Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Why all the pain and side effects for the sake of health?

And I’m talkin’ totally a-symptomatic here!

Several years ago, due to a mis-read echo-cardiogram, I ended up in the care of a cardiologist. Even though the threat proved bogus, I was thereafter locked into quarterly appointments (with specialist co-pays!) that involved all sorts of tests, x-rays, radioactive injections, scans and readings “just to be sure.” Can’t be too careful, after all. Balderdash.

AND anyone in a cardiologist’s care must swallow 4 (count ‘em) 4 antibiotic pills one hour before a dental appointment. For most of us, only one produces rather miserable side effects. Imagine the all-day ickyness following four.

And how many of you have endured a colonoscopy? Just the two-day prep is pure hell. Then there’s the recovery from the anesthesia. Granted, colon probs are rampant in the population. But if it’s not in your genes, and you have zero symptoms, WTF? Once was enough for me, thank you.

Don’t even get me started on mammograms. It’s been proven by now they cause more potential harm than benefit (surprise, surprise) but it’ll be another generation before the insurance companies accept that.

For a lot of us, flu shots can bring on low-grade fevers, but this is one thing (except in a few catastrophic cases) that the preventive benefits for a whole year far outweighs momentary discomfort. I never miss one.

But in the main, it occurs to me that we spend a heck of a lot of time being sick in the name of being well.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Epic Snowball Fights

My fave is the international snow war staged by Coca Cola® at the Olympic Village 3 years ago. But the biggest on record involved 10,000 Confederate soldiers.

Of course it’s still autumn. And all my northern friends and relatives are plastering their Facebook pages with idyllic foliage photos just to make me crazy. I swear one of these years I’m going to totally freak and start painting palm trees.

Now here comes the December issue of mental_floss with all these esoteric snow stories and I’m doomed to yet another season of homesick misery. And it’s only October.

Anyway…what caught my eye is an article entitled “Most Epic Snowball Fight Ever” with illustration to match – both uncredited. But here’s the gist of the story:

Southern soldiers, driven far from home in the cause of battle, were seeing snow for the first time. It didn't take long for them to discover the possibilities. Things came to a head on January 29, 1863 in Virginia’s Rappahannock Valley. With a two-foot snowfall impeding action with the Yanks, an intramural snowball fight unfolded.

It started with the First and Fourth Texas Infantry Divisions launching a sneak attack on the Fifth. Then the Texans united to spring an assault on the Third Arkansas. Each vanquished unit joined forces with their vanquishers to take on yet other units. Soon the snow battle was raging out of control, escalating to snow covered rocks and cannonballs.

Needless to say, commanding officers put an end to the fun, and snowy warfare was henceforth banned in all Rebel camps.

But the best snow battle in my lifetime was that epic Coke event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. You gotta watch it! A Canadian athlete gets a Coke knocked from his hand by falling snow. Thinking it was a nearby group of Swedes, he fires one off. The conflict quickly brings in France, Russia, USA, Japan, South Korea and Jamaica. It’s an unimaginable blizzard of snowballs flying every which way. Pure genius on the part of Coke’s ad agency. Cracks me up every time.
Okay (sigh) time to go water the flower beds.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Support Your Local Hole-in-the-Wall

Totally unique and unexpected treats await you!

Just across a two-lane blacktop from our subdivision is a most unremarkable strip center. It runs maybe half a block past a convenience store with a couple of generic gas pumps.

At one end is the immediately successful family donut shop, famous for jalapeño kolaches. Next in line – and dominating the strip – is Koala Kare, our grandson’s after-school venue. Then comes a mani-pedi salon, Vinny’s Pizza, and a dental office. It all ends against the neighborhood’s jogging path.

Not until two days ago, when my daughter-in-law was stuck at work and I had to run pick up the boys, did I discover Vinny’s. At first I was simply grateful they were there - just walk a few steps from the daycare and order pizza. Quality doesn’t matter in a feeding emergency.

But…surprise! The pizza was outstanding. The sauce tasted homemade, the cheese was real, and the crust? OMG. Not that artery-clogging deep-dish pan variety. Not the cracker-textured thin crust. And not just the traditional stuff, either. It was the lightest, fluffiest bread ever.

My point is this: don’t shy away from unlikely places in favor of the chains. Yes, I know it’s nice to order online and know exactly what you’re getting. No surprises. But every now and then, why not be surprised? Where else but at some highly individualized Mom&Pop will you find specialty subs called “Just Don’t Give A Ham” or “Bacon the Law” or, for heaven’s sake, “Vinny’s Knuckle Sandwich?”

