Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Few Worthless but Interesting Facts About Halloween

Halloween seems to become a bigger holiday every year. When I was a kid we trick or treated around the neighborhood, collecting goodies that took weeks to finish eating (I am sure my parents threw out a lot of stuff surreptitously), and that was it.

Nowadays people decorate their homes inside and out. Adults celebrate, throw parties and dress in costumes. Children's costumes have become worthy of Academy Awards for their originality, intricacy, design and cost. Halloween is a commercial success, ranking number two in holiday sales; Christmas is number one.

Our house is Halloween-deprived by choice. I do not decorate inside or out. I do not bake cupcakes with orange and black frosting or prepare any other calorie-laden sweets. I would love to use the holiday as an excuse to eat Entenmann's doughnuts, Hershey kisses and other chocolate favorites, but I do not. I will buy some candy for any small neighborhood creatures that happen to knock on our door Monday evening. Any candy remaining Tuesday morning will be donated to a needy neighbor.

I am celebrating the holiday with some meaningless trivia. Enjoy!

Here are a few Halloween fun facts:

* Orange and black are Halloween colors because orange represents the fall harvest and black signifies darkness and death.

* Halloween is celebrated on the last day of the Celtic calendar - October 31st.

* Pumpkins are native to Central America and for the indigenous population pumpkins were a source of food. Most of us are familiar only with orange pumpkins; there are also green, yellow, red, white and blue pumpkins.

* No one is sure where trick or treating began, but legend claims the custom originated in Ireland. People went house to house visiting neighbors, asking for food contributions for a town feast being prepared in celebration of All Hallow's Eve.

* Tootsie Rolls were the first wrapped penny candy in America.

* The first city-wide Halloween celebration took place in Anoka, Minnesota in 1921.

* The most popular Halloween candy (in the U.S.) is chocolate candy bars followed close behind by Snickers bars.

* Halloween is the number one candy-selling holiday; candy sales average $2 billion annually.

* 90% of adults with trick-or-treating children admit to sneaking candy from their kids' goodie bag.

* Not everyone is enthralled with Halloween. Some individuals have an acute fear of the holiday. This phobia is called Samhainophobia. The phobia takes its name from Samhain, a pagan festival. It was believed the dead walked the earth one day each year on Samhain. The pagan holiday morphed into Halloween over the course of centuries.

Check out the following links for Halloween trivia, quizzes and other holiday legends and traditions:

Monday, October 24, 2011

Life Takes Too Much Time Away From Work!

I want to write. I am striving to earn a modest second income in our family. This does not sound too difficult. Get up, have breakfast, fire up my computer and get to work.

I wish it were that easy. I try to establish priorities, set and maintain a schedule, create lists and check items off as they are completed.

I usually start my morning routine viewing email. I have learned if the mail is not handled quickly, messages sit in cyberspace, overlooked and may eventually come back to haunt me (note the seasonal reference). Often one or two emails require research or a quick discussion with hub before responding. The email review, research and response takes anywhere from 10 to about 45 minutes.

I devote time while eating breakfast reading the morning paper (a real paper delivered to our front door), the Wall Street Journal (on line) and a couple of email news updates. Although this might seem an indulgent time waster, the Journal and news updates are business and investment related, providing information and ideas for my investment blog. Another half hour to 45 minutes passes.

Then it is time to get to work for what will hopefully be an extended period of time.

But too often it does not work out quite that way.

Life seems to get in the way.

Just one example...A couple of days ago I checked my Comcast email account and was shocked to find that most of my email had disappeared. It was evening and I knew calling Comcast customer service would be useless. I spent a few minutes locating the Comcast online chat customer service and figured, what do I have to lose?

Half an hour later I had changed a couple of settings in my computer but my email was still missing. The tech support person gave me a phone number to call the next day; possibly another Comcast technical assistant (more advanced personnel up the tech training chain, I guess) could help. The next morning I dialed the 888 number and went through the motions of listening to a slow monotone male voice walk me through a series of press 1, press 5, listen to the menu, etc. A few minutes later I was at a dead end - no real person to talk to and none of the options fit my problem. I called back a couple of times trying different options and finally got a real person on the line. I did not care who I spoke with - I just wanted someone who could direct me to the right place. And it worked.

I am happy to report that my emails are retrieved. I have a new computer, a Mac, and the Comcast mail was hijacked by Mac mail.

The entire procedure took almost an hour.

