Saturday, March 31, 2012

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Medical Update

No surprises here. It is what I feared all along.

The new Dr. called to tell me that he received the results of the ultra-sound and that I do, in fact, have a darling little paraumbilical hernia that is about 1.5 centimeters long. We will discuss options on my next office visit. No stomach crunches, heavy lifting, sit-ups, etc., as that may exacerbate the situation..


Potential problem: the season begins in about 6 weeks.  Should I get it repaired ASAP, or wait until after Labor Day?

Tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM I will be at the medical center for blood work ordered by the new Dr. I am going early because I must fast 12 hours tonight. Just the usual tests for a man my age - a PSA, cholesterol, liver and kidney screening.  Going in early means I can race back home for a coffee and good breakfast before work, so I won't get a headache.

No, I don't know how much of the cost will be covered by Medicare, but - it is what it is - and necessary.

Looks like there is another hospital bill in my future, just as I make the final payment (April 3rd.) on the previous emergency.  Bother!

And so it goes.
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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

New Doctor, Ultrasound, & Blood Work

The appointment with the new doctor (PCP) was this morning and, as usual, I was more than a little nervous. A history of rejection is a major part of the problem. Having downloaded and completed all the necessary paperwork, I put it all neatly in a folder and took off. Ah, to be calm and relaxed.

To my surprise, the receptionist was cheerful and bubbly. She commented that I was one of the few people who actually followed directions and completed the paperwork properly.  I received her blessing. It also saved valuable office time. Score one for me!

The next surprise occurred as I was called into the office for a pre-exam, first visit interview.  Turned out to be Shelly from my previous doctor's office. We hugged and I immediately felt more relaxed. We played catchup while she updated my profile with info tidbits all doctors require, for some reason. She then guided me to the exam room where I waited to meet the new doctor.

Our meeting was warm and cordial, as he asked another 10 thousand questions about my life, medical history, medications, whys, whens, wherefores, and vitamins.  He asked why I had seen so many specialists before the Polymyositis diagnosis; I retold the story as best I could remember.  He smiled and said, "everyone wanted their bit. You had full insurance coverage back then."  I knew exactly what he meant.

He gave me the once-over and digital exam and proclaimed my prostate health, then felt the lump in my abdomen (which looks like I am about to give birth to an ALIEN), asking about its history.  I related what I could remember. He suggested an ultra-sound ASAP to determine the cause and asked Shelly to make a few calls.

I was not charged a co-pay for the visit. Perhaps I will be billed later.

In a matter of minutes I was on my way to the imaging center (one that cuts a break for those without insurance) where they checked me in with my Photo ID, and Medicare Card before I was ushered in to the imaging room. When the radiologist and technician were satisfied with the images, I was ushered out to the reception area where I was told that my out-of-pocket co-pay would be $56.00. They offered the choice of paying on the spot, or billing me.  I chose to pay by credit card since I won't get the bill for another month, anyway.

I have an order for blood work, (the usual screenings) which I will probably have done before work on Thursday or Friday - since it requires a 12+ hour fasting period.

So, another "unknown" is lifted from my shoulders - the bp is slightly elevated (probably stress), all other vitals are OK. I am grateful for that, at least.

And so it goes.
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Monday, March 26, 2012

Social Security, Weather, & Angels

Aside from the most recent missive from the SSA, essentially telling me that I am a good-for-nothing rich bastard and therefore will not receive Social Security benefits any time soon - and, blah blah blah, there is little to write about. But, there is this. It took me 4 days to work up the energy to open the envelope.

The weather has been miserable throughout the mid-Atlantic states with a mixture of fog, mist, and rain for over a week. I am grateful that is hasn't been cold with snow, or ice, but still...

Work has been a delight as regulars came in for good food and drink, looking for some 'cheering-up' - yes, I know how to help that along. It's been a great time though this afternoon I was feeling spent until the sister (dining with a regular customer) touched my arm as she was leaving to tell me that her sister made a list of what and who to see this weekend, and that I was the one person on that list.It was difficult to hold back tears.

I've never heard anything like that before.

When the customer approached us, she said, "You know, you are the reason we came in for lunch; to enjoy a margarita, and so my sister could meet you. I wanted her to meet you in person. I've talked about you for years, and she decided she had to meet you herself." As she gave me a hug she whispered that she was sorry she didn't get to see me often in the summer because she and family spend their days on the beach and come in to dine in the evenings. I could find no words. I was overwhelmed.

Please don't think that I write this to boast or toot some horn. It is a shock and I still don't know how to respond to, or process experiences like this. Do we ever know how we touch other people's lives?

There are human angels everywhere and I am happy to know a few. I'll leave it there.


And so it goes.
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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thursday, March 22, 2012

An 'In The Closet' Idea

Came across this today and thought it would be a perfect solution for my one walk-in closet situation. Forget the suits, and probably the books, but this would solve many headaches for storage and add additional space for daily preparations for work. (Click the image to embiggen.)

The shelf space shown here is similar in size to my space and could easily house storage crates of seasonal items as well as accessories and odds and ends from electronics to hats, gloves, scarves, and personal grooming supplies, as in shoe and leather care products; and fun campy stuff (whatever that is!) like beads, boas, and bells of one kind or another.  You get the drift.

It could easily be adapted to suit my needs and when I leave here (either in a casket or to a nursing home) the next tenant will have a useful, private grooming space - and so I will have left something behind for use by someone else in the future.

Seriously, I live in a very tiny apartment and need to find creative ways to solve storage issues.  Suggestions, additional ideas, and comments are welcome, of course.

Oh, and if you know of, and used anyone who does this kind of work, I'd appreciate their information.

And so it goes.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

BP Deepwater Horizon, Remember?

