Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Whoa-oa-oa! I feel good, I knew that I would

I had a little medical malfunction for most of November, a bothersome ache that appeared suddenly to remind me that I’ll never see the other side of 60 again. It all began with a nagging soreness in my hamstring that lingered for weeks.

Once upon a time, when I was young and had hair, I dashed about a bit; running most every day and taking part in weekend races. Pounding the pavement became an obsession and I eventually became crazy enough to run several marathons. This madness went on for well over a decade.

Aches, pains and the occasional pulled hamstring was the price I paid back then to be a jogger. As often as not, the remedy for such injuries was an icepack, a shot of gin and a few days of rest. Well, I iced down my leg for weeks in early November, drank a bottle of gin and rested until I was tired of resting. My leg still ached.

The week before Thanksgiving, the pain began shifting about; shooting into my hip, then lower into the area around my knee. It all became such a pain that I actually started thinking that I might need to visit a doctor.

Instead, I replaced the icepack and booze with drugs – Tylenol and Advil. Bingo! For a day or two the ache continued to rattle around. Then, ever so quietly, it was gone. A miracle!

I have no idea what caused the problem and even less idea how it was cured. I’m thinking there’s more of this sort of thing in my future and I’m not at all certain that that’s necessarily a bad thing. Little aches and pains can sometimes remind us all how good it feels to feel good; words of wisdom from me – and James Brown!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Why, it’s a house of a different color – almost!

So I’ve been hunkering down for the last week, waiting for the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel to shine in my direction. Unfortunately, the glimmer I spotted turned out to be a train – metaphorically speaking.

The lovely Miss Wendy and I have run into a few small roadblocks in recent days in our efforts to update and modernize our home. It’s been an adventure, dealing with a dozen workmen plastering and painting; installing appliances, new light fixtures and electrical outlets; ripping off the warm and comfy siding that has protected us for years and replacing it with new stuff that will be hanging tough long after I’ve called it quits.

The little issues – a cabinet door butting up too closely to our lovely new backsplash, some sort of putty glop spilling out of a drain in the kitchen sink, a slight crack in a small bit of crown molding – have been tidied up nicely and it’s time to address the one major problem that has been dogging Wendy and me for weeks.

Now that the house is covered in a fresh layer of siding we need to figure out what sort of fresh new color we’d like to paint our home. The good news is we have an embarrassment of choices, the full spectrum of colors that add zest and zing to life. The bad news is all those colors are giving both of us a monumental headache.

The living room carpet is covered in dozens of paint cards from at least a half-dozen different paint companies – greens and grays; browns, taupe and beige; at least a dozen different varieties of white! I feel like the kid who has stumbled into a candy store, has a quarter to buy one piece of candy and keeps changing his mind.

At least Mother Nature has come to my rescue for the moment, covering the Land of Cotton in gray, turning down the thermostat and offering up a little rain and a few more days to ponder our colorful future.

Right now it’s looking like Cincinnatian Hotel Briggs Beige, Light Raffia and Del Coronado Tequila hold an inside edge to cover our home – and, yes, those are real names of paint colors. Go figure – and stay tuned!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hidden costs of home renovation – bon appetit

So after crunching numbers for a month, I thought I had a good handle on what it was going to cost to update the castle that Miss Wendy and I call home. Wrong!

Forget all the little extras – bits of trim and paint; additional siding for areas that had rotted years ago; sheetrock to provide a pristine surface for our pristine new black splash. No, it’s the stack of cash Wendy and I will be dishing out for the next 10 days or so to eat that is playing havoc with my fine-tuned renovation budget.

The kitchen is a mess. New appliances will be delivered late today, but it will probably be at least another week before they are installed. Meanwhile, unless Wendy and I plan on living on cereal and cookies, we’ll be doing our bit to pump up the local economy by visiting neighborhood bistros.

Our culinary adventure began Monday night at La Madeleine, a Frenchified café that features soup, salads and sandwiches. We both had a bowl of mushroom soup and a Ceasar salad. The soup was heaping and hot, the salad green and ceasary!