Technical problems and glitches eat up valuable time. I am a non-techie at heart, the learning curve is often long and steep, and although the result may be worthwhile, time lost from other endeavors (like writing) is frustrating.

Other recent time-thwarters...There are follow-up phone calls resulting from my fender-bender a couple of weeks ago. The insurance companies - mine and the other driver's - call, send letters and emails, and generally have wasted a lot of my time recently.

The fall of the year is when I get my annual health stuff done. Scheduling phone calls and follow-ups, usually concerning insurance matters, take valuable time away from the day's work.

There are days spent traveling and visiting the grandkids.
The above sentence was a good excuse to add a picture
of my new granddaughter.
Is she cute or what?!!
I think that, OK, one problem or situation taken care of and now I can get some work done. I can maintain a regular schedule. But there always seems to be something coming up...

The weather is so beautiful, I think I will take a walk down to the beach…I can't miss my exercise class…I have to go to the cleaners and stop by the butcher or we won't have anything for dinner…The bank. It closes by 5:00 p.m. I have to walk over NOW...I have to go over and see my mother-in-law. She is usually in bed before 7:00 p.m. The best time to visit is before her 5:00 p.m. dinner…

The wonderful thing about Ieaving a regular-hours, off-premises job is that I can be flexible, but I still need TIME. I can work at night, but was never a night person and am often too tired to do more than check emails and complete some mindless administrative stuff. I try to get an early start, and that helps.

The problem is not just the calls or short interruptions. It means having to stop what I am doing and then, following the interruption, get back to work. It takes a few minutes to re-concentrate and focus.

But I love what I am doing and just need to be more disciplined. Which means now I must work on a freelance article. Time to move on…

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Holiday Shopper Alert - The Catalog of Catalogs is Here!

Years ago I was a big holiday shopper. A lot of things have changed over the years. The pleasure of leisurely shopping (or frantically shopping, depending on your holiday persona) has been replaced with concern over dwindling monetary resources and rising prices.

One free experience we can all still enjoy is discovering what this year's special 'in' gifts might be. It cost nothing but time and the mind-set to not be deliriously jealous. It is interesting and sometimes enlightening perusing the pages of a particular catalog for a look at how, as they used to say - the other half lives. I will update the saying for twenty-first century readers. Those of us comprising 99% of the economic pool can take a peek into the lives of the few, the minority, the wealthy scattered throughout our vast nation - the one percent of the population privileged enough to pay minimal taxes while reaping the rewards of capitalism.

I do not know any one percenters, or at least I do not think I do. (Who knows, maybe some school acquaintance from decades ago clawed their way into the realm of one percenters; if so, I am happy for them but do not expect to hear from them soon). I readily admit I know a lot of people who are quite happy with their lives - including me - even as they spend their lives working, playing and living with the other 99 percenters. 

Once a year everyone can enjoy the guiltless pleasure of peeking into the lives of the one percent. Many of them, those who have already 'made it' and those still clawing their way up the percentage ladder, are splashed all over the pages of People and other celebrity magazines. Those are not the ones I am interested in. I want a glimpse into the lives of the ones rarely seen by us 99 percenters; the one percenters ensconced on their yachts, behind gated homes, in expensive wood-paneled offices, at private schools, inside country clubs, seated in first class travel accommodations or private jets, vacationing in five star (translation: expensive) hotels and dining at exclusive restaurants. 

Each of them must answer this crucial question every year: What do I get my spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend, mistress or paramour and the rest of my family for the holidays? Money is no object, so the choices are limitless. One percenters have everything, so what can be purchased that is special, unique, unforgettable (or at least not immediately forgettable)?

The one percenters' can find the answer to this question in the annual Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalog.

Neiman Marcus catered to the elite since the first store opened in Dallas, Texas in 1907. Oil-rich Texans were the store's initial focus, but its reputation grew and eventually customers came from throughout the country and Europe. Moderate priced clothes were introduced during the Depression and war years of the 1930s and 1940s, but the store remained focused on serving the upper class. 

One of the most brilliant marketing schemes of all time was unveiled by the company in its 1960 Christmas Catalog - His and Her outrageously expensive fantasy gifts. His and her cars, airplanes, submarines and robots are examples of the featured items over the years. 

We wait impatiently for the release of each year's catalog, eager to find out the latest his and her gifts and browse through the pages, gawking at the gadgets and other merchandise the one percenters will spend their holiday dollars on this year.

We need wait no longer for the 85th edition of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book. You, too, can slowly examine each page at your leisure. All you need is a comfortable seat, computer and your lifeline to the web.