Well, all the PR and commercial hype about the squeaky clean Gulf and its untainted seafood has now been shot to hell - where it belongs. Not that anyone cares outside of the Gulf communities living with the mess. Funny, but no matter how loud water-men and locals shouted about this, no one was listening, probably still not.  Money talks. This piece in Science Daily will likely be nothing more than a blip in the news-world. After all, what's a dead-zone body of water compared to the quest for coverage of celebrities and their shenanigans?
ScienceDaily (Mar. 20, 2012) — Since the explosion on the BP Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, scientists have been working to understand the impact that this disaster has had on the environment. For months, crude oil gushed into the water at a rate of approximately 53,000 barrels per day before the well was capped on July 15, 2010. A new study confirms that oil from the Macondo well made it into the ocean's food chain through the tiniest of organisms, zooplankton.
Tiny drifting animals in the ocean, zooplankton are useful to track oil-derived pollution. They serve as food for baby fish and shrimp and act as conduits for the movement of oil contamination and pollutants into the food chain. The study confirms that not only did oil affect the ecosystem in the Gulf during the blowout, but it was still entering the food web after the well was capped.
Oil, which is a complex mixture of hydrocarbons and other chemicals, contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which can be used to fingerprint oil and determine its provenance. The researchers were able to identify the signature unique to the Deep Water Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico.
"Our research helped to determine a 'fingerprint' of the Deepwater Horizon spill -- something that other researchers interested the spill may be able to use," said Dr. Siddhartha Mitra of Eastern Carolina University. "Furthermore, our work demonstrated that zooplankton in the Northern Gulf of Mexico accumulated toxic compounds derived from the Macondo well."
The team's research indicates that the fingerprint of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could be found in some zooplankton in the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem at low levels, as much as a month after the leaking wellhead was capped. In addition, the extent of the contamination seemed to be patchy. Some zooplankton at certain locations far removed from the spill showed evidence of contamination, whereas zooplankton in other locations, sometimes near the spill, showed lower indications of exposure to the oil-derived pollutants.
"Traces of oil in the zooplankton prove that they had contact with the oil and the likelihood that oil compounds may be working their way up the food chain," said Dr. Michael Roman of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
The study was led by East Carolina University with researchers from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Oregon State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and U.S. Geological Survey. The paper, "Macondo-1 well oil-derived polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in mesozooplankton from the northern Gulf of Mexico," was published in the February issue of Geographical Research Letters.
 If people are too complacent to pay attention to the problem (or believe the BP PR and advertising) they will get what they do not deserve - disease, respiratory infections, cancers, and death. Big oil calls the shots, not only in the US, but globally.  As I said, Money Talks!

And so it goes.
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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Colonialism Helped Launch the HIV Epidemic a Century Ago

With ACT-UP commemorating their 25th anniversary recently, I found this article very interesting. Very interesting, indeed. From the Washington Post:
We are unlikely to ever know all the details of the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But a series of recent genetic discoveries have shed new light on it, starting with the moment when a connection from chimp to human changed the course of history.
We now know where the epidemic began: a small patch of dense forest in southeastern Cameroon. We know when: within a couple of decades on either side of 1900. We have a good idea of how: A hunter caught an infected chimpanzee for food, allowing the virus to pass from the chimp’s blood into the hunter’s body, probably through a cut during butchering.
As to the why, here is where the story gets even more fascinating, and terrible. We typically think of diseases in terms of how they threaten us personally. But they have their own stories. Diseases are born. They grow. They falter, and sometimes they die. In every case these changes happen for reasons.
For decades nobody knew the reasons behind the birth of the AIDS epidemic. But it is now clear that the epidemic’s birth and crucial early growth happened during Africa’s colonial era, amid massive intrusion of new people and technology into a land where ancient ways still prevailed. European powers engaged in a feverish race for wealth and glory blazed routes up muddy rivers and into dense forests that had been traveled only sporadically by humans before.
The most disruptive of these intruders were thousands of African porters. Forced into service by European colonial powers, they cut paths through the exact area that researchers have now identified as the birthplace of the AIDS epidemic. It was here, in a single moment of transmission from chimp to human, that a strain of virus called HIV-1 group M first appeared.
In the century since, it has been responsible for 99 percent of all of the world’s deaths from AIDS — not just in Africa but in Moscow, Bangkok, Rio de Janeiro, San Francisco, New York, Washington. All that began when the West forced its will on an unfamiliar land, causing the essential ingredients of the AIDS epidemic to combine.
It was here, by accident but with motives by no means pure, that the world built a tinderbox and tossed in a spark.

The chimps of Cameroon

Many simians, such as gorillas and monkeys, can carry a virus that resembles HIV. But scientists now know that HIV-1 group M was born from a virus circulating among a community of chimpanzees concentrated in Cameroon, a sprawling country with bustling Atlantic Ocean ports, populous highlands, and a lightly developed southern region where relatively few people live even today. This was home to the chimps.
Finding a more exact location took a remarkable degree of scientific ingenuity. An international research team led by Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Paul Sharp of the University of Edinburgh developed an elaborate project that involved searching for the simian virus in chimp feces collected across a vast swath of southern Cameroon.
To read the whole, fascinating piece, click HERE.

In memory of all those we have lost.

And so it goes.
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Monday, March 19, 2012

St. Patrick, Queen Victoria & a Sazerac Cocktail

St. Patrick's Weekend is over (thanks be to G*d!) and we're none the worse for the experience.  This little beach town boasted a forecast (forecast, mind you) of sunny skies, light breezes, and temperatures in the low 70s F. Never happened.

Oh sure, I walked to work Thursday morning under sunny skies and a morning temp around 62' F. By 11 o'clock a mist rolled in off the Atlantic, the sky grew dark and within an hour the temperature dropped 20' F.  No joke.

