I would have to charge it’s battery several times for it to play every piece. Suddenly, the thing is not so portable after all. You can’t get too far away from its home computer or its cradle, not without packing up its contingent of wires.

My daughter’s laptop does amazing things, but it needs to charge for two hours so she can use it for one. That seems upside down to me.

And right here is where my grandson's example fits in: “My dad's laptop was plugged in for 2½ years and went dead in three minutes.” This kid is pretty literal and is uncomfortable with exaggeration.

I am not the only one who recognizes the limitations of current batteries. This same kid was invited to go to a workshop for students who are intellectually gifted. One of the instructors challenged the kids there to come up with a better battery, i.e., batteries are lousy.

And then I went on to say that cell phones are even more dysfunctional than that. (I am not uncomfortable with exaggeration.) However, their batteries are weak (pun). They discharge even when you don’t use them. Did cell phone engineers say to one another, “I know how we can make a portable phone, and if we try really hard, maybe we can make a battery that will stay charged for a couple of days.”? If I were one of those engineers, I would be pushing for a month, minimum.

And if you think that digital cameras are going to be carefree, you are wrong. You have to worry about their batteries. Don’t expect to pick up your camera after a week and find that it will make pictures. It might not even turn on. What good is a pocket-sized camera on vacation if you have to bring along a backpack full of batteries to run it?

Electronics engineers try to get around the battery problem by creating bells, beeps, lights and bars to warn you that your batteries are about to die, but usually, before you can hook up the respirator, they’re dead.

Does anyone besides me want to step on the Energizer Bunny? If someone ever finds a solution for the weak link of the universe and invents a battery with some real lasting power, I hope I am related to him/her. Can you imagine?

The agreement is this: if I rewrite the battery article, my grandson (related to me) has to work on the battery problem.

Won't soon forget that memory foam

Thankfully I haven't been a patient in the hospital for years. A couple of outpatient visits to a surgical center have been it. Actually most of my hospital stays have been for the express purpose of having babies, so you can figure for yourself that it has been a while since I stayed in one.

Last week, I made a few visits to my daughter who was at the hospital for the same purpose. Three generations of us in the same room.

Well, some things have changed. The nurse was excited to announce that they had redone their recovery rooms and installed new hospital beds which have memory foam mattresses. I guess that is a good thing, but whoever ordered those for the hospital “forgot” that the goal is to turn over those beds.

And still, my daughter couldn't wait to get home even though her bed at home is quite forgetful. She was convinced that the hospital mattress was suffering from total recall and could remember the patients before her better than it could remember her.

Seriously, memory foam is pressure sensitive. The greater the pressure upon it, the greater the indentation in the foam.

As you can imagine new mothers have to sit up in bed a lot—to hold and feed the baby, to eat hospital food (which is not new and different) from a roll-away table, sign birth certificates and social security applications, to visit with her in-laws, and to impress some of the many caregivers who enter her room every five minutes. These people are more apt to let her go home if she is sitting up in bed looking healthy.

All that sitting up means is that there is a pretty hefty column of pressure forming that indentation right underneath the more vertical parts of her body. Add another eight pounds for the baby and you have quite a few psi's, or maybe column inches or whatever, depressing that foam.

I'm not sure what happens when you stand on a memory foam mattress, which would bring even more pressure to bear, but when you sit on one for a while, you get a pretty big depression down under. Pretty soon, mother needs more help getting out of the mattress than grandpa needs getting out of his chair. Gives a whole new meaning to the term “doughnut cushion.”

After a while of sitting in the doughnut hole (not to be confused with when you have to pay for your own prescriptions) the bottom bottoms out, and underneath that memory foam is something a little less resilient. Something with properties similar to rock or concrete.

At the end (pun) the new mother finds that she is wishing for an old-fashioned doughnut cushion made of absent-minded blow-up vinyl.

A couple of old shirt tales

You high school fashionistas won't believe it, but there was a time (when I had about four kids in junior high/high school) that golf shirts were the fashion item of the year. They came in all colors, solids and stripes, with matching or contrasting collars, and they were worn with jeans by both boys and girls.

The colors were not gender specific, nor were the cuts nor the styles. In fact you could find the exact same shirt in the boys or the girls departments of any store. The coveted ones featured embroidered logos on the front, of which Izod Alligators were the hottest.

We were not above saving little Izod Alligators when their shirts wore out and sewing them onto generic shirts.