Just in case you do not have time right now, let me fill you in on some of the highlights. This year's His and Hers fantasy gift is called Dancing Fountains from WET, the company that brought us the fountains at the Las Vegas Bellagio Hotel. I won't go into details, but if you are interested check out the catalog and write a check for one million dollars.

How about a Ferrari sportscar for $395,000 for your significant other? Unfortunately your loved one will not find it under the tree this year. Delivery cannot be made until spring 2012.

I loved the luxury yurt for $75,000. For those not familiar with Mongol (the people who live in the country of Mongolia) lifestyles, they live in yurts, which are round tents. They have been living in yurts for thousands of years. The Neiman Marcus yurt is American made. I imagine it will appeal to the one percenters in Mongolia as well as those closer to home. The yurt is 12 1/2 feet high and 18 feet in diameter. The luxury model has linen wall coverings, a crystal chandelier and one-of-a-kind hand-embroidered down pillows. And - I know this will make the sale for you readers - there is no extra charge for shipping and installation on the estate of your choice.

But I do not want to ruin the experience for you. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, tea, hot chocolate or perhaps something more potent and click here for a look at the 2011 Neiman Marcus Christmas Book.

In all fairness to Neiman Marcus I will mention the fact that the catalog offers items 99 percenters may be able to afford; there are gifts for a couple of hundred dollars and less. I have not yet reviewed every catalog page for specifics. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Big Banks Were Never Our Friends

Reading about the Occupy Wall Street movement I was amazed to see that one of their demands - or requests - is that people should give up their accounts at the big banks and move to smaller banks. This, to me, has always been a no-brainer. Big banks were never the friends of the small guy (the less than rich or well-to-do).

I realize it is almost impossible to avoid the big banks totally. I wrote a post on my other blog way back in July, 2010, Large Financial Institutions are Not Our Friends. What confounds me is the naivete of the kids attempting to change our world (I realize the Wall Street protesters are not really kids, and many of them are older, but a lot of them seem like kids to this aging boomer). 

Financial institutions are in business to make money. There are lots of ways to make money (legally). Some companies actually make things they sell to other people. A lot of companies provide services people need and are willing to pay for. And some companies ensconce bright young graduate degree twenty-somethings in offices in major financial centers like New York, paying them big bucks to devise ways to get their greedy hands on everyone else's money.

These companies most recently decided to charge customers a fee, $3 or $5 depending on the bank, for the privilege of using their debit cards to buy stuff. (Banks are not charging, apparently, to get cash from their ATM machines). This is just one more example of ways the big guys strive to nickel and dime us to death, or at least into genteel poverty.

The big guys do want some of our business and grudgingly accept it to help pay the bills. But they really want the business of the 1% of the population everyone is now talking about. The checking accounts, savings accounts and financial transactions of the majority produce minimal fees. The big bucks come with servicing the wealthy minority.

Most of these banks do not care if middle-class Americans invest their paltry sum of investment dollars with them. They are not really interested unless there is a pot of at least one million dollars - and even that is a meager sum to many firms. They may take your money, but then you get to talk to someone in a call center in Texas or who knows where. Every time you call you probably talk to someone else. These guys (and gals) are eager to work their way out of the boondocks, into the big time and deal with the big money customers.

The Wall Street occupiers and an entire younger generation are disillusioned, frustrated and want change now. I think I can say that, no matter an individual's age or political persuasion, just about everyone is weary of inaction and wants change. We are all dissatisfied and dismayed that the powers who can change things either are not listening, are actually powerless, do not care or do not know how to change things. Or maybe they like the status quo and do not want things to change. Whatever the reason, I  understand the feelings of discouragement and powerlessness of the Wall Street protesters, although doubt if their methods will bring real change soon. But any reaction and response is better than nothing right now.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Traveling Together or Is it Potty Break Time Yet?

One of the more unfortunate personal changes occurring in my body, and my hub's, as we age is our kidney capacity, or more accurately lack of our kidneys' capacity to hold quantities of liquid.  The loss of kidney fortitude over the years has affected our travel by car. Years ago, actually decades ago, the time span between pit stops could be hours. Stops were dictated by the need for gas. That has changed.

One reason things have changed is that cars get better gas mileage today and therefore the drive time between fill-ups is longer. That may be true, but is not the primary reason we stop. Someone has to pee, and in our family it is usually hub who needs to pull over first.