By 2 pm the winds kicked up and there was a heavy downpour lasting until the end of my shift at 4.  All this time the Weather Channel is touting "sunny skies and a temperature of 72' in Rehoboth Beach." Again, no joke.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday brought more mist, fog, and less than comfortable temperatures. Of course the heat was on at the restaurant; I even had to turn it on at home when I arrived at a cold, damp 54' apartment.  Brrr!

The restaurant was not as busy as in past years, but I think the weather did us in. Still, the usual crazies in costumes, shamrock hats and beads, and swilling green beer began their pub-crawl early on Saturday.  Pulling on the front door at 10 am, already 3 sheets to the wind, and whining because we didn't open until 11:30 - a-whole-hour-and-a-half.

Don't know where their launch pad was, but I have my suspicions. Thankfully, all our drunks arrived later and were in a happy mood. I find it harder and harder to deal with obnoxious drunks anymore, so this was a plus for us all.  As my shift was ending, a party of 13 lesbians burst into the place and virtually took over the hi-tops in the bar.  They sang as they placed shamrock stickies on all faces within arm range. Dressed in green velvet coats with green top hats and green carnations, they had a great time. 

As I enjoyed my AS cocktail, I received a shamrock sticker on my cheek, and more than a few kisses from the gang.  It was fun. No green beer for me; had a Bombay Sapphire with olives and after making rounds of tables of regulars, headed home to a quiet evening and supper.

Sunday saw a busy lunch with many diners nursing hangovers (welcome to vomit city!) and opting for lighter American dishes - and Margaritas - before the drive back to DC, PA, or NJ. A rather quiet, subdued group to say the least. A most welcome turn of events, IMHO.

At home last night I made a Sazerac and listened to some light jazz as my dinner cooked.  Took a hot shower and upon hitting the sheets remember nothing until this morning. 

The sun finally made an appearance, so I knew it was going to be a good day...and I was right. Took a walk on the beach before work. Wonderful. Nice lunch crowd and the new server is working out very well. He's young, bright, and from Mexico City.  Unfortunately, today was his 22nd. Birthday, so he got the full treatment** - from the kitchen & wait staff, and the doslocosguys.  He was stunned at first, but got into the moment pretty quickly. He has no family here and no girlfriend, and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of friendship and love.

**The full treatment: It can be humiliation; a sombrero is placed on the head, a cake with candles is presented (pictures are taken by friends and family) as an animated rabbit sings "They Say it's Your Birthday" by the Beatles, then the staff sings the traditional "Happy Birthday" as we rattle noisemakers and make a general racket unto the Lord, to the horror of the birthday person.  Lots of fun.

Have the next 2 days off and have a few fun ideas if the weather cooperates and I get the chores out of the way tomorrow. We shall see. No matter, I am grateful for the time off to relax and recharge.

And so it goes.
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Sunday, March 18, 2012

1940 Census Results to be Made Public

This is a BIG deal. It is being called the 'release of confidential data' after 72 years.  More like government 'suppressed information'.  Think connotational indices. Words are wonderful things, aren't they? We won't go there just now. This image alone gives me the creeps.

In any event this new information will likely be a treasure trove for blogger buddy, Ron, and my cousin who do great work investigating their family histories.
NEW YORK (AP) — It was a decade when tens of millions of people in the U.S. experienced mass unemployment and social upheaval as the nation clawed its way out of the Great Depression and rumblings of global war were heard from abroad.
Now, intimate details of 132 million people who lived through the 1930s will be disclosed as the U.S. government releases the 1940 census on April 2 to the public for the first time after 72 years of being kept confidential.
Access to the records will be free and open to anyone on the Internet — but they will not be immediately name searchable.
For genealogists and family historians, the 1940 census release is the most important disclosure of ancestral secrets in a decade and could shake the branches of many family trees. Scholars expect the records to help draw a more pointillistic portrait of a transformative decade in American life.
Researchers might be able to follow the movement of refugees from war-torn Europe in the latter half of the 1930s; sketch out in more detail where 100,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II were living before they were removed; and more fully trace the decades-long migration of blacks from the rural South to cities.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., a Harvard University professor and scholar of black history who has promoted the tracing of family ancestry through popular television shows, said the release of the records will be a "great contribution to American society."
Gates, whose new PBS series "Finding Your Roots" begins March 25, said the "goldmine" of 1940 records would add important layers of detail to an existing collection of opened census records dating to 1790.
"It's such a rare gift," he said of the public's access to census records, "especially for people who believe that establishing their family trees is important for understanding their relationship to American democracy, the history of our country, and to a larger sense of themselves."
Margo Anderson, a census historian, said the release of the records could help answer questions about Japanese-Americans interned in camps after the outbreak of WWII.
This census is an important snapshot of what the country looked like near the end of the great depression.  Please read the whole piece HERE.

And so it goes.
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Long Live "Napoleon"

I was able to snag tickets when this cinematic wonder played Radio City Music Hall (with full orchestra) while on tour of the US.  That was 1981.  I had read about Abel Gance and this film extensively in film school.  I had no idea Kevin Brownlow was still working to restore the piece.  It was a breathtaking experience and one that would require many viewings to truly "get" all the innovations Gance applied in the making.

