Tuesday, August 21, 2012

And off in the distance, a frightened pooch ...

The lovely Miss Wendy and I were out and about earlier today, running a few errands and enjoying some, ah, quality time with one another. We zipped onto a major boulevard in our little corner of the world and a block later noticed that cars were screeching to a halt and swerving around what appeared to be an accident.

A moment later we passed a pickup truck that was wobbling atop a nearby curb and a smashed up SUV in the intersection. The entire front of the vehicle was caved in, the window shield shattered and tires flat and spinning. Off to the side, a small crowd was gathering and several people were surrounding a woman who seemed to be conscious but shaken and, perhaps, going into shock.
We maneuvered our way slowly around the scene, but noticed that a bunch of cars in front of us were still crawling along, blocking the intersection. I wanted to get out of the area so emergency vehicles and medics could make their way in and didn’t understand what the holdup was.

Then, as one car zigged while another zagged, I spotted the problem. A tiny dog, trailing a longish leash, was dashing up the highway. It was spooked and seemed totally lost and bewildered! I’m only guessing, but I think it quite possible that the dog – a terrier mix of some sort – had been in the SUV and was tossed from the vehicle when it crashed. A dozen or so cars were trailing the pooch and, finally, one driver managed to get in front of the dog and force it to the curb. She jogged over to the trembling animal, offered a few soothing words before picking it up and getting it out of harm’s way.

I detail this little slice of life to offer up this observation. When I spotted the wreck, my first feeling was annoyance – backed up traffic, rubber-neckers, wasted time. Then when I saw the injured woman, I mostly thought that that’s life in the big city and hoped she wasn’t seriously injured. But seeing the small dog touched my heart and had me feeling sad. It was obviously confused, frightened and, well, completely innocent of all the madness we humans unleash on one another. That said, it was nice to see most everyone slowing down a bit, making an effort to shield the dog before it could dash into traffic.

Five minutes later and a mile down the road, cars were once again whizzing about, most everyone focused on the distant horizon, feeling the urgent pull of life. And so it goes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Holocaust Memorial both melancholy and uplifting

Hank, Bob and Allan work on memorial at Etz Chaim
When God was handing out the handyman genes, I was still in the line for hair. Glance at my profile mug and you can see how well that worked out for me. I mention this now because I decided to take my bald noggin and defective handyman genes down to my neighborhood shul earlier this week to help pull together a new Holocaust Memorial Garden.

Fortunately, Hank N., master carpenter and handyman extraordinaire, is handling the heavy lifting for Etz Chaim’s Men’s Club, the group that has taken on the project of updating and retooling the memorial. It’s all part of an expansive renovation to expand and beautify the front entrance, foyer and office area of the synagogue.
The original memorial garden included some interesting and memorable items – cobblestones from the Warsaw Ghetto and railroad tracks that had once spilled into one of the death camps in Eastern Europe. These iconic bits will remain a featured part of the new garden, while most everything else has been demolished and whisked away.

Through the creative work of Allan S., Etz Chaim’s own personal landscape architect, I’m thinking the new garden is going to manage to be both melancholy and uplifting – recalling the past while honoring the Jews and others who suffered and died at the hands of the Nazis.
The entire area has been scrubbed clean and warmed up with new landscaping. Concrete flooring has been replaced with pavers and the entire garden is set against a startling new fence, eerily echoing the harsh reality that defined the Holocaust. Nearby, an eternal light will keep watch, offering up a warm glow and reminder that the Six Million will never be forgotten.

With the help of Men’s Club officers and members – Barry, Johnny, Jeff and Joe – and the creative and speedy work of Allan and Hank, the new and updated Holocaust Memorial Garden will be finished by the High Holidays. It will be officially dedicated in November on the Anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Fruit and waffles: One good way to start the day!

On this oh-so rainy morning, I needed a little coaxing to get me out of bed. What finally brought me to my feet was my stomach – and the promise of waffles swirling about my noggin.

As some of you may recall, my doctor has suggested I give up eating anything white – bread, potatoes, rice, cakes, cookies and ice cream; you know, anything tasty! Waffles, at least waffles made with processed flour, falls on this list of foods to be avoided.

In search of alternative ways to feed my stomach and soul, I happened upon the freezer aisle at the local market and after a little searching walked away with a box filled with bits of whole wheat Styrofoam creatively labeled waffles. I’m thinking what I found inside the packaging could easily serve as coasters for cold drinks or a trivet to hold hot plates!
The lovely Miss Wendy reminded me that this culinary challenge could actually be an opportunity. All I need do is gussy the waffles up a bit and I might be surprised what pops out of the toaster once I find the right ingredients to turn this, ah, sows ear into a silk purse.

I’m always up for a good challenge, so I set about pulling together a few items that I thought might be strong enough to hide the cardboardy taste and texture of Eggo waffles. I set the stage with a nice slathering of honey butter, topped with a handful of strawberries and blueberries, all nicely blended together with a spritz of Smucker’s sugar free breakfast syrup.
Voila! I offer you Grebnief’s Fruity Waffle Surprise! Truth to tell, it’s warm, tasty and, the really good news, contains only 250 calories, 20 grams of carbohydrates and, drum roll please, only about 5 grams of sugar.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Runners and swimmers and soccer – oh my!