Tuesday we drove an extra two blocks and dined at Panera’s, an Americanized café that features, well, soup, salads and sandwiches. We both had soup; Wendy opted for some sort of veggie sandwich and I, once again, went with a Ceasar salad. The soup was, you guessed it, heaping and hot; the salad green and ceasary; the sandwich green and crunchy!

For all these good eats we’ve managed to pay out about $40 – for those keeping track, that would be $20 each night. I’m not all that good with higher math, but if Wendy and I continue eating at this mad pace for the next 10 days or so we might be forced to have the contractor paint only half our home.

Of course there’s always the option of saving on our energy bill, turning off the lights and dining by candlelight at home. I imagine under those circumstances, cookies and cereal might be a fun, tasty alternative to breaking the bank. Stay tuned.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ups and downs of spiffing up the home front

The banging began on Monday and I think / hope that I can just make out a bit of light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It all began quietly and quickly enough. A dumpster and modest pile of building supplies were dropped off at the end of my driveway late last week.

Early on Monday, just as the sun was peeking above the horizon, a team of worker bees descended on my mighty castle, the place the lovely Miss Wendy and I have called home for nearly three decades. The plan all along has been to fix a few problems and update everything else – new siding and a few new windows; new granite countertops and appliances in the kitchen; a bit of fresh paint from here to there! Hey, we’re not going anyway. Might as well make what we have as nice and comfortable as possible.

I’m happy to report that the workers are, well, working. They’re energetic, banging away at various tasks from early morning until darkness sweeps across the Land of Cotton. The problems, and there are always problems when ripping apart stuff, have been relatively minor. But the devil’s in the details and I’m the sort of guy who straightens photos on the wall, lines up my shoes and hangs shirts, pants and suits according to color and style.

All of that is to say that I’ve been busy stressing out over siding that isn’t perfectly aligned, bits of trim that doesn't come together nicely, and paint that has sprinkled onto light switches and door hinges. Then there are the dozens of endless decisions – what style to use in placing accent shingles; what color to paint the house and use inside; how best to coordinate new hardware for the cabinets with all the new appliances; where best to cut the granite and place the seam on our new countertop; what sort of lighting fixtures and sizes to purchase for outside? Well, you get the idea.

Meanwhile, dealing with the team of international workers handling all these chores has been challenging. They nod mightily when I make a suggestion, but I’m thinking they don’t have a clue what I’m saying. I certainly don’t understand them. In fact, it took me two days to realize they weren’t speaking Spanish. Turns out the crew doing the bulk of the outside work is from Brazil and speaks Portuguese.

Hunkered down in my little office, I spotted at least a dozen workers from three different companies yesterday. At one point the noise was deafening, a jarring symphony of pounding, banging, hammering, ripping and shouting. But at day’s end, I could start to see all the little pieces falling into place.

In a week or three the work will be complete and Wendy and I will be able to settle back with a sigh – for a moment or so. Then, unfortunately, the real work begins. Somebody has to go through all those boxes we packed up filled with stuff from drawers, cabinets and closets and put everything back. I’m thinking that’s a job that we’ll still be attacking when 2011 has become a fading memory.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Interesting, informative and really lame

I’ve waited a week to comment on NBC’s latest news magazine programming, “Rock Center with Brian Williams”. I figured I should take the time to watch at least two shows before offering up a review. Big mistake!

I imagine if NBC really supports the program while it finds its stride, we all might be speaking well of the effort a decade down the road. But, truth to tell, I’m thinking “Rock Center” is already sinking like a rock and will be a fading memory in just a few months.

That’s a shame. I like Williams and think he’s a solid journalist who manages to bring both gravitas and a light touch to the evening news. If the rumors are true, he’s also a very likable, friendly and funny guy. He’s managed to show off that side of his personality on various late night talk shows, bantering with David Letterman and Jon Stewart, and even hosting Saturday Night Live.