Now there is this - 30 years on - it will be shown again at the Silent Film Festival in San Francisco.  From today's NYT:
SOON after Abel Gance’s “Napoleon” had its premiere in Paris in 1927, he wrote a letter to his audience, soliciting open eyes and hearts. “I have made,” he wrote, “a tangible effort toward a somewhat richer and more elevated form of cinema.” He had created a film towering in ambition, scale, cost, narrative and technical innovations, and believed that nothing less than “the future of the cinema” was at stake. His audacity had merit. The origins of the widescreen image can be traced to “Napoleon,” which also featured hand-held camerawork, eye-blink-fast editing, gorgeous tints, densely layered superimpositions and images shot from a pendulum, a sled, a bicycle and a galloping horse.
The film was an astonishment, and it was doomed. One hurdle was its length — his early versions ran from 3 hours to 6 hours 28 minutes (down from 9 hours) — while other difficulties were posed by Gance’s advances, specifically a process later called Polyvision that extended the visual plane into a panorama or three separate images and that required three screens to show it. Partly as a consequence, distributors and exhibitors took harsh liberties: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer cut it down to around 70 minutes for the American release, a butchering that seemed to encourage bad reviews. Gance continued to rework the film, adding sound for a 1935 version and, decades later, new material. Yet even as he was taking it apart, others — notably the British historian Kevin Brownlow — were trying to restore “Napoleon” to its original glory.
In truth “Napoleon,” as it was initially hailed, no longer exists, which raises ticklish questions about authorship. In his book on the film, Mr. Brownlow lists 19 versions of “Napoleon” — including those created by distributors, Gance and Mr. Brownlow himself, who for decades has tried to restore the long-lost full version. Mr. Brownlow’s latest restoration (Version 20?), will play four times at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival starting next Saturday. But unlike in 1981 — when an earlier, abridged Brownlow restoration played around the country — no tour is planned. Yet while this may be the last time this particular iteration is screened in the United States, Francis Ford Coppola’s company, American Zoetrope, and the preservationist Robert A. Harris, who own most of the rights, are quietly working with Mr. Brownlow’s company and the Cinémathèque Française on still another restoration.
By the time Gance, who died in 1981 at 92, started on “Napoleon” he had already been anointed a cinematic pioneer, primarily for his touching 1919 romance “J’Accuse,” set against World War I, and his frenzied 1922 tragedy “La Roue,” about desperate desire in a poor railroad family. Both were successes and inspired feverish acclaim. The Cubist painter and future filmmaker Fernand Léger said that with “La Roue” Gance had “elevated the art of film to the plane of the plastic arts.” Jean Cocteau declared that “there is cinema before and after ‘La Roue’ as there is painting before and after Picasso.” Gance answered this praise with the even more ambitious “Napoleon,” calling it “the greatest film of modern times.” 
Read the rest HERE.

More later.
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Friday, March 16, 2012

Cracked Crock, Slow Burn, & Inspiration

If you read this space at all you know that I cook most meals;  usually in large quantities - between 4 and 8 servings - and freeze the individual servings for quick meals after busy workdays. It can be very expensive to cook for only one person. There are usually at least 3 different options to choose from, usually totally different in nature, and they sustain me quite nicely.

Well, I got tired of all the leftovers and planned a special event tonight, featuring good-old New Orleans Roast Beef Po-Boy sandwiches.  Got all the fixings together last night (except for the gravy which is made from the finished beef) and began cooking the beef roast in a slow cooker/crock pot before work today. My mouth watered all day thinking about what was in store this evening.

I did not expect what waited for me this evening as I returned home. A strange, acrid odor greeted me and it didn't take long to find the source.  It seems the crock broke and the juices, broth, and wine trickled through the crack down into the cooker, burned, dried, and ruined the beef.

After the initial shock (I have never experienced this sort of thing before and I have used crock pots for decades) I opened all windows, turned on all fans, then checked out the damage.

The roast was ruined; even though the crock didn't fall apart, the crack was almost dead center and just large enough to allow most of the liquid to drip slowly down into the base of the cooker. 

The crock of these new cookers are usually of varying colors - most of them dark blue, black, red, etc. - and if there was a defect in the pottery, it would not be visible unless closely examined.  I would not have imagined this could ever happen, so close examination was unthinkable.

Threw away the beef (sadly) and the crock pot (after taking photos to send as evidence to the manufacturer) letting the place air out while enjoying a few olives, (martinis bring good things to life - and bad situations) then still refusing to have another dinner of leftovers, checked out the options in the fridge for ideas, prepared a mushroom, black olive. and cheese omelet with sourdough toast and a small salad for supper.

Sad about that beautiful beef roast and the demise of the large 6 qt. crock pot, but it is what it is.

I think the windows will remain open over night.

And so it goes.
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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Digital Signals End of Historic Movie Theatres

A sad reality as the big movie palaces come down and the sterile, boring multiplex takes center stage. There is nothing to compare with the experience of watching a film on the big screen of one of the well-appointed old grand theatres - many a 100 years old.
BUFFALO, N.Y. — The license plate on movie projectionist Arnie Herdendorf's Buick is 35MM MAN, a nod to his work in the booth at the 1925 Palace Theatre, with its velvet-draped stage and chandeliered mezzanine.
When he drove recently to a multiplex to watch as its film projectors were swapped out for new digital ones, the sight of old 35 mm workhorses "stacked up like wounded soldiers" had him wondering how long his title – or job – would be around.
The questions are even bigger for historic movie houses themselves.
With the future of motion pictures headed quickly toward an all-digital format played only on pricey new equipment, will the theaters be around? Or will they be done in by the digital revolution that will soon render inadequate the projectors that have flickered and ticked with a little-changed technology for more than 120 years?
"Our guess is by the end of 2013 there won't be any film distributed anymore," said John Fithian, president and chief executive of the National Association of Theater Owners.
The Hollywood studios' industry-wide conversion from 35 mm film to digital satisfies modern-day demands for crisp clarity, cost savings and special effects like 3-D. And for big-budget theaters where new releases occupy multiple screens, installing digital projectors is a no-brainer. Already, about 60 percent have converted in the United States, at a price of $70,000 to $80,000 a screen, Fithian said.
But for the community-owned Palace and other small and historic movie houses, the merging of nostalgia with high-tech is a dauntingly expensive proposition. Yet one, most agree, that is critical if they are to keep attracting audiences to their light bulb-studded marquees. The cost is more than double the price of a top-of-the-line film projector.
"The Riviera Theatre is listed on the historic register, but we are not a museum," Executive Director Frank Cannata said from the 1927 theater north of Buffalo, "so it's important that we stay current ... and staying current isn't always affordable, as we're all finding out."
An estimated 500 to 750 historic theaters currently show movies, according to the Theatre Historical Society of America, though it adds no one has formally researched the number and the estimate is conservative.
There's more HERE.
Many of these theatres began life by showing 1 or 2 reel movies between vaudeville stage acts. The image above is the famous Beacon Theatre in NYC. A grand palace, indeed. (click image to embiggen.)
And so it goes.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Early Spring, New Birds, & Comfort Foods

