News: An apparently disturbed woman, armed with a shotgun, takes hostages in a Florida bank, leading to a standoff with police and her eventual capture.
Best part is this quote from a hostage: "She said George W. Bush was trying to kill her. I honestly don't think she was in the right state of mind."
News: An apparently disturbed woman, armed with a shotgun, takes hostages in a Florida bank, leading to a standoff with police and her eventual capture.
Once upon a time, the stylish robber wore a single nylon stocking over his head to disguise his identity. Then, pantyhose came along and gave robbers that bunny-eared look a la "Raising Arizona."
But underwear styles keep changing, as shown in these surveillance photos of two robbers whose faces are scantily covered by thongs.
Can't you just hear them at home: "Damn, Lucinda, ain't you got underwear with more coverage?"
Psychologists tell us that moving is one of the leading causes of stress, right up there with divorce or the death of a spouse or having your beloved daughter announce that she's marrying a biker named Snake.
Those other stressors may occur only once or twice in a lifetime, but moving can happen repeatedly and stress results each time. Whether you are moved by professionals or by your drunken buddies who own pickup trucks, getting all your stuff from one location to another can strain your nerves.
Beyond the act of moving itself, there's so much to be arranged. You must set up new utility connections and bank accounts and lawn services. You must find new doctors and dentists and barbers and bartenders.
There's a huge learning curve when you move. Things you took for granted at your old address -- the all-night convenience store, the crazy neighbor, the location of the light switches in your house -- all change when you move. You have to find a new store, learn which switch turns on the kitchen light and which one grinds the garbage disposal, identify which of your new neighbors is the fruitcake.
Plus, you must find new places to store all your stuff. At your old house, you knew exactly where you kept, say, the toolbox. In your new home, the tools will be hidden away inside one of 743 mislabeled boxes in your garage. Good luck if you need a screwdriver.
All this arranging and learning and locating generates stress, so much so that moving can result in a "domino effect" of other stressors such as divorce or the death of a spouse.
Because my family has endured relocation without a divorce or anyone getting killed (so far), I now feel qualified to give you the following Helpful Tips for Surviving a Move:
--Lower your expectations.
Many of us approach a move with unreasonable expectations that all our stuff will arrive intact and will fit into our new homes. Instead, think of moving as a Darwinian experience. Survival of the fittest. If your favorite antiques are destroyed and/or lost in the move, then it was "their time to go." You can replace them with a new generation of furnishings. Perhaps something in stainless steel.
--Recognize that moving is stressful for the whole family.
Sure, the adults feel it the most. They're the ones who must pay for the move, get the new utilities hooked up, etc… But we must remember that kids suffer stress, too, and it may cause them to act out. Adults should be gentle with their children during these times. Otherwise, the kids might start entertaining proposals of marriage from bikers, just to escape the new, stress-filled home.
--Take care of yourself physically.
Eat right, get enough sleep, don't push yourself too hard. Above all, don't overexert while doing unaccustomed physical activity. When a couch potato starts tossing around 50-pound boxes of books, injury is sure to result. Remember this tip: You know the box you're lifting is too heavy if you can see your face getting red . . . from the inside.
--Keep your sense of humor intact.
Laughing your way through stress remains a good survival technique. Try to enjoy the absurdity of the situation. For example, all of us who have used professional movers have stories about how they carefully wrap and pack full ashtrays or trashcans containing smelly garbage. If you keep your sense of humor in such cases, there's less chance that you might go after the moving men with a box cutter.
During our last move, my moment of mirth came while I was unpacking my home office. I found in one box, carefully wrapped in layers and layers of protective packing paper . . . wait for it . . . a ream of typing paper.
This discovery caused me to roll on the floor, laughing until tears sprang from my eyes and drool dotted my shirtfront.
Yeah, I know, it doesn't seem so funny now. But it was just the dose of hysteria I needed at the time.
Must've been the stress.
This week's advice to young lawbreakers: If you're going to smoke pot and drink beer, then strip naked and have sex in your SUV, it's really better if the SUV's not moving at the time.
Extra points: The guy in the SUV is named "Van Hooser."
Many people have become so attached to their cell phones, they've become like gun owners -- you'll take their phones only when you pry them from their cold, dead hands.
Which, if they're using the phone while driving, is exactly what can happen.
Numerous studies have found that talking on a cell phone while behind the wheel is such a distraction, is so debilitating to attentiveness, the motorist might as well be driving drunk. All over the country, lawmakers are drafting bans on talking-on-the-phone-while-driving in an attempt to stem the rising tide of phone-related accidents.