Williams and the producers of “Rock Center” have offered up several interesting, even compelling segments on the first two shows – sneaking into Syria to get a behind-the-scenes look at an embattled people and country; exposing a cottage industry that plays to wealthy foreigners wanting to have “anchor babies” in the U.S.; profiling a woman in North Carolina who got caught up in a morally repugnant eugenics scheme that led to her being sterilized.

Here’s the problem. The Syria segment offered no new information and felt like a stunt – hey, look at us, we can sneak into Syria! The “anchor baby” story, outrageous and infuriating, involves only a handful of people and, like the eugenics piece, didn’t go deep enough. Both would have played better on the evening news.

If handled by that other, more successful news magazine, “60 Minutes,” the segments would have been fleshed out, featured more interviews and reportage and run three times longer. All of this can be fixed. The greater problem, cutting to the chase, is Williams.

He’s got a dry sense of humor that, in the right venue, makes him likable and fun to watch. On “Rock Center” he’s simply lame. His segues into segments, commentary and interaction with correspondents seem forced and contrived. The end of the show each week is, simply put, embarrassing.

Last week Williams spent a few minutes chatting with Jon Stewart. Last night he chatted with Tina Fey. Williams ain’t Johnny Carson. The very best I can say about the conversations are that they were silly. Actually, the banter was cringe-inducing nonsense. He and Stewart discussed Halloween, beer, their kids and, ahhh, socks. The ups and downs of “The Real Housewives” franchise was the focus of his conversation with Tina.

Because there is no audience, there’s no energy in the room. The small talk just sort of hangs in the air, met by an expansive wall of utter silence. About the only sound I fear echoing in the background is the clicking of remotes, viewers in search of something – really, anything – entertaining.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On the tube: Good, bad and a really hot actress

One of my absolutely favorite ways to spend Sunday evenings is with Alicia Florrick, Will Gardner, Kalinda Sharma and all the other characters of The Good Wife. The legal drama is smart, funny and always entertaining. It also helps that the role of Alicia is played by Julianna Margulies who is seriously hot!

Occasionally the show’s writers, producers and director also get me to think. That was the case Sunday when the firm of Lockhart & Gardner took on a client who was suing the feds for really bad behavior. He was essentially kidnapped and tortured because there was the slimmest of evidence that he had ties to a terrorist group in Afghanistan.

Basic rights are ignored by the government, and the accused and his attorneys find themselves momentarily tumbling down a rabbit hole that can only be described as Kafkaesque. Justice Department lawyers refuse to offer up any information, citing national security issues. They eventually are ordered to turn over all files related to the case and send over boxes of material that have been carefully redacted.

Once upon a time, simply because I worked at a place with a printing press that bought paper by the ton and ink in barrels, I had government documents cross my desk that had been edited by censors. As often as not, the info needed by editors and reporters was clear and blacked-out portions were of little import. Not so in the lawyerly drama.

Alicia and her colleagues had to piece together what they could from the info provided while maneuvering their way carefully through a byzantine government maze filled with arrogant bureaucrats and toads – the Man run amok!

The constitutional issues raised are the stuff of headlines in recent years – suspension of habeas corpus, warrantless wire taps, enhanced interrogation. It’s all a messy business that flies in the face of all those beliefs and rights that, like Superman, define truth, justice and the American way! But I digress.

The Good Wife’s fast pace, sharp dialogue, wit and humor remind me of The West Wing, one of my all-time favorite TV dramas. The show’s ensemble cast, Josh Charles, Archie Panjabi, Christine Baranski, Matt Czuchry and Julianna – I did mention she’s hot, right? – seems to have found its stride and offers a really nice break from the mindless mess of reality TV.

Sadly, life often seems like it’s become a mindless mess. Unfortunately, our collective problems and challenges can’t be neatly wrapped up in an entertaining hour. And so it goes.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Healing, redemption and absolute stupidity

It’s Friday, time yet again for another posting of Interesting Jewish Stories and Facts. Today we visit Israel and open up a can of worms.

There are about 13 million Jews in the world today. For all sorts of reasons, only about a third are affiliated with synagogues. That means that two-thirds of the people who identify as being Jewish know little about the religion, its ancient laws, rituals and beliefs.

