Monday, December 28, 2009

It's a day

Today was my annual PC clean up day. Every year after Christmas I spend at least one whole day cleaning up a years worth files, reinstalling a desktop OS or rebuilding a Linux fileserver at home.

We used to have a saying at my old job that went like this "Anytime you touch your PC, it's a day". True.

This year I finally replaced my creaking HP Pavilion desktop circa 2002 with 3/4 of a Gig of ram with a laptop. I bought a middle of the road HP laptop for about $650 at Best Buy on Saturday and then spent Sunday copying the Music files from the old Pavilion over the network.

Today was the big day to move in to the laptop.

First up was iTunes. Since I had quite the unique configuration on the Pavilion with the "My Music" folder on the server and the Music on a D: disk, this wasn't easy. I literally spent the entire morning trying different tactics to get the Music and Library lined up so the I wouldn't have those dreaded ! marks next to every file and have to recreate the entire iPod universe all over again.

Finally I got all lined up by simply changing the Media directory in iTunes on the laptop.

The absolute coolest part of the new laptop? The HDMI interface.

I have it connected to the 52" LCD TV and "borrowed" Youngest sons wireless keyboard and mouse. I felt like I should have put on a tie and reviewed the family budget in front of the entire family (and here you can see the 27 cents we saved using CFL lightbulbs)

From there, it was all downhill. One task caused four new ones. It was brutal. Let's just say it was a wasted after noon of disk clean ups, roaming profiles and loading Microsoft Security Essentials 5 times. The easiest disk clean up decision? Removing the gigs and gigs of space eaten up by perl script I had that has been running since 2006 capturing a Web-Cam in Santorini, Greece EVERY TEN MINUTES. I am not making this up. I had forgotten all about it. It was pretty cool to see the time lapse of ships leaving the harbor. It was not worth 20 Gig of space.

I shut off the script.

I can't wait to get back to work tomorrow. I need a break.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

If the fates allow.

Another Christmas is in the books and this was a good one.

Christmas Eve was my mother-in-law's 80th birthday which we celebrated at the Melting Pot in King of Prussia. The boy's girlfriends went and my wife felt obligated to point out the parts of the Mall to the girls as if they were components of her home town (and here's the mall and over there is court).

She wasn't too happy when I pointed out the Mattress Giant. (What? I happen to like Mattress Giant).

The Melting Pot has a whole Robert Evans, seventies feel to it to me because of the whole fondue thing again. My parents went through a fondue fad in my teen aged years. Everyone gave fondue forks and pots for Christmas one year and we all sat around boiling oil with forks with meat on them in the boiling oil. Yep, nothing dangerous about that.

I felt like saying "I have many books bound in leather" or "That reminds me of the time Dyan Cannon and I shot smack with Soupy Sales, baby" all night.

At the Melting pot they use boiling broth, which I'm sure has something to do with the insurance coverage. For the second course they brought out the broth in a medivel looking contraption that both kept a tight seal on the broth and yet had a convenient carry handle.

I looked at it and thought, this thing has to have a name, right?

I asked the waiter and he told us it was a Rommulator and spelled it on the spot. I think he was making it up but the spelling of the word just made the whole thing seem legit. That is how Rommulator became the word of the night, ohh and "Happy Birthday, Fondue".

Christmas morning was at home with the boys. We had purchased suits for them this week and had them convinced that is what their big gift was going to be this year. My wife had put all the smaller gifts under the tree and after they opened all those sweaters, socks, hats and gloves, they thought Christmas was over.

My wife had put one more gift each under the auxiliary trees upstairs, which they found about a 1/2 hour later. They opened the large boxes only to find smaller boxes with iPhones in them.

It was quite a surprise and a hit. I was sure we had them convinced that iPhones were not in the plan and then here they were opening them. (Data plan? what? You need a data plan with those things? no way)

From there it was full press tech support for me. First move the sim and then transfer the addresses in the sim card, get them on the wifi network, open ssl imap on the outbound firewall.... it was never ending. On top of that I had accidentally erased the pictures from the Melting Pot on my SD card so I needed to find a utility to unerase them and put the finishing touches on my secret project. It was stressful.

I quickly discovered that people with iPhones go a little nuts when they first get them. It's as if they have to find an app for everything in their lives. I was first onto this when I caught youngest son rifling through the hall closet looking for Lord-knows-what using his "flashlight app" instead of simply turning on the light. Now my wife is downloading levels and coupon generators as if she is going to out in the garage and start some wood working project with her new level.

So another happy Christmas is in the books and now onto My sisters wedding on New Year's eve.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Secret Project

I can finally discuss the secret project I've been working on now that Christmas has past.

It's amazing how I got on secret project. For some strange reason I started looking for a picture of my Father's old 1963 Bonneville sedan and ended up converting all the family slides to digital format. It's like looking on the Internet for a recipe for chocolate chips cookies and getting mesmerized by the 1922 Rochester Jeffersons. It's easy to get lost out there.

Once I started looking at the slides I knew I had to build "the contraption". The contraption held the point and shoot digital camera still, held the slide still and back-lit the slide. I then took a macro picture of the actual slide. When I was building it that first Saturday, I had no idea how crazy it must have looked, me with this wooden thing with a gooseneck desk lamp attached, a mousetrap holding the slide and a camera mounted to the wood.

I looked like Dr Brown from "Back to the future" when Youngest son came home that Saturday. All I needed was a spaghetti strainer on my head.

Once the contraption was built came the tedious conversion work. I shot each slide 4 times at different exposures to try and capture the best results and organized each roll into a different directory.

After spending weeks looking at these priceless family heirlooms, I can only reach one of three conclusions:

  • In the 1950s and 1960s, people were actually blurry.
  • My father was the worst photographer of all time.
  • Photography 50 years ago was really hard.
I'm going to have to go with the last one.

My Father had an Agfa Silette. Silette of course is German for "bad depth of field". The Silette Pronto was completely manual. You needed a separate light meter to establish what F-stop and shutter speed combination to use which left a lot of room for error.

Here is the complete photographic process from "gee I'd like a picture of that" to the viewing:

  1. Fill the camera with a roll of 24 or 36 exposure 35 mm Kodachrome slide film.
  2. Hold the light meter towards the subject.
  3. Obtain a reading from the meter in lumens.
  4. Rotate a calculator dial on the lightmeter to the value in lumens.
  5. Read the F-stop and shutter speed combo off the calculator.
  6. Set the F-stop and shutter speed.
  7. Guess at the distance to the subject.
  8. Set the focus to the guess.
  9. Look through the viewfinder and shoot the picture.
  10. When finished with the roll, send the pictures off for development to a lab somewhere.
  11. Wait two weeks.
  12. Set up the slide project and screen in darkened room.
  13. View each slide.
God forbid if you needed to take a flash picture with a bulb full of who knows what kind of explosive mixture.

Given the above, it's actually amazing how many pictures came out properly exposed and in focus.

Now, fifty years later I am taking the descendant of that Agfa Silette and taking a digital picture 70 cm from the subject and getting the exposure perfect every single time. I was amazed by the advancement.

On Christmas, I showed the slides to the enjoyment of all. I'll post a few when I get a chance.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Siege, Day two

Day two of the great snowstorm siege of 2009.

We tag teamed periodic shoveling expeditions until 11:30 last night. It was still coming down heavy when we went to bed at midnight.

Oldest sons friend stopped by in the early in the evening and is now digging his Camry off the street before the plows make him a permanent fixture on the final Cul De Sac.

Questionable judgment wasn't limited to youth but perhaps it is to Camry onwers. On the final leg of the shoveling marathon I was shoveling the driveway when another Camry started making it's way down the final Cul De Sac. Surprise! it got stuck. From there is was a dance of going forward, backing up, shoveling out and pushing until they got out of the final Cul De Sac.

"Pete" told me they were going to a party when they got stuck. He said that and I turned and looked to the end of the street for wild activity. Except for Christmas lights there was nothing. Hmmm what kind of party was that going to be? That had to be one heck of a party, "Pete".

Now to one to the big dig.

Saturday, December 19, 2009


It's snowing. It's winter and somehow this is news. Big news.

I woke at 6 and decided it was best to do the food shopping before the snow really hit. I was there as the Shoprite that used to be Stop-n-shop but was a Giant before that opened at 7. It was kind of a mad rush as people were just throwing things in carts and heading to check out as fast as they could. One guy had a entire shopping cart full of firewood and he was getting lunch meat. It was the kind of supermarket firewood that comes in the pre-packaged net bags and is perfect. It had to cost $1000 a cord. I didn't check what type of lunch meat it was. Planning is everything.

