Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tagged for a drabble?

“Drabble ??”

Well, live and learn.

Here’s the deal: Write a drabble, which is (who knew?) a story containing exactly 100 words. It does not have to be a poem.

Candace tagged me. (So did Badabing, for something else, but that’s next—Candace got to me first.)

Gee, that’s a challenge! Wordy as I am, 100 words would barely get me through a good introductory sentence. But I figure if I can write a poem about words that rhyme with “orange,” why not a drabble?

So here goes. I didn't include the title in the word count. If the "rules" require its inclusion, I can adjust.
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. I tag Karyn Lyndon! Haven't heard much from her lately.
(Ahem . . .)
Lightspeed x 23

Ion thrusters locked at emergency maximum, both racers willed their starships onward—at stake: survival. The approaching outpost held fuel for only one.

Jaorg came alert. Vibration? No moving drive system parts; so how…? Interstellar gases? Dust? But, the route was cleared!

Puzzlement became alarm. Deceleration timing was critical!

The vibration deepened. Alarm swiftly became terror.

The ship lurched. Parts rattled; flew. No! NO! “GAEL—!” His scream was cut short as his world disintegrated.

Malevor’s vessel streaked past the vapor that had been Jaorg, decelerated, and fueled. He smirked, and entered coordinates for home. Gaella would soon be his!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

The end of an era . . .

For me and Carol, at least.

In 1983 we bought a brand new Dodge full-size 3/4 ton van. My employer of that time had a smaller one (1/2 ton) that I liked, and I was particularly taken with the feature that both bench seats behind the front captain's chairs could be popped in and out without tools.

So what, you ask? Well, this gave me a large vehicle with lots of optional configurations to accomplish LOTS of tasks.

With all seats in, I could (and did) haul my kids' entire school volleyball or basketball teams to out-of town games. Even with all those passengers, I still had plenty of room for all their gear.

The van was our SUV at a time before SUVs were invented. No, it didn't have 4-wheel drive, but with high ground clearance it could go just about anywhere and do anything. On family vacations we would turn the bench seats so that they faced each other. Our girls could stretch out and sleep on individual "beds." Or they could sit opposite each other, put a piece of cardboard on their knees, and play board games.

With both bench seats removed (easily done) we hauled 4 X 8 sheets of plywood or drywall. We moved several rooms of furniture at a time. The volume of that boxy interior was simply amazing.

We added a trailer hitch and pulled our camper trailer all over the country. For my family and our lifestyle it was the perfect all around family "car."

Well, by 1996 that van had LOTS of miles on it and was becoming unreliable for long trips. Our kids refer back to our vacations in terms of, "That was the one when the van wheel bearing failed," or, "That was when the engine lost a valve."

So we replaced it—with another 3/4 ton NEW 1997 Dodge van. And the new one was a whole lot like the older one. Dodge didn't change the basic design much in those intervening years.

Now—some 11 years and 180,000 miles later—it's time to replace our favorite vehicle once again. So, why is this the end of an era, you ask? Why not just buy another one, and keep the tradition intact?

Well, Dodge quit making full-size vans a couple of years ago. The market went away. Everyone was buying minivans, or SUVs.

The Ford and GM vans lack the feature of bench seat removal without tools. We looked at them anyway, but declined. Carol fell in love with the big Ford Expedition EL, so that will supplant our 24 years of Dodge van ownership.

What are we going to do with the van? It's listed on eBay Motors right now.

If you want to look at all the pictures and see if anybody bids, here's the link. (Sniff.)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

What's in a name?

Have you heard or read about the brouhaha over naming a teddy bear Muhammad? Of course you have. But just in case you haven't . . .

Gillian Gibbons, a British school teacher in Sudan, asked her class of seven-year-olds to name a teddy bear, right? And they (not she) decided on the name Muhammad. A few months later someone complained. She was arrested, charged with “insulting religion and inciting hatred” (hatred!?), and after an eight-hour hearing was found guilty and sentenced to 15 days in jail. She MIGHT have been sentenced to receive 40 lashes!

What? You don’t believe me? Read about it HERE.

Anyway, some of the folks in Sudan were so incensed that they rioted, chanting, “Kill her!”

Now, those of you who read this blog know that I usually avoid political or religious topics. Please allow me to put those prohibitions aside for one post.

I am a Christian. I believe that Jesus is the living son of God, and my savior. If you don’t believe that way, that’s fine. And if you want to name a teddy bear, or a trash can, or a toilet Jesus, I would simply smile, shake my head and go on with my life.

