Changes in Latitude

By | December 17, 2019

I enjoy travel. I mean, I’d pretty much have to, or it wouldn’t make much sense for me to work as a trainer who travels all over the USA two thirds (if not more) of each year, right?

But even though I take pleasure in memories of places I’ve been, I spend as least as much time fantasizing about places I haven’t been, and feeling inferior because of the relatively pedestrian accomplishments I have on that front.

I’ve been just about everywhere in the USA. All fifty states. I can stand in front of a departures board at a major airport and count on one hand the domestic airports on the list that I haven’t been to.

But…

I’ve never been to the Southern Hemisphere — I know several people who’ve been to Australia and/or New Zealand.

I’ve never been to east or southeast Asia — I know people who go to Japan and Singapore and places like that for work all the time.

I haven’t been to Antarctica or to the Arctic. One friend of mine from work has done both — visiting Barrow, AK one year and Antarctica another year.

I’ve never been to Israel or anywhere else bordering the Mediterranean. Some friends have done the standard Holy Land tours and others have done the Barcelona-to-Rome Mediterranean cruise thing. My sister, who served in the US Army in Germany, got to do a bona-fide Aegean vacation at one point, even.

Certainly, I’ve gotten around more than some, but again, only to pretty easy-to-get-to places. Curacao (for a week), the Bahamas, Jamaica, and the Cayman Islands (a Caribbean cruise) England (London only, for four days or so), France (Paris and Normandy, for eight days), Denmark (five days) and a bunch of coastal stopovers on a Baltic cruise (Germany, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and St Petersburg in Russia). Many places in Canada. Tijuana and Cozumel in Mexico. Nothing that required 12 hours on a plane. Nothing that required packing winter clothing for a July vacation.

So… this coming year, unless something happens to change our plans dramatically, we’re going to, um, Wyoming and South Dakota.

We thought about doing Ireland/Scotland or Switzerland/southern Germany/etcetera, but when the smoke had cleared, I had reservations in hand for June flights to and from Rapid City, so I guess it’s pretty much decided. My family did a big driving vacation around the Black Hills and Yellowstone when I was in high school, but Carole’s never seen that area, and for some reason, the thought of renting an RV and driving around appealed to us enough to go ahead and confirm the trip.

This whole thing came up, for me, this morning in the shower when I absent-mindedly found myself wondering which was further north, Porvoo, Finland or Juneau, Alaska — and which, therefore, would represent my northernmost point. (I remembered later that I actually made it to Fraser, BC and Skagway, AK on that Alaska trip, both of which are further north than Juneau.) The answer turned out to be Porvoo.

Furthest north: Porvoo, Finland (60.3932° N, 25.6653° E)

Furthest south: Jan Thiel Beach, Curacao (12.0802° N, 68.8780° W)

Furthest east: St Petersburg, Russia (59.9343° N, 30.3351° E)

Furthest west: Koloa, Hawaii (21.9067° N, 159.4692° W)

I take casual note of the fact that Koloa and St Petersburg are more than 180 degrees of longitude apart going west from St Petersburg, so I’ve spanned a bit over half the Earth’s circumference.

Sigh. So many places to go, so little time. And money. And sanity. Maybe one year I’ll make it to Switzerland and Scotland and Australia and New Zealand and Ouagadougou.

 

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Sadfishing

By | December 4, 2019

Photo by Patrice Alsteen

I learned a new term today: “sadfishing“. To quote Urban Dictionary, sadfishing is “The practice of writing about one’s unhappiness or emotional problems on social media, especially in a vague way, in order to attract attention and sympathetic response.”

In other words, posting a lot of moody, sad pictures, woe-is-me out of context messages, and so forth, but never actually coming right out and saying “PAY ATTENTION TO ME”.

Sadfishing is hitting the news all over the place lately, and a lot of the media coverage is focusing on the “when you sadfish, you’re giving bullies ammunition, so don’t” aspect. When celebrities are seen “sadfishing”, they’re trying to get attention and impressions; when a kid in the ninth grade does it, it’s probably more of a genuine cry for help from someone in emotional turmoil, but that doesn’t mean that the class asshole is going to be Mister Sensitive and treat it that way.

As an admitted attention-seeker, I can certainly understand where the urge to sadfish might come from. You want the attention, but you don’t want to be seen wanting attention. And I’ll grant that if social media had been a thing when I was in high school and college, I’d probably have sadfished with the best of them. Was I depressed all the time? Yes. Did I want sympathy and attention? You bet.

