Aug 31, 2009

On Creating Peaceful Spaces for Only a Few Dollars

Pictured on your left is a small garden I created this afternoon, and at the moment I took this picture my Puggle (whose name is Chauncey Gardiner) already appears to be plotting ways in which he might make mischief.

The centerpiece of this peaceful space is a mound of zebra grass, and I added a few Asian lilies around the outside. These I picked up inexpensively at Home Depot, where the approaching end of summer means that perennials can be snatched up at ridiculously low prices (the lilies were four for $12). This is like renting a mens tuxedo for a couple of Benjamin Franklins in the weeks after prom and wedding season.

I dug up the slabs of rock from underneath a section of my lawn. A former owner apparently despised ground cover in the form of living plants, and there are untold dozens of chunks of limestone and sandstone slabs yet to be excavated that once served as walkways and perhaps a patio.

My ultimate goal on my one-third acre double lot is to transcend the standard urban lawn in favor of a multitude of such small garden that will be interspersed with grass walkways. There is a twofold purpose to this plan: I will create a variety of eye-catching perennial gardens that need little maintenance, and I will eventually leave only a few walkways that need to be mowed.

This is the ultimate in sustainability, as I will cultivate plants that need little attention while "sustaining" my body in my later years (we plan to live in this house a long time). The idea of having to mow these hundreds of square yards of lawn in my seventies does not appeal to me.

Heck - I am already losing my motivation to mow.

Aug 30, 2009

On Fantasy Football Draft Day

Pictured on your left are a group of guys with whom I share a passion for fantasy football. This particular league - with the unassuming name of "Jim's Fantasy Football" - has been together 15 years as of the 2009 season, and there are six original owners in the 10-team league.

The league is largely composed of people who once worked together in a business I owned for most of the 1990s, though I have little to do with the cohesiveness of the group beyond my annual draft day grades, which feature gems like this year's dig at QB Matt Schaub: "A healthy Matt Schaub should guarantee that Scott makes the playoffs, but counting on Schaub to stay injury-free is like relying on Robert Downey Jr. to watch your coke stash for you."


No, the fact that the league has survived so long owes much to the nature of the game. Winning a fantasy Super Bowl gives an owner bragging rights (not to mention some significant winnings), and the week-to-week drama associated with a team that you personally assemble can be addictive.

I find draft day to be the highlight of the season, though, especially in catching up with guys I might not have spoken with since the end of the previous season. A number of the owners have kids, and it is amazing to me to see some of these kids enter their young adult years, kids who once accompanied their dads as mere babies years ago. Heck, draft days can serve as informal baby announcements, with participants catching up on the newest arrivals in between smack talking each other.

And me? I am oh-for-15 in winning the Super Bowl, though I have gone to the dance three times. Perhaps this is the year I win it all, particularly since I wound up with my first-ever #1 pick (I took Drew Brees in a QB-friendly format). Yet even if my team is a cellar-dweller, I am sure I will be back next year.

And the year after, and so on.

Aug 29, 2009

Ethical Dilemma - Seeking Advice

One of the downsides of being a person who works many part-time jobs is that sometimes I neglect to pay regular attention to my employers and their abilities to pay me on time. As a result several times last year my wife reconciled our accounts and pointed out that one institutional employer neglected to pay me as scheduled.

This was especially annoying because of the various excuses provided to me by the people who addressed my queries: "This is a special account that must be hand-posted" and "We just started a new software system" and "The recent changes caused our systems to get backed up" and "They pulled our accounts payable personnel and put them on a special project."

At one point last year they were three payments behind, and they finished the fiscal year by screwing me out of at least one - and possibly two - checks. When I complained, they put the burden of proof on me, insisting that if I could not produce all the pay stubs, they would not be able to tell if I was paid or not, since "the system has a lot of problems and we have no way to check on our end."

Of course, since I did not actually receive the checks, I could not produce the requisite pay stubs, right? I ended up just writing off the amount and vowing to watch this particular employer very closely.

Thus I was quite surprised when said institution (which shall remain nameless) accidentally cut me a check this month that I technically did not earn. So I am now faced with a dilemma: should I keep and cash this check, an amount in the hundreds of dollars exactly equal to the amount I was shorted last year (assuming they only screwed me out of one check), or should I take the high moral ground and return the check despite the earlier failure to pay all monies to which I was entitled?

My inclination is toward the latter, and to send it to the highest-ranking officer as proof of the general failures of the accounting systems. Yet I am still irritated at the poor service and treatment I experienced last year in dealing with the less-than-helpful office staff, and I could always use the extra cash to buy a stone sink or something.

Thanks in advance for your comments, and I look forward to reading your responses.

Considering an Online Organizational Development Degree?