Last week we faced a ten hour trip home after visiting our son. We wanted to make the trip in one day and get home well before midnight.  Before leaving I suggested we drive at least two hours before the first stop.

We drove about an hour when hub had to pee. He couldn't wait another hour. At this rate we would get home sometime in the middle of the night. But once it got dark neither one of us would be able to sustain hours of driving; this too changes with age (at least with us). As summer turns into autumn, then winter, we lament the seasonal coming of shorter days; it gets dark by 5:00 p.m. and before 8:00 p.m. the last thing we want to do is drive and drive and drive…

If I ever write a book it is going to be an informational one about where and how to locate places to pee while traveling. Decades ago gas stations were the number one choice, but they became less than satisfactory. In recent years the rise of gas/convenience stores with usually fairly clean rest rooms has been a boon to travelers. Overseas travelers would be warned to exercise their thigh muscles; meager and at times no facilities may require squatting for essential functions. 

But back to the United States, the decline of kidneys and rise of rest stops. Hub often decides to get a cup of coffee or other drink before taking off again. That is fine, except it decreases driving time between stops. 

I remember an infamous car trip when our boys were about 6 and 8 years old. My sister-in-law, six months pregnant at the time, joined us. Our adventure began in San Francisco and ended at a relative's house in Los Angeles. It was a long trip, and we were hoping to complete it in one long, long day of driving - we were much younger then! We would stop and emphasize - anybody have to go? We're stopping now. Not everyone would take advantage of the opportunity. We would all pile back into the car with drinks and snacks. Sometimes less than ten minutes later a small, sheepish  voice - usually one of the boys or the pregnant mom -  would pipe up: I have to pee NOW. I thought those days were over.

I was wrong. As we age the time between pee stops decreases and the length of our car trips increase. In a few years we will either have to take a portable potty along with us or plan on spending more time on the road. That will mean motel stops because we will not have the energy, perseverance or bodies to endure long driving days while maneuvering in and out of a car. 

And so our aging journey of maturing cheerfully, although not necessarily comfortably or easily continues.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Jobs: My Mac and His Family

So much has been written about Steve Jobs that there is nothing more to add, really, to the memorials, testimonials and reminiscences. I never met the man and have had minimal Apple contact over the years.

Way, way back - decades ago, more years than I care to remember - I had  an Apple computer. I loved it. It was simple and easy to use, non-geeky and user friendly for tech-impaired folks. DOS was the prevailing system at the time, and you had to learn a lot of stuff to use it. Apple invented icons and easy-click entry to applications (I know this is controversial, but anyone with an early Apple computer knows this is true).

Then the real world of business intruded. Business did not like Macs (unless you were in the creative arts or related field). I used PCs at work and switched to a PC at home. I never forgot my first computer love. 

Fast forward into the 21st century and I finally got my very own Apple - a MacBook Pro - in August. We are becoming good companions and fast friends.

Steve Jobs was a genius, an innovator, born and raised in the 20th century but in the forefront of leading us into the 21st century.

Much has been written about his business acumen and inventions. Little has been written about his family. I like to know something about the human side of people - whether politicians, businesspeople or friends. I purposely leave out celebrities because I really do not care about their lives, loves, children, temper tantrums, etc. Although, in doctor's waiting rooms I do like to take a look in the magazines at which weightless waif looks better in the dress... 

I am getting way off subject. The Daily Mail, a British newspaper, published an article about Steven Jobs and his family. If you are interested in who he left behind, check out the article (try to draw a genealogy chart of his ancestors, current living family members, and leave space for future descendants. It will be an interesting exercise). Jobs represents one example of the jumbled past and merged present of so many American families today. Actually, Obama would be another example (but I am getting off subject again.)

 I would like to end this post with a quote by Winston Churchill that makes me smile as I picture Jobs meeting God: 

I am ready to meet my maker, 
but whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal 
of meeting me is another matter.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Picture Perfect After the Rain

The weather was lousy for much of September, but as October arrives the weather has finally begun to improve. Every day is no longer cloudy, rainy, often windy and cold. We actually saw the sun this afternoon and it is forecast to warm up through the weekend. Time to enjoy some crisp, cool, bright, sunny fall weather before shorter days and rainy, wet, colder weather sets in for the long haul. A late afternoon thundershower preceded this amazing rainbow. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A Bummer of a Fender Bender

It was a busy Wednesday afternoon, prelude to a busy weekend. I drove over and picked up my mother-in-law (hereafter referred to as MIL) at her assisted living facility. Our first stop was the nail salon for her mini-pedicure and my manicure. My MIL had asked me a few days earlier to cut her toenails, something I am not qualified to do nor wanted to do. i suggested I call the nail salon around the corner from our house and see if the two of us could get an appointment this week.