You want an all-meat pizza? Check out the “4-Getta-Bout-It:” pepperoni, Italian sausage, Bacon, and ham. Got a weird kid that only wants a plain cheese? Let him chomp on a small “Cheese Outa My League” with mozzarella, provolone, parmesan, ricotta, and feta. You won’t find that at your average Pizza Hut.

So, all you stick-in-the-muds, get out there and explore. Try that little place on the corner. You might find something wonderful that exists nowhere else.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Tribute to the Bum

The sports world lost a great coach and colorful character October 18

Bum Phillips was a huge part of Houston life in the 1970s and remains a favorite to this day. A moment of silence was held for him at Reliant Stadium last night before the UH-BYU game. After going through quite a number of videos and articles, I found the NFL webpage to be the most complete. Below are verbatim segments:

Bum Phillips, the folksy Texas football icon who coached the Houston Oilers during their Luv Ya Blue heyday and also led the New Orleans Saints, died Friday. He was 90.
Born Oail Andrew Phillips Jr. in 1923 in Orange, Phillips was a Texas original in his blue jeans, boots and trademark white Stetson -- except at the Astrodome or any other dome stadium because he was taught it was disrespectful to wear a hat indoors.
"Mama always said that if it can't rain on you, you're indoors," Phillips said.
Phillips loved the Oilers and when coaching the team in the 1970s, he famously said of the Cowboys: "They may be 'America's Team,' but we're Texas' team."
Fans loved his no-nonsense demeanor and were entertained by his often blunt comments.
"Football is a game of failure," Phillips was quoted as saying. "You fail all the time, but you aren't a failure until you start blaming someone else."
Among his best Bumisms: "There's two kinds of coaches, them that's fired and them that's gonna be fired." On Miami Dolphins coach Don Shula: "He can take his'n and beat your'n and take your'n and beat his'n." On Campbell's inability to finish a mile run: "When it's first-and-a-mile, I won't give it to him."
(I remember an ad he did a few years ago for the Houston Chamber of Commerce: “What’s the best time to visit Houston? Any day that ends in a ‘Y’!”)
Phillips played football at Lamar Junior College before joining the Marines during World War II. After the war he went to Stephen F. Austin where he played two more football seasons before graduating with a degree in education in 1949.

Phillips picked up the nickname Bum as a child when his younger sister couldn't pronounce brother correctly and it sounded like bum. He embraced the nickname and was quoted as saying: "I don't mind being called Bum, just as long as you don't put a you in front of it."

"Bum is gone to Heaven," son Wade Phillips tweeted Friday night. "Loved and will be missed by all -- great Dad, Coach, and Christian."

Friday, October 18, 2013


Kick-ass cinematography and out-of-this-world star power! But aside from that…

Spoiler alert: There’s very little gravity in this picture. Not by any physicist’s definition, that is. The situation, however, is indeed grave. And it’s entirely plausible. Given the amount of space junk, assorted meteorites, and debris from for-real blown-up satellites zipping around our planet these days, stuff striking shuttles and space stations really isn’t that far-fetched.

Visually, the experience is absolutely stunning. The panorama of stars pricking at the vast blackness; the visceral sensation of looking down at the distant turning Earth; the utter silence of endless space…all so very real.

It doesn’t even qualify as sci-fi since everything you see actually exists. A recent TV interview with a NASA spokesman confirmed that director Alfonso Cuarón realistically captured what it looks like inside and outside of a spacecraft. He did remark that in the interior shots, Bullock’s hair should have been free-floating like everything else.

Veteran astronaut Mark Kelly picked at it a little more. While agreeing that the visual effects were convincingly accurate, and that Bullock and Clooney certainly portrayed the intensity and horror of a fight for survival in space, he says no astronaut would joy ride his MMU (Manned Maneuvering Unit) nor would any of them goof off around a $2.5 billion space telescope of such monumental importance. Fun is kept inside the spacecraft.

It’s my own observation that Dr. Stone (Bullock), after special selection and years of training, would instinctively conserve her precious air supply by NOT gasping and panting and semi-sobbing scene after scene after scene.

But never mind all that. The truth is…I loved it!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

If you love your hair, TURN IT DOWN!

OR…how music can ruin (or save) your hair, depending on the instrument.

So we’re all well aware by now of the effects of sustained high decibels on your hearing. But now I've run into an article explaining how it affects your hair. Huh?

In a brief segment entitled “The Best Reason To Turn Down Your Music,” mental_floss magazine quoted an article from Scientific American. It seems an English study had finally found why people lose their hair: music.

