Sunday, November 28, 2010

Food, friends and one really bad joke

It was friends and fun Saturday evening, first dining out with the gang at Ippolito’s, then spending a chilly night at Margaret and Peter’s home, cheering for LCU – you know, Land of Cotton University, more commonly known as The Dawgs!

Highlights included bunches of warm bread and garlic-infused marinara sauce during dinner; peppermint ice cream coated with Margaret’s dee-licious fudge sauce; and, of course, LCU’s HUGE win over cross-state rival, LCT – that would be Land of Cotton Tech, the hated Yellow Jackets!

Stan, jokester extraordinaire, managed to keep the warring parties – that would be Margaret versus everyone else – in good spirits as the game played out. He spent most of the evening ignoring the 100-inch, flat screen tube, while searching his smart phone for jokes on the web.

Meanwhile, the lovely, svelte and always charming Denise, stayed busy reading the latest gossip in People magazine. Between Stan’s jokes, and Denise offering a blow-by-blow account on the marriage plans of Kate and William, I almost missed Tech’s kicker blowing the game, missing an extra point attempt in the closing minutes of the annual meeting.

I also almost missed the play because I was still chuckling over a joke Stan shared a bit earlier. “Why is Al Gore getting a nipple ring? Because George Bush has a Dick Cheney!”

Okay, Stan needs to keep his day job and there’s a good chance the Dawgs still need a new coach. But at least for one evening in late November, my tummy was full with good food and heart filled with good friends. I don't think any of us can hope for more!

GEORGE'S CHENEY: Truch to tell, Dick (photo above) really didn't offer much comic relief during the Bush administration.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Ancient festival filled with light -- and latkes

It’s Friday and time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts (IJS&F). Today, I’ll shed a little light on the Festival of Lights.

Hanukkah begins at sundown Wednesday and continues for eight days. The holiday recalls the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem after the military victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Greeks in 165 B.C.

Hanukkah is celebrated by lighting one candle the first night of the festival, two on the second, and so on, until eight candles are burning in a special candleholder, a Hanukkiah, on the eighth and final night – there are actually nine candles burning; but trust me here on the details, it’s a Jewish thing.

The story of Hanukkah includes a spiritual twist, based on a Talmudic legend that details a miracle. When the Maccabees rededicated the Temple, they found only one small jar of sacred oil to be used to rekindle the holy menorah. The jar contained oil for only one night, but miraculously burned for eight, until fresh oil could be produced. Some believe this story is the, um, gospel truth; others think it’s a bubbe meise.

For centuries, Hanukkah was a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, a time to recall the might of the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil. But in the 1920s in America, some Jewish parents started doing for their children what their Christian neighbors already were doing each Christmas. That link – the giving of gifts – continues to this day.

Those gifts and little songs, dreidels, latkes and the remembrance of the Maccabees and their struggle for religious freedom all manage to come together euphonically each year, especially when darkness hovers near.

The holiday, also known as the Festival of Lights, reminds our community that we are an ancient people that have survived the persecution of tyrants for eons and even on the darkest nights, dawn is just moments beyond the horizon.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Me, Miss Wendy and 35 years of wedded bliss

The lovely Miss Wendy and my future were in the office at the end of the hall. Turn the wrong way or get called to a breaking story and, well, who knows what direction our lives might have headed.

It was over three decades ago and the world was moving a lot slower. Nixon was being tossed from the White House, Elvis was wearing spandex and I had a full head of hair. I was living in Jacksonville, working for the worst big paper in Florida, the Times-Union, and on this fateful day I was being trained to handle the police beat.

Turns out young Wendy was working as a secretary for the Duval County Sheriff’s Department, staying busy handling paperwork and flirting with cops. The guys with the guns, however, didn’t stand a chance against the nice Jewish boy with the reporter's notebook who had just arrived in town – that would be me!

We had heard stories about one another through friends and relatives and it was just a matter of time until the stars aligned properly and we met. There had been a few missed opportunities but when the city editor went looking for a temporary cop reporter, cosmic forces were set in motion and that thing called fate came into play.