It was world record shopping pace at $205 in 50 minutes. I have no idea what I bought. I know what I didn't buy though, syrup. I heard about that when I got home and Shreck and his brother were makin' waffles.

After that was the crisis with the dog. The male doggie had a bit of surgery on Thursday on his paw and today was supposed to be his first visit back to the Vet to dress bandages. Now the snow was starting to come down pretty hard and it was a perilous trip skidding through intersections, spinning tires and fish tailing. I did better than the lady that pulled out of the Vet's parking lot onto the country crown road and drove off into the ditch. Me and the Vet's neighbor were helping her get out of the ditch in her two wheel drive Volvo and having a heck of time at it. Is the wheels were spinning she said "I knew I should have taken my Husbands Jeep."

Ya think? So given the choice, you took the comfort of the Volvo over the four wheel drive.
Great. We finally got her out when two good ol' boys who were out on a hunting trip pulled over and helped push her out.

We safely made it home by ten and by then it was really starting to come down. The minivan is safely back in the garage now. It'll be Monday before that things sees the road again.

We live on a cul de sac that my Township plows absolutely last.

My cars are parked in the snow configuration. This is a habit I've inherited from my Father. He has very strict rules about were the cars are to be parked with the threat of snow and now so do I.

The rest of the day has been about keeping up the shoveling and Beatles rockband.

Friday, November 27, 2009


I have walked past Superior Shoe Repair and Shoeshine Parlor twice a workday for the past 10 years and never set foot in the place.

With Thanksgiving coming up I decided it was time my shoes got shined and stepped in on my way home from work Wednesday night. It was like walking into another world.

I walked in, set my coat on chair covered in 30 years worth of boot black and climbed up high above my shoe shine man into the stained office chair. My shoe shine man took my feet and placed them on the handy steel footstands and got to work.

He was a personable guy, smiling and joking the whole time and I gathered he had some sort of bet going with the one of the shoe repair guys because they were trading barbs about what they were going to do with the money.

My guy was supposed to get $13 if he won and shoe repair guy was supposed to get $10.

This went on for a while when my curiosity finally got to me and I asked what the bet was about.

She repair guy had bet my guy that eggnog was available in liquor stores year round. I didn't ask about the difference in the bet between 10 and 13. Let's just call it the eggnog offset. They had arrived at the eggnog offset before I walked in.

Apparently my guy was a real eggnog affectionado and of course was confident in his choice saying thing like "I knows my eggnog". He even had the money already spent. On eggnog. All the while he was shining my shoes, rolling up my pants, untying my shoes and buffing away.

The drama reached it's zenith when shoe repair guy called the PLCB Wine and Spirits store around the corner on Broad and asked them if they had eggnog is stock. Then he asked them if they carried it year round, all the while nodding his head like they were agreeing with his side of the bet. He was saying uh-huh,uh-huh and nodding up and down.

Then he got off the phone and said "see?".

My guy wasn't going down without a fight. I didn't believe him and they bantered back and forth for while when a guy that can only be described as Chicken George came in the store. Chicken George didn't work there, I think he just hung out there. Chicken George was decked out in Washington Redskins gear from head to toe. Immaculate Redskins gear. Hat, shirt, satin jacket. All Redskins - all the time. Chicken George mumbled something in authentic urban street gibberish like "gad dag num num hadd blumerly EGGNOG". It was like he was trying to get in on the drama. I had no idea what he said.

Finally my guy had enough and threatened to call the PLCB himself when shoe repair guy relented and said my guy was right. The drama was over, but not for Chicken George.

He started saying the following over and over:

"Da hen lays da egg - eve-ry-day"

Which in his mind, must have meant something about how eggnog should be available everyday or something.

I paid for my shine, tipped my guy and headed out the door.

Chicken George came up to me and said:

"Da hen lays da egg - eve-ry-day".

He followed me out the door.

"Da hen lays da egg - eve-ry-day"

I just smiled and nodded.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Frantic Weekend.

It was a busy weekend. I need a weekend from the weekend. At least it's a three day week.

I was out Friday night, only to come to our female dog outside and barking. The phone rang the minute I got in and it was our neighbor explaining that the dog had been out since 2 PM barking the whole time. Yes, they bark all the time but usually at something. I'm not sure what she was up to and why she didn't just come in her little doggie door but I got her in and calmed down and she was fine. Great! another barking "incident".

Saturday was spent at the wife's Uncle's funeral. Uncle "E" had ALS for the past 32 years so I'm sure it was a relief to the family but it was sad. I must have missed the Order of the Mass pamphlets with the Hymms and Readings on the way in and found one in the pew. I was following along just fine until we got to the final Hymm which was listed as the "Battle Hymm of the Republic". I thought that was an odd choice for Uncle E, but who knows, maybe he was a civil war buff or something.

I then realized I had found a pamphlet from another funeral. At least I didn't start singing "Mine eyes have seen the coming .....".

I was a last minute pall bearer. Actually, we all were. Instead of picking people out at the beginning of the service, the funeral director pulled an audible and picked guys out of the pews at the last minute. I thought it was a recipe for disaster but it worked out.

Sunday was a Orienteering outing framed by food shopping (before) and finishing painting the living room (after). I came in seventh on the Orange course, second for my age group.

We had started painting the living room last week and Youngest son helped with priming painting. He needed the money. It was lesson in learning to pay attention - for me.

He yelled something from downstairs and I responded with a "ya?" as in "Ya, what do you want?" and he took it as "affirmative". What he had asked was "Should I bring the newly opened, full container of 2 gallons of white primer upstairs into the living room, you know the one with the carpet on the floor and all". Well that's what he must have said since the next time I saw him he was spilling paint in the hallway.

Lots of paint.

I spent the next hour cleaning that up. Luckily it all hit the carpet runner and I dragged that right out and hit it with the hose right away. Of course I got all out when the Mrs came home and declared that she hated the carpet any way and she would have just thrown it out.

Wish she were home when the spill happened.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


We are just now ducking out from under a nasty Nor'easter that has been sitting on us for the past three days. No real damage here, 50 miles inland, but the requisite pictures of flooding in the shore towns are showing up. Not sure what the pictures mean since sometimes it looks like that after a summer shower but it sounds like they really did get some flooding and beach erosion.

The weather station didn't really record any thing of significance but it does look like the old rain gauge is sending us a message of some type here in this graph.

How do you tell if you obsessed with the weather? You don rain gear and a head lamp to check your rain gauge in the middle of a Nor'Easter. At night.

Ohh and then because you don't believe that you didn't receive any measurable rain overnight even though when you picked up the Newspaper it was dry, you check it again in the morning before work in work clothes. You never know, there might be something stuck in there.

Last week signs went up in the neighborhood that "Next week: Leaf Collection in this area". Youngest son and I raked the leaves to the front by the curb just in time for our Nor'Easter.

"They" never came to collect leaves.

Of course that only means that more have fallen now and that the once clean lawn is covered again with leaves. At least it's too wet to rake again.

A Nor'Easter is named that way because North East is the direction the winds come from. It wasn't until Ben Franklin that we figured out that these storms come from the South. Judging by the wind direction graph, one looked more 'Easter than Nor' but it's interesting (to me at least) that you can see the winds swing around from North to East back to north.

A few lingering showers today and then some sun tomorrow.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Once in a Lifetime

My Weight Watchers at Work officially ended a week and half ago but I am continuing on my own.

It started with a packed house of 50 women and three men back in August but by the end there were 15 of us and I was the sole surviving male. Needless to say this put me in awkward position, especially in the final session when the leader announced that her boyfriend proposed to her.

The ladies went a little nuts at this news as there was a collective oooh uuhhh from everyone except, well, me. I felt like a stranger in strange land.

This kind of sums up the public portion of my Weight Watchers experience. Me, at what turns out to be nearly a bridal shower and I am not the groom.

Ohh and I can not say this strong enough, THE LADIES HATE ME.

It's true, they actually hate me.

I knew I was in trouble early when after the first official weigh-in when I got on the elevator with one of the female participants and she said the following without so much as a hello:

"You are probably like all men and lost 5 pounds this week"

Her tone was like I had cheated on my wife.

I nodded politely and said "I did OK this week" when I had actually lost 8 pounds. I knew better that to enrage her while I was trapped in a steel cage with her.

Now 10 weeks later and it was just me at the pseudo-bridal shower and the ladies start asking direct questions at my obvious reduced size.

"May I ask how much you lost?" one of them asked. I knew better but I told her anyway.

"24 pounds"

They hate me.

They chalked it up to "Men cutting out junk food loose 20 pounds right away" but it was much more than that. I rigorously charted everything that went into my mouth for 11 weeks in a spread sheet. I would document and then eat. It was like a NASA program of some kind.