One of the more in-demand educational programs that returning students seek out is an organizational development degree, especially from an institution that offers online degree programs. Regular visitors to this site know that I have taught online for a few years now, and I spent some time reading about the organizational leadership Master's degree offered by Gonzaga University.

One important consideration in choosing an online institution is the quality of the school offering the degree. There are plenty of unaccredited colleges - plus the ubiquitous diploma mills - who will be happy to enroll students for a degree that is essentially worthless in the marketplace. Gonzaga, though, is a university founded in 1887 and that is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Schools.

Students who choose the organizational leadership degree offered by Gonzaga will likely find greater opportunities than those who pursue the organizational development degree that other schools offer. In the leadership program students spend more time on management- and consultant-related coursework, and the program is geared toward producing high quality organizational leaders, rather than simply administrative functionaries in an organization.

Unfortunately, not all students entering this educational field are aware of degree opportunities in organizational leadership. If you are considering such a degree, be sure to follow one of the above links to learn more about online Master's degree programs at Gonzaga University.

Aug 27, 2009

Meet Sammy, a Rescue Puggle

As the current owner of a pair of Puggles, I can testify to the fun-loving nature of these affectionate dogs, and our new foster Sam (or "Sammy," as we have been calling her) possesses all the most lovable qualities about Puggles.

The three-year-old Sammy weighs about 25 pounds, and she appears to be in good health other than being a couple of pounds overweight. She is on the shorter and stockier end of the Puggle spectrum. She loves to sleep in bed with people, and Sammy enjoys sitting on your lap and smothering you with kisses.

Sammy is a friendly and agreeable dog who wants to please people, and she gets along well with the other dogs in the house. She is quite docile, good with children, and has a moderate energy level for a Puggle, dogs which can be rather rambunctious.

To learn more about adopting Sammy, or to help financially support Planned Pethood's mission to rescue dogs and cats in Northwest Ohio, visit the Planned Pethood website for more information.

Helping Out Planned Pethood

Just a quick plug for a worthy cause, Planned Pethood. The group - which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization founded over 30 years ago - has a goal of reducing the overpopulation and suffering of dogs and cats through educational programs as well as low-cost spay/neuter programs. Planned Pethood also rescues, vets, and places adoptable dogs and cats into good permanent homes.

Planned Pethood is always looking for fosters who are willing to take rescued dogs and cats into their homes until they can be adopted. If you cannot foster, the group is always looking for volunteers to help with projects, donations of money or pet supplies in any amount, or those who wish to become members. The group also recently started its own animal rescue blog with articles by group volunteers.

My wife and I have been fosters for three years now, and we have also adopted four dogs from Planned Pethood. As someone with experience in working with non-profits, I can tell you that the group really has its act together, and there are many dozens of motivated fosters and volunteers who pitch in and save thousands of dogs and cats each year.

Thanks in advance for taking the time to read this, and also thanks for any help you can give to Planned Pethood.

Aug 26, 2009

Violence Against Bush

What? You were expecting a prurient story about some sort of brutal assault against former President George W. Bush? Sorry to either alarm or disappoint you (depending on your political views), but the bush I'm talking about is my snowball bush, known to horticultural experts as Viburnum opulus. My bush ("huh huh - he said 'my bush,'" replied my Inner Beavis) reached a height of about 14 feet before I wielded extreme violence against it in the form of metallic pruners.

Yet fear not, oh ye advocates of botanical rights: this hardy bush can survive almost any trauma, save being fed a steady diet of bleach or gasoline, or being flooded with garden hoses hooked up to a pair of Price Pfister faucets. The plant grows up to two feet per year, and if I let it go again, it will reach and surpass its former height in 3-4 years.

After whacking my bush down to size ("huh huh - he said 'whacking'"), I pruned dozens of new shoots in an effort to manage the density of this plant. Next spring the aggressive cutting I performed will stimulate new growth ("huh huh - he said 'growth'") and result in an explosion of white blossoms.

Gad - this entire post is nothing but double entendres.

Aug 25, 2009

On Organizing a Key Ring and Wasting Time

My time-stealing, disorganized collection of keys prior to their reformulation

While fumbling with my motley collection of keys, I began wondering how much time I waste per year by having a disorganized key ring. There are times when I probably spend 30 seconds or more flipping through my keys, especially when it is dark or if I have my arms full of packages. At an average of 15 seconds per fumble and 20 key incidents per week, this represents 31,200 lost seconds, or 8.66 hours per year spent fooling around with my keys.

At $30 an hour, this is hundreds of dollars in lost productivity for me. Gad!

I recently yanked about a dozen keys off the ring, which seemed to reduce my befuddlement a bit. Yet even my slimmed-down ring (no use of diet pills to achieve this) has 15 keys, and I endeavored to organize the keys to simplify life.