The Crocus are already gone, Hyacinths are blooming, Tulips are popping up, and the trees are exploding with new life - and officially Spring doesn't arrive for another week. I can actually smell the Hyacinths on my walk to work.  Amazing.

Arriving home last evening I got a glimpse of the pair of Cardinals who own a nest in the stand of bamboo next to the driveway. They are always a joy to hear and watch, and since it's been warm this winter I can guess that they will have a new brood of young'uns in the near future.

Then, to my surprise, I heard a bird call I've not heard in a while. (At least not here.) It seems that I have a new pair of Catbirds - apparently nesting in the pine trees in back. Yes, their call does sound like that of a cat and while it's not easy to see them, hearing them is never a problem. (Photo is above.)

I think they've moved into permanent residency because I heard them again this morning; even with the door and windows closed due to the rain.

Yes, it rained again all night and into this morning, though it seems the sky is trying to clear in the west. So, as with everything else changing with this crazy weather, I suppose the saying ought to be changed to "March Showers Bring April Flowers" now.

I developed a hankerin' for comfort food last night and set to work making a fresh Baked Ziti recipe with black olives and thin-sliced Italian sausages. Thawed out a container of my own sauce for the event and enjoyed a really satisfying dinner with a salad, garlic bread & glass of wine on the side.

If the sun makes an appearance I will head outdoors for some activity, if not I'll settle in and read for the day. It is relaxing to have the day to do nothing, if I so choose. Yay for me!

And so it goes.
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Sunday, March 11, 2012

Alien Invasion Threatens Antarctic Ecosystem

Who'da thunk it?  But, I guess since global warming is a "hoax" no one will believe it, anyway.  Fascinating.
SYDNEY (REUTERS) - In the pristine frozen continent of Antarctica scientists fear an alien invasion -- not from outer space, but carried in people's pockets and bags.
Seeds and plants accidentally brought to Antarctica by tourists and scientists may introduce alien plant species which could threaten the survival of native plants in the finely balanced ecosystem.
Invasive alien plants are amongst the most significant conservation threat to Antarctica, especially as climate change warms the ice continent, said a report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Journal published on Tuesday.
More than 33,000 tourists and 7,000 scientists visit Antarctica each year by ship and aircraft, and a two month survey of visitors has found that many are carrying plant seeds picked up from other countries they have already visited.
The study vacuumed travelers' pockets, trouser and sleeve cuffs, shoes and inside their bags, and used tweezers to pry out accidentally hidden seeds. On average each person checked had just 9.5 seeds in clothing and equipment.
"The people that were carrying the most had lots and lots of seeds. They really were substantial threats," said Dana Bergstrom, from the Australian Antarctic Division.
"When we take things in through hitchhiking then we get species which are competitive. The plants and animals there are not necessarily competitive, so there's a good chance... we'd start losing various precious biodiversity on the (Antarctic) continent," Bergstrom told Reuters.
Amongst the alien species discovered were the Iceland Poppy, Tall Fescue Velvet grass and Annual Winter Grass -- all from cold climates and capable of growing in Antarctica.
The Antarctic Peninsula, where most tourists travel, is now considered a "hot spot" on the frozen continent and the warmer the climate, the easier for seeds to propagate.
"The peninsula is warming at some of the greatest rates on the planet," said Bergstrom.
The study, the first continent-wide assessment of invasive species in Antarctica, surveyed about 1,000 passengers during 2007-2008, the first year of the International Polar Year, an international effort to research the polar regions.
It has taken almost three years to identify the seed species and their effects on the icy continent.
Bergstrom said the one alien seed that had gained a foothold is Annual Winter Grass. It is a substantial weed in the sub-Antarctic and is on the Antarctic island of King George. It has also made its way to the tail part of the Antarctic continent.
"That's just one example of the weeds we picked up and a population of it has just been found in the last couple of seasons," she said.
Annual Winter Grass grows very well in disturbed areas like seal and penguin areas, and could propagate amongst the slow growing mosses around those colonies.
"If it got into those areas in the peninsula it would have the potential to overrun things," Bergstrom said.
IMHO, Reuters does a better job of covering these issues, probably because they're not subsidized by corporations with a link to the global problem.

And so it goes.
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Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Joke Was On Me!

Following a very busy day I chose to opt out of an after-shift cocktail, said good-bye to everyone and walked home in silence and peace.  A nice change.

As I walk in the door the cell phone is going off and I pick up to hear the voice of my seemingly poor, dejected boss whining about my not saying good-bye before leaving (he was with customers & friends and I never intrude) - then another voice is on the line from another phone; it's a server asking if I have a fever, or something, and I say, no. Another voice is the bartender wanting to know why I didn't stay for my AS cocktail, another voice suggesting that I had a 'hot date' and had to leave in a hurry, still another voice asking if I was sick, or something, and still another voice (Sasha, my relief host for the evening) saying - in low tones, "you should have stayed for your cocktail.  Now see what you've caused? Never leave without enjoying your AS cocktail unless you want more of this."  And then there was laughter from G*d knows how many people on the same line. It was such silly fun and a likely stress-reducer on such a busy day. The evening will be even busier and crazier.