Every four years I can get excited about beach volleyball, badminton, weight lifting and swimming. Heck, I can even stand up and cheer for the world-class athletes taking part in synchronized swimming, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, archery and the dozens of track and field events that define speed, endurance and skill!

All I need do to have a really grand time is push aside the politics, egos and nationalism that hover at the heart of the Olympics and focus on the athletes and their hopes, dreams and mighty efforts to win a gold medal. When it all comes together, there aren’t many other sporting events that capture the drama, excitement and sheer spectacle offered up by this quadrennial event.

I spent the last week or so lost in the whirling and swirling efforts of our women gymnasts and synchronized divers; dashing about with our sprinters and long-distance runners; holding my breath with the U.S. swimmers. There was much that was golden, nicely blended with silver, bronze and a sprinkling of tears.

I also journeyed along with Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh Jennings as they battled their way through the sand at the House Guards Parade, site of the beach volleyball competition. They dominated the field of world-class competitors, losing only one game (not a match, but a game) before facing the other U.S. team in the gold-medal finals of the event. Did I mention they were all wearing bikinis?
The U.S. - China match leading up to the finals was as dramatic and exciting as any sporting event I’ve ever witnessed. Four competitors, one ball, a few thousands screaming fans surrounding the court and a few million others watching the action on the tube! I did mention the bikini thing, right?

It was all captured on video tape by NBC and offered up in prime time across the U.S., hours after the actual game. NBC has paid a gazillion bucks for the rights to televise the Olympics and it’s their call on how best to handle the logistics. Unfortunately, unless you’re free to spend hours in front of a TV, or hours more surfing the web, what you’ll end up with each evening is a highlights reel of events!
The world these days moves along at warp speed, but all that high-tech power hasn’t yet dramatically changed the way we watch the Olympics. Go figure! Meanwhile, I’ve got a seat reserved in my den for the men’s marathon on Sunday, followed by the closing ceremony.  In honor of our beach volleyball champs, the lovely Miss Wendy and I will be wearing bikinis!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What it means to reach for gold at the Olympics

Blogger’s note: I came across this essay I wrote for that place with the printing press where I was working when the Olympics played out in the Land of Cotton 16 years ago. I’m thinking what I had to say then remains true today.

Winners and losers. It’s at the heart of the Olympics, the stuff of Olympian dreams and nightmares.
We remember the glow of gold medal winners, arms extended in victory. But just as compelling, just as memorable are the tears of those who valiantly tried, but came up short.

For those who prevail, dreams of a lifetime become reality. Cheers. Headlines. Fame. A golden medal.
But for every winner in the Olympics there are legions of losers, those who have fallen short of their goal.

“There’s evidence people remember, and it can ruin lives,” said Dr. Roy Baumesiter, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in the study of guilt. He noted that Albel Kiviat, who won the silver medal in Stockholm in 1912, was still regretting when he was 91 that he’d come in second, not first.
“I wake up sometimes and say, ‘What the heck happened to me?’ It’s like a nightmare.’’

Dr. Tom Gilovich, a Cornell University psychologist who did a study last year of Olympic athletes in the ’92 Games, found that those who finished second felt worse than men and women who finished third, or lower.
‘’Whatever joy the silver medalist may feel is often tempered by tortuous thoughts of what might have been had she only lengthened her stride, adjusted her breathing, pointed her toes and so on,’’ Gilovich said.

For the also-rans the cheers are hushed, the headlines bitter, fame elusive. For them there’s no golden medal to caress, to help remember a day, a moment, an instant when glory was there for the taking.
And yet … isn’t there also glory in the effort? Isn’t there fame for being one of the best in the world, an Olympian among Olympians?

Won’t the tears of defeat slowly give way to pride, knowing that there was a day, an hour, a moment when the world stood still … and waited?
The Olympic Games represent the noblest characteristics of mankind; but, sadly, also the worst. At the Centennial Games of Atlanta, marred by unspeakable tragedy, the good has nudged out the bad in a photo-finish.

And what of the winners and losers? For most of us, they remain the stuff of dreams, a lovely blend of Olympian beauty, grace and joy.

Monday, August 6, 2012

We interrupt your life for this important message

Last weekend I was merrily banging away on my computer, surfing the web, writing nonsense on my blog, stalking friends and acquaintances on Facebook. Life was good. Then I walked away for a moment and returned to find my screen filled with a message, all played out across a not-so-lovely blue screen!

I’ve since learned that there’s a name for what I was witnessing – the Blue Screen of Death. The message was pleasant enough but oh-so-generic. It was also written in compu-talk, a sort of mashing together of English, computer symbols and phrases that were mostly Greek to me!

The very unfortunate bottom line is that my laptop had bellied up with little fanfare, burying my hopes, dreams, musings, music and photos among its fried micro-chips. The good news is my music and photos were backed up on other disks and my hopes and dreams remain part of that bio-computer that rests easily in my noggin.

I’m delighted to report here at This&That Central that we’ve just received word that our new computer is in the neighborhood and will be arriving soon. I’m happy to add that I’ll now stop referring to myself in the third person. It’s also worth noting at this point that the lovely Miss Wendy is whooping in the background since she’ll no longer need to share her computer with the This&That editorial staff!

Blog posts will resume on a regular occasional basis in the next few days. That, btw, is not a warning, just a statement of fact! And now we return you to your regularly scheduled program.