The God I worship does not need any man or woman to defend him. He is quite capable of defending himself. Frankly, in my opinion, ANY god who needs man to defend him (or his holy prophet) is not much of a god.

So . . . That said . . .

Do you know what a teddy is? In some circles it is an item of lingerie. You know—a lady’s undergarment.

As a joke (or an attempt to make people smile), my wife years ago made a small fake teddy out of vinyl material to hang in our car as a trash container. It’s really a caricature of a teddy, with fake lace and . . .

Okay, here’s a picture:

Anyway, I’ve decided to name the teddy. It’s never had a name before; it’s just been referred to as “the trash teddy.”

Well, starting today I’m naming it Muhammad.

(And if anyone in Sudan reads this blog post, I’m in a HEAP of trouble!)

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Not to rub it in . . .

...but do you know what I did today?

On December 1, 2007?

I put on shorts, a tee shirt, and sandals, and mowed the grass. Then I did some outside work on our camper and tow vehicle. We would have played golf today, again in shorts and a short-sleeve shirt, but Carol has a stomach bug so we stayed around the house.

The title of this post was intended for my dear blog friends in places like Chicago, North Carolina, New York State, Massachusettes, Vermont and just about anywhere in the country other than Texas and the deep South. Oh, and let's include the UK and most of Europe while we're gloating. Now Michelle in South Africa is heading into summer, so she can gloat over all of us northern hemisphere folks (except in June through about September!)

For some reason it's hard to get into the Christmas shopping mood in such weather. Now, our Thansgiving weekend was chilly and blustery so most of the town was out fighting the mobs at the malls on Black Friday this year. And I'm sure we'll get more chilly weather during the next few months.

As often as not, though, we'll have a colder Thanksgiving than Christmas. It'll be interesting to see if that happens again this year.

For now I'm enjoying the fact that our trees still have leaves on them, the grass is still growing enough to require an occasional mowing, and the golf course still beckons.

But don't be too jealous. Most of you don't have to deal with hurricanes and weeks of triple-digit temperatures. When I want to go skiing I have to travel about 1200 miles. And . . . let's see . . . are there any other disadvantages . . .

There MUST be. (I don't want to rub it in TOO much.)


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Men? Happier?

(This is old stuff, been around the horn a few times, but some of them still make me smile.)

Men Are Just Happier People

What do you expect from such simple creatures?

Your last name stays put.
The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.
Chocolate is just another snack.
You can be President.
You can never be pregnant.
You can wear a white T-shirt to a water park.
You can wear NO shirt to a water park.
Car mechanics tell you the truth.
You never have to drive to another gas station restroom because this one is just too icky.
You don't have to stop and think of which way to turn a nut on a bolt.
Same work, more pay.
Wrinkles add character.
Graying hair adds attraction.
Wedding dress~$5000. Tux rental~$100.
People never stare at your chest when you're talking to them.
The occasional well-rendered belch is practically expected.
New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
One mood all the time.
Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
You know stuff about tanks.
A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
You can open all your own jars.
You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
Your underwear is $8.95 for a three-pack.
Three pairs of shoes are more than enough.
You almost never have strap problems in public.
You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.
Everything on your face stays its original color.
The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
You only have to shave your face and neck.
You can play with toys all your life.
Your belly usually hides your big hips.
One wallet and one pair of shoes one color for all seasons.
You can wear shorts no matter how your legs look.
You can 'do' your nails with a pocket knife.
You have freedom of choice concerning growing a mustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25 relatives on December 24 in 25 minutes.

No wonder men are happier.

(Maybe they still make me smile because there's so much truth in some stereotypes...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Can you stand one more carved cake?

Here's what the artist says about it:

"I won't bore you with the laundry list of problems I had with this cake, but I will say it was a definite rush job. It took three rectangular cakes, two circle cakes, and two speheres. I stacked them all together, and carved the "turkey" shape... I should say "turkey-ish." I carved a cake a couple of weeks ago, but, pardon the pun, this one really takes the cake. It was much, much more difficult. Maybe next time (assuming there is a next time!) it will look more like a turkey."

My response? "The only way the next one could possibly look more like a turkey is if it were to take off and fly around the barnyard!"

I can just imagine slicing into that thing expecting white meat, and getting cake!

(I think I'd be disappointed.)


Friday, November 16, 2007

Pilot talk

One of my old (literally) navy flying buddies forwarded me this in an email that's making the rounds. You may have seen it.

But if you're not a pilot, much of it will be meaningless. As a former F-4 phantom pilot, the first one has special significance to me.