The fact that the shirts were worn by both boys and girls meant that we ended up with quite an accumulation of shirts that could correctly be worn by anybody in the family. The Butterbean law on the use and abuse of wearables was, “If it can be worn by anyone, it will be.” But not at the same time.

Mornings in the Butterbean household used to go something like this—the case of your brother or sister wearing your shirt:

“Way to go.” (Said while snarling.)

“What?” (Sweet innocence.)

“Way to wear my shirt without asking.” (Louder snarl.)

“What shirt?” (More innocence.)

“Duh, the one you have on.”

“You weren't here, so I couldn't ask you.”

“So wear it anyway. What if I wanted to wear it?”

“You never wear this shirt.”

“That's because it is always dirty from you wearing it.”

Not bad, huh? I didn't raise politicians, but some of them must have missed their callings.

Then there was the case of the disappearing shirt:

“Mom, have you seen my shirt?”

“What shirt?” (This line appears in every scene.)

“My blue shirt from the GAP.”

“I didn't wear it.” (I was trying to be funny, but shirt-boy didn't laugh.)

“I haven't seen it since my big sister left for college.”

“Why would she take it? She has one just like it.”

“No she doesn't.”

“Yes she does; she was wearing it when she left.”

“That was mine.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, she wore it first, before I even had a chance to.”

“Then how should I know whose it is?

“You bought it for me.”

“Does she know that?”

“Of course.”

“Well, I didn't know it wasn't hers.”

“Mom, now what am I supposed to wear?”

Now what was I supposed to say? I was in trouble all the time. But it got worse. Just one more scenario:

“Mom, guess what?”


“It's bad. It's getting really bad.”

“How bad is it?”

“Mom, listen to this. It's bad enough when I go down town and see my little sister wearing my shirt, but I just saw her friend wearing my shirt and I thought it was upstairs in my drawer.”

“What shirt?”

How the fish in Western waters got bigger

Among my family members and acquaintances there are a lot of fisherpersons. At least there are a lot of persons who go through the motions

If buying fishing gear makes a fisherman, they qualify. They buy lures and plugs and vests and boats and motors and rods and finders and cheese.

If spending time makes a fisherman, they qualify. They will take week-long backpacking trips to do nothing but fish. They will stand on a river bank for hours. They will pull a boat for four hours in order to fish for one.

If making the effort constitutes a fisherman, they qualify. They will carry a full pack for miles to reach the best holes. They will plan a fishing trip for weeks.
If sacrifice makes a fisherman, they qualify. They will jeopardize a promising relationship with a significant other if they can just stop and fish “this one more hole.” They will stand out on the ice in hell frozen over until they don't know whether they still have fingers and toes.

The only trouble is, I am not sure that any of them have actually ever catch fish. They never show up with meat for the table. I see not so much as a fish scale to prove that they are actually fisherpersons.

I realize that there has been a revolution in the sport of fishing. I guess I have known about it for years now. Actually, I don't know why they still call it fishing. They should just call it catch-and-releasing. What it all means is that fisherpersons don't have to bring home the evidence anymore. You've heard the story about the really big one that got away…well, now they all get away, and they are all big.

I think that Catch and Release is supposed to be a conservation measure which is applauded by wildlife enthusiasts. I'm not sure I understand the exact objectives of the policy, The only actual firsthand knowledge I have comes from years of laundering Catch and Release tee-shirts. But if the policy is meant to allow the fish in Western waters to grow bigger, it is working. Just ask any fisherperson.

But you can't catch Bertha so easily with that one. I don't fall for those stories hook, line and sinker, you know. As far as I'm concerned, 11-lb. trout don't exist. These people are going to need more than fish stories to convince me.

Oh, I have seen lots of fish on lots of camera phones, but the fishy thing is, they all look like the same fish to me. Or I get to see a part of a fish which doesn't share the frame with anything that could be used for reference since the fisherman has to hold the fish with one hand and click the phone with the other, like when he is doing his phone ID photo.

A real snapshot might carry a little more weight. But 11 lbs. worth, I don't know. If you ask me, it is difficult to document the actual size of a slippery, wiggling fish. Fish just don't hold still and say “cheese” while you do it. They are busy regretting the cheese. Besides that, I know all about Photoshopping.

As with the enactment of many government policies, I think there were unintended consequences with the Catch and Release program. I'll bet conservationists had no idea that the fish in targeted waters would increase in size so rapidly.