It was early spring of 1974 and, um, love was in the air. I found myself asking some dude in a khaki uniform if Wendy Klein was working that day. Turns out she was. As I just said, fate was rolling the dice and I was about to meet my lucky number.

The lovely Miss Wendy was sitting behind a desk when I first spotted her, focusing on her work, a huge pair of glasses hiding her beautiful eyes. I stood for an instant waiting for her to take notice that I had come into her life, but she took little note of me.

I sort of shuffled about a bit, giving fate a little push in the tush and Wendy glanced up and spoke. “Yes,” she asked!

I don’t recall my exact response, but when I managed to introduce myself, Wendy whipped off her glasses, jumped to her feet and in a Yankee accent tinged with southern softness, said, “Hello”!

The following year we married. In fact, that memorable moment was exactly 35 years ago today! As I mentioned earlier, there are some things in life that are just destined to happen and some people simply meant to be together.

Such a cosmic happening is called beshert and I’m the lucky guy who once upon a time walked down just the right hallway, through the proper door, and found someone special to share this thing we call life.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Taking care of business is melancholy work

My brothers and I are in the process of settling my mom’s estate. There’s a little legal work, but mostly it’s a matter of going through her condo, sorting through the fog of life – clothes, jewelry and makeup; furniture, bedding and towels; kitchen appliances, plates and dinnerware.

There’s lots to go through but all such stuff is relatively easy to handle, a matter of figuring out who wants what and either selling off the rest or donating it to charity. Interestingly, it’s the items with the least value that are proving the most difficult.

Exactly what should we do with the dozens of plaques awarded to my father over the years, awards that my mother kept squirreled away in a chest of drawers after my father died and she moved from Columbus to the Land of Cotton. Do we toss the little medallions and squares of wood that honor my father for his years of service as a volunteer, his devotion to the Jewish War Veterans and other such groups?

What about the photos, the hundreds of snapshots that fill albums and frames, overflowing into desk drawers, atop coffee tables and kitchen cabinets? There are photos of family and friends, Polaroid snaps taken during outings and trips, and formal portraits of family members I’ve never met. The most interesting and intriguing are those from a different age, decades old and spotted with time, distant relatives whose stories we’ll never know.

And what about greeting cards? With a free hour to kill recently, I stopped by the condo to clear out some clutter and decided to go ahead and tackle a large bag of cards I found stuffed atop a shelf in my mom’s bedroom closet. I had opened it briefly after my mother died and decided I didn’t have the emotional energy to sort through the hundreds of greetings – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays – that my mother had been holding onto for decades.

I dug deeply into the pile and was immediately whisked back into time. I spent only a few moments actually reading the cards – some cute, most sentimental and sweet in a Hallmark sort of way. Instead, I focused on the few words of greeting and well-wishes offered by the senders – my brothers, later grandkids and their families, a few from other relatives and friends.

And what I found is that there was a certain sameness about the greetings, many offering love but little time. What was particularly interesting is that most of us signed our cards in pretty much the same way year, after year, after year. Such is life!

There were exceptions, several offering thanks, others detailing the little happenings of the day, still others offering deep words of love and affection. One interesting footnote that came from all this sorting is the discovery of a little game my parents apparently fell into years ago.

My mother sent my father a Valentine’s Day card that came with a printed message that she then added to briefly. Truth to tell, my father just wasn’t the sort of guy who was good at the card game and I’m guessing when he received the Valentine from my mother he had nothing to return. So he scribbled a few words of affection under my mother’s comments and returned the card to her. It, along with other such Valentines, was buried in the bag.

In a few weeks, perhaps a few months, all this stuff will be gone. My mother’s condo will be holding the stories of another family and their small treasures. And perhaps in a few years, I’ll be heading off from here to there when I glance over my shoulder and recall there was once something special about that place behind the strip mall on this busy street in the suburbs.