Everyone knows that I enjoy my AS cocktail very much, usually sharing the few moments with a few of my lunch staff who are also finished for the day.  It is also well known that if the bar is crowded (or loud) I leave without one.  The bar was not crowded or noisy this day. So the joke was born.

The Locos Guys got everyone else to pretend they were concerned about my health and well-being.  Have I ever mentioned that I work with the best (albeit craziest) people on the planet?  Well, I do.

On a more sober note: There was another envelope in the mailbox from the Social Security Administration which I will not open tonight.  Ain't nuttin's gonna ruin my silly evening.

And so it goes.
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Cook's Helper Caturday


Oh, how I miss my kittehs.

More later.
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Thursday, March 8, 2012

BP: Settlement for the Gulf Disaster

Editorial from today's Gray Lady:
The proposed multibillion-dollar settlement between BP and individuals and businesses hurt by the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is a welcome development. If a federal judge grants final approval, it could spare both plaintiffs and the company a lengthy legal battle with uncertain outcomes. It is also further evidence that BP is willing to pay serious money to atone for its errors. Now it needs to show a similar willingness to meet its obligations in pending suits aimed at assessing civil and possibly criminal penalties for environmental damages.

Under an agreement with the Obama administration, BP put $20 billion in an escrow fund to compensate shrimpers, motel owners and hundreds of thousands of others whose livelihoods were damaged by the spill. Kenneth Feinberg, who administered the fund for the last 18 months, has awarded $6.1 billion to 225,000 claimants. Under the settlement, the court would take over for Mr. Feinberg. BP estimates that it will pay an additional $7.8 billion to more than 100,000 additional claimants.
Claimants will still be able to opt out of the scheme and sue BP separately in court. But, as before, the hope is to get people to settle, not litigate.
Next are federal claims for environmental damages. BP is liable for natural resource damages and penalties under the Clean Water Act. The penalties could cost the company $1,100 for each of the 4.9 million barrels of oil it spilled and $4,300 a barrel, or more than $20 billion altogether, if the Justice Department can prove gross negligence.
 The rest is HERE.

And so it goes.
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A Dogably Pawfect Video

For my blogger buddies fortunate enough to have pets.  This just made me so happy, almost giddy, to see the faces and attitudes these little guys project.  Wish I could share my life with one.

OK Go: White Knuckles!  Enjoy.
This made my day.

More later.
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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Shock, A Surprise, & The Stoopid

Holy Crap!  Daylight Savings Time kicks in this weekend...WTF?  How'dat happen? OK, let the whining begin.  "I lose an hour of sleep and won't get it back until October."

Truth is, I like the idea of an early sunrise. (Stop, don't yell or groan) I get to take morning walks on the boards again before going to work. The fresh air, sound of the ocean, and all that. Makes me feel that life's got a purpose - whatever it may be. 

Spent the early part of the day running errands, cleaning, and pressing slacks and shirts for work.  By mid-afternoon I needed to get out of the house, so I took a walk down to the beach and sat on a bench for a while just taking in the salt air and sounds of the gulls and waves. The sky was clear and the temperature was a balmy 66'F. Most of the stores remain closed on weekdays, so I couldn't stop in to say 'hi' or browse at bit.  That will change in April (or before) if this weather continues to cooperate.

Walked over the "Touch of Italy" in hopes of picking up the ingredients for a Muffulleta sandwich, but they were closed, too. Last week (using the new food processor) I whipped up the Muffulleta olive salad necessary for the sandwich. It has been 8 days, should be well blended, and I was in the mood for a sandwich today.  Didn't happen.

So I continued my walk and eventually made it back home to find a package on the porch. I didn't order anything.  Then I looked at the name it was addressed to; it turned out to be the person who moved out before I moved in.  Apparently he ordered items online but didn't update his address information.  The stoopid - it burns.

I called UPS to tell them about the package and they were bewildered; didn't know what to do. So, I called Amazon and presented them with the situation. At first they were as befuddled as UPS, but then they caught on; contacted the idiot, called me to tell me that UPS would pick up the package tomorrow and to just leave it on the porch.

Anyone who shops online knows that you're asked to confirm your billing and shipping address information with each order at least 3 times during the checkout process. How anyone could ignore this is just a mystery.

Dinner is in the oven, (trying an old recipe scribbled on scrap paper, so it must have been good!) olives await, and I am ready to get back to work tomorrow.

And so it goes.
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Kitteh Wins the Old Shell Game

Priceless.

More later
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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Blogiversary: Threes, Looking Back, & the Present

Someone mentioned that I seem to like titles with three topics in them.  I never thought about it, but I guess she's right.

As the sixth year of this corner of the Inter-webs kicks off I went back and re-read some of those early posts. Not necessarily a bad thing, but some pretty grim memories (overcome and blessedly forgotten over time) were dredged up in the process.

Six years ago at this time my life was shattering into tiny fragments; many of which would be lost forever, making my life quite the mess. Before OT I wrote another blog about the breakup, reaching out to others in similar situations. It was eventually deleted and this little place was born.

Spent much time in hospital or home recovering from surgery as my 30-year relationship (and Canadian marriage) disintegrated.  A year later I slid from home owner to homeless person in a matter of weeks.

Rejection has played a big role in my life - from parents, siblings, on down. I have no answers.  Never trust another with your entire being/life. No regrets; just a huge mistake.  We live and learn, or we don't live long.

It's been a slow, painful crawl back with more loss along the way - people and things; lightened the load of "things" that weighed me down.  Some were taken away while others were cast aside willingly.  Let someone else show them off, dust them. For 40 years I collected vinyl records that never needed much dusting. Those were taken away, too.  Just as well.