But I’m not a teenager now (I’m 52) and I’d really rather not be seen as acting like one. And that’s why I’ve tried to avoid posting much of anything on Facebook and Twitter for some time now; I know how mawkish and pathetic I tend to get and it’s better not to post anything at all given how messed up my brain typically is.

However, as some of you have noticed, from time to time I post woe-is-me blog entries where I apologize for everything under the sun and all but do a “GOODBYE CRUEL WORLD I WON’T BE POSTING ANY MORE” thing. If that comes across as excessively over-the-top attention-seeking behavior, I’m sorry. It probably is. I kind of wish I could take back those blog entries and just disappear.

Is it sadfishing when you explicitly say “Boy, I’m depressed and I’m sorry for how badly I’ve behaved over the years?” I’d argue that it’s not — you have to be trying to be subtle and acting like you’re not trying to be noticed.

Is it, on the other hand, pathetic to moan and groan overtly about how awful you are in blog entry after blog entry?

Well, yeah.

Newsflash: I’m pathetic.

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Salsa

By | October 19, 2019

We planted lots of chile and bell peppers in every color and size and degree of hotness (well, just about) and chopped them all up into a container of, well, chile hash — which we then used today to make 12 quarts of salsa.

Ideally, we’d have used homegrown tomatoes as well, but we didn’t focus on paste tomatoes in our garden — mostly, we got zillions of cherry and currant tomatoes and a few other varieties, but not enough. Instead, we bought nine large containers of roma tomatoes from Costco, added a lot of sweet onion, green onion, cilantro, and garlic — and then got down to the serious business of boiling it all up and canning.

Jay very carefully used me as a barometer to know how much chopped chile to add to the salsa; he added a bit at a time and stirred and had me taste and so on until I said “that’s probably enough, definitely don’t add any more.”

We don’t do this sort of thing as a rule — it’s been years since we did any serious gardening, but as the photos show, this year we got into raised plants and container gardens in a big way.

Next year, having learned what worked well and what didn’t work, we’ll probably grow fewer varieties of tomatoes and more of the specific kinds we really liked. As for the chiles — well, who knows what Jay will do next year? (Answer: not even Jay.)

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How You Know You’ve Spent Way Too Many Nights In Hotels

By | October 18, 2019

I’ve been in this job since May of 1998. A job that requires a lot of travel — usually a couple of flights to get to some distant city in the USA on Sunday or Monday and a couple of flights to get back home that Friday or Saturday. And in between — a lot of hotel stays. My employer has, for a long time, had a ‘preferred’ relationship with the extended Hilton chain of hotels — Embassy Suites, Doubletree, Hampton Inn, Homewood Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, and so on — which means we get a better rate if we stay there, which of course keeps my employer happy.

You stay in Hilton properties sixty nights in a year, they give you “Diamond” status and you get the occasional upgrade and so on … but you also get increased points for your stays, and points translate into free rooms at a later date, which get to use, which makes me happy and makes Carole even happier. We once stayed in a Hilton a couple of blocks from the Arc de Triomphe in downtown Paris — six nights — for free. It would have been something like $800 a night had we been paying.

But today I found out what happens if you stay in Hilton properties 1,000 nights (and you manage to earn Diamond level status for ten or more years) …

I got a nice little welcome kit in the mail today, certifying me as Lifetime Diamond, meaning that I’ll always have Diamond status even if I don’t actually stay enough nights in a given year to earn that status. The kit included a luggage tag, of which one can never have too many; a metal membership card instead of a cheap plastic one; a little note telling me how awesome I am; and a pair of free Bose Soundsport earbuds. I’ll probably wind up just giving those to Carole because if I take them along with me on trips I’ll just wind up losing them.

Still, even though I guess it’s kind of nice to be all Mr. Lifetime Diamond and that, it’s also a little sobering to realize just how many nights away from home I’ve had over the years. A thousand nights over 22 years (and occasionally nights in other chains as well, which obviously don’t count toward my Hilton total) is really a hell of a lot.

So hey. I’m Mr. Lifetime Diamond.

Woo!

(Parenthetically, this kit — and the status it bestowed — arrived three days before I’m coincidentally scheduled to roll over the odometer and become a million mile flier on United. That’s nothing compared to the poor bastards who fly every day or who fly to Japan or Europe each week, but it’s a lot for people who do what I do.)