(California's hands-free-phoning-only law takes effect July 1.)
Imagine my surprise then when, while thumbing through a business magazine, I saw this headline: "If You're a Windshield Warrior, Here's the Technology to Make Your Car Your Desk."
What followed was an article that described such hot new gizmos as hands-free cell phones, GPS navigation systems, wireless headphones, DVD players, satellite radio subscriptions and wireless Internet access. These technological wonders are described as "very cool new tools . . . to turn the cockpit of your car into a terrific office."
This makes as much sense as saying you can turn your office into a car. Or your airplane seat into a "flotation device."
Just when you thought it couldn't get any scarier on the roadways, here comes a whole new generation of motorist distractions. It's bad enough that other drivers are weaving all over the road, yakking with their friends and eating fast food while steering with their knees. Now we've got to worry that the guy in the speeding SUV next to us is reading his e-mail? Or, mapping out his next destination on a GPS locator? Or, God help us, watching "Mad Max" on his DVD?
Call me an old fogey (you wouldn't be the first; I've got teen-agers at home), but I remember when driving was considered a matter of complete concentration. Hands on the wheel at 10 and 2 o'clock, eyes on the road, mind on full alert. When you were driving, you weren't doing anything else.
Now, drivers are doing everything else, except watching where they're going. Which leaves the rest of us terrified, clutching the wheel in a death-grip while our fellow motorists drift from lane to lane.
You'll never catch me using a cell phone while driving. One, I don't feel competent enough as a driver or a cell phone user to do both at the same time. Two, I usually forget to take the phone with me so it languishes at home while I'm chugging around in my car. Three, I don't have so many friends or so much urgent business to conduct that I need to talk and drive at the same time. Phone calls can wait. I'm busy dodging the other gabbing motorists.
I'll never, ever, get those other technological toys to use in the car. It's just too dangerous. I love e-mail as much as the next fellow, but trying to manage it while behind the wheel could give a whole new meaning to the term "computer crash." A GPS locator? I'd rather be lost. Better to pull over and use a regular old road map. Or, (insert gasp of horror from male readership here) ask someone for directions.
But if you insist on using your car for an office, I have a suggestion. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on all these gimcracks, use the money to hire a chauffeur. Then you can sit in the back seat and work all you want while a professional handles the driving.
Hire a driver who can sing, and you won't even need the radio. Just make sure the chauffeur knows to hold it down when you're on the phone.
For those of us who work alone, our pets serve as our co-workers, our confidants, our sounding boards. But it's a relationship that's often rife with misunderstanding and envy.
Spend much time around a dog, for example, and you might start coveting his lifestyle of ease and simple pleasures. Or, at least, his round-the-clock nap schedule.
But how do our pets see us? When I'm in my home office, with my dog Elvis lazing nearby, is he watching me work? Trying to understand what I'm doing sitting still all day, trapped indoors when it's beautiful outside?
What do our pets think when they see us yakking on the phone for hours? Doesn't a telephone receiver look a lot like a chew toy? Does your pet think you're intently talking to your toy all day? Is he waiting for you to set down the phone so he can take a turn chewing on it?
The psychology of home-office pets has been much on my mind lately because I've enjoyed more "quality time" than usual with Elvis. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I drove halfway across the country with Elvis in the back seat. If you haven't spent three days on the road with a 70-pound dog with halitosis, then, friends, you simply haven't lived.
There was much concern at our house in the days leading up to the trip. Elvis, we realized, almost never travels by car. He only takes a ride when he's going to the groomer or the veterinarian. Fortunately, dogs have short memories. Elvis always is happy to get in the car, even though he hates the usual destinations.
But now we were talking about him spending three days in the car, traveling through unfamiliar territory with its strange sights and foreign smells. How would he react? Would he think we were on our way to the vet? And, as the hours roll past, would he start worrying that such a long vet trip was a signal that he was seriously ill? If it's a ten-minute drive to get a rabies shot, then three days on the road must mean surgery at least, right? The last time he had surgery was when he was neutered. And that's enough to worry anybody.
To prepare Elvis for the trip, I took him on a few short rides around town. More importantly, I consulted with our vet, who had the perfect solution: Drug the dog.
Seems there are doggie sedatives that make car trips one long snooze for a pooch. Give three little pills to Elvis, the vet said, and he'd sleep all day, so groggy he could barely get out of the car at rest stops.