Here’s the report linking the loss to certain instruments:

“While stringed instruments prevent and check the falling out of hair, brass instruments have the most injurious effects upon it. The piano and the violin, especially the piano, have an undoubted preserving influence. The cello, the harp, and the double bass participate in the hair-preserving qualities of the piano. On the contrary, the brass instruments have results that are deplorable.”

Uh…okay. How was this tested? How many subjects were in the control group? Where’s the research? I delved into Scientific American’s online archives trying to get to the root of it – all the way back to 1993. Failing that, I re-scrutinized the mental_floss reference. The date of the quoted article? 1896! Really?? 

You know what? Crank it up!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why I’ll (probably) never be a soccer fan

A visit to BBVA Compass Stadium

As you may recall, the University of Houston football team had to scramble for game venues this year. Old Robertson Stadium was razed, and the one rising in its stead won’t be ready until the 2014 season. Consequently home games are being held variously at Reliant (the luxurious home of the Houston Texans), Rice (home of neighboring Rice U Owls), and, alas, the sparkling new BBVA Compass soccer pitch (home of the Houston Dynamo).

Please don’t get me wrong. Cougar fans are extremely grateful for the Dynamo’s generosity. Given the way 22 cleat-wearing heavyweights tore up their turf, their kindness and charity boggles the mind. So what’s my gripe?

Okay, first the good points.

1. It’s very clever architecture. The entire facility appears encased in a goal net. Think the Bird’s Nest in Beijing. 2. It’s cute, and adequate in most respects. Plenty of restrooms and concessions at regular intervals. 3. The arena is superbly designed for visibility and acoustics. Of course that could be a negative if fans get zealous with vuvuzelas.

But BBVA Compass is soccer-specific and does not translate well to football. The most glaring difference is between the two fan bases. Soccer followers are obviously much smaller. The first-grade-sized seats lack cup holders and arm rests, and the rows are so close it’s like sitting in the backseat of 1960 VW Beatle. Knees to the chin.

Then there was that sideline sign that occasionally flashed encouragement to the crowd to dispose of trash properly: “Find the Right Receptacle.” But when I went to fetch food, I discovered they meant it as a game, as in: Where’s Waldo.

No trash can at the concession stand; none by the condiment bar; blank walls beside the restroom doors. Find the right receptacle indeed. Find ANY receptacle. I carried the empty relish packet and soda straw cover back to my seat. Quite a feat considering no carrying box was provided by the concessionaire and I was already juggling drinks and sandwiches.

They were there, of course. On our way out my husband pointed to the tidy, inconspicuous units of four containers each tucked against the inside wall. I was looking for those ugly 30-gallon jobs with grimy swinging tops, not small designer bins labeled for proper recycling. Sigh.

So thanks, Dynamo, for allowing our uncouth lot to raid your lovely stadium. And rest assured that neither demographic will allow it to happen again.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Why Columbus Day?

Chris never set foot in North America. Seems like Leif Eriksson Day or even Amerigo Vespucci Day would be more to the point

One should also consider that Columbus died in denial, maintaining to the end that he’d landed in Asia. And forget the myth perpetuated by everyone from author Washington Irving to Bugs Bunny: Columbus wasn't at all concerned with the roundness of the earth. Pythagoras proved that back in 500 BC, collaborated two centuries later by Aristotle. By 1492 most educated people knew they weren’t living on a pancake.

So what was his motivation? Money. What else? Spices were the hot commodity of the day. Figuring a faster way to get them would amount to winning a multi-mil lotto. 

But where he actually landed was Hispaniola. Crashed, rather. That’s where the flagship Santa Maria ran aground and sank. His treatment of the natives was barbaric enough to make even his sponsors, Ferdinand and Isabella, cringe. On CBS “Sunday Morning” with Charles Osgood, I learned that the aboriginals, realizing the Europeans intended a permanent colony, despaired of their future and committed mass suicides.

Nor was Christopher Columbus the first to find the new world. For openers, the natives they encountered obviously got there considerably sooner. Maybe they displaced even earlier inhabitants. This planet has been around awhile, you know.

Leif Ericksson siting the New World
But the fact is, Norse Viking Leif Eriksson probably landed in present-day Newfoundland around 1000 A.D., almost five centuries before Columbus set sail. Some historians claim that Ireland’s Saint Brendan or other Celtic people crossed the Atlantic even ahead of Eriksson.