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Hey, I Was In A Movie!

By | October 15, 2019

So: I’m a featured subject in a just-released documentary film.

For reals.

The documentary is titled “Orchestrating Change” and is all about Me2/Orchestra, the orchestra I’ve been playing French horn in since 2011. Me2/Orchestra was founded to raise awareness and fight stigma about the realities of mental illness. The members of the orchestra run the gamut of conditions — bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum, anxiety, and everything in between — but you don’t have to have mental illness to be a member. The orchestra is specifically “for individuals with mental illnesses and the people who support them” — so anyone who plays an instrument can join it. We form a model organization, in which people with and without mental illnesses work together in an environment of acceptance and mutual support.

Emmy-award-winning creators Barbara Multer-Wellin and Margie Friedman heard about Me2/Orchestra a few years ago and immediately realized that this group of amazing people would make for an equally amazing documentary. They spent several months (spread across about two years) visiting Burlington and Boston, spending time with the members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington and the newer Me2/Orchestra Boston — then went back to Los Angeles to do the hard work of compiling all the stories and pain and accomplishment into one incredible documentary.

It was screened here in Burlington at Main Street Landing Performing Arts Center the evening of October 12 and then was screened repeatedly in Boston over the following days. As one of the featured participants in the film, I was asked to be part of a roundtable discussion after the showing, along with the other featured members of Me2/Orchestra Burlington.

I wish I could share the whole movie with everyone I know because it really is a phenomenal, outstanding picture. In my opinion, it really tells the story of Me2/Orchestra in the way that we hoped it would be told — revealing the members as musicians, friends, people — showing that those who suffer from mental illness can still have prodigious talent and creativity. Since it’s not yet in wide release (they’re still working on that), I can point you to the website for Orchestrating Change, the film, which has a lot of nice resources including a few short scenes from the film and a printable discussion guide. There’s also a nice article in the Boston Globe that’s worth a look.

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Pumpkin Spice Spam

By | September 29, 2019

Pumpkin Spice Spam was a thing — for about four hours on September 23, 2019.

Then it was sold out, gone, possibly never to reappear on the national scene.

Hormel made Pumpkin Spice Spam available in two-packs from their own website — with a limit on one two-pack per customer — but also sold it through the Walmart.com website, with no limit on how much you could buy. Until, of course, it sold out. If I understand correctly, Hormel’s own site sold out within four hours or so of the 8 am EDT launch time, and Walmart made it a few hours longer before they, too, had none left to sell.

Because I’m a complete idiot, I of course had the launch hour and date programmed into my calendar; I’d even set up a Facebook event so others could ‘attend’ and get a reminder when the stuff went on sale.

I sitting on a plane waiting to take off (heading through Chicago to Nebraska) when the launch time came but was able to get my official sold-by-Hormel two-pack purchased before we left the runway. It wasn’t easy to get my order in; when eight a.m. came and I launched the site from my smartphone, the site crashed, and crashed, and crashed, and crashed some more. I knew this meant that demand for the stuff was going absolutely through the roof. But it finally came up and let me get my credit card information entered just seconds before we took off. Yay!

I hit the Walmart site once I got to Chicago and was in cell reception again … and was super-excited to find that they hadn’t put any kind of limit at all on how many packs you could buy.

As Carole has often quoted me as saying, “if a thing’s worth doing it’s worth overdoing.”

So I purchased five more two-can packs, for a total of six packs and twelve cans, figuring that would last me long enough for me to get sick of it.

I know you’re asking, “Jay, why the hell did you want some in the first place?”

The answer is simple: “just for the sheer gormless pointlessness of the whole thing. And also because I kind of like grilled Spam. But mostly just to be stupid.”

Fact is, I’d read reviews prior to launch from various foodie website saying that Pumpkin Spice Spam didn’t actually suck and would probably go well with breakfast. And that it wasn’t actually pumpkin-y at all, instead having a mild nutmeg-and-cinnamon taste. So why not try some while I could?

The stuff came while I was in Nebraska and Carole Ieft it all waiting for me on the entryway table. Upon arriving home I greeted the Spam with glad cries and entertained myself by making a little tower of the two-packs (and taking a photo) before squirreling them safely away.