AIRSPEED - Speed of an airplane. (Deduct 25% when listening to a retired fighter pilot.)

BANK - The folks who hold the lien on most pilots' cars.

CARBURETOR ICING - A phenomenon reported to the FAA by pilots immediately after they run out of gas.

CONE OF CONFUSION - An area about the size of New Jersey located near the final approach beacon at an airport.

CRAB - A VFR Instructor's attitude on an IFR day.

DEAD RECKONING - You reckon correctly, or you are.

DESTINATION - Geographical location 30 minutes beyond the pilot's bladder saturation point.

ENGINE FAILURE - A condition that occurs when all fuel tanks mysteriously become filled with low-octane air.

FIREWALL - Section of the aircraft specifically designed to funnel heat and smoke into the cockpit.

FLIGHT FOLLOWING - Formation flying.

GLIDE DISTANCE - Half the distance from an airplane to the nearest emergency landing field.

HOBBS - An instrument which creates an emergency situation should it fail during dual instruction.

HYDROPLANE - An airplane designed to land long on a short and wet runway.

IFR - A method of flying by needle and horoscope.

LEAN MIXTURE - Nonalcoholic beer.

MINI MAG LITE - Device designed to support the AA battery industry.

NANOSECOND - Time delay between the Low Fuel Warning light and the onset of carburetor icing.

PARACHUTES - The two chutes in a Stearman.

PARASITIC DRAG - A pilot who bums a ride and complains about the service.

RANGE - Usually about 3 miles short of the destination.

RICH MIXTURE - What you order at another pilot's promotion party.

ROGER - Used when you're not sure what else to say.

SECTIONAL CHART - Any chart that ends 25 NM short of your destination.

SERVICE CEILING - Altitude at which cabin crew can serve drinks.

SPOILERS - FAA Inspectors.

STALL - Technique used to explain to the bank why your car payment is late.

STEEP BANKS - Banks that charge pilots more than 10% interest.

TURN & BANK INDICATOR - An instrument largely ignored by pilots.

USEFUL LOAD - Volumetric capacity of the aircraft, disregarding weight.

VOR - Radio navigation aid, named after the VORtex effect on pilots trying to home in on it.

WAC CHART - Directions to the Army female barracks.

YANKEE - Any pilot who has to ask New Orleans tower to "Say again".

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Since you asked...

Several readers wondered how long that Slumber Party cake (below) took to make.

Here's what the maker wrote me:

"I baked the cakes (three of them) on Thursday, and started work on filling and decorating at 7:30 Friday morning. I called it quits around 4:00 Friday afternoon! I made the girl, the bunny slippers, and overnight bag Wednesday night, and it's a good thing I did. The party started at 6:00 Friday evening, and was 45 minutes away!"

(Just thought you'd like to know.)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

A carved cake?

Remember the pictures of the cake with the FBI Academy emblem on it?

You know...THIS one.

Well, that cake's creator has now delved into the realm of carved cakes. She sent me pictures of the one she did this week for a six-year-old's slumber party. You've gotta see this cake!

So, here it is:

Yes, that's a cake! I know it looks like a girl sleeping, but this was for a SLUMBER party, remember?

Here's a closer look at some details. First the bunny slippers and the popcorn:

Then, from the other side of the bed comes the overnight bag:

And finally, a closer look at the sleeper's face. Don't you love the details? Can't you hear the snores?

I told the cake's creator that I found it quite ironic that her masterpiece depicted the ONE activity least likely to ever take place at a slumber party.

She told me that the kids thought it was okay... but the parents all loved it!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A week late for Halloween, but . . .

How'd you like to meet this guy in a dark alley?

We found him scooting across the 17th green on a golf course. This is not your standard hazard, like a sand bunker or pond.

Don't ask what that big fat hairy body is for. I assume it's to store up all the poison he uses to bite and kill people.

Carol, a lot braver than her husband, got down to look him eye to eye.

But when he got really close, she took up her putter and exited towards the next tee. Sorta high-steppin', she was.

Blame her?

Friday, November 02, 2007

That’s my daughter!

I have two, actually. I’m extremely proud of both, but I’m going to write about just one of them today.

Both of my girls are extremely smart, capable, attractive, and productive members of society. All of those attributes they got from their mother. However, both have also acquired over the years some of their father’s sense of humor (??) and willingness to attempt pretty much anything on the off chance that they might pull it off. Sometimes they succeed.

A few weeks ago, daughter Christina related in her blog the story of her exploding toilet. (I am NOT making this up. You can read about it HERE.)