I first bunched together the car keys, house keys, and work keys into groups. After this I stuck all the miscellaneous together, like the key to my bike lock and the key that opens a filing cabinet at work.

Now, the astute among you will say something like this: "Mike, you just spent 20 minutes organizing your keys and another 20 minutes blogging about it. Wouldn't your time have been better spent on lecture prep or grading? Aren't you really getting distracted by a trivial matter when you have important work to do?"

To that I say "bollocks," and I daresay that in the grand scheme of things... hey, is that a butterfly?

Aug 23, 2009

Historian, Writer, and...Flower Arranger?

Pictured on your left is my latest attempt at creating a decorative display for the dinner table. Yes, I am secure enough in my masculinity to play with flowers, folks, though the "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from our dinner guests lead me to believe that the gathered blossoms do not, in fact, suck.

What I am actually more pleased with, truth be forever told, is that all of the pictured flowers came from one of my gardens. There are zinnias, sunflowers, marigolds, cosmos, impatiens, and a few other flowers whose names escape me at the moment. Not only was I able to create a week's worth of indoor beauty, but I could do so at virtually no cost, and I have money left over to buy top weight loss pills, were I so inclined and possessing the necessary cash.

Well, except for the planting, and the water, and the weeding, and the TLC and all that. OK, this display actually cost me about $200 in labor and material costs if you add up all my time, but it's the principle, right?

Mini-Harvest on an Sunday Afternoon in August

There is an especially gratifying quality to walking into your backyard and picking from a variety of homegrown vegetables for the evening dinner. Such was the case this afternoon after I finished working in the yard.

The cooler summer meant that some of my garden vegetables were a few days late this year, but we can't hurry nature along. That is, this is true those of us who eschew dumping gallons of chemicals into our gardens and lawns. I find that lawn clippings work quite well as weed-reducing mulch, and it has been years since I actually bagged up yard waste.

The photographed fruits of my labors are actually much smaller than today's harvest, as I bagged up about ten pounds of tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers for my Lebanese neighbors across the street. They have a large family, and their tomatoes are just starting to ripen.

Besides, it is Ramadan now, and they will repay my vegetable gifts with tabouli, fatoosh, hummus, or whatever they cooked up for the evening feast after the fast. Call it symbiosis, or neighborliness, or whatever you want, but the bottom line is simply that I love Ramadan.

Oh, and I did not grow those ears of corn in the photo. I no longer waste my time growing pathetically small homegrown corn when I can get something like six ears of corn for a dollar at the fruit market.

Aug 22, 2009

Missy Officially Joins the Household

Regular readers of this blog already know about Missy, a female terrier mix we have been fostering. You can read the earlier posts about Missy's abusive former owners if you want to know the background of this abused dog.

After many months with us, we decided that our home would be the best place for Missy to live. We had very few applications on this sweet dog, and folks seemed to be reluctant to take a chance on a troubled dog like Missy.

Their loss, I say.

Anyways, this makes four Planned Pethood dogs we have adopted, three of which were once our PPI foster dogs. Call us softies, but some dogs are just destined to be forever dogs in your home no matter how hard you work to find them a permanent home.

Kind of like how some folks struggle to lose weight no matter how much they exercise, change their diets, or use a weight loss supplement. Except that Missy is loveable, while lovehandles are annoying.

Anyways, Missy seems unfazed by her change in status, and as her confidence has increased she has been angling for alpha dog status. She used to sleep downstairs in the kitchen, then she started sleeping on the floor of our room. She gradually began to sleep on the foot of the bed, and now she gets territorial with our Puggles over sleeping next to my wife.

So welcome, Missy, to your forever home, and may your remianing years be happy and healthy!

Aug 20, 2009

20 Pounds Down, 20 Pounds Left to Lose

The old saw about weight loss is that diet and exercise are the real keys to shedding unwanted pounds, and I have to say that this simplest of advice is certainly the best. Since early June when I started walking 3-4 miles a day and cutting back on carbs and fats (while keeping calories in the 2000-per-day range), my weight has dropped from 235 pounds to 213.

No diet-pills, no fads, just plain old caloric reduction and an increase in exercise.

What I find most interesting about my lifestyle changes are how quickly they became ingrained into my daily routines. It is almost as though I am addicted to the miles, and I feel like I am slacking if the rain cuts me down to two miles or so. Of course, there is a link between endorphin release and exercise, so this is not a surprise, but I look forward to walking as I might have looked forward to a cheeseburger a few months ago.

So I write this post not to brag about my own modest weight loss, but to encourage anyone reading that even I - someone who used to eat like a training camp lineman - even I can lose 1-2 pounds a week with modest changes in diet and adding 45 minutes a day in exercise.