So…why is the New World called the Americas instead of, say, the Columbias? Did no one consider it a New Leif? Ah, kiddies, Grandma will tell you.

Enter Amerigo Vespucci. Mr. V was born in 1454 to a prominent family in Florence, Italy. As a young man working for local bankers, he was sent to Spain in 1492 to look after his employer's business interests. Being a voracious reader who collected books and maps, he was at the right place at the right time. Thus inspired, Amerigo began working on ships, going on his first expedition as a navigator in 1499. This voyage found the mouth of the Amazon and continued exploring the coast of South America – or whatever they called it at the time.
Vespucci wrote detailed letters describing the culture of the indigenous people; their diet, religion, and sexual, marriage, and childbirth practices. The popular letters were published in many languages and proved a much better seller than Columbus' own diaries.

So writing a best-seller was enough to get two continents named after him? Not quite. There’s one more character in the mix: a German clergyman/scholar Martin Waldseemuller, who liked to make up names (including his own).
Leif Ericksson statue in MN
In honor of Vespucci's discovery of the new fourth portion of the world, Waldseemuller printed a wood block map (called "Carta Mariana") with the name "America" spread across the southern continent of the New World. Thousands of copies of the map were sold across Europe. Within a few years, Waldseemuller changed his mind about the name for the New World but it was too late. The name America had stuck.

Still wondering why we celebrate Columbus Day? Politics. It was declared a federal holiday in 1937 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was courting Italian American votes. Nowadays quite a list of states have knocked it off their official calendars, though it’s still an occasion to save up to 40% at furniture stores.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Good Grief. October 11 is National Take Your Teddy Bear to Work Day.

Yes, folks, another weird holiday is upon us.  

The notification came in the daily AOL news run. Of course I checked it out with Holiday Insights and sure enough. It’s a “thing.” No amount of research has turned up a creator or origin for this cuddly day.  So how the world did it get started? Have you ever heard of it before?

Well, I suppose anything can get started on the Internet. But tell me, who’s going to actually walk into work with their security blankie or Winnie-the-Pooh? C’mon! Come to think of it, though, a full-size Clifford in the passenger seat could sure as heck get you into the HOV lane. 

Okay, so back in the day I’ll admit I took some stuffed toys into United Space Alliance. It was an ongoing thing with us Trekkies. Remember the episode called “The Trouble with Tribbles?” A classic. One of my absolute favorites. Tribbles, if you don’t know, are merely balls of soft fur that make endearing noises, breed at an astounding rate, and eat the Enterprise’s food replicators and storage bins out of house and home.

Anyway, one day my daughter gave me a tribble. I took it to work and set it on the bookshelf of a fellow fan in the next cubicle. Then I made up a bunch more and brought in another each day until the multiplicity caught the notice of our department head. As a former sub commander, non-productive clutter tended to make him somewhat claustrophobic. And since he was really a good sort and a great boss, the tribbles duly disappeared.

Thus endeth my experience with Take Teddy to Work Day – like, even before it existed. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Senior Health Care Solution…

…according to Maxine

This is a bit out of character for me. But then it’s not me, really. The following was written by cartoonist John Wagner.

“So you’re a sick senior citizen and the government says there is no nursing home available for you – what do you do?

“Our plan gives anyone 65 years or older a gun and 4 bullets. You are allowed to shoot 4 politicians – not necessarily dead!

“Of course, this means you will be sent to prison where you will get 3 meals a day, a roof over your head, central heating, and all the health care you need! New teeth? No problem. Need glasses? Great.  New hip, knees, kidney, lungs, heart? All covered. (And your kids can come to visit you as often as they do now.)

“And who will be paying for all this? The same government that just told you that they cannot afford for you to go into a home.

“Plus, because you are a prisoner, you don’t have to pay any income taxes anymore.


But no, he’s never drawn Maxine with a smoking gun.

Don’t look at me…I haven’t seen my NRA certificate since 1965.  And much as I get the frustrations here expressed, Warren Buffett’s recently recirculated proposal should certainly work if acted upon. At least, after the first 8 or so shootings. To wit:

 “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC. “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election.

If you’ll follow the provided link, you’ll see that Mr. Buffett is not responsible for entire text of this chain letter. But that, and some of his other proposals, make a heck of a lot of sense.

Actually, my favorite solution to the government crisis comes from a Facebook friend, Jennie Cunningham, my folks’ former caregiver and now mother of four. She posts that a chocolate covered peanut has the power to motivate the most resistant potty trainer.  So let’s do this, folks. Everyone send chocolate covered peanuts to our recalcitrant law makers!