We waited until Saturday to try the stuff. I opened a can, sliced it neatly into six equal slices, and cooked it in a grill pan with a little canola oil.

Carole, bless her heart, didn’t refuse outright to try some. And she didn’t think it was awful or anything. But, let’s let these photos tell the tale:

Despite her dour look, she said she didn’t actually dislike it, but it wasn’t anything she saw a reason to camp out for. So to speak.

Me? I pretty much liked it. I think it might even have been better if the nutmeg-and-cinnamon flavor had been a little stronger. It certainly wasn’t overwhelmingly spiced or cloyingly flavored.

Long story short — it wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped it would be, but was much less awful than I feared it could be. Hormel clearly tried to do a good job here and wasn’t just mailing it in or going for humor value alone. If it was available annually I’m sure I’d keep buying it. As it is, I have no doubt that I’ll make my way through the remaining eleven cans in due course.

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Wafflemania

By | September 11, 2019

I don’t do Facebook much — that’s why I tend to be ignorant of news like “oh, alligators ate my left leg a month ago” until everyone else on the planet, up to and including the pool guys in cities a thousand miles north of the alligator line, knows the story.

But I do find a few things about Facebook’s content amusing. One is the Employees-of-Waffle-House closed group I somehow got added to. Every day is a soap opera like you would not believe.

People get into actual flamewars over whose manager is right about the order in which waffles and biscuits are supposed to be called to the cooks. And whether it’s even acceptable to make pancakes using waffle batter:

“OUR NAME IS NOT ‘PANCAKE HOUSE’. WE DO NOT MAKE PANCAKES!!!”

vs

“Hell, if it keeps the three year old who wants a pancake happy, we’ll cook him a damn pancake.”

Cue 900 follow-up messages taking every conceivable side of the issue. Including whether the aliens at Area 51 are somehow manipulating American waffle production for their own purposes.

It kind of makes you wonder what other closed employee-only groups there are out there — is there a group for American park rangers to bitch about things like the bear in the hat and necktie who keeps stealing picnic baskets? Or a group for Starbucks employees to bitch about the customers who complain because their latte is precisely two degrees too hot, with graphic descriptions of the tortures the baristas would like to subject said customers to? Or a group for pool guys to vent about all the alligators they’re finding in pools lately and how it’s not due to global warming, but rather, due to changes in pool chemical formulation?

Alligators, man. What are you going to do?

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September 13, 1997

By | September 10, 2019

Carole and I tied the knot on a sultry North Carolina afternoon just shy of 22 years ago — September 13, 1997.

That date was picked because:

  • it was the night of a full moon and we thought that was romantic in some strange way
  • it was a week before my 30th birthday and I was semi-determined to be married before the odometer turned over

One could make a case that having an outdoor wedding at 5:30 pm on a Saturday in September was asking for trouble — if I recall correctly, the temperature was in the high 80s and in any event, the moon wasn’t even visible from the patio next to the carp pond at the Sarah P Duke Gardens. By the time we were all legal and everything, all our guests were pretty hot and uncomfortable from standing around, and perhaps as a result, we wound up with a lot of uneaten food at the reception; no one seemed to have much appetite.

On a positive note, though, Carole’s grandfather did not fall into the carp pond in mid-ceremony, though there were certainly enough people in the audience who fully expected him to do so. He’d crept around to the back side of the carp pond, slippery rocks and all, with his camera, intent on getting some shots from that side — only to wind up windmilling his arms trying to maintain his balance. Carole and I could have stripped naked mid-ceremony and danced the lambada and I don’t think anyone would have noticed; Grandfather Odum had upstaged us.

In any event, I suspect that if people had been in a betting mood, there would have been some money put down on “it’ll last a year. Maybe.” You’ve probably all been to weddings where you just had the sense that the marriage was doomed before it started, that both the bride and the groom would, in short order, be spending their evenings at various dive bars irritably tossing back shots and griping about what a jackass their ex was.

Somehow we’ve made it through. I have no idea how. I’m a jackass. Carole’s a jackass. We’re both jackasses. I guess we deserve each other.

We never had kids — this is kind of a sore subject with Carole, who hates hearing me moon on about how I wish we could’ve. But anyone who knows us knows what terrible parents we would have been. We’re just one eyestalk each shy of basically being mutants, and no kid needs to grow up with that much crazy in their life.

Things have, somehow, worked out.

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