I’ll blink, and the melancholy feeling of déjà vu will linger for an instant before fading away like the morning fog on a chilly fall day.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Never take your shoes off in Synagogue

It’s Friday and time yet again for another posting of “Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts” (IJS&F). Today we explore the danger of blind belief and bubbe meises!

Judaism isn’t a religion of nuance. It’s filled with ancient rituals, prayers and detailed laws that govern every waking moment in the lives of the faithful. Observant Jews thank God for waking them in the morning and returning their souls to them after a good night’s rest.

Many spend their days in prayer and study, then whisper the Shema, the seminal statement of belief for Jews that “God is One” as they slip off to sleep. It’s all heady stuff for those who believe, a system that offers up structure, rules and peace of mind.

Truth to tell, however, only a fraction of the 13 million Jews around these days – 6 million in the U.S., 6 million in Israel and another million or so spread around the globe – actually live such a life. Most Jews don’t know the difference between the Amidah and an amoeba, see nothing wrong with enjoying a milkshake with their, um, cheeseburger and aren’t sure a Magen David is for drinking or wearing!

I’d quickly add at this point that I offer this intro only to provide context to the little story below. It would take a book – well, actually, several books – to detail what it really means to be Jewish and that religion and faith are only a small part of the franchise.

That said, a friend recently back from Israel told me he attended Shabbat services at a Masorti synagogue in Tel Aviv, the guest of a relative who had made aliyah years earlier. My friend – really an acquaintance – is Jewish and loves all things connected with the Jewish homeland. But he has only a passing familiarity with the religion of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So it was that when he entered shul and was asked to take off his shoes, he thought the request a bid odd, but wasn’t at all certain about the local customs. His relative explained that on this very special Shabbat, Jews around the world were celebrating the miraculous deliverance of the Children of Israel from Egyptian captivity and to commemorate the crossing of the Red Sea, congregants remove their shoes and socks, then walk across a bit of sand before dipping their tootsies in a bowl of water.

Nudged along by his cousin, my friend followed the lead of other members of the synagogue, unaware that he was in fact being toyed with and that the ritual he was taking part in was actually an elaborate joke.

It was, as they say, all in good fun. Members of the small congregation had a little laugh, my friend was a little embarrassed but immediately embraced as a “good sport” and welcomed by everyone. I initially thought the entire episode absurd and continued to wait for an additional punch line, thinking that perhaps my friend was, um, toying with me.

Then I recalled a story my rabbi – the guy with the white beard who likes to tell jokes from the bimah – shared years earlier. Our synagogue was being expanded and the power had been cutoff on one side of the main sanctuary during Shabbat services.

Asked by several congregants why there were no lights in that area, the rabbi offered up a totally bogus explanation having to do with some sort of esoteric ritual – after weeks in the Judean desert, the Children of Israel cried out to God to hide the sun and, miracle of miracles, the orb grew dark. So, the rabbi added, on this special Shabbat, we dim the lights … well, you get the idea.

This, then, is the lesson I’m providing this Shabbat. Always keep your shoes on when attending Jewish services and make sure you bring along your sense of humor when entering a synagogue. Of course, don't hesitate to wrap a leather strap around your arm and head during morning prayers. But that's a topic for another day.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Priceless ring reminds us all of special woman

It’s blue, dark and lovely, and surrounded by diamonds filled with fire. The 18-carat, oval sapphire is probably worth more than the GNP of some small countries. Given its history, however, I’d have to agree with most of the commentators and bloggers around the world who are calling it priceless.

If you’ve been in a coma for the last day or so then it’s time you learn that Prince William plans to wed next year, finally popping the really big question to long-time girlfriend Kate Middleton during a recent safari in Kenya.

Instead of dropping by the mall and picking up a ring at Kay Jewelers, he opted instead to seal the deal with the engagement ring his pop – that would be Prince Charles – slipped on Diana’s finger when the world, for many of us, was still young and fresh, and love was in the air.

Of course things soured a bit over the years for the royal couple – William’s mom and dad. But the ring is still precious and filled with memories. In fact, the beauty of the piece is only surpassed by the sentiment offered by William when explaining to the media why he decided to go with second-hand goods.