The first 8 weeks I did not even use the 35 bonus points per week at all. That sounds like a big deal but I had a lot of points compared to the ladies. The formula differentiates men and women by giving men 6 more points that a similar sized woman.

I also weighed everything I ate so I knew exactly what sized portion I had. By the way, that's something that sounds easy but isn't. I miscounted pasta and rice portions for weeks because I didn't realize that the portions on the box were for the product dry, before cooking. I had to do little home science projects to figure out how much pasta I was supposed to get.

I haven't done so much work with the metric system since Ridley State Park during my High School days, if you know what I mean.

I ate microscopic cupcakes and something called a "Skinny Cow" ice cream sandwich. If you think I am making up the size of the cupcakes, here a 1 point carrot cake. Yes, that's an actual quarter next it.

WWPortions 004

My wife wasn't "officially" on the program but she did it anyway, mostly out of competition. That un-official part nearly did her in. Being new to the program I didn't know there was a minimum number of points that everyone got and when I did here calculation, she was 4 points shy of the minimum.

She did that for a week and then announced she "felt like a poor starving nation". No kidding. You are getting the nutritional equivalent of the diet of someone in Somalia.

She wasn't writing anything down either. She would get to dinner and start adding up points for the day. "I had this and that, how many points is that?" and I would have to add it all up. It was like a math quiz every night while I was documenting every morsel that entered my mouth.

The ladies may be forming another Weight Watchers at Work program but given the love in the room, I may pass and just continue on my own.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Yes, you do need a compass.

I ran into a old coworker on facebook a few weeks ago and discovered he was into orienteering, something I've enjoyed from Oldest Son's time in scouts. On Friday, I discovered that both Oldest Son's Troop and my friend were heading to the scouting event in Washington's Crossing State Park.

I decided to check it out.

If you've never been, orienteering is about finding specific spots on given map in the woods for time.

I signed up and selected the "Yellow" course (second easiest) and headed off to the start. I was behind a couple that was doing the "Orange" course which is the next one up and I couldn't help but eavesdrop.

They must have been on a first or second date because she asked if he had ever seen Seinfeld.

Not a particular Seinfeld episode mind you, just the whole show. In retrospect this is the stupidest question ever since everyone short of Osama Bin Laden has had to have seen at least one episode of Seinfeld, even if they hated it. Just the fact that she was asking it meant they didn't know each other really well. I have never asked my wife "Have you ever seen Seinfeld?".

This is clearly too early to be bringing a subject as controversial as map reading into a relationship. Married couples with years of experience sometimes do not survive a bad map reading experience.

When she asked if you needed a compass, I thought this is really not going to go well.

They headed into the woods one minute ahead of me at 11:07 AM.

I went about finding all my controls but I had done this before.

I was thinking that I should have done the Orange course since after starting, I remembered that I always did the Yellow and really should have challenged myself a bit more. I didn't see the couple ahead of me at all but that may have been because they were on a different course. Or they were really, really lost.

I didn't do bad for not having done it in a few years. After getting started, I neglected to look for a bridge around a creek before heading out and had to double back once and got lost looking for control 5 but other than that, found everything just fine.

I finished at 12:14.

After that I had lunch with the old Troop. It was like old times, eating a ham sandwich in the drizzling rain, watching the boys bite open the milk container and catching up on Troop drama.

After lunch, I hung out and asked around for my old friend. The course director told me he was out on a course and so I waited for him near the finish. While I waiting I spied the couple ahead of me pop out of the woods. They had spent over 2 hours out the woods with a map.

I'm guessing it didn't go well and yes, you do need a compass. I hope there is a third date.

Pictures Here.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Side Sleeper

Let me start out be saying that I would rather stick my eyes out with a sharp object or shave with a cheese grater before I do any sort of furniture shopping. That being said, you can understand why it's taken since July to get a bed to replace the one Oldest son took to college.

He was coming home for "fall break" and had no where to sleep so the jig is pretty much up and we had no choice. We had to get a mattress.

We decided that our 20 year old queen bed would fit in his old 9 1/2 by 11 room and that would make an excellent guest room if you could ignore the cartoonish "men landing on the moon" wall paper, ancient carpet and 3 inch hole his brother had apparently knocked in the wall sometime in 2003.

For us this meant a new King sized and it was off to the Mattress Giant near our home.

The last time we were here it was to replace a very worn out twin for Youngest son. I don't recall it taking that long and we were in and out pretty fast. What I do recall is that I had wished I had brought my camera since our salesman looked exactly like the Mattress Giant himself. Except smaller. He was like the son of the Mattress Giant, working in a small obscure store, learning the ropes until someday he would operate the Mattress Giant chain and star in all the TV commercials. I couldn't keep my eyes off of him, he was Mattress Giant Jr.

Junior was now gone and this time our salesman was man named Andrew. Andrew had a PhD in mattresses and knew just about everything about mattresses. We knew this because Andrew asked us what we were sleeping on now and we described it in the vague terms one uses to describe the steering wheel on your car or what brand your toaster oven is. Things you see everyday but if grilled about, you would have a hard time picking out of a police line up.

Andrew nailed it. First time. He said "You have a four seasons double pillow top".

I was impressed.

Andrew asked us if we liked hard or soft mattresses and then asked us to try out some mattresses. I find this unbelievably awkward. Here you are in the brightly lit mattress store with other customers around and you are getting into bed together to try out a mattress. It's just kind of weird.

So Andrew gives us our own pillows and off we go to bed.

If you haven't bought a bed in twenty or so years, the first thing you are going to notice is that beds are like 3 stories high these days. You need a step ladder to get in some of these things. I now understand accidents where people get injured at home falling out of bed. Of course you'll get hurt since it's nearly ceiling high and you are going to need a fireman and a ladder truck just to get out of the thing everyday.

We climbed into the tall bed and just sort of lay there staring up at the drop ceiling and florescent lights. We say "this is nice" while Andrew tried to coach us through the "what kind of sleeper" are you routine. Do you lie on your side? Back? Stomach?

I really have no idea but you can't say "I don't know" because you are fifty and by fifty you should know these things. I pick side. All your life they try to put you in groups. Are you a Christian? Muslim? Meat Eater? Vegan? Do you like Football? Baseball?

And now I have a new one. I am a side sleeper.

Andrew shows us mattress after mattress and we take our little pillows to each one like a pair of 5 year old children. "Don't forget your pillows" Andrew says after each mattress try out. Thanks Dad.

We finally decided on a reasonably priced one and then Andrew moved into the hard sell on "mattress protection". Andrew is trying to put the fear of stains into us, explaining that for $149.95 we can purchase a mattress cover that is so tough that if required we could re-enter the earth's atmosphere in it. This is usually where I lose it. Let me cut to the chase here Andrew, there is no way we are purchasing a cover for something THAT IS COVERED 24 HOURS A DAY.

On Tuesday they delivered our new King sized bed and we have been sleeping in it all week. It feels huge. I feel like my wife is miles away and I'm sure this was not an accident. I need an intercom to talk to her. "Hello? are you there?" "Did you fall out?" "This ceiling need painting"

On the bright side the thing is so tall the dogs can't up on yet.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

If you were in row AA of section 311 on Tuesday, those pants DID make your butt look big.

This past Tuesday was the long awaited Springsteen concert at the Spectrum. You may recall that in April I made absolute idiot of myself by blurting out something semi-obvious and yet oh so personal about the woman in front of me.

This time I was able to keep my mouth shut.

The seats were in the row one of the second deck on the right side of the Spectrum. Naively I assumed that row one was in the front of the section but to my surprise there was actually a row in front of the four of us. The row in front must have been an after thought way back in 1969 or so after the Spectrum was built because it looked low, as if it were and aisle in days gone by.

Late in the third hour a youngish drunk guy in a Giants Steve Smith jersey actually thought it was 1969 and stumbled through that front row as if it weren't even there. Maybe he was a time traveler and had not realized that a "new" row was there now. Any way he nearly took a header off the second deck as he stepped into the pit that was row AA.

The people in front of us in row AA had absolutely huge butts. I could not get past it. Ever time I turned forward I saw a big butt swaying to the music. I looked around at the crowd and thought there are a lot of big butts swaying to the music. Big Butts in huge Dockers.

I did not blurt out "That woman has a huge butt" this time. I dared not even speak it since I was sure that would be the point at which the music stopped for 10 seconds and all of section 311 heard it.

Bruce played over three hours. Non-stop. No break. Even at age 60 you have to give him credit for his stamina. One song would finish and it's a 1-2-3 count and new song and sometimes the E street band hadn't even finished the other song.

Tuesday night was absolutely the single best set list I have ever heard at a Springsteen concert.