As a bonus, my stomach also gets filled up more quickly, so there is now a built-in physical barrier to overeating. A few weeks ago my wife and I went out to dinner, and an 8-ounce filet mignon left me almost stuffed. I am the kind of person, mind you, who formerly preferred beef in portions 20 ounces and above.

I am sure this post is disappointing to my manly friends, those who cheered me on as I ate prodigious amounts of food, but life is too short to lose years to heart disease, liver trouble, and diabetes.

Aug 19, 2009

On the Road: My Youngest Son Gets His License

It was a bittersweet moment as I saw the broad grin on my son's face when he walked back in with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles road test employee. I knew immediately that he was successful in his latest attempt to score that holiest of teenage holies: the driver's license.

In his previous four tests, my son's nervousness caused him to handle the car at a level something less than the expectations of the examiners. These were always goofy mistakes, and truthfully he frightened me less than my other children did when they were learning how to drive. One daughter used to drive me crazy with the cell phone, seemingly more concerned with talking about vintage wholesale clothing than the semi directly in front of us.

Or maybe I just became desensitized to brushes with death at the hands of inexperienced teenaged motorists: who knows?

So, my son, I offer you the following advice, even though you will give me that "sure, Dad" look that tells me you have already tuned me out: drive carefully, drive defensively, and drive like you want to keep this license forever.

And put away that blasted cellphone until you arrive at your destination.

Aug 18, 2009

On Eating Raw Cookie Dough and Other Dangerous Behaviors

Left: not to be eaten raw, and wash your hands after handling, please

I had to scratch my head as I read the news that Nestle’s Toll House Cookie Dough has returned to store shelves after a two-month recall. It seems that dozens of people became sick after eating the raw dough, which may or may not have been linked to a strain of E. coli.

In a supposedly enlightened era of food safety and health care awareness, the news that so many people continue to eat products containing raw egg astounds me. Do you ovophilial folks also like to run around playing Russian roulette with discarded hypodermic needles and rusty nails?

I mean, this is 2009, and there have been warnings about the dangers of eating such uncooked products for decades. Does Nestle really need to put a big, bold warning label on packages of cookie dough to discourage people from engaging in stupid behavior?

Apparently so.

I also know someone who is an educated health care professional, and this person enjoys eating raw ground beef. Yes, that same product known to be such a favorite vehicle for the transportation and incubation of the deadly E. coli 0157:H7 strain. I have pointed this out to my friend many times, yet she seemingly cannot refrain from popping a chunk of raw hamburger in her mouth when cooking.


So to those who love eating raw and uncooked products known to carry illness-causing microbes, I have little sympathy when you inevitably wind up with a food-borne illness. Your dance with the culinary Fates is voluntary, and any cases of such diseases as salmonellosis you incur are completely preventable.

Aug 17, 2009

Summer Thunderstorm

It is just a summer thunderstorm that I am experiencing as I write this post, just an ordinary opening of the heavens that results in a heavy downpouring of rain. Add in some hail and a fair amount of nearby lightning strikes, and the result is a storm that is both entertaining and, at times, a bit frightening.

Though I am a dedicated radar-watcher, the intensity of this afternoon's storm caught me off guard. Only an hour had passed since I last scanned the local radar, and what would develop into a moderate-sized cell was but a speck. I first noticed the storm as I was weeding, and the black clouds quickly rolled in and blotted out the sun.

So I shifted gears and decided to work on lecture prep as the clouds emptied much-needed water on my parched lawn and gardens. This is a storm best viewed from within the confines of my home, and I type this post on an unplugged laptop to avoid stray electrical spikes.

So I switch to a Beatles song to set the mood:

Rain, I don't mind.
Shine, the weather's fine.
I can show you that when it starts to rain,
(When the Rain comes down.)
Everything's the same.
(When the Rain comes down.)
I can show you, I can show you.
Rain, I don't mind.

Aug 16, 2009

Random Wikiness


When I am particularly bored with my regular Net-surfing and cable-scanning, I sometimes visit Wikipedia and use the Random Article function. The Random Article button is located on the left sidebar of the main Wikipedia page, and clicking this link sends the visitor into unknown and often fascinating journeys into accumulated knowledge.

My first stop this evening was on a page dedicated to Peachland, British Columbia, a small town of some 5000 souls on the western shore of Okanagan Lake. The region is perhaps best known as the home of Ogopogo, a lake monster that some residents claim lives in Okanagan Lake.

The Random link next sent me to a page on kissel, which is a pudding-like dessert that is popular in Eastern and Northern Europe. Kissel is prepared with sweetened juice or milk and solidified with a thickener such as arrowroot, cornstarch, or potato starch. Occasionally some kissel has red wine or dried fruits added to it for a little variety. The article, however, does not offer clues as to whether kissel works well as an acne treatment.