His mom, once the Princess of Wales, is a fading memory for most of us, but still a vivid part of Williams’s life. He wanted Diana in some fashion to be part of his and Kate’s big day and, in a fashion, continue to be part of their life once they are married.

So the ring will be a link, a very special piece of jewelry that will connect the happy young couple to the woman that once upon a time captured the heart of the entire world – well, most of it. And, hopefully, they will live happily ever after.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Fall, football and the Land of Cotton

Watched ULC – that would be the University of the Land of Cotton – lose yet again over the weekend after playing a good, close game for three quarters or so. It’s been a tough season and the only chance for redemption is for ULC to put a whuppin’ on LCT – that would be, um, Land of Cotton Tech – its longtime rival.

Area residents and football fanatics know what I’m talking about when I reference this final game of the regular season. If you happen to live elsewhere – especially those of you outside the U.S. – all you need know is that American-style football is a spiritual experience for many, a religion that demands not only your heart, but also your soul!

Truth to tell, I’m the fairest of fair-weather fans. If LCT wins, I cheer and go about my business. If they lose, I shrug my shoulders and take off my red and black sweatshirt.

The only reason I bring all of this up now is because this weekend’s game ended badly – and I’m not talking wins and losses. Players on both sides let their emotions take charge in the final moments – the winners pounding their chests in an ugly sort of way and the losers lashing out in anger. Character, that word broadcast commentators toss about with ease, seemed lost in the shuffle.

There was lots of pushing and shoving, a few punches thrown and two players tossed from the game. Factor in all the pre-game hoopla surrounding the opposition’s quarterback that involves a series of possible infractions – cheating while a student at another university and several possible recruitment violations – and all of a sudden there’s a shaky vibe underneath the excitement and passion of college athletics – again!

There’s no denying that fall in the Land of Cotton, when the weather chills and the landscape miraculously turns from lush green to golden orange, is a splendid season. Football is a cultural icon that is inextricably linked to the region, but for me there has often been a disconnect between the thrill of sport and the mission of a university.

Once, decades ago, back when life was a bit slower and priorities were hugely different, student athletes were, um, students first and athletes when they found the time. All of that has changed and universities rise and fall based on BCS placement now – if the acronym means nothing to you, don’t worry, it’s a football thing.

It just seems weird that a bunch of kids, tossing around a ball, is the only link most of us have with our colleges and universities. Millions of dollars are spent each year on football programs across the land and millions of dollars are brought in by these programs.

Somewhere in the distant past, there might have been a moment when sports programs could have been pulled away from our schools and some sort of club system created. Instead of cheering for ULC and other such university-sponsored teams, we could all be pulling for teams that represent our cities.

Oh, wait, that already exists. I think it’s called professional ball and nobody would want to mess around with the pros and their feeder system. Meanwhile, I’ll be in front of the tube a week from Saturday. And at least for awhile, I’ll be wearing red and black!

AH, THIS IS THE PROBLEM: The Three Stooges (photo above) aren’t really part of our state university team. It just seems like they’re playing in the backfield this year.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ancient prayer offers comfort in modern world

It's Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories & Facts (IJS&F). Today, let's focus a few moments on the Mourner's Kaddish.

While most of you are eating dinner or watching the evening news, I’m battling rush-hour traffic in my little corner of the world, making my way to synagogue to say Kaddish for my mother. The ancient prayer doesn’t mention death. Its central theme is the magnification and sanctification of God’s name. So, um, what’s the point?

Kaddish, along with the Shema and Amidah, is one of the most important prayers in the Jewish liturgy. I’d guess that Jews, even those who know little about the religion, would be able to recite the prayer with just a bit of help. It’s chanted in various forms several times during minyon, an iconic part of the liturgy that serves as a kind of divide between sections of the service.

But there’s little doubt that a person who says they need to say Kaddish – the word literally means "holy" – is in mourning and has probably been reciting the prayer daily since the burial of their loved one. In the case of a child saying Kaddish for a parent, they’ll continue saying it for 11 months.