The first six songs included the rare Seaside Bar, Out in the Street and Hungry Heart. There ere three "new" songs as well, two from Working on Dream and the newly minted "Wrecking Ball" which was reworked for Philly after being written for the Giants stadium shows. Oh and Outlaw Pete made the set list. Bruce, you have 500 really good songs. This isn't one of them. I didn't really like in April and liked it less now.

Next up was the live performance of 1976's Born to Run, in order and as close to the album as possible. It was strange to to hear typical encore material such as Born to Run and Thunder Road in the middle of the show and Tenth Ave Freeze Out did not have the old time Gospel spiel break in the middle. Meeting Across the River featured Curt Ramm on trumpet and Soozie Tyrell on violin.

Hearing Born to Run live was worth to price of admission.

The request portion of the show continues and this time it didn't look as rehearsed as Bruce and the band conferred before launching into Little bit of Soul.

And then I finally got hear the Philly favorite, Fever, live.

Finally, the last song was Rosalita. Like I said, the best Bruce set ever.

Blurry pictures here.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Zone 3

By time we arrived at John Wayne, Orange County, Santa Anna, Britney Spears International airport brought to you by Disney and ESPN, I had a massive sinus headache. I was sure that I had brought along my over the counter sinus pills but after fishing through my carry on back pack/rolling luggage in a head pounding haze, I could not find a single precious blister pack with magic pills.

So you'll have to forgive me if I was just a little out of it when we landed.

We had boarded the plane by zones in Atlanta and we ended up being among the first to reach "zone 3" or as I like to call it, "the back of the bus". We were literally in the last seats. The only way you could be behind us is if you sat in the bathroom directly behind us.

The bathroom, by the way, has something seriously wrong with it since it stank worse than a Mr-Bob portopotty on a warm August night. We spent our time on the ground in Atlanta searching for "good air" and covering our noses with clothing like our shirts and scarves.

One of the final last row refugees to arrive was an oriental american who sat across from us. I watched as he tried stuffing his coat and TWO carryons into the few spaces left. At this point I must have had some sort of stink induced hallucination since I swear I saw him stuff his coat in front of my back pack/rolling luggage thingee in the over head compartment across the aisle from me.

I know I saw this happen. I would have sworn in court I saw this happen.

After our 5 hour flight, we landed and were "de-boarding".

SomehoweMr oriental american has somehow slipped out ahead of the rest of us last row victims and was gone.

When I went to grab my luggage, the coat was still there.

Now I had a choice. Choices are bad. I could:

A) leave the coat and hope that Mr Yamagocchi figured out that he left it and alert airline personal who would retrieve the coat.

B) grab the coat and find Mr Yamagocchi and give him the coat.

In my mind stabbing sinus condition, I chose "B".

My wife was of a different opinion. Surprise! she said "A".

So there I was, racing through the airport like OJ Simpson in the old days, dragging my wheeled back pack/luggage combo and carrying a strangers coat all the while watching fleeting shadows of Mr Yamagocchi as he passed through the crowd way ahead of me.

Now the airports these days have the secure zone and the unsecured zone and I was racing towards the unsecured. When I crossed the border into the unsecured, horns and lights went off like I was breaking out of sing-sing.

For brief second I thought "How do they know I have someone else's jacket" as TSA drones yelled at me in Spanglish waving their arms.

They were saying "come forward"... sort of. At least that's what I remember. I still had the sinus induced haze.

I had somehow gone backwards after moving through the border, back into the secure zone.

An obvious TSA no-no.

They let me go on without a strip search but now I had Mr Yamagocchi's jacket and no way to get to to him. Oh no. She was right again. Her track record on things like this is uncanny and you would think at some point I would start listening to her simply on the fact that SHE IS ALWAYS RIGHT, but no.

So now I'm standing there, waiting for my luggage to spring from the chute and then come out to place where I can't reach it because I have a bad spot around the carousel because of being detained by TSA. I'm waiting and waiting when a man I've never seen before in my life approaches me. At first I thought he said "is the the luggage for flight so and so" but no, that is not what he said. He said:

"You have my jacket".

It was not Mr Yamagocchi.

He was a big US Marine looking guy and he said it like "You stole my jacket" which technically I had, but with good intentions.

I never saw this guy on my flight. I swear.

I gave him the jacket and my wife said "Oh good we were looking for you". Which to her was true since she had no idea who I thought I was following. She thought we were following big Marine guy and not Mr Yamagocchi.

I just went with it and took a sinus pill.

IMG_1676:California Trip Mikes Pictures

In this shot I've captured "Ari" Falciani demanding that Vince gets a trailer larger than Tom's and fresh papaya and gorilla breast milk every morning.

Friday, October 09, 2009


I'm out back by the pool, it's 10 PM and it's 71 degrees out. It's a nice night for October in Jersey but it's not perfect. I'm listening to my California play list and I'm thinking about California where it is perfect.

Every single day the weather was perfect. My brother, never a big vegetable guy, keeps Coors Light in the veggie drawer of his fridge. where a direct vent from the freezer keeps the beer at a perfect 31.5 degrees. He actually measured the temperature. The beer - it's perfect. Beer instead of broccoli? Really perfect.

His lawn - it's perfect. His roses - the're perfect.

We went to Costco where I found perfect grapes.

Sunday we got up and headed to La Jolla where we found the perfect seaside, rooftop restaurant. Our waiter was perfect. There wasn't a cloud for 500 miles - the're actually illegal there because that would make it not perfect.

We went to our hotel in San Diego where we caught the ninth inning of the last San Diego Padres game of the season from the roof of the Marriott hotel where we were staying. The rooftop bar over looks Petco field where it was tied 3-3. Didn't get to see enough baseball? Of course the game went into extra innings, just make it more perfect.

The Padres lost when they gave up a Homer in the 10th. You would think that's not perfect but wait, they played the San Fransisco Giants. It's California on California so no matter who wins - it's Perfect!.

We went to Coronado island were we watched the perfect sunset from the Hotel Del Coronado sun deck.

Went went back to the hotel and found the perfect little restaurant where they made perfect little quiche and it was so empty - it was... wait for it ... perfect.

In the morning we had a giant breakfast. My brother knows the number two guy at the hotel so we got 50 % off. Coupon? No way! More perrrrrfect.


When we checked out - we got the employee rate. More perfect.

And where is the most perfect place on the planet Earth? Disneyland. Where did we go next? PERFECT, PERFECT, PERFECT!.

The next day we drove to Temecula where we found the perfect hamburger place. I swear. It was perfect. They even had grilled chicken - done perfectly. We ate out in the perfect weather. The waitress? She was perfect.

We went wine tasting and how was it you ask? Perrrr-fect.

Drive home? Perfect. Dinner on the grill? Low fat and perfect.

That night we sat outside where he has the perfect outdoor gas heater to make it .... perfect. Are there bugs? No because that would make it less than perfect.

When I came home and weighed myself? I lost 4 pounds! Perfect!

Now you think I am making this up. I am not. My hand to God.

The only way this would have been more perfect is if I secretly hit the lottery, the Eagles won the Superbowl, the Phils repeated as world effing champions, my oldest kid solved the middle east crisis and my youngest found a cheap sustainable energy source, my wife made 400k a year in a job where she worked 10 hours a week, I had the perfect boss and all our stocks went up.

Ohh, and all my neighbors suddenly loved our dogs. Well, they would if we lived in California because it is perfect.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Cailfornia Screaming

Let me start out by saying that if you were in row 5 of Tower of Terror yesterday at 1:30 in Disney's California Adventure and have bruise on your left thigh, it's not entirely my fault.

We are on vacation with my two brothers and their wives and yesterday was the Disneyland portion of the trip. My wife had been talking up Tower of Terror for a week in anticipation. She was trying to overcome the inertia my family usually has towards amusement parks, but as we approached the ride yesterday it wasn't working. I was her only taker even though the ride had an unheard of 15 minute wait.

I was doing it for her. I'm OK with rides but eventually the engineer in me comes out.

Maybe it's a difference in philosophy about rides in general. My wife thinks that rides are a thrilling adventure about speed and G forces, meant to excite you and make your heart thump for a brief 2 minutes and 25 seconds. I'm thinking "holy crap, what can go wrong?" and imagining a roomful of guys that are good at math and have more things strapped to their belts then Jim Kirk on a away mission saying "Oh, here it is, the frabistat disconnected from the whojisabar sending the whole car right out the top of the ride". It happens.

And so I found myself standing on a bronze square marked "5" with my wife and two heavyset women. We were among 21 getting on the ride together. I didn't really notice how heavyset they were while we were waiting in line together. My mind was on other things. Like flying out of the top of the ride or crashing to the bottom because some knuckle head used a uninitialized pointer in the code for the ride control.