It didn't exactly work that way. Elvis, it turns out, can handle his drugs like an old hippie. The pills made him very relaxed, but not too sleepy. He spent the trip with his head resting in the back window, watching the landscape whiz past. An extremely mellow dog and an absolute pleasure to travel with, if you discount the halitosis problem.
By the end of the trip, I envied Elvis like never before. After three days, I was a jangled, road-weary human with aching muscles, a bad attitude and no appetite. Elvis, on the other hand, was a well-rested, happy dog, though he did seem to suffer from the "munchies."
The sedatives had one negative side effect: Elvis really liked them. Now, he wants to ride in the car all the damned time. Every time he hears the garage door roll up, he starts jonesing for doggie dope. Dude, let's go for a ride.
I drove him to the groomer the other day, and he seemed truly disappointed when our drug-free journey ended after only five minutes. Then he got a bath and a haircut without the benefit of sedatives. Bummer.
We'll get through this rehab period. Elvis eventually will forget those three glorious days of purple haze. And I'll find some way to make him that happy again.
Maybe I'll let him chew up the phone.
An amorous young couple in a swank Vietnamese restaurant are discussing whether they believe in ghosts:
Him: "If I died, I'd still be looking down on you and you'd be doing my laundry and stuff and I'd be admiring how you do it--"
Her: "What the hell are you talking about?"
Summer's nearly officially here. That means it's time to experience the Great Outdoors from behind the controls of a lawn mower.
Lawn care is an important component of home ownership. If you want your property to maintain its value, it's imperative that you keep the grounds in pristine condition. This explains the origin of the term "sweat equity."
Yes, friends, it's time to sweat. It's time to mow and edge and fertilize and prune. It's time to spend every waking weekend hour with sweat stinging your eyes and exhaust fumes going up your nose and grass clippings stuck to your socks.
Maintaining a lawn is a form of insanity. We pour precious, expensive water on our grass so it will grow. Then we kill ourselves cutting it every week. Then more water. More mowing. More water. More sweat. You get the picture.
The alternative is xeriscaping, which means using less water and keeping your yard in a natural state. Presuming that anywhere in Nature exists a landscape of uniform gravel dotted with spiny plants, all underlaid with black plastic.
Some of us prefer the illusion of Eden. We want to walk around barefoot. So we opt for the lunacy of grass.
Lawn work can be maddening. A recent example: I set out to attack weeds in my yard. So vigorous was my attack that the head came off the old hoe I was using. I repaired the hoe and got after the weeds again. Then I went to rake up the victims. The head came off the rake. I fixed the rake, cleaned up the weeds. Then I employed the weed-whacker, which promptly ran out of trimmer line. I took this as a sign that it was time to surrender for the day and go indoors for something cool to drink: A margarita or four.
I once had a neighbor who spent all day every day working on his lawn, which was as smooth as a putting green. I couldn't understand why anyone would devote his entire life to maintaining grass. Then I met his wife, and it all became clear. As long as she was indoors, he'd stay outdoors. It was a form of detente.
Most of us, though, don't have the time or the desire to create a perfect lawn. We settle for a yard.
The terms "lawn" and "yard" often are used interchangeably, but they're two very different things. "Lawn" comes from the Latin word for "sweat." On the other hand, "yard" derives from the Anglo-Saxon term for dog poop.
Unclear on which you have? Let's look at the differences:
Lawns tend to be smooth and untouched. Yards have that lived-in look, and often feature a car up on blocks.
Lawns have clean edges. Yards have frontiers.
Lawns have ornaments. Yards have stuff.
Lawns tend to be weed-free and to consist of a single species of grass. Yards are inclusive -- social mixers where all plants are welcome.
Lawns are a consistent shade of green. Yards feature a broader pallette, heavy on browns and tans.
Lawns feel good on your bare feet, but you don't walk on them for fear of bending the grass. In yards, shoes are required, and steel-toed boots are recommended.
If you pay someone to tend your grounds, you probably have a lawn. (Or, you're getting ripped off.)
If you have children and/or a dog, you've probably got a yard. Go out and look at your property. If you find any of the following -- dog bones, soccer balls, old socks, used furniture or appliances, mysterious holes in the ground, marbles, Frisbees, cigar butts, soda bottles, beer bottles, last week's newspapers, last autumn's leaves, dirty dishes, anthills, termite mounds, fallen tree limbs, dandelions, spurge, cactus, sun-bleached toys or dead birds -- then, my friend, you have a yard.