Now there is light in the distance. Dim perhaps, but there. With a little luck the hospital will be paid in full with the April payment.  The dentist will be paid off in June so there may be some of that illusive, notorious gay disposable income I hear so much about. We shall see.

Over these 6 years the phone calls and emails suggesting that I meet for drinks, dinner, or a movie have dried up.  No calls anymore.  It was tiring to continually make excuses for not being available and I was no longer willing to simply repeat (over and over) "there is no money for ________ in the budget.  Oh sure, I would have loved nothing better than to join in for a Happy Hour, Burger Night, or Seafood special with friends.  The idea of dropping $40., $30, or even $20. for an evening out, was unthinkable; still is. They never got the message. 

Even today, folks at work will talk about a certain TV show and ask if I had seen it.  For almost 3 years they have been told that I don't have TV service, but it doesn't sink in. Surely, everyone has cable - or something; how could anyone possibly live without it?  Apparently, I can!

Well, if all goes without a hitch, I just might be able to afford basic cable in a couple of months. By that time I will have returned to a 6-day work week, which means extra $$, as well.  At least through September. Hopefully, some of that extra can be set aside for the leaner times of Fall and Winter. I cannot depend on the bureaucracy of Social Security Administration to be forthcoming with benefits checks anytime soon.

That said, there is the possibility of hernia surgery, and the lease is up on this place in May; I don't know if there will be a rent increase in my future. I am not moving house again. Can't afford it physically, emotionally, or financially.  It is what it is.

I've come this far (though not quite sure of the reason) and that little light looks good from here.

There is that Alaskan Cruise/Tour to look forward to, after all.  Now, if I can keep myself healthy - or a reasonable facsimile thereof - that may come to pass.

Over the years I have met (at least in cyberspace) some really good people who share their lives, thoughts, insights and humor on their blogs; occasionally honoring me with a comment here. Funny and supportive,  never judgmental. Some I already call 'friend' and feel it is so. You know who you are. I am blessed by your presence. And I hope to meet all of you in person one day.  Of course, I will need to win the lottery first.

Happy Blogiversary to me.  Cheers!

And so it goes.
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Speaks Volumes: Super Tuesday

The Cover of the March 12, 2012 Issue
:

And this is only the beginning of the blitz! 

More later.
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Monday, March 5, 2012

BP Settlement Deal with Plaintiffs

Well, doesn't that $20 Billion fund make you wonder?  I'd say they were low-balling with that figure and got away with more than they should have, considering the long-term damage done.
NEW ORLEANS — BP PLC has agreed to settle lawsuits from thousands of fishermen who lost work and others who claimed they were harmed by the oil giant's 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, in the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
The oil giant said Friday it expects to pay out at least $7.8 billion dollars as part of the settlement. It says it expects the money to come from the $20 billion compensation fund that it previously set out.
BP still has to resolve claims by the U.S. government, Gulf states and its partners in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project, in which pressure from a well a mile below the ocean's surface blew up a massive drilling rig, killing 11 men and spewing oil into the sea for nearly three months.
This still ain't over although the awareness of the event is dwindling and will eventually become only a dim memory for those not impacted by the disaster.  Sad, that.

And so it goes.
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Sunday, March 4, 2012

Chocolate, False Claims, & A Cultured Pearl

Whatever the weather, every March the RB Annual Chocolate Festival is a huge draw and this year was like no other. Although the doors opened at 11:30am, there was not a parking space to be found in town by 9am. This included my street (parking is free in the off season though no one is guaranteed a space - resident or visitor) which was filled before I left for work.  Fortunately, I left the car parked in front of the building.  I may be crazy, but not stupid:

The weather was nasty on Saturday morning with heavy rain and gusting winds; by the time the festival opened the place was already packed to the limit within 20 minutes. The festival was supposed to end at 3:30pm, but there were so many visitors waiting that it remained open for another 1.5 hours.  No joke!

The restaurant was already short staffed for the lunch shift on Saturday when another server called in sick. This day historically, has been very busy - we were already completely booked for dinner - so I let the Locosguys take the lead. We had 4 good servers and 2 novices on the floor and their stations were assigned accordingly.

While all this is going on, I received a call from a frantic quean who claimed he had left his coat at the restaurant the previous night.  I checked, and he didn't.  He called again and this time he was missing his cell phone and was "certain" he left it at the bar.  He hadn't.  A few minutes later he's back on the phone insisting  he was absolutely, positive that he had left his iPad, Kindle, and shoulder bag last night.

By this time I was up to my eyeballs with last minute minor emergencies and was sure this guy was high on something besides life.  I said, "look pal, if you can remember where you spent the night maybe you should call there because none of your belongings were found here." He said I was being rude and that I probably stole his things myself. (I do not work nights)  I said, if that's what you believe, you certainly made it easy for me, didn't you."  He hung up.

Today was comfortably busy with everything - front and back of the house - running smoothly. I enjoyed a quick AS (after shift) cocktail and headed out.

As I returned home I ran into a neighbor who works at the Cultured Pearl, a popular, pan-Asian restaurant around the corner.  She was getting ready for work and suggested that I stop by; today being the annual sushi feast and I might enjoy a few appetizers. I haven't been anywhere outside of DL in years, but I changed into something a bit more comfortable and took a walk over. 

There was a large crowd on all 3 levels (only the roof garden was closed) enjoying all kinds of goodies. There was no sign of Donna, so I took a seat at the sushi bar and ordered a glass of wine and an appropriate snack.  Leaving the barman to choose.  He smiled and returned with a delightful something consisting of rice, seaweed, and ahi tuna.  It was delicious and went down well with the wine (he also chose for me), but it was getting crowded and I had my fill of crowds this weekend, so I asked that he let Donna know that I came by.  A nice initial experience out in the local world. I did it, enjoyed it, and will do it again soon.