The "Elevator Operator" called row 5 and off we went. The heavyset woman on my immediate right approached her seat and pulled her seat belt fully out before getting her seat saying something about "otherwise I can't reach it". It was about then that I noticed that "heavyset" actually meant "Ass as big as all of Wisconsin" or "A lifetime around cheese"

I sat down in my seat and pulled my seat belt on. It looked like something from a '65 Impala since it was single lap belt without the shoulder straps that any Smart Car has. These antiquated belts were also my wife's sole reasoning as to why the ride "isn't so bad". She said if it were a bad ride, they would restrain you in with a heavy metal bar. Yes, I thought, that's true OR it could be that the guys with all the pencils sticking out of their breast pocket of their short sleeved, button down shirt UNDERSIZED IT. I want a restraining bar. A big metal restraining bar.

Looking to my right only reinforced the whole "undersized" concept.

After buckling up, I got familiar with my environment. We were in metal theater type seating with our Don Draper era seat belt secured across our laps and each seat had a metal handle on each side. I'm sure those handles had reassured many a white knuckle that "everything is going to be OK".

At least that was true on my left. I could look down and see the handle between my wife and I.

It was a different story on my right. I'm sure that the pencil necked geeks put two handles for every seat, but since the woman next to me was pouring out of her seat and into mine, that right handle was buried somewhere under her fleshy thigh.

I looked down and to my horror, saw her thigh actually completely covered the handle. I reached down, hoping the my eyes had misunderstood only to feel blubber.

I elected to only grab my left handle out of politeness.

After a brief last minute safety check which consisted of us tugging on our own lap belt to make sure it was buckled, we started the ride.

At first it wasn't so bad. The ride went backwards to move into position and then went upwards at normal "elevator" type acceleration. Then the doors opened to a hallway right out of "Haunted Mansion" where there were spooky ghosts and a narrator that continued with the back story. I find that when faced with ghosts or stomach emptying acceleration, I'm much more frightened by the acceleration.

The doors then closed and some guys in the back row that apparently had spent the day on this ride started counting down.


The next thing I knew, I was hurtling towards my death and the roof at breakneck speeds.

Clearly, the time for politeness was over.

I reached around my new best friend's thigh and grabbed that handle as fast as I could. My grip moved her thigh out of the way and tightened around the brass handle before you could say "Twilight zone".

The ride went up and down like that for what seemed to me to be an hour and half. Each drop and rise getting faster and straining the clearly undersized belt. I was out of my seat a couple of times and could only imagine what was happening in the seat to my right. I hung on to my handles for my life.

I could only image because I had closed my eyes after the ride opened up it's doors at the top over looking the park at an altitude normally reserved for airliner cruising.

And then, that fast, the ride was over and we were getting out. The lady next to me and I did not make eye contact.

On the way out we bought a souvenir photo - a 5 x7 for $96.50.

In the photo, you can not see my right hand.
Tower of Terror Oct 5th 2009

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Fireplace Blues

We are buying a wood burning stove insert for our fireplace.

Actually, we are replacing the one we had for 15 years. It was "installed" by a previous owner and by installed, I mean three large guys picked the behemoth up and slammed it in the 1970's era prefab metal sided fireplace. No flue connection. No insulation. Just a giant metal thing sitting on the brick.


To open and close the flue of the fireplace you used to have to shimmy the 1000 pound behemoth to one side and then reach into the sooty darkness and open (or close) the flue. The steel insert would screech like nails on a chalk board and inevitably your arm came back out covered in soot. It was kind of like the old board game Operation except it was dark and a buzzer and light didn't off if you hit the sides - you got soot arm.

I got quite good at this crazy task over the years. By the end I could yank that black stove back, swing my arm up there with a paper towel and close the flue with out a mark getting on me. I got so good that I could do it in good clothes before work without worrying about it.

We would light fires on only the coldest nights of the winter and since the thermostat for the house was in the same room as the insert, it would effectively turn the heat off for the night. This was great if you were in the part of the house heated by the wood stove but if you were outside of that area you froze. By "outside that area", I mean the 11 x 17 living room.

Of course this just made you put more wood in the stove until the stove reached a temperature near that required for making steel.

My wife enjoyed the fire especially if I needed to chop wood for the fire. She found this absolutely hilarious as I would go out in the cold and try to prop up a piece of wood, take the heavy maul over my head and then bring it down hard on the defenseless wood only to have it bounce a mile high off the wood. Ha, ha, ha, ha, boy is that ever funny. It's cold and I'm sweating. Ha, ha, ha, ha.

I thought nothing of making fires like hades. The hotter the better. I would sometimes have a hard time sleeping if we had a fire that night - thinking that it could some how light the house on fire. But for the most part, I didn't worry about.

Until the chimney sweeps came one year. We had the chimney cleaned like we did every year only that year the chimney sweeps told us that the stove was a fire hazard. They told us that the stove wasn't designed for that "type of fireplace" and we should get rid of it, now.

We somehow had no issue for 15 years but now all of a sudden I had the crap scared out of me and we tried selling it for scrap. Of course no one wanted it, but several scrap dealers were willing to take it off my hands for $100. I'm sure it's sitting in some old place in Camden, happily heating a scrap dealers office or garage every winter.

Now, after two years of heatless fires in the prefab fireplace, we want our warmth back and have been looking at professionally installed inserts. We visited one dealer two weeks ago and he made it sound like it was a piece of cake. He installs tons of them every winter.

Today my wife went to another store only to hear a familiar refrain. It was like "A Christmas Story" where the kid wants a Red Rider BeeBee gun and all he hears is "you'll put your eye out kid". This second store told us "You can't have an insert in a non-masonry fireplace - you'll burn your house down"

This second store wants to tear out the old "zero clearance" fireplace and install a masonry one for big bucks.

Now we are totally confused.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Its now the Fall of Paul

I'm declaring the summer of Michael officially over as of 9/9/09 and we are now in the fall of Paul.

Like the chill in the air and the cooling of the pool, each season brings with it something new and something old departs. So just as when the sidewalk vendors on 15th street took down their Obama shirts and put up Michael paraphernalia in June, I'm moving into a Beatles phase.

Hail to all things Beatles again.

My wife was one of the first to buy the new Beatles Rock Band game and she and youngest son played the first day on 9/9/09 (and shouldn't they have released on 9/10 or the "one after 9/09"?).

I haven't played but I have been listening to a lot of Beatles on the iPod.

I usually have the iPod on a "random order" mode where the iPod selects what song will play next but yesterday I listened to Abbey Road in track order.

It amazed me that I still knew what the next song was going to be from years of forced vinyl ordering. As soon as "Something" ended, I just knew that "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" was starting up next. I had forgotten that as much care was put into the ordering as the songs themselves. John-George-Paul-Paul-Ringo order the songs are etched on the album, the way that they were intended to be listened to.

I once heard Mick Jones, formerly of the Clash and now a member of Carbon/Silicon, say that downloading a single song from an album is like cutting the eye out of the Mona Lisa because "that's your favorite part". While having a former punk artist reference classical art might seem a little odd, it's true. On good albums, it's best to listen to the whole thing.

On the weight watchers front, I lost two pounds this week and my tip of the week is "buy a scale". I bought the "Biggest Loser" model for $20 on Labor Day at Kitchen Kapers. I bought in frustration over how much "3 oz" of cooked pork roast was. I had guess about 1 oz per slice and had 3 slices on my plate. When I bought the scale and weighed it, it was more like 0.5. I had given myself a small portion! I also had been over estimating rice and pasta portions. Now the portion control is crisp and precise with the mass in g on each product. That is if you know the difference between g and oz. My wife misunderstood and attempted to pour 29 oz of Cheerios into a bowl.

Let's just say it overflowed.

A bonus tip this week on eating out. I got in and out of Olive Garden with a 6 by checking the menu ahead of time and selecting the Venetian Apricot Chicken and a salad with fat free dressing. Check the menu ahead of time or just go to Seasons 52 in Cherry Hill. Everything on the menu is 475 Calories or less.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Morning Swim.

It always amazes me how the weather in Philly can turn on a dime on the first day of September. Last week it was jungle hot and then Monday morning came with temperatures in the low sixties and massive dew on the cars. Every morning was even cooler that the morning before it with great "sleeping weather".

During the days we had what I call "9/11" weather. Bright sunshine with cooler temperatures. The only difference was planes in the air. Only the cicadas that procrastinated in August remain and even their rhythms are half-hearted. At night the chirping of the crickets is slowed near the rate of the breathing of a hibernating bear and the sun struggles to warm the day with less direct sunlight. Like a rockstar that has kicked heroin, summer is trying to make a comeback.