What she didn’t relate was her repair job.

Before doing anything she called me to ask for advice. We discussed calling a plumber: what that would cost, how long it might take, and so on. I told her she could do the repair herself! I could even talk her through it long distance.

Emboldened, she went to her local home improvement store and bought the entire innards for the top tank. (Note: "innards" is a technical term, but most home improvement store employees do recognize it.)

She called me and said, "Okay, where do I start?"

We determined that the water was shut off. I had her disconnect the supply line from the tank fitting. She was able to get her adjustable pliers on the nut that holds the water intake valve and float mechanism, and loosen it. Once it was off, all the innards came out with no problem.

Her new innards came with instructions and pictures, so she hung up the phone to have both hands free for the installation.

Here's the reason for my pride: the only other call I received was her question about adjusting the water level after everything was put back together!

She told me it didn't even leak!

They ALWAYS leak!

I don't know if it's just pride, or if there isn't a little jealousy mixed in.

Way to go, Christina!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Yet another work rant

For the past 24 years the plant where I work has required that all workers on our plant site be able to speak, understand and read English.

Yes, that's legal. We don't have an "English only" rule that everyone must speak English all the time, or anything like that. It's just that all of our safety signs, policies and procedures are written in English. If this refinery-type plant were to have a release of chlorine (the worst-case event at our site) we have to be able to communicate quickly and understandably the location and quantity of the release, the wind direction, and whether workers should evacuate or shelter in place.

Many (actually most) of our employees speak at least a little Spanish (or what we locally call "Tex-Mex," a colloquial idiomatic Spanish "dialect."). Even I understand enough to know when I'm being referred to as an asshole (culero, pronounced "cool arrow") or worse. Yeah, it happens. Some even call me that in English when I do or say something unpopular.

Whatever. Sticks and stones, y'know?

But now, in 2007, we may no longer be able to require English proficiency.

Why not? Because we're starting some construction projects staffed by employees of contract firms, and although those firms used to be able to provide English-proficient employees, they now tell us they no longer can do so. In this area, people skilled in bricklaying, scaffolding, welding, and other trades are predominantly Hispanic. And many do not speak or read English.

There just aren't enough English-proficient people around with the skills we need.

So in order to allow them to work on projects in the plant we must either provide a full-time bilingual "escort," OR we must provide signage, instructions and training in Spanish. It's not a legal issue; it's being forced on us by the marketplace.

Seems to me that ought to be some kind of commentary on our times, or our system, or our education, or something . . . but I'm not sure exactly what.


Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A recurring work rant

How many people do you know who, when offered free money—a significant quantity of it—just ignore the offer and walk away?

My plant has 130 employees. We have an excellent 401(k) plan with dollar-for-dollar company matching contributions for up to the first 6% of salary that an employee will “defer” (put into the plan for their retirement).

Of those, 25 are currently contributing less than 6%. And 17 of THOSE are contributing ZERO!

I try to tell them that if they put in 6% it will only reduce their take-home pay about 4.5% due to the tax savings. I try to tell them it’s the only 100% guaranteed way to double their money instantly, and with no (current) tax consequences!

I ask them if they expect to live on Social Security when they retire. They shrug. Many tell me they can’t afford to defer “right now.”

“But you just got a big raise earlier this year,” I counter. “Use some of that windfall to save at least something!”

“Well, next year when we get a raise I’ll try to put some in the plan.”

Yeah. Right.

We offer 32 investment options. We offer a Roth 401(k) option that will allow them to take out their contributions and all the interest and earnings completely tax free. Did you hear that? Not tax-deferred; TAX FREE! Where else are you EVER going to get tax free money in this country?

I plead. I cajole. I belittle and shame.

Does little good.

Some would view my actions as paternalistic. “They’re big boys and girls—let them make their own decisions.”

But I’ll keep trying. It just feels like the right thing to do.

Somehow I feel sure they’ll be grateful later.

(Okay, end of rant. I feel better now.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Whaddaya mean, it doesn’t rhyme?

A friend of mine was working on a note the other day. He asked me for some "word advice." Well, what else could I say? I told him, "Sure thing! I'm your man." But then I had to cringe. He said he needed help to find a word to rhyme with "orange."

"Well, gee," I told him with a shrug. "That's harder than you think. Though many English words have rhymes (some perfect, some that stink), there are SOME words that have no rhymes—not even on the fringe. And one of those un-rhyming words is your colorful 'orange.'"