And so it goes.
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Vigilante Jams Annoying Cell Calls on City Buses

You just gotta love this guy, at least I do. This story made me very happy tonight. From the "City of Brotherly Love."
Those who would dare violate the public peace in Philadelphia, consider yourself on notice: You have a sworn enemy. He's not quite as noble as Superman, and his gadgets aren't up to par with those used by Batman, but to those sick of loud cell phone conversations on city buses, he's a genuine superhero.
His name is Eric — last name withheld by request. His tactics are simple, but terribly effective: He uses a cell phone jammer to interrupt loud conversations on the city's number 44 bus route, resulting in dropped calls.
"A lot of people are extremely loud, no sense of just privacy or anything," said the DIY hacker to an NBC affiliate in Philadelphia. "When it becomes a bother, that's when I screw on the antenna and flip the switch.
"I guess I'm taking the law into my own hands and quite frankly, I'm proud of it."
Though some may agree with Eric's version of Radio Shack justice, jamming cell phone communications is a federal crime. The type of device used could easily interrupt crucial emergency communications, though city transportation officials insist that their buses' communication systems are impervious to this type of jamming.
If caught and prosecuted, Eric could face a $16,000 fine as well as jail time. After learning of the consequences, he has agreed to get rid of the device
(Source)
This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Tecca
Ok, so jamming isn't a viable option...how about cramming down the throat, or ramming it up the....?

And, so it goes.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ship of Choice for Alaska Cruise/Tour

Sigh! I've heard nothing but good/great things about Holland America:

Amsterdam, which spends summers in Alaska and the remainder of the year sailing a world cruise and extended journeys in Australia and the South Pacific, is solidly in the middle of the Holland America fleet. Built in 2000, it's smaller than the line's Vista and Signature classes of ships and carries 700 fewer passengers than Eurodam, the largest ship in the lineup. Even on a full cruise, the ship rarely feels crowded, except for the lunch rush at the casual Lido Restaurant on sea days and the occasional, fast-moving line in the La Fontaine main dining room. The Sea View pool, aft of the Lido Deck, is a quiet retreat that feels like a private oasis. Sure, you won't exactly find swimsuit weather en route to Juneau, but staffers graciously offer the perfect Alaska sunbathing accessory: a red wool blanket.

Amsterdam continues to get small upgrades but is not, at this point, in line to receive the whole Signature of Excellence package. So, while it recently received Canaletto, Holland America's take on a casual Italian eatery, it will not be outfitted with spa cabins, an adults-only pool area or a new bar concept called Mix. That said, perhaps the ship doesn't even need these latest bells and whistles. 
 Don't need no stinking bells and whistles!

And so it goes.
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Thursday, March 1, 2012

BP: Demand Justice

And so it goes.
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Another Senseo Mystery Solved.

Yep!  That's my basic brewer in the image at left.  Great little machine, it is, too.

Thankfully, I have to endure the Walmart 'experience' only once monthly to pick up refilled prescriptions, but today I had another reason for being in that G*d-awful place.

A co-worker recently sent a text saying that he had spotted Senseo Coffee Pods there, asking if I wanted him to pick up a bag, or 2.  I declined the offer, but since I was going there anyway, I took a look for myself.

What I found was not Douwe Egberts, (that I assume is ditching the US market altogether) but a new product from Melitta, a company that has specialized in drip coffee makers and cone filters for years, a good brand. This new product has a catchy name aimed at the educated palate of American world travelers who have put aside the standard American way of brewing coffee (usually weak) for a richer coffee experience.  Ahem!

Sandwiched between cans and bags of ground coffees, in a shelf space about 16" wide,  I found Melitta's new offering,  whereas the Keurig options took up a full end-cap offering all coffee flavours and a variety of brewers, as well. To be fair, Walmart does offer Senseo brewers, but they are not available in stores and all models are "out of stock" on their website.  Funny, that.

Anyhoo.

The new Melitta product is labeled European Indulgence.  I purchased an 18 pod package of dark roast to check it out. Price was a few cents less than the Douwe Egberts from the local markets before they took it off the shelves. There are only a few options available, but the following press release offers an interesting future.
Melitta Introduces New, Premium Coffee Pods to Single Serve Line-Up
Available at Walmart Stores Nationwide
CLEARWATER, Fla. - Melitta, a brand well recognized for exceptional quality, expands its single serve offerings with the introduction of new, premium coffee pods.  Currently available, these soft pods are specially designed to fit all Senseo® and Hamilton Beach® Pod Coffeemakers.  Melitta Single Serve Coffee Pods provide an American audience, increasingly sophisticated about coffee, a convenient way to bring a little European indulgence into their own homes. 
True to its European heritage, Melitta sources only premium, high-grown coffees from the finest coffee- producing regions of the world.  These top-quality, hand-picked beans are then batch roasted and ground extra fine, releasing the full elegance of the coffee's flavor.  The resulting brew is always rich and never bitter.

The new Melitta Single Serve Coffee Pods are available in three varieties:  Dark Roast, Medium Roast and Decaf.  The dark and medium roasts contain 18 coffee pods each; the decaf, 16 coffee pods.

"With Senseo coffee pods no longer available at retail in the US, owners of pod brewers are looking for alternative options.  We're excited about the introduction of Melitta premium coffee pods into Walmart, offering consumers great coffee at a great value," says Chris Hillman, vice president of marketing at Melitta.

Melitta Single Serve Coffee Pods are currently available at all Walmart stores.  A nationwide rollout to major grocery and specialty retailers will continue into the spring.
Stay tuned. Now it's off to work.

And so it goes.
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