Of course all this cool weather sucks the life right out the pool temperatures. While the week before it was in the mid eighties, it now registered 74 by weeks end. Still warm enough for the determined or the really, really hot. I was both after two early morning bike rides this week. On Thursday I was called crazy for jumping in at 6:30 AM after a bike ride. It was still sort of warm though.

The Weightwatchers thing is going great - except for turkey burgers err ahh Soylent Green. I just can't stomach them (literally) and after two attempts I am throwing in the towel. They just taste like cardboard and after figuring out the point difference was minimal for lean ground beef and turkey, guess what.

I guess I never got over the musshy "meat" in my hand and the keeping back the vomit. But I may try Zach's recommendation of ground turkey for tacos once fall hits for real. I think the spicy seasons can mask the nothingness that is ground turkey. Until then turkey and I are "taking a break". I may wait until Thanksgiving for that much turkey again.

While the change in eating habits are becoming more and more familiar, the weekly WW meetings are getting old. As predicted there were even fewer at this weeks meeting while we were going over goals. Fewer people also means fewer guys at the meetings and this week I was the only man to hear one of the ladies share that her goal was to be able to walk around the house naked.

Too. Late. Must. Think. Of. Something. Else. That image is now burned into my memory, thank you.

The well intended leader is trying to breathe life into the group with enthusiasm and cheer leading but I'm not sure it's working. There is a lot of "Beuler? Bueler? Anyone?" after she asks a question and she trying to get us pumped up but we aren't buying it. It's very awkward.

Face it. This sucks but we are getting through it. IT IS NOT FUN eating chicken and lettuce 24/7. Stop telling me it is. Shut up and give me some fries.

I'm eating more chicken than Frank Perdue. (Although there really isn't any evidence that he actually ate chicken, is there. He just looked like one. ) . Last night I broke down and had a cheeseburger for the first time in two weeks. Of course the moment I took the first bite I got a phone call. It was like have your sister in law call during a romantic moment at home. It was just me and my cheeseburger and then it wasn't.

Even with the burger, I made my point goal but dinner was over half the points for the day.

I must say it is working. Officially I lost 12 pounds in two weeks although I think it is closer to 8-10.

I'm only sticking to the "regular" points - I have never used the bonus points (yet). And I'm getting 2-3 bike rides of 30-60 minutes in every week.

This week I also discovered shrimp. Shrimp is low calories, low fat and good. I may stock up on that again this week. First I made kabobs:

Shrimp, pineapple, canned whole white potatoes, sweet onions and red pepper on each skewer, spray with pam and sprinkle Cajun spices on them. Grill on low for about 12-15 minutes. I figured a point per skewer.

Then I just grilled onions, red pepper and shrimp on the stove. Nine 31-40 count shrimp is 2 points.

On to anther week of skim milk and 1 point English muffins.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Elephant and Castle

Another weekend and Philly stuck between another tropical weather system and a front. This time around it is Bill's kid brother Danny and three quarters of an inch of rain was our reward. I've never seen an August were the grass was a green as April and I am still emptying 3 trash bags of grass clippings. Typically cutting the grass this time of year is more for show. You go out and sweat, pushing the mower around but it doesn't really cut any of the dry, crunchy stubble.

Danny is smaller and messier that Bill but is coming closer.

Since it was raining on Friday night and if I sat in the house I would simply eat, I did the food shopping. A rainy Friday night is better for food shopping than a sunny Sunday afternoon. I went to the Shoprite-that-used-to-be-stop-and-shop-and-a-super-g instead of the Wegmans, so once again it took 2 hours and cost twice as much since I was looking for all low fat type stuff, but now in a new store.

I have to admit the Shoprite had a much better selection of ground Turkey (which forevermore in this blog shall be referred to a Soylent Green) and knowing now that I gag if I shape burgers from it, I purchased pre made turkey burgers.

Thursday was weigh in day with the Weight Watchers crew and as predicted, there were fewer members than at the previous meeting. I have to admit I was surprised at my results. Officially I lost 8 pounds which earned me a little gold star in my book, but there is some controversy over the number 8 in my mind.

You see, I weighed in the first time fully clothed and wearing shoes.

This time I took of the shoes and because it is a group of mostly women and at work, I elected to remain dressed.
(BTW: If you are going to be in a group with 50 something women, maybe WW isn't the group you would choose).

The shoes have to account for 2 pounds, right?

Still, the results are impressive and I can feel it already. This morning I'm sitting here in shorts that if previously I had worn them all day, would have left a mark and left my lower torso tingling after an hour. This morning they are just sort of snug. Not exactly scientific but I'm happy with it.

It really isn't that hard - if you stay out of restaurants. The biggest challenge of week was on Wednesday when I recalled that a vendor invited me out to lunch weeks ago and he chose the Elephant and Castle.

I had been to the Elephant and Castle at 18th and Market before and knew that it wasn't about cottage cheese, fruit cups and lettuce. But if they did have those items, they would all be deep fat fried. Besides, you know that any placed named after two of the largest objects on earth isn't about small. It might a well be named the "The Large Blubberous Whale and Jabba the hutt". Their tag line should be "If you want to be as big as an Elephant AND A Castle......"

I had looked over the menu before getting there and thought the only thing they had that might be under 50 points was something called "Balsamic Greens" and that didn't sound very good.

I went for meatloaf.

The sales wienies ordered fried calamari (Oh and how do they eat in these places and keep BMI's below 30 by the way?) and I stayed away from it.

The meatloaf came on a plate the size of Delaware. There were two seven inch pieces in a barbecue type sauce, two ice cream sized scoops of mashed potatoes and a pile shiny, greased up green beans. Ohh and in case the BBQ sauce on the meatloaf wasn't enough, there was more on the side.

I figured it had to be 1500-2000 calories if I had eaten all of it and calamari. I obviously did not. I had one piece of the meatloaf, about half of one scoop of potatoes and all of the green beans, with the green beans going first. I figure I was lucky to get out of there using 21 of my 31 points of for the day. Of course that meant a lean, lean dinner.

I also figured out why you shouldn't dive back into meat after a week of Soylent Green. Let's just say there were some strange sounds coming out of my cubicle after that lunch.

After that experience, it was easy to see why we are all huge. If you have 2 x 10 ^ 3 calories for lunch and have a reasonable breakfast and dinner with dessert, you could easily ingest 3 -4 THOUSAND calories and gobs of fat in a day.

So it's off to another exciting week of skim milk, cardboard bread and pineapple. Next week: the thrill of one point English Muffins.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

It wasn't bad.

Yesterday I crossed a boundary I thought that I never ever would. One that I thought I would only cross if forced to, one that I thought was so horrible that I would never, ever like it even if I did cross it.

I tried ground turkey in burgers on the grill.

Like everyone seems to say, "it wasn't bad".

It wasn't dripping down your chin, howling at the moon, mmm good delicious - "it wasn't bad". Nobody eats a five guys hamburger and says "it wasn't bad".

I found a recipe on the Internet and the woman that made it swore that her Husband loved them and would never go back to ground beef. What else would you write on your on recipe? "it wasn't bad"?

After I mixed it all together I got a goopey, mushy mixture that I tried to form into patties. Just touching it gave me a touch of vomit in the back of my throat. Not a good sign to start with.

Once on the grill I learned the meaning of 94% fat free as the goopey "burgers" stuck to the grill. Mental note to self: Next time more pam.

I pulled some off the grill and feed it to the dogs. They gave me a look taht could only be explained as "it wasn't bad"

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Late Summer blahhs.

It is a rainy weekend with heavy air above Philly being wrung out like a wet dishtowel between Hurricane Bill and a cold front. Mount La-La received about 2 inches of rain yesterday with more predicted for today. It's as humid out there as a jungle in 'nam in '72 and all I want to do is sit in a fox hole listening to Hendrix, cookin' H with a bandanna on. Not that I've ever been there (OK then, the Philippines in '82 and I'm not saying what I'm doing, you happy?).

All of this follows the first official Philly heat wave of the year with 5 days over 90 degrees F.

You forget what is like outside and then go out to pick up the paper and the heavy air lands on you like a wet Posturepedic but up side is that the pool is 85 degrees, even after a rain.

The rain and humidity must be effecting the cicadas as well. The first thing I noticed after vacation was that cicada activity was way up as you could hear the things breaking into song and out of their skins everywhere during heat wave. Oldest son and girlfriend watched one escape and leave behind a hard shell in the Cherry/Money tree from the hammock that I am never in. It took hours, ahh, to have that kind of time.

The weekend has been eerily devoid of cicada activity, like some sort of horror movie.