The first words of the prayer, inspired by the prophet Ezekiel, offer up a vision of God becoming great in the eyes of all the nations. But it’s the congregation’s response where the weight of the passage can be found: Yehei shmëh rabba mevarakh lealam ulalmey almaya, "May His great name be blessed forever, and to all eternity."

Other than suggesting the prayer – which, btw, is mostly in Aramaic – is a rich tradition and one way of honoring and remembering a close relative, it’s a little unclear why many Jews who have little connection to the faith continue the practice. Maybe it’s simply a way of conjuring up the past and warm remembrances of childhood. Maybe it’s guilt.

The party line suggests saying Kaddish helps those in mourning come to grips with the finality of death and the mystics among us believe that in some inexplicable fashion the prayer brings comfort to the dead, even helps them on their journey to Olam Haba, the World to Come!

I recite the prayer to honor and recall my mother each day. But saying the prayer also links me with an ancient belief system that stretches back thousands of years and, just as importantly, connects me to my modern faith community.

Ultimately, like all things in life, saying Kaddish is a choice. For me, 20 minutes or so each day seems a small price to pay to honor the memory of my mother and carry on a rich tradition that has sustained the Jewish people for millennia.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's sugary and sweet and just what I needed

Oh, how painful it is when you catch yourself backsliding. But I had lots of running around to do this week and I needed fuel for the belly – and the soul.

For me that means fried fat and sugar, preferably in the form of a donut. I don’t care if it has sprinkles, chocolate glaze or is simply an “old fashioned” classic. As long as it’s from Dunkin’ Donuts, I know it’ll go down easy and the sugar high will be immediate.

The monkey was on my back, whispering in my ear, but when I reached my usual shop in this little corner of the world, well yikes, it was closed. What’s an addict to do?

Of course there was that bagel place where the bagels are warm and the coffee tastes like something that’s been scraped off the bottom of your shoe; fast-food spots aplenty, now serving “gourmet” brew and sweets that taste like cardboard; and at least a half-dozen supermarkets in striking distance, all offering industrial-sized pastries and cold, watery cups of Joe!

No, I was jonesing for the real thing and, fortunately, I needed only travel another mile passed by usual haunt to find another Dunkin’ Donuts shop, mostly empty after the morning crowd had all headed off to work.

It was the fresh, hearty scent of coffee that welcomed me once inside, but it was the gleaming stainless-steel baskets filled with donuts that said hello. Jeez, so many donuts and so little time!

When in doubt, I say go with what you know. For me, that would be a small cup of coffee, a dollop of cream, and just about 3 of those blue thingies – hey, no calories. And the pièce de résistance? Why, that would be one perfectly formed chocolate glazed cake donut!

Bite, sip, bite, sip, bite, sip. Doesn’t take long and what’s the big deal? Well, if you’re counting, about 450 calories – 220 from fat. But, now that I think about it, I wasn’t counting. Okay, so I’m counting now and I promise I won’t slip up again. Really. No, I mean, ahhh, really. Really … until, um, tomorrow.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Secretariat, Keeneland and how I won big!

It being a clear, cool day here in the Land of Cotton, the lovely Miss Wendy and I decided to visit the local Cineplex. Why enjoy the beauty of a delightful fall day when you can hunker down in a dark room with strangers?

As chance would have it, “Secretariat” was set to start as we made it to the box office. Reviews for the film, starring the bodacious Diane Lane, suggested the movie might be a decent way to spend the afternoon, even though the final act is ancient history – Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973.

That said, the filmmakers have managed to pull together an exciting, uplifting film that should have you cheering and tearing up a bit as Secretariat manages to win the mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes – the last leg of the Triple Crown – in style, pulling away from his closest competitor by a whopping 31 lengths.

I mention all this now for one simple reason. I have a horse story – doesn’t everyone? Mine’s true and it all begins eight or so years ago when my daughter, the beautiful and talented Lauren, was a student at the University of Kentucky. Go Wildcats!