After kissel I learned about Kavadi Attam, which is a ceremonial dance performed by devotees of Murugan, the Tamil god of war. Incidentally, another name for Murugan is "Subramanian," which happens to be a rather common surname in the Indian subcontinent.

Finally, my trip into Random Wikiness took me to a page describing Carneades, radical skeptic who was born in Cyrene in the third century BCE. Supposedly Carneades was the first of the philosophers to denounce as failures the metaphysicians who attempted to discern rational truth in religious beliefs. I suspect that Carneades might be useful these days in separating fact from fiction in the debate over the reform of the American health care system.

Aug 15, 2009

New Email Address

Due to a change in employers I have a new email address, which is as follows:

I should also point out that I just used an email munger here. This was thoughtfully provided by Daniele Raffo that obfuscates a given email address so that spambots and spiders cannot read it.

Take that, spammers.

How's This for a Wicked Needle Stick?

Pictured on your left is my left elbow, the color of which is now an intriguing purple-red-black blend thanks to a Mengele-like nuclear medicine technician at Toledo Hospital. I went in for a scan of my liver and pancreas, and the technician had some trouble getting my vein to cooperate.

"You will probably have a little bruising tomorrow," he intoned.

Luckily there really is no pain with the 9-inch by 5-inch bruise, but it certainly evokes a lot of comments like this: "My God - WHAT happened to your arm?" or "You let your wife beat you up like that?"

I ought to develop a convincing cover story involving burning buildings and saved babies, or perhaps how I fought off a dozen Nazi Ninjas over truck accessories or something.

Aug 14, 2009

On Auto Repairs and Having the Right Tools

At my best I am merely competent with auto repairs, and as I have grown older I am less entranced with the idea of spending a half-day on my driveway replacing a part like a water pump or a radiator. Yet some repairs are just too simple to justify spending extra money for a mechanic to perform the work, such as the battery I replaced on our 1999 GMC Suburban this morning.

However, even the easiest auto repairs can turn into mechanical nightmares if you lack the proper tools for the given task. Many times I have given up in frustration on a repair job, only to find that if I had only spent $10 on a spanner wrench or other specialized tool the repair would have been a breeze.

My quest for maintaining a well-stocked tool kit has been stymied over the years by my darling children, who think nothing of leaving my tools out in the rain, loaning my tools to friends, or "borrowing" tools that never seem to find their way back to my garage. This morning, though, I was pleased to find that every tool I needed was right at my disposal.

18" socket extension? Right there. 3/16" box wrench? No problem.

The battery replacement took less than 30 minutes, including the time it took me to drive to Murray's Auto Parts and buy the new battery. The only problem I encountered was grounding out the battery with the socket wrench against the fender metal as I tightened the post nuts, sending a shower of sparks and a couple hundred amps of electricity coursing through my arm.

As I mentioned earlier: I am at best only competent at auto repairs.

Aug 13, 2009

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking "Is there a meaning to music?" My answer would be, "Yes", And "Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?" My answer to that would be "No."
-- Aaron Copland

Aug 11, 2009

Jim Leyland, Regular Guy

At the Detroit Tigers - Minnesota Twins game the other night, I watched Tiger manager Jim Leyland chat it up for about 10 minutes with a half-dozen fans next to the Tiger dugout. What I found interesting was not the conversation itself (I was too far away to hear it), but just the fact that Leyland bothered to spend time with some diehard baseball fans.

True, these might have been well-heeled season ticket holders, and Leyland might have a vested interest in keeping such fans happy, but then again Leyland could have just as easily stayed in the dugout before the game. However, it appeared to me that this was just one regular guy talking shop with fellow aficionados of the game of baseball.

It is also possible that Leyland has cultivated something of a friendship with these Comerica Park regulars, and that their conversations are something more than a tip of the cap fro manager to star-struck fans. Jim Leyland has developed a reputation as a down-to-earth, old school, and throwback manager, and his willingness to kill some time with these fans is admirable.

This probably also says something of Leyland's delegation abilities. This image was taken about 20 minutes before the Tigers-Twins game Saturday night, and I think Leyland has the luxury of being able to relax a few minutes before the game because his team is well coached and the preparation has been completed.

Of course, given the fact that the Tigers lost 11-0 this night, one might argue that Leyland should have spent more time in the locker room, but the ugliness on the field the other night had little to do with Jim Leyland's managerial skills. Blame that loss on a lackluster performance by starting pitcher Justin Verlander, some shoddy relief pitching, and the silent Tiger bats.

Rapid Rhetoirc: LADRONE

Raphael's depiction of Plato defining the difference between true and false rhetoric This is an irregular feature - both in frequency and oddness - dedicated to a word I came across that I have never previously used.

ladrone (lah-DROHN) n. robber; thief.