He sneered at me and said, "That's bunk! Here. . . take the color 'purple.' In 'Dang Me,' Roger Miller made it rhyme with 'maple surple.' If he could do that (and it worked!), then surely you could 'arrange' — to put together simple sounds and make them rhyme with 'orange!'"

I told him, "Look, it can't be done. Wise men have tried for years... to rhyme that word with anything that won't offend the ears. I don't know why you want it, but unless it's something grungy, you won't like words I mispronounce to make them sound 'orange-y!'"

"Well, thanks a LOT! I'm outta here." He waved me a dismissal. I think he'd just been smoking weed that smelled like burning sisal. I wondered if some other drugs, those taken with a syringe, might now be fueling his desire to find a rhyme for "orange."

In French, now, it would work. You see, they place the accent later. It's on the second syllable, not on the first (like "TA-ter"). So if you think of "duck l'orange" (a tasty dish I picture!) "l'orange" becomes a perfect rhyme with "mélange" (meaning "mixture").

In English if you place the accent on the second vowel, and say the word with emphasis from deep within your bowel, (for emphasis is everything, and on it all this hinges), you'll wind up with a word that rhymes. Just try it! Say, "o-RINGE-s."

(Artwork courtesy of Karyn Lyndon. Thanks, Karyn!)

Friday, October 19, 2007

A true cake story

All my regular readers know about our good friend (and golfing buddy!) Ruth. Ruth is the lady who makes those gorgeous wedding cakes.

These, for example.

Well, another friend of ours (actually she's a very good friend of our younger daughter's, but like a number of our daughters' friends, she's friendly with us too) sent me an email this morning that I just HAVE to share with you.

Yes, I have her permission.

She wrote (I've changed a few details to protect an identity):

"Okay, so today's Don's birthday. Yes, it is after midnight on Friday morning. I have been up past midnight every night since last Friday working on his cake.

I asked him what he wanted... I was thinking a simple birthday cake.

Oh, no. He wanted me to bake a cake for him to take to the FBI National Academy luncheon the PD is hosting. Friday. Today. The day after he returns from a week-long absence.

What does he want it to look like, you ask?

He wants me to make the seal of the FBI National Academy; he'll be attending it (Quantico, Virginia) this spring. He'll be gone for THREE MONTHS!!!

Anyway, seals are pretty simple, right?

I'm attaching the picture he gave me... before he left for a week-long Chiefs of Police conference in New Orleans.

Like I said, I've been up past midnight every night for seven straight nights. Here is the result of all my work...

I have to admit, it looks pretty good.

Or it did. Before I threw it at him.


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Devil Made Me Do It

If you've already seen this, I'm sorry.

If you haven't seen it, you probably don't want to and WILL be sorry.

Two Brooms

Two brooms were hanging in the closet and after a while they got to know each other so well, they decided to get married.

One broom was, of course, the bride broom, the other the groom broom.

The bride broom looked very beautiful in her white dress. The groom broom was handsome and suave in his tuxedo. The wedding was lovely.

After the wedding, at the wedding dinner, the bride-broom leaned over and said to the groom-broom, "I think I am going to have a little whisk broom!"

"IMPOSSIBLE!" said the groom broom.

(Are you ready for this?

Brace yourself; this is going to hurt!)


(Sounds to me like she's…


sweeping around!)

I TOLD you you'd be sorry!

Monday, October 15, 2007

It’s Baa-aa-aack!!

Last Monday (a week ago) we had a moderate rain shower. No big deal. During the rain our electricity blinked off and back on once or twice, and went off to stay at about 4:30 pm.

This has become an all-too-common event the last few months. We called in the outage and waited. After 5:00 we called back to check on the status. There was no answer.

Okay, it was after office hours. But the same number is supposed to be picked up by an answering service after hours, so that outages can be reported 24-7.

Long story short — the office folks had forgotten to switch the phones over. We finally called a power generation plant, explained our problem, and their personnel transferred our call back to the repair group. After nearly two hours, the power was restored and we were assured by the repair crew that they had found the source of ALL of our summer-long problems, and fixed it! No more outages! WOO-HOO!

Meanwhile, the bread Carol was baking fell, the computer didn’t run, the laptop worked on battery but the cable modem lost power so we had no internet, no TV, etc. We ate dinner and read by flashlight.

That was last Monday. Yesterday (Sunday), we had another shower, and GUESS WHAT HAPPENED?

Good guess.

At 6:10 pm the power went out! Yes, we reported it. Yes, we were disgusted.