Youngest son is in upstate New York at pole vaulting camp. This one of those activities he complained about doing until he actually got up there. He sounded like he was having fun in infrequent calls until last night when he asked for his Mother to make him a chiropractic appointment. His back must be hurting him. Of course he is located in the last place in the continental US where that army of Verizon workers dibbles down to just that guy with glasses and he can't get reception either and so he just looks at you and shrugs his shoulders. No, I can not hear you now. The phone call dropped so we didn't get to hear details. He is due home today.

Oldest son is firmly entrenched in the Apartment in the "complex" working and waiting for the school term to start. The lack of Internet and TV in the complex is getting to be a problem. he has a TV but is of the old fashioned "analog" variety. Of course there is no Obama money for getting digital TV now since he moved in on the 31st of July, the very day the stupid Digital TV conversion program ended. I checked two days later only to find out that he is on his own. When all that gibberish about the Digital TV conversion was going on, I never thought I'd actaully know some that got shut out of TV view, let alone participate in it. Who knew?

The Internet problem may be able to be solved with a really good Wi-Fi antenna since he can see SHU from his window. Three words: "Keep the package".

After spending a week at OC in the commune, I found it hard this week to not have 10-15 people around all the time. It's fun for a week but I'm sure after 2 we'd be at each other's throats over stupid things like "You left my shoes at the beach/what part of "my" didn't you get" (an actual conversation on the final day). I miss the circus though.

Food shopping yesterday an adventure since I started weight watchers. It was like I was in whole new store as I bypassed my usual line up (batting first, Mon-Thu: Jimmy Dean Bacon Egg and Cheese sandwiches, 7 points and a fat content expressed in scientific notation) for some new tryouts to the meal repertoire team. Of course that means examining the candidates nutritional data and taking on more team members then required, but only as "try outs". It's like pre-season and the 53 man roster is weeks away. I have a lot of Brandon Gibsons on the team at this time. That added time to the shopping trip and to the bottom line at check out time.

I also got an education in labeling. The "mutli grain, high fiber" hamburger rolls had less fiber than the "light" ones right next to them and just because it says light, it doesn't mean it's low calorie.

This beats having to make due for points like last week.

I also broke my iTrip iPod FM transmitter somehow on vacation. It took years to find one of these contraptions that didn't feel like I was in Upstate New York with the Verizon guy by himself. It's a mystery that it broke since it was in the unmoved car for most of the week. It still works but the LCD has leaked the "L" part into the middle of the screen making the display look like the cover of the Police's Ghost in the Machine Album. Now I need to make up a chart that has the LCD partial Segment to FM Frequency conversion. C and half and an H is 88.3, C and the upper right half a square is 88.5 etc etc. This works great until 89.1 and 88.1 are the same.

Maybe who ever drank the tequila broke into the car and smashed it too? Who knows.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

It's time.

It's a rainy morning and I'm drinking black coffee with Splenda. I normally drink coffee with sugar and half and half. Rich, fatty half and half. Rich, smooth, delicious half and half with flavors like french vanilla.

The half and half is gone because I've decided that being over fifty and eating like I'm 18 just isn't working out. There are no old fat people.

I've joined Weight Watchers at work and I'm on day three of the first week and have found it, well, challenging.

Our weigh in was Thursday. When I say "our" I mean me and 50 women. There were at total of 3 guys out of at least 40 people. I guess I knew that when I started this would be skewed towards the females but to be one of three seems a little odd.

Beyond my support group being all women, I'm adjusting. The Jimmy Dean Breakfast sandwiches that I ate every single day for breakfast are gone as is the delicious berry juice. Hello Cheerios, Skim milk and water. In fact I'm drinking a lot of water. For lunches I'm doing the Lean Cuisines that I have always done but am no longer augmenting that with a hot dog from the cart.

Dinner is tough and I'm coming home like a contestant on Survivor after day 15 but I'm saving all my points for the end of the day.

The first day was tough and I learned a lot about wasting points on things that don't fill you up like the greasy, oily "Movie" popcorn that was in the house. I think I'm going to have to go through and do a sweep of all the fatty foods still around the house.

I also am learning a lot about portion size. Many of the portions on the "Nutritional Data" panels of products are ridiculously small. 2 Tablespoons of salad dressing, 3/4 cup of Cheerios, a bag of popcorn has three servings in it. I'm having to measure things to get it right because if I just dump something into a bowl, I end up with double portions.

Somethings may never be back. Like Five Guys. Just for fun on Friday I went to their web page and figured out what a double cheese and fries was in points. I should have just stopped when I couldn't find the "nutritional data" as a direct link off the home page. I had to search for it. OK I guess five guys doesn't want to advertise that they aren't exactly healthy but to bury it five layers deep in an FAQ? Then, when I did find it, they had the components listed and not a complete meal. This of course was feature: build your own burger. A fatty, fatty burger. You had to add two patties, buns and cheese along with two times the serving size of fries since they had assumed that everyone splits their fries with some one else.

The results? I can't go in five guys and sniff the air because that alone is two points and the typical meal I was getting once every two weeks or so is four more points then I can have in day. It's more than my bonus points for a week. I was also shocked to learn that the diet soda DID NOT SUBTRACT POINTS.

So far I don't think I've haven't lost a pound but I have to say I do feel better. I can actually feel my body starting to adjust, it's either that or grease withdrawal.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

That's a wrap.

That is a wrap on OC 2009.

I really had a great time and it was a very memorable vacation, not for where we went but for who we went with.

We have been vacationing with the C family since 1995 and are blessed to have such great friends that are willing to be Circus members with us.

They help set up the big top (Which was the best single item that anyone brought down) and help drag it back up. We know how to food shop together and have it down to a science, except for the crazy ivan that Mr C pulled by using "self check out" with 62 items. (Thank You to the check out woman at super fresh that rescued us). We know

By the Numbers:

13 Guests over the course of the week.
$250 initial food shop
1 piece of corn that hung around for 3 days.
28 bags of ice.
246 Digital Pictures (just me!)
11 Wave runners (including the "other" house)
100 Square feet of shade on the beach.
60 miles on the bike.
5,7,10 & 20 - Price of Jilly's same parking spot over the course of the week.
2 The number of beach badges purchased (Mine are down there, pointing to the beach)
10 pounds of ham the first night.
2 6 pound chickens (and that was an off night)
6 pounds of hamburger for tacos.
3.08 Inches of Rain

Pictures here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Last night the adults went over to Somers Point for dinner at the Anchorage Inn. I thought that the Anchorage Inn was a restaurant that time forgot but this morning I hopped on the bike and rode back and found out the whole town is like that.

Apparently Somers Point is the land that time forgot.

In New Jersey we don't really have steep hills to climb on the bike but we do have overpasses and bridges and the fact that I climbed two of them to get there this morning perhaps made me delirious. I thought I was in 1965.

Maybe it's the fact that no chain stores and restaurants litter the place and everything is a home grown business. It has a down-the-shore charm that has long since been overrun by hundreds of thousands of tourists in places like OC and Wildwood. The hundreds of thousands never came and stayed at Somers Point, they just passed through and then came back later under cover of night for a drink.

I rode along Bay Ave and found The Breakfast Bar. It's around back of Smitty's Clam bar which opens at noon.

I normally don't ride the bike to have breakfast since it makes for a tougher ride home, but I felt compelled.

I had a seat at the counter near the cash register.

Maybe it's the lack of air conditioning that makes the place seem more of throw back or the old school waitresses that move non stop serving breakfast to the 10 or so tables. I felt like I had stepped into a time warp.

The waitresses all were shirts that have "Round Back" on the front and "The Breakfast Bar" on the back. You knew that if they only had the time, they would chat it up with you.

The place is also tiny. There is a side room but BJ, the owner, had let the Men's prayer group have the room since they meet there every Friday. They only took one of the 7 or so tables but she let them have the room for privacy. Jill, the red haired waitress that took my order, thought this was somehow funny. This caused a bit of a wait if you wanted a table but folks didn't seem to mind.

It's also the kind of place where you can see your breakfast being cooked through the opening that the waitresses use to pass their orders to the cooks. If you turn around you can see the boats tied to the docks on the bay front. Outside you can hear the sea birds and smell salt air.

I could have sworn I saw an Apollo take off at Cape Kennedy being covered on the "Today" show on the TV.

I had an omelet, hash browns, toast and coffee but was tempted to try the eggs benedict.

Maybe it was nostagia and salt air but it was delicious.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I think OC needs one more Taco Stand.

It really is amazing how quickly you adapt to life on vacation. It does sound funny, like what could be so hard about living on vacation but people naturally seem to need structure and function.