The English language inherits this word from the Spanish word ladrón, which has similar meanings. In the back of my mind this word festered when I came across a map with the inscription Islas de los Ladrones ("Islands of Thieves"), but I could not retrieve the word at will and had to drag out the dictionary.

Supposedly the Spanish crew of Ferdinand Magellan (also known by his Portuguese name of Fernão de Magalhães) gave these islands their disparaging name in 1521. There was a misunderstanding and a dispute over the value of provisions received by Magellan's ships that led to the unfortunate moniker.

Islas de los Ladrones, by the way, are better known today as the Mariana Islands. People should expect a blow to the head if they use the term Islas de los Ladrones nowadays.

Aug 9, 2009

Great Songs for Walking (110-120 BPM)

Finding beats for my feets

In my quest to lose weight and live a healthier lifestyle, I have taken up walking as a form of exercise. Lately I have been walking 3-4 miles per day, and I find that listening to my iPod makes the time go by faster.

I also found that certain songs have beats quite conducive to walking, and I started making mental notes of these tunes, especially the music that would sync up with my steps. I began to wonder if there was a way to quantify the tempo of these songs, and I discovered the program beaTunes, which analyzes and provides the beats per minute (BPM) of every song in your iTunes library.

However, the beaTunes process took an estimated 12 hours to run the course of my 9,000 song iTunes library, and all I really wanted was a few dozen songs to make a playlist. I started search for song lists with BPM for given songs, which was a heckuva lot faster than analyzing every song for precise BPM.

The following is a list of songs and their BPM that I find useful in keeping a fast-walking pace, one that translates into something like a 4 mph pace. Feel free to offer other suggestions in the Comments section.

"Trampled Under Foot," Led Zeppelin (110 BPM)
"Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?" Chicago (118 BPM)
"Saturday in the Park," Chicago (115 BPM)
"Penny Lane," The Beatles (113 BPM)
"Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," The Beatles (114 BPM)
"Getting Better," The Beatles (118 BPM)
"Sympathy for the Devil," Rolling Stones (116 BPM)
"Stand," REM (110 BPM)
"Orange Crush," REM (121 BPM)
"Badlands," Bruce Springsteen (122 BPM)
"I Saw Her Again Last Night," the Mamas and the Papas (122 BPM)

It is also a smart idea to blend faster and slower songs. 10 BPM does not sound like much, but it is the difference between a brisk walk and one that borders on a slow jog. I like pairing two faster songs with a slower song in between, which gives me 7-8 minutes of heightened aerobics with a 3-4 minute breather at 110 BPM or so.

On Baseball, Mariachi Bands, and the Suite Life

Miguel Cabrera being hit by a pitch from Carl Pavano; photo by historymike Miguel Cabrera being hit by a pitch from Carl Pavano; photo by historymike

I had the opportunity to attend a home game of the Detroit Tigers last night, as they played host to the Minnesota Twins at Comerica Park. Unfortunately, the Tigers played poorly, and the Twins romped over the home team 11-0, certainly the worst home loss in recent memory for the Tigers.

The slaughter on the field was mitigated by the fact that my dad had tickets to a lower-level suite, and we watched the game from a comfortable vantage point behind the Tiger dugout. This was an excellent place to take photos, and I could use the space to get some interesting images.

Joining us in the suite last night were a number of diehard baseball fans, and I found that my less-than-expert knowledge of the game paled in comparison with some of the folks sitting with us. They were also well versed in the latest Tiger rumors, such as that Magglio Ordoñez has not been the same power hitter since "he went off the juice," and that the switch-hitting Carlos Guillen may not bat right-handed the rest of the season due to the shoulder injury that sidelined him for several months.

Attending a major league baseball game these days is a multi-dimensional entertainment experience. Last night was host the fourth annual ¡Fiesta Tigres! celebration, which was designed to honor the contributions of Hispanic and Latino players. The Xochiquetzal Folkloric Ballet performed traditional dances from Jalisco, Mexico, while musical groups such as Orquestra La Inspiracion and Los Gallos de Oro entertained the crowd at different points in the stadium concourse. Add to this the post-game fireworks display, and the result is 4-5 hours of entertainment.

Yet all of this hoopla could not match the simple joys I experienced attending Tiger games as a kid. Perhaps this is a function of being middle-aged and jaded - or perhaps the sport's tarnished luster from scandals is to blame - but baseball for me has lost its magic. I still cheer on the Tigers, but something seems missing: something innocent, something pure, and something timeless.

I hope that baseball finds its way back.