At 7:20 I drove around the block and found the repair crew working on the same transformer they had “fixed” 6 days earlier. “It’ll just be a little while,” they assured me. At 9:00 pm the lights came back on.

End of story? Oh, no!

The one “corded” phone in our house rang while we were sitting in the dark. My daughter Christina was calling to tell me that half a continent away in Tampa, her toilet had “exploded” spraying water all over their bathroom floor and beyond. She was able to get the water turned off, and wanted advice on how to proceed. (This was a Sunday evening, remember.)

Without boring you with outcomes, I’d just like to ask a question:

Do you think it was coincidence that at the same time on a Sunday evening over a thousand miles apart I experienced a total electrical failure and she had a catastrophic plumbing failure?



In fact, it won’t surprise me at all to learn that some of you, my dedicated readers, ALSO experienced some electrical, plumbing, appliance, auto, or other breakage or outages this past weekend. You can let me know by comment.

Just when we were lulled into a false sense of security, the “C” is back! And I don’t think it’s over yet, not by a long shot!

So if you haven’t been affected yet, get ready. Put your defenses in place (whatever those might be). Steel your nerves. Gird your loins. Strengthen your resolve. (Pick your favorite metaphor.)

Maybe, somehow, we can all get through it with our lives intact and our bank accounts not completely emptied.

We’ll see.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A wonderful opportunity (true story)

A local small-town family physician retired a few years ago to the dismay of many of his regular patients. He was well-beloved and respected for his down-to-earth manner and obvious care for those who sought his expertise and treatment.

Retirement soon proved a bore. He missed seeing patients; but he didn't miss the paperwork, files, insurance claims, billings, and all the rest.

A dilemma. Should he come out of retirement, and put up with all the hassles? Or should he contiune to miss doing what he loved most—helping people?


He presented himself to a local industrial plant of nearly 2,000 employees with an offer. He would come to the plant two afternoons a week and see anyone who wished to see him. He would educate, diagnose, prescribe, and treat. He would refer to specialists if needed. He would order lab work if needed. He would NOT do paperwork, claims forms, billing, etc.

The "patients" would not pay a single dime for his services (but any drugs, lab work, specialist visits, etc., was out of their insurance or pocket.) Rather, the plant would pay him by the hour; and that hourly rate would be just high enough to cover the cost of his malpractice insurance and keeping his license to practice current.

Well, did it work?

It was ideal! Employees who would otherwise stay home from work to see a doctor came to their job and saw him. Those who would otherwise come in sick and hope to get better, saw him. Those who typically put off seeing a doctor unless they were at death's door saw him. The result was early detection and intervention, and a lot fewer sick days.

The doctor decided he was having so much fun that two afternoons a week were not enough. So he approached my little plant to see if we could use him one afternoon a week for a few hours.

He came for the first time on Wednesday. We only announced his impending visit on the day before, and had no idea if anyone would come to see him or not. We asked him to stay for two hours and see who showed up.

He ended up staying for four hours and saw 20 people! He arranged for follow-up visits for a few with high blood pressure. He diagnosed incipient bronchitis and prescribed an antibiotic. He told one man that his painful, swollen finger was not broken, just bruised . . . And the stories are still coming in.

When he left, he exclaimed, "Damn, that was fun!"

He'll be back each Wednesday afternoon for the rest of October, and then we'll re-evaluate how often he needs to come.

Since our health insurance is self-funded (meaning the company pays the claims, up to a limit), I figure we're saving on insurance claims. Employees are saving the co-pay for an office visit. Convenience and low cost (free!) mean employees will see the doctor before they get so sick they miss work.

Gee, is there a down side here that I'm missing?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

How hard can this be?

Subject: A routine pre-employment drug screen.
(With apologies to Zinnia Hope, a wonderful writer who live in West Virginia and does NOT embody the stereotypes portrayed herein.)

My company offered “Sam” an engineering position contingent upon a successful drug screen. Trouble is, Sam lives in West “By God” Virginia, and we’re in “Thank God!” Texas.

I asked our local drug testing provider, a company operated by a very efficient lady named “Kay,” to help us arrange for a drug screen to be performed in Sam’s home town with the results transmitted to us. Kay provided the name of a urine-sample-collection outfit with the proper credentials, chain-of-custody protocols, etc., and I asked Sam to drop by the place on a Thursday to leave a sample.

All arrangements had been made.

Sam presented himself late Thursday afternoon to produce the needed sample, but was told they couldn’t accept one. Why? Well, Kay had told them what “panel” needed to be run, but the word hadn’t been passed to the collection folks. They can’t print a label for the sample unless they know which panel is needed. And they can’t accept a sample without a label, because the donor must sign the label for proper chain-of-custody proof. So, no panel = no label = no test on Thursday.