Life down here quickly evolves into a series of little "jobs".
  • Keeping ice in the cooler.
  • Being the advance team for taking stuff to the beach.
  • Making dinner.
  • Laundry.
  • Cleaning the kitchen.
  • Getting up and riding the bike to Atlantic City. (That's a job, I swear)
Even with all these little jobs, it's not enough to keep you occupied. By about Wednesday you start having thoughts about how you can keep doing this forever. Thoughts cross your mind of opening a Taco stand even though you have never even worked in the food business or opening a bike rental stand even if you haven't ridden a bike since grade school.

Of course this is one of those things that sounds great at first but would quickly turn into what it really is - a job.

I have a friend that has a business down here and he calls summer the 100 days of hell. In his business they go Memorial Day to Labor Day, plus the shoulder seasons without a break. The pace is hellish on top of dealing with employees and all the business headaches that come with being your own boss.

With that in mind, things are starting wind down here. We are closer to the end of our vacation than to the beginning and I am starting to think about heading home.

It's either that or open a Taco stand.

In other news we have a fresh set of faces here as the second half guests have started arriving. When ever new teen aged girls arrive they immediately get a new "shore name". Currently, we have Cindy and Penelope, Sabrina and Tabitha. I refuse to call them by their real names for the duration of the vacation. Yes, I am "that guy".

I think last night was our last circus style dinner as we are consuming what ever is left in the fridge and not buying anything else. From here on out it's Mack and Manco's and Wawa hoagies - for the kids. The Adults are going out to dinner.

Speaking of Mack and Manco's - this seems to be one of those things that really could only happen at the shore. If you actually paid $17 for runny pizza at home you would demand that they give your money back but down here you make like you've just had steak and lobster. Also, for future reference the break even point for slices versus a whole pie is 7.

We also a have a bit of a Tequilla mystery. Last night when the adults went to bed there was 2/3 of a bottle of Jose Cuervo Especial. This morning there was only 1/3 and the bottle was pushed all the way to the back, behind the toaster from hell. When asked, the college aged crew said "well Joe made Margaritas". Joe left yesterday morning when there was still 2/3 of a bottle.

I think it was little Mexican fairies. If you are in OC and see bunch of dark skinned fairies named Juan and Jose, drinking massive amounts of water and having a greasy breakfast, let me know.

Until then, it's a mystery. But trust me, either way, the Tequila gets locked up tonight.

The smartest thing I did this vacation was to plan ahead and move the newspaper from home to here. Every year I say I am going to do it and then forget until it is too late. This year I did it in May and every morning I have a Philly Newspaper in front of the house. I'm either a genius or I'm stealing the neighbors paper every morning.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Aqua Circus.

Yesterday the circus turned into an Aqua Circus as we rented 11 Wave Runners in the bay north of the ninth street bridge.

It was the longest 1/2 hour of my life.

The things have two modes - putter endlessly and 600 MPH. Anything in between and your passenger slams into the back of you or hangs on for dear life.

We lost one whole set of driver and passenger when the passenger pulled the driver off. Ohh and those things that go around your wrist that stop the Wave Runner when you fall off? Didn't work. They swam and chased down the puttering wave runner.

We also determined that everyone's fear of shark attacks is of the charts the week after Shark Week.

As a group, we emerged unscathed.

We also wised up and sent an advance team to the beach after discovering that if you show up a 2 PM with a crew of 25, you get a spot in the back.

I was on the advance team. Actually, I was the advance team and I headed to the beach dragging the 10 by 10 shelter.

You can't have a circus without a tent.

I found myself unprepared for the tides and the placement of the big top. The plan was to put it up, reserve as much real estate as possible, leave no room for someone to sneak in front and block your view and then leave. We'd be back later and have a primo spot. But do this you need to know when and where high tide is going to be.

Then I met Gene. Gene was down for the day and was catching rays so I asked him about the tides. Gene looked Paulie Walnuts from the Sopranos but knew his stuff.

With Gene's advice we had a perfect placement of the tent. High tide came and kissed the edge of our encampment. Eventually, when the tide went out people moved in front of us but until they did we had front row seats. Unfortunately everyone was exhausted after the Wave Runner episode and never went back to the beach.

Dinner was Italian night at the other house. Two large trays of baked ziti, 128 meatballs and tomato salad.

Everyone was in bed early.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The circus has to eat.

Last night the circus had dinner at my house.

I cooked dinner for 25-30 while rock band blared out the hits from tinny TV speakers in room that sound just bounced around in. Ohh, and did mention it was hot?

It was Hell's kitchen and the psychological warfare that the US inflicted on Manuel Noriega all in one.

What does one make for 25-30 of your closest friends? I chose tacos. 5 Lbs of Hamburger, 2 large London Broils, 2 large packages of tator tots and creamed corn. The tator tots turned out to be a poor choice since they required the hot oven.

I say 25-30 because I don't know how many were actually there. At one point, I sat down at one of the many tables and there were two people there I didn't know.

As dinner was being served, the Michael Jackson came on and the Tequila came out. The night morphed into a strange Michael Jackson dance fest with a distinct Mexican flavor. Miguel de largo vivo.

Actually it was day filled with food prep.

Earlier in the day the entire house headed off to the beach. I lingered behind with Brenda, who was staying out of the sun. I figured I'd have a lunch, pack and head down.

All was going to plan until I was ready to head out the door and my cell rang.

"Can you make us sandwiches"

Sure I'll just make a bunch of different things and you all sort it out. No. They wanted specific sandwiches.

I hung up.

I called back with the pencil in hand, like I worked at a deli or something. After I took the orders, the former waitress in Brenda snapped to life and started cranking out the sandwiches. I barely kept up.

Then they had the cajones to call back and request fresh sliced tomato on each.

Unfortunately the sandwiches were bagged and ready to go with the provided runners so they had to suffer actually putting the tomatoes on the sandwiches themselves. Poor things.

I mention all this in hopes that you will vote me "Chooch of the year" in final balloting in December.

Today it's wave runner rentals and beach.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Circus Logistics.

It's day two of Mount La-La by the sea summer camp. Most of the weekend guests headed back last night and new ones are returning today. Our head count is back down to 10 and the other house is sitting at 12. We have 3 more coming any moment.

That's 22 between two houses with 7 cars and 22 cell phones. If you mapped all the cell connections it would look something like facebook connections as no one knows all 21 cell numbers. You know the 6 around you who know the 6 around them etc. Each house has a land line too so that makes more telephone numbers than people.

Just because there are 22 phones doesn't mean people answer them. Some are more vigilant phone carriers than others and you quickly learn who to call and who not to. Do not call my wife, it will ring off the hook before anyone notices.

Last night we had 10 cars and that makes for interesting parking arrangements. Each house has two official parking spots, one in the garage and one in the driveway in front of the garage. This First In Last Out stack arrangement makes one car per house the "alert 5 bird", used for an ice run or picking kids up. The other remains in storage in the garage waiting to be popped off the stack. All keys remain at the house for the cars in the FILO. In a pinch at third car can be squeezed on to the stack.

The rest have to fend for themselves on the mean streets of OC. We have deck overlooking the parking and because people need to have a function and purpose in life, the deck folks also tend to be parking spot spies. Once in a while you see them dash off in pairs as one holds the newly opened spot by standing in it and the other retrieves a car parked in Strathmere. As things settle, all of the cars associated with our traveling circus have premier spots in front of the house and those cars are never to be moved again. If you need to go somewhere, take a bike or the "alert 5".

The deck perch also means watching people parallel park for sport. You can tell in an instant if someone knows what they are doing. The spectators on the deck say things like "he's too steep" or "cut it to the right" like they were Dick Button at a skating competition. (He'll never make the triple jump now). All we need those numbered signs that they have skating competitions.

"And here are the scores, 9.5, 9, 8.5, 9 and the Russian judge with a 6".

I've also discovered that the parallel parking force runs in my family. I have it, my father has it and my sister has it. (You can almost hear Darth Vader saying ssssssssssssister). My sister had to rescue my niece after an aborted curb bumping attempt. She was as smooth as Michael Jackson's "Remember the Time".

Later we were talking and determined our abilities come from visiting Grandmom in South Philly. You had to learn how to parallel park in much tighter spots with a harsher audience. It was the minor leagues of parallel parking and no one was coming out to help you.

The other aspect to having this many cars coming and going is that someone is always headed back to Mount La-La. If you miss this ride back for work, there are 2 more tonight or tomorrow but it makes for strange pairings of friends that normally would not ride to together like some 18 Year Old's girfriend and a 48 Year old Father. I wonder what they talk about for an hour and half. (After "So how's school?" it's kind of awkward).

Today looks like a hot one and so we are headed to the beach soon with a giant group wave runner 1/2 hour later in the day.