As for the suite life, I was very appreciative of the tickets and the hospitality, and certainly the camaraderie was excellent, but most of the guests of the suite owner spent their time hanging out inside the suite. True, the Tigers put on an abysmal performance, but many folks in the suites spend their time doing business and making connections. Most of the conversations among the bunch I found myself with discussed foreclosures and court cases, and only the handful of true baseball fans actually watched the game and talked baseball.

This scenario is true for all sports, of course, and yet the wide-eyed kid that lurks within me still questioned just what all of this had to do with the game on the field. Personally, I have more in common with the people in the cheap seats than I do with the suite owners, and the isolation of the suite from the regular folks seems unnatural.

That is, except for the private toilet in each suite. I did NOT miss standing in line for half an inning just to use the restroom.

Aug 8, 2009

Jets So Close You Can Almost Touch Them

My grandparents have lived in the same house since the early 1940s, and their close proximity to Detroit's Metro Airport means that they witnessed the facility grow from a one-runway regional airport that mostly serviced the Michigan National Guard into a major international travel hub that serves over 35 million passengers per year.

I took a break for a few minutes minutes the other day while I was chopping some overgrown brush on the back of my grandfather's property to watch the airplanes as they roared overhead the last mile or so to Metro. Pictured on your left is a jet from Southwest Airlines approaching Metro, and it flew perhaps 200 feet over my head, lending itself to me for a few colorful pictures.

As a kid I used to run with my arms straight out and pretend I was piloting one of those jets. heck, maybe I thought I WAS a jet as I raced around the backyard like a hyperactive chimp wired on Benzedrine, punctuating my VROOOOMs with a few WHOOOSHes and BRRRRRRRs. No cares in the world about such adult concerns as home mortgages, downsizing, or public speaking anxiety.

Watching planes land and take off is a timeless, entertaining, and even a meditative activity, and you should park your car near an airport someday if you doubt the therapeutic value in wasting time staring at jets.

Aug 6, 2009

Toledo Jazz Orchestra: Jazz in the Garden

Toledo Jazz Orchestra: Jazz in the Garden I spent a warm summer evening with my wife over at Toledo Botanical Garden listening to the Toledo Jazz Orchestra play as part of the Jazz in the Garden concert series. Approximately 1,000 people turned out this evening, and for the most part the mosquitoes refrained from turning the crowd into a mega-buffet.

The Jazz Orchestra was joined by Nate Gurley for seven songs, and Ann Arbor drummer extraordinnaire Pete Sears sat in with the group. Though a bit rusty from an eight-month break in performing, the Orchestra worked its way through two sets that highlighted Count Basie swing arrangements. Crowd-pleasing standards like "One O'Clock Jump" and "April in Paris" kept the crowd happy, and the Orchestra had a great groove going tonight.

The crowd definitely tended toward the gray-haired set, though a few families with children showed up. I fear, however, that this is indicative of the fading of jazz as a popular genre of music, and I hope that my worries are set aside by a resurgence of interest in this distinctly American musical form.

Anyways, the Jazz in the Garden series winds up with an August 13 concert featuring vocalist Ramona Collins, followed by the season-ending performance on August 20 by Los Gringos. Tickets are $7 each, and you can bring your own cooler plus your folding chairs or a blanket for a relaxing and entertaining evening. Food and beverages are available at the concerts, and you can wait for post-concert traffic to thin by strolling through the grounds of the Garden as the sun sets.

The Quote Shelf

Medieval text with Latin script A frequent feature on this site; feel free to comment on the quote or to supply a competing quote.

If your friend is already dead, and being eaten by vultures, I think it's okay to feed some bits of your friend to one of the vultures, to teach him to do some tricks. But only if you're serious about adopting the vulture.
-- Jack Handy

Aug 4, 2009

"Please Don't Let Me Die": The Senseless Death of Colin Fisher

It seems like this blog has lately evolved into a virtual obituary site, but when tragedy strikes, people have to deal with grief in the manner to which they are accustomed. In my case, it is through writing that I best process difficult emotions, such as those I experienced today upon learning of the shooting death of 23-year-old Colin Fisher.

Colin has been a member of my extended family for about 15 years, and I think I first met him when he was a second-grader at Gesu School in Toledo. I used to be a regular volunteer for lunchtime playground duties, and I recall playing basketball with Colin and his friends many times.

Always that good-natured smack talk on the court, that kid.

When I was a retail business owner, Colin and his brothers used to deliver flyers for me door-to-door in the neighborhood in which they lived. I tried to be as much of a role model as I could for Colin and his brothers, though in retrospect I wish I had found more time to spend with him. He spent quite a few nights at our house, including a few days during a rough stretch when he was having some family troubles that a short break helped solve.

Colin's mom Jeannine and his dad Mike split up many years ago, and while the family had its share of struggles, there was a lot of love in that home on Willys Parkway. I had a special fondness for the fun-loving Colin, who shared my passion for sports and who always seemed to be smiling.