Christine scheduled the two of us Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. She had a window of opportunity before picking up her daughter at school. 

MIL was waiting outside her residence when I drove up. I quickly ran into the lobby, signed her out (they keep track of all residents) and off we went.  Driving down the Avenue about a mile from our destination I stopped at a red light. The light happened to be exactly at the dividing line between two towns. 

The car in front of me - a white Ford Escape - (aka big SUV) had gone too far into the intersection and suddenly began backing up. I tried honking the horn and instinctively yelled - Stop,Stop - but of course to no avail. The SUV hit my much smaller red 2004 PT Cruiser. The hit was not forceful enough to send my car backwards into the car behind me - thank goodness - but I knew the impact caused some pretty hefty damage to the front of my car.  

MIL and I were fine. i said a choice word,  SHIT just for the record, and immediately called my hub. He said call the police and he would be right over; he was home working. I got out of the car. The other driver, a woman I am guessing in her 30s or 40s, did the same. She walked back, took a look and said something to the effect - Should we leave?  I said nothing, dialed 911 and reported the accident. I gave our location, telling the dispatcher I was unsure which jurisdiction covered the accident. 

The first officer that showed up was from the wrong town. He waited until the patrol car from the second town arrived. The policewoman slowly surveyed the scene, looked under my car and noted dripping liquid. To make a not very long story miserably short, the driver of the other car told the policewoman I hit her. 

There are probably more Americans who know that when two cars are in an accident the second car - the one in back - is responsible (until proven innocent) than know, just for example, the names of the Republican Presidential candidates or the names of their state's two U.S. Senators or when driving how many feet before a corner to turn on their blinkers. Without witnesses it is difficult to prove the car in front backed up and hit me. Thinking about it the past couple of days, there are probably ways, if necessary. The science of physics might be used to show how fast my car would have to be traveling to incur the damage produced, and the damage resulting if her car backed into mine. My gut feeling is that the second scenario would be the most likely to have occurred at the light that particular Wednesday afternoon. 

My hub was at the scene in minutes. He surveyed the scene, noted we were OK and took my MIL to the nail salon. Her story, by the way - which verifies my story - is irrelevant. Relatives do not count as reliable witnesses. They - the police, insurance companies, crafty lawyers - believe relatives will only back up the driver's story. None of them obviously know my MIL. She tells it like it is, quite forcefully and coherently, no matter who or what is involved. 

The long line of traffic developing behind us was routed around the two cars, police, drivers and assorted others. I gave my papers - drivers license, insurance card, vehicle registration - to the policewoman. Initially I handed over the old registration card. It expired in August. For a few moments I worried the new one was not in the car. But routing around the glove compartment I found the updated paperwork. Momentary relief. 

After some discussion it was decided I would drive my car the couple of miles to a local repair shop, complete my nail appointment (we have our priorities) and then head over to the police department to fill out the accident report. 

My hub met me at the repair shop. Meanwhile I began a lengthy phone call with our insurance company. The conversation included a recorded statement of my version of the accident. Hub drove me over to the nail salon, at which point he took over the phone call. Where to get the car fixed, how to proceed and other essentials were his department. He left the car for me at the nail salon and walked home. 

Christine gave me a quick manicure and I drove to the police station to complete the accident paperwork. 

I was worked up, upset, unsettled. The policewoman told me the other car had damage and would need a new bumper. The bumper looked fine to me when I looked at the car at the scene of the accident. I guess I did not look closely enough; nowadays a little scratch requires an entire replacement, assuming someone else (the other insurance company) picks up the tab.

I filled out the paperwork, wrote my version of the accident, returned to the nail salon to pick up my MIL and we went home. 

Meanwhile we drove our older car to Ohio this weekend to visit our son and his family. Our newer old car sits at the body shop awaiting insurance appraisal.

The policeman who arrived at the scene of the accident from town #1 is married to the policewoman from town #2 who arrived at the scene. No kidding.

I hope our insurance rates do not increase. 

I hope my MIL does not want another manicure and pedicure anytime soon.

The last traffic accident we had my MIL was also in the car.

I wish it were warmer in Ohio (I did not consider packing any warm clothes. It is cold and rainy.)

And most of all I wish people were honest, even when it might be inconvenient.