The university, most of you will recall, is in Lexington. That would be, um, horse country. It’s one of the loveliest areas in the state, filled with grassy fields and rolling countryside, manicured lawns and antebellum mansions.

Keeneland, the thoroughbred racetrack just west of Lexington, doesn’t have the size or historical grandeur of Churchill Downs in Louisville. But it’s a lovely, picturesque site that draws thousands of horse racing fans from across the country in early fall and spring.

It wasn’t until Lauren was nearing the end of her senior year that we managed to make it to the track. About the only contact I had ever had with horse racing was sitting in front of the TV occasionally to watch the Kentucky Derby. The “Run for the Roses” seemed some sort of odd ritual that came complete with women in huge hats, gentlemen sipping mint juleps and a language all its own – furlong, filly, Trifecta and Quinella. All Greek to me!

Watching from a distance and actually being at a track is, well, the difference between night and day. Keeneland was elegant – remember me mentioning manicured lawns? The area is surrounded by grassy fields and white-washed fences, stables teaming with grooms and jockeys, and public areas filled with spectators.

There was a festive, holiday spirit about the place, a euphonic blend of opening night at the theater, football Saturday and circus come to town. And then there were the horses – glistening in the afternoon sun, sturdy and regal, dancing and preening as they were led by their handlers to the track.

Now that you have the picture, here’s the story.

A few hours earlier, as Wendy and I were making our way across the Land of Cotton, just across the Tennessee border, we made a pit stop at one of those ubiquitous fast-food joints that dot the interstate. Miss Wendy being the sort of woman who has never met a stranger, started chatting with a woman who it turned out was also on her way to Lexington. In fact, and I’m not making this up, she and her husband were on their way to Keeneland.

Turns out they were part of a syndicate that owned a horse, Blue Diamond Run, that would be in the third race of the day that very afternoon. A few minutes later I met Wendy’s new friend and her husband and, jokingly, mentioned that we’d have to place a bet on their horse.

I don’t recall his exact words, but the husband made the point that when Blue Diamond Run was running good, well, he was a winner. Unfortunately, he added, the horse had never really run particularly well. We all laughed, waved goodbye and continued our trip north into Kentucky.

We reached Keeneland just in time for the third race, managed to make our way to the front of the area where spectators were lined up to place bets, then became hopelessly lost with the various options available. I had never placed a bet on a horse, had no clue what the numbers floating in front of me represented or how much I should wager.

Wendy’s only advice was to bet on the one horse we knew that was in the race – Blue Diamond Run. So I handed the cashier $20 and told him to put it all on Blue Diamond to show. Wendy protested and said she wanted to bet on the horse to win. So we split the difference – $10 to win and $10 to show.

By the time we made it to the track, the horses were being pushed into the starting gate, about 100 yards to our left. I had just enough time to glance at the tote board and saw that Blue Diamond Run was a 35-1 shot, essentially the longest of long shots.

A bell sounded, the doors of the starting gate flew open and they were off, a dozen horses flying by in an instant, making their way to the first turn in the distance. I wasn’t certain, but it seemed that Blue Diamond Run was well up in the pack – and pulling away.

I yelled. Wendy yelled. Lauren yelled. I could just make out the blue colors of Blue Diamond as the horses headed into the second turn and, well, Blue Diamond Run was in the lead, holding his own for the moment. I yelled. Wendy yelled. Lauren yelled. In fact, everyone was yelling, screaming for one horse or another. It was utter mayhem.

And then I heard the announcer, a bit breathless with a nasally twang, telling me that the pack was entering the last furlong of the race and “still holding the lead was BLUE DIAMOND RUN; pulling away by a length, now two lengths … and the winner is … BLUE DIAMOND RUN.”

I yelled. But nothing came out. I had lost my voice. I glanced back at the tote board, now filled with a maze of numbers that were utterly indecipherable. I pulled out my ticket, trying to make sense of it. I turned to a guy standing nearby who looked like he had some idea of what was going on and shoved the ticket in his face.

His eyes widened and he told me what I already knew – I’d won! But how much? He glanced at the tote board, did a little quick math, then announced for my $20 investment I’d just made $250.