Sam called me. I could have told them what panel to run, but they wouldn’t accept the info from me. It had to come from Kay. Kay couldn’t be reached, so Sam left to return the next day. On Friday, a sample was provided. The collection folks said they would send it off to the pre-arranged lab, and the results should be available "by Tuesday . . . or Wednesday at the latest.”

Now if the sample had been provided and properly shipped off on Thursday, the results would have been available by Friday afternoon or Monday morning, but. . .

Time passed. Monday came and went. Tuesday afternoon came and Sam called me to ask if we have results yet. (No, he wasn't nervous. But he wanted to give his two weeks’ notice to his present employer, and we advised him NOT to do so until the drug test results were in.) Kay called the lab for us, but the sample results were not available yet.

By noon Wednesday we still had no news. I called Kay. About an hour later she called back. It seems that the folks in West “By God” Virginia had sent the sample to the wrong testing lab, whose technicians had no instructions concerning where to send the results. Absent that information, they elected not to run the sample at all, but to send it back. (Note: There may have been some logic in that decision somewhere, but it escapes me. Couldn’t they call? But that’s water under the bridge.) The sample was en route back to the collection point; delivery date and time unknown.

By Thursday morning the collection point had still not received the nomadic sample, so I asked Kay if she could locate a DIFFERENT testing agency who would run a saliva drug test (like we do here in Texas) because that test provides results on the spot in about 5 minutes!

Kay located a lab and provided me with a business name, address, phone number, contact name, driving directions, and assurances that, again, all details had been arranged. I passed this on to Sam, now a full week after he had first tried to be drug tested. Sam left work early to drive to this lab.

Upon arrival and identification, Sam was told that they couldn’t “do” his sample yet. Why not? They were waiting for a phone call from Texas to find out the payment arrangements (as in, who was going to PAY for the test, and how).

Sam waited. Then he went back to the desk and . . . Well, here’s how the dialogue went:

Sam: “When are they supposed to call you back?”

Girl: “I don’t know. Soon, I think.”

Sam (unconvinced): “Do you have their number? I’ll call THEM.”

Girl: “Uh, no. I didn’t get a number.”

Sam: “Well, who was the call supposed to come from? I’ll call my contact there and we’ll expedite this call.”

Girl: “Uh, I didn’t get her name.”

Sam (exuding patience): “Okay. We don't know who's going to call you or when. Tell me, please, how much does the test cost?”

Girl (brightly): “It costs $55.”

Sam: “Tell you what . . . I’LL pay for it. Do you take Discover?”

Girl: “Uh, no.”

Sam (grinding his teeth): “How about American Express?”

Girl: “No. Uh, sorry!”

Sam (nearly at the “losing it” point): “Okay, I’ll write you a personal check. Or would you prefer cash?”

Girl: “Uh, we don’t take those either.”

Sam (with his last vestige of self control slipping away): “Well, what the hell DO you take?”

Girl (brightly): “Oh, we only take money orders.”

Sam (snarling): “Well, gee. I don’t happen to have one of those, so I guess I’ll just leave now. Goodbye!”

The slam of the door registered on the seismograph in nearby Charleston, measuring a strong 3.4 on the Richter scale.

Seething, Sam called me on his cell phone as he drove home. I was in a committee meeting for a non-work but work-related activity and couldn’t take the call. He left a message. I’ll leave the contents of the message to your imagination.

The next morning (Friday, for those of you keeping track) the ORIGINAL sample showed up, was run, and the results were communicated back to me as negative!

I called Sam and told him that if he still wanted to work for us after all that fiasco he should give his notice because the offer was now confirmed!

I thought he might be upset or concerned about our apparent inability to properly arrange things. But to my surprise HE apologized to me! I asked him why.

He replied, “That’s just the way things are in West “By God” Virginia. That’s why I want to move back to Texas!”

He’s scheduled to start on Monday, October 29.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Chicago, Chicago! I'll Show You Around. . .

Ah! Beautiful downtown Chicago!

Especially on a gorgeous fall day with a fresh breeze blowing out of the northwest, clear skies, low humidity, and temperatures in the 60s.

The shot below of the new Trump Tower (left, under construction) beside the Chicago river will give you an idea of the kind of weather we enjoyed.

Carol and I and daughter Elizabeth took a roughly 7-mile walking tour around the Chicago loop and Streeterville. I'll show you a few of the highlights.