Meshulam Nahari is one of the reasons many Jews have no desire to join the faithful. He’s the leader of Shas, a political party in Israel that represents the Heredim, the ultra-orthodox in the Jewish homeland. He’s a nut.

His nuttiness made headlines recently when he lashed out at Gilad Shalit (photo above) for spending time with his father at the beach. Nahari thinks Gilad, the Israeli soldier who was kidnapped and held by Palestinian terrorists for over five years, should have been in shul on the first Shabbat after his release by Hamas.

Gilad, like the vast majority of Israeli Jews, isn't religious. He wasn’t observant before he was kidnapped and apparently his years of captivity hasn’t turned him into a shokeling believer – trust me here if you’re not a Member of the Tribe; it’s a Jewish thing.

The absolute gall and complete lack of sensitivity by Nahari is just the sort of nonsense you’d expect from a fundamentalist wacko. But it gets worse – or better, depending on your sense of whimsy!

The minister without portfolio, who spoke during a Shas convention earlier this week, said that the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, has charged him (Nahari) with the task of bringing Shalit closer to Judaism.

That’s a juicy bit of news I spotted on a blog recently and verified on an Israeli wire service, Ynet. I’m thinking Nahari, Rabbi Yosef and Shas have a little fence mending to do before they’re going to manage to show Gilad the light.

I’m also thinking that after spending five years in a hole, away from family and friends, suffering an assortment of physical and emotional problems, that God was smiling when he spotted Gilad with his dad at the beach.

Fundamentalists, no matter their religious affiliation, are convinced God only spends time in their particular house of worship, probably focused on their individual pew. They’re wrong and they’re sucking the spiritual life out of Judaism.

Here’s an idea. Just maybe Nahari and some of his followers ought to be spending more time on the beach. They might be surprised what they discover in the Synagogue of the great outdoors.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Mid-palates, lingering finishes and cupcakes

Cutesy name for a so-so wine.
Nibbling away at taters, beans and burger at lunch earlier this week, I spotted a bottle of vino in the middle of the table. It was a recent gift at a recent happening, a little offering to celebrate my successfully circling the sun yet again. I’ve managed the trip 64 times and still seem to stumble onto new and interesting situations with each passage.

But I digress. The daily paper got me through the taters and half the burger and there were a few bits of mail to check out before finishing up the beans. The silence of the early afternoon had grabbed my attention. It spilled about, broken only by the distant static of a nearby radio and the tinny noise of my fork scraping across my luncheon plate.

Peering just slightly above a euphonic blend of burger, tater and beans balancing nicely on my fork, I was devilishly drawn to the bottle of wine. It was produced by one of those wineries with a cutesy name – Cupcake Vineyards. I wasn’t thirsty, just looking for a little something to read as I polished off my lunch. Go figure.

Turns out I was checking out a Pinot Grigio. If I’m thinking wine, especially one of the white persuasion, it’s probably a Pinot. More than the taste, I just like saying Pinot Grigio. It rolls off my tongue with a cosmopolitan flair – Pee-noh Gree-gyee-o! Salute.

Checking out the label, I quickly learned that the folks at Cupcake traveled to Trentino, Italy in the foothills of the Italian Alps in search of the perfect grape to create their special wine. I then learned that Cupcake’s Pinot is “full, with the flavors of ripe pears, a creamy mid-palate and a long lingering finish.” Right! The, ahhh, copy writer adds that the wine is “reminiscent of a pear cupcake with white chocolate.” Really, that’s what’s on the label. You can’t make this stuff up.

Bizarrely, the label then suggests that the wine works well with bay scallops in a cream sauce. Does anyone really want to chow down on pear cupcakes, white chocolate and scallops? I’m thinking the marketing folks had just polished off a case of Pinot before writing this messy message. I’m also guessing that if I ever get around to popping the Pinot’s cork that it will be lovely – fresh, fruity and firmly acidic.

BTW, next week I’ll be focusing on Manischewitz Concord grape and its iconic sugary high that features a creamy, ahhh, mid-palate and a long lingering finish. L'Chaim!