Over the past few years I saw less of Colin as he ventured out into the adult world. Yet whenever our paths crossed at a family function, he always greeted me with a firm handshake, that infectious grin, and a "Hey, Mr. Brooks!" It is difficult to reconcile my recent memories of the grown-up Colin with the fact that he died from gunshot wounds this morning.

"Please don't let me die."

These are among Colin's last words as he lay bleeding on the front porch of a Springfield Township man. It was quite painful for me to read the account of Colin stumbling to the door asking for help from a stranger.

More than anything I wish I could have crossed paths with Colin yesterday, somehow altering the date with death to which he traveled. Woulda, coulda, shoulda, as they say, and none of this matters now.

I hope to one day shoot hoops with you again, Colin. You may have a great jump shot, but I will always be able to block any bricks you heave up there, kid. Remember, I am 6'5" tall, and you are just a 12-year-old with dreams of the NBA, and I will swat your shots like they were one-legged gnats.

At least that's the image in my head. Goodbye, Colin Fisher, and may you rest in eternal peace until we get a rematch on the Parquet Floor in the Sky.

Aug 3, 2009

What, Exactly, is a Friendly Missionary Baptist Church?

Friendly Missionary Baptist ChurchI know little about Friendly Missionary Baptist Church on Parkside in Toledo, but I found the name of the house of worship worthy of a chuckle. After all, considering the options, would one expect a missionary to be anything BUT friendly?

"Surly Missionary Baptist Church" or "Angry Missionary Baptist Church" do not have quite the same ring, do they?

Anyways, there appears to be quite a network of "Friendly Missionary Baptist" churches around the country, though I am unable to find a governing body or central organization for the group. Nor can I find any Friendly Missionary churches with a home page that explains the history behind the name, though admittedly I only went about eight search pages deep before giving up the quest, getting distracted by research on malignant mesothelioma.

Feel free to leave in the Comments section anything you know about Friendly Missionary Baptist churches, either here in Toledo or around the country.

Aug 2, 2009

Mother Duck with Baby Ducklings

Mother duck with baby ducklings Left: Mother duck with baby ducklings; click photo for larger image

My daily walks through Foxglove Meadow park on Toledo's west side have familiarized me with a duck family that calls Tifft Creek its home. Pictured are a mother duck and six of her chicks, which are now several months old.

A local feral cat claimed the life of the seventh chick, according to one of my vigilant neighbors. She helps ensure the vitality of the hundreds of ducks that populate the park by providing regular deliveries of corn and seed to supplement the food the ducks find in the wild.

The baby ducks have also survived the local hooligans who traverse the park. In years past the rowdier urchins enjoyed tormenting the ducks, but this year I have seen less of this anti-Anatidae behavior. Perhaps these future sociopaths have graduated to torturing neighborhood cats and rabbits in their development toward becoming the next generation of serial killers.

Aug 1, 2009

Department of Stupid Tickets

In the eyes of the member of Rocket Patrol who ticketed my vehicle the other day at the University of Toledo, I committed a crime worthy of a fine: I failed to place my UT parking permit in front of one of the other three parking permits on my vehicle. The valid permit is the green one, second in line of the collection of permits I carry as an academic nomad.

This is an offense marked "Improper Display," and a fine of $25.00 has been assessed to me for my transgression.

I have simultaneously taught at as many as five different colleges in one semester, and this summer I worked at three different places. Consequently I sometimes forget exactly which campus I am on, and minor details such as remembering to shuffle my permits often escape me.

It is irritating enough that I have to pay up to $85 a semester at UT for the privilege of parking at my job, but to pick up a bullshit ticket like this really added to an already stressful day.

So I face a choice: I can mail payment for this ticket to UT and let them fleece another $25 from me, or I can waste 60 to 90 minutes of my time downloading the appeal form, driving to the parking appeals office, and standing in line with other parking scofflaws to fight a ridiculous ticket. There is an online appeal form, but the form conveniently defaulted to an error message page when I tried to use the virtual appeals process. Also, even if a person appealed online, the site informs visitors that it takes 4-5 weeks to process appeals. In that time, the ticket could then be assessed late fees if the appeals process does not go in the recipient's favor.

I'll have to flip a coin and decide if this is really worth my time. Just about the only thing I hate more than a stupid ticket is wasting time wading through layers of bureaucracy. UT probably figures that for every 10 BS citations they issue, eight people just give in and pay the fine, and even if they do grant a few ticket revocations, they still come out ahead in the game of fleecing students and faculty of their hard-earned cash.

Perhaps Subcommandante Bob was really writing non-fiction in his earlier profile of a Rocket Patrol representative.