We found a children's park and playground that was tucked away in a neighborhood very close to the downtown skyscrapers. That was unique in itself, but we couldn't resist this drinking fountain.

Daughter Elizabeth simply adores anything to do with turtles and tortoises (she can tell you the difference -- in fact her one pet is a Mediterranean marginated desert tortoise named Brutus).

Below Elizabeth poses with the sculpture.

And here it seems she and the happy tortoise are sharing a funny joke.

We were intrigued by some of the acrhitecture of the Chicago town homes we found. In the picture below each has a different style, color, and surface for its facade. But to further delineate where one stops and the next starts, they aren't quite parallel to the street. Rather, each one angles just slightly toward the street, and then the next one is offset back about 3-4 feet and again angles forward.

It's an interesting effect.

You'd never know you were within a few blocks of the bustling downtown business areas.

The house in the center below is another example of a unique facade, color, entryway, fence, and roof.

Take a closer look at the fence. Fancy, no?

We had walked quite a long way north from the river to the edge of Lincoln park, and then turned back south along a different street.

Once back in the downtown area we walked along LaSalle Street for a number of blocks, and at one point passed not far from the city's huge public library. It's the red building below with the greenish roof.

I thought the sculptures at the roof's corners were gargoyles, but they're not. Have a closer look.

We continued south on LaSalle until we reached the huge Chicago Board of Trade building, with the statue of Ceres (the goddess of grain) on top. The we turned east on Jackson Street to head back towards our starting point near the lakefront.

As we walked along what we thought was Jackson Street, Carol snapped the shot below.

Can you read the sign on the building?

If not, here's a close-up.

We stopped. We had been walking on LaSalle street before, and then we had turned on Jackson. We thought!

We turned around and walked several blocks back the way we had come. When we arrived at the place we had turned, sure enough the intersection was plainly marked and we HAD come south on LaSalle and we HAD turned east on Jackson.

Confused, we turned around and retraced our steps on Jackson, checking the street signs at every corner. Then we found the LaSalle St. sign on the side of the building again. This time we ignored it and kept going. We still have no idea why it's there.

The last photos are taken along Michigan Avenue shopping district, known as the Magnificent Mile.

Along the sidewalks are huge fenced-in planting areas in which the city each year plants all manner of gorgeous non-native flowers and shrubs that seem to thrive during the summer.

See Below. . .

Daughter Elizabeth (pictured at the far left in the shot below) told us that each fall as the temperatures begin to drop and all the plants would otherwise freeze, the city sends out trucks to take them all out of the planters.

What to they do with them? I have no idea.

In many of the planting areas were (somewhat strange, in my opinion) displays like the one below.

It's a partial manikin with a leather top and a skirt made from textbooks.

Either art, or a new back-to-school look.

I think I'll go with art.

End of tour. Hope you enjoyed Chicago.

We certainly did!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

On to Indiana

After 5 days of golf in Georgia, we hit the road and headed north.

I kept telling Carol, "North, Miss Tessmacher! North!" (Think Gene Hackman in the movie "Superman.")

We spent the night in Indianapolis, and then went farther north to South Bend where we found a GORGEOUS golf course called Blackthorn. It was probably in the best condition of all the courses we played on the trip. On about the 5th hole we looked up a hillside and saw a creature nosing about. Was it a squirrel?

Carol took the camera and eased closer and closer until she took this shot. It sure didn't look like it had a bushy tail.

She crept closer still, and stopped when the creature sat up on its hind legs and looked at her. To her amazement, it asked her if she knew what day this was!

She was too dumbfounded to answer, so it told her, "Humph! It's GROUNDHOG DAY!"

"So, what're YOU looking at?!"

"If you come any closer, I'm diving down my hole. I mean it!"

"Okay. Goodbye!" And he was gone.

But when Carol turned around to see where the creature had been looking over her shoulder, she saw the REAL reason he dove for cover!

This red-tailed hawk had a lean and hungry look as he stared down towards his would-be lunch!

We played on through the turn and approached the 14th tee. Look what we saw there...

This was NOT the same groundhog, so it must indeed have been the local version of Groundhog Day (although we never did see Bill Murray.)

This one too sat up and posed for the camera briefly before scurrying away in an apparent fright.

Carol again looked behind her to see if any threat loomed, and sure enough...

When she turned back around she had JUST enough time to catch one last look at the hawk's desired lunch before it (he) darted away out of sight.

The remainder of the golf was uneventful.

NEXT: On to Chicago!