We hung around for some additional races and toyed with the idea of betting a few times. But, really, what was the point? We had spent a splendid afternoon in a lovely setting, enjoying our moment taking part in the “Sport of Kings”. We were big winners, but we already knew that before Blue Diamond Run make it official.

AND THEY’RE OFF: Keeneland (photo above) is a lovely thoroughbred horse track just outside of Lexington, a perfect spot to spend an afternoon if you’re looking for some excitement.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The good, the bad and the okay

Just about everything in my world can be broken into three categories – good, bad and okay. When I say everything, that’s exactly what I mean. There are good, bad and okay movies, meals, vacations and jobs; schools, teachers and workshops; doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs. I think you get the idea.

In this rule of threes, it’s been my experience that 10 percent of everything falls into the bad category, 10 percent in the good category and just about everything else – the other 80 percent – is basically okay.

So those meals I had with the lovely Miss Wendy at JCT, Seasons 52 and the Vortex were good – actually, incredibly good; the meals at many fast food joints were bad, and almost all my other dining out experiences have been mostly okay.

I mention all this to detail how I feel about this week’s mid-term elections here in the "Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave". Normally, I don’t waste much time on the “P” word – politics. There’s really little reason to enter that arena of ideas. We’ve reached the point in our national conversation where we no longer talk. Now members of the red and blue camps hold tightly to their positions and yell at one another.

This time around the Grand Old Party has taken hold of the national agenda and once again promises are being made that the will of the people – that would be you and me – has been heard loud and clear and change is in the air.

Change, you'll recall, was also in the air two years ago; ditto four years earlier and, well, four years before that. Meanwhile, Congress has been gridlocked for years, our leaders unwilling to budge outside their comfort zones, playing to their ideological bases.

Once upon a time there were good, bad and okay politicians. The good were men and women of vision, ideas and ideals; the bad were unethical crooks in search of power and money; and the rest were okay, honest citizens willing to work with one another – to compromise – to make better this idea we call the United States of America.

All of that pretty much remains the same, except the proportions detailed above have fallen apart. Today, I’d say 1 percent of our public servants are good, 10 percent are okay and 89 percent are ideological nuts.

Here’s hoping the 1 percent have the vision to pull us out of the mess we find ourselves in these days, the 10 percent are willing to listen and lead, and the rest simply stay out of the way and do no additional harm.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Downside of all those falling leaves

It’s that time of year once again, when the days have grown short, there’s a chill in the air and approximately 2.6 million leaves have fallen into my yard.

Recall my reporting last spring that I axed the mow and blow crew that had been taking care of my yard for the last decade? I labored through the spring and summer and just a few weeks ago puttered my way around my balding property – the summer heat long ago killed off my fescue comb over.

It was a grand feeling knowing, I thought, that once I dusted off my mower and put away the hedger, edger and weed-whacker that I’d be free to spend my time leisurely this fall and winter. Just maybe there’d be time to do a little reading, watch some TV or venture off to the local multiplex for an afternoon movie. Heck, maybe I’d have time to take a nap. Wrong!

There might not be a poem as lovely as a tree, but there’s absolutely nothing poetic about a yard filled with soggy leaves. Those bits of gold and yellow that are oh-so beautiful to see from the distance, quickly turn a nasty brown once on the ground.

Spending a few hours raking today, knowing that another million or so leaves are just waiting for a strong gust of wind before raining down on my yard, makes the effort seem sort of pointless. It was left to my daughter, the lovely and talented Lauren, to remind me that once upon a time this autumn chore was fun for us – us, in this case, meaning her.

As I recall, I’d stay busy raking together piles of leaves and young Lauren would then pretty much undo my work by jumping around in the piles. Truth to tale, I wish I had a time machine and could relive those moments again, if only for an instant.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking of hiring a landscaper to help me make my lawn completely natural. Only problem I’m having is I can’t decide whether to replace the grass with Astroturf or concrete and the pine trees and hardwoods with plastic towers. Who said you can’t improve on Mother Nature!