If you'd like to turn your yard into a lawn, then you must work at it. You must attend to details such as dead birds. You must make sure your lawn-care tools are in good working order.
Preparation is the key, and hard, sweaty labor the answer.
A beautiful lawn awaits, Nature's own reward for all your work. But I'd keep a pitcher of margaritas handy, too.
Today we present an ode to the perfect block of time, an often-overlooked measure that has a magic all its own: 45 minutes.
Forty-five minutes is a temporal Eden, a slice of heaven, a just-right serving of our harried lives.
If you've got 45 minutes, you don't have to hurry. You can accomplish most anything in 45 minutes, if you have to. But if you must kill 45 minutes, you don't feel guilty like you would if you wasted a whole hour.
There's something intrinsically comforting about that three-quarters wedge of the clock face. No matter what odious task might await, you'll feel better when you look up at the clock and see you have 45 minutes to do it. Oh, you'll think, I've still got 45 minutes. I can take my time. (Or, conversely, if I hustle like hell, I can make it.) But it'll be okay. After all, I've got 45 minutes.
Most of us don't work more than 45 minutes straight. We take coffee breaks or potty breaks or gossip breaks. You put in a good 45 minutes' work, you feel like you've earned a trip to the water cooler.
You can get most anywhere in 45 minutes, unless you live in one of the really congested big cities. Somebody calls and says, "Can you meet me in 45 minutes," the answer almost always is "yes."
This makes 45 minutes the perfect social cushion. In 45 minutes, you can usually change clothes and still show up on time, more or less. If you're 45 minutes late to a social function, it's still "fashionably late." If you're 45 minutes early, you can always wait in the car. And, 45 minutes is the shortest amount of time you can stay at a dull party before gracefully making your escape.
Forty-five minutes is the absolute longest a speech should ever be. If you're the banquet speaker and you go past 45 minutes, you can rest assured that your audience has gone on to thinking about something else, such as fly-fishing. They need antacids and they need bathrooms and they need more drinks. Wrap your speech up quickly and sit down.
Forty-five minutes' notice is the minimum if you're showing up to someone's house without an advance invitation. Call us first. Tell us you'll be there in 45 minutes. In most households, that's enough time to frantically race about, picking up dirty socks and stray shoes and half-chewed doggie treats. We can get the house presentable in 45 minutes, if forced. Just don't look in the closets or under the beds.
You can do a load of laundry, start to finish, in 45 minutes, with the proper machine settings. This means you can wear the same jeans every day of your life, if you want.
You can read the whole newspaper in 45 minutes, and probably do the crossword puzzle. Leaf through a whole magazine. Pay all your bills.
Given 45 minutes, you'll tackle something you know will be time-consuming, such as ordering airline tickets on-line or cleaning the bathrooms. Less than that, and you'll likely put off the chore until later.
In 45 minutes, you can squeeze in a meal at a restaurant as long as you don't order anything too elaborate. It's always plenty of time for a snack, at least. You can pick up the phone right now and, in 45 minutes, a hot pizza will arrive at your door. Is this a great country or what?
Busy working parents know that 45 minutes is just enough time to catch our breaths. If an empty 45 minutes shows up unexpectedly in the middle of the day, it's a blessing. Enough time to take a real break. Thirty minutes never feels like enough -- we spend the whole time thinking about what we've got to do next. But, with 45 minutes, we can get a coffee, sit still for a little while, catch some quiet. Have a thought beyond the usual hurry, hurry, hurry.
And that 45 minutes might save your whole day.
From the news: A man in Louisville, KY, impersonates a police officer to lure a drunken woman into his car. He even flashes a badge. When authorities intervene, they discover:
--His badge says, "Official Boob Inspector, Department of Titillation."
--His name is Michael Myers, which is the same name/spelling as the serial killer in the "Halloween" films.
As spring blossoms into summer, we homeowners face the annual Monsoon of Gardening Catalogs.
These catalogs arrive as faithfully as robins in spring, and in greater numbers. Every day, the mailbox is stuffed with slick rags featuring gardening gizmos and patio furniture and whizbang tool-display racks for the garage.
The arrival of warm weather gives people an itch. We want to get outside, spiff things up, turn our weedy, potholed yards into "outdoor living spaces." The catalogs are timed to arrive at the exact moment that homeowners feel that itch.
These catalogs come under scores of different names, but you know which ones I mean. If they're selling rubber gardening clogs, you're in the right place.
We homeowners flip through these catalogs, and say, Whoa, look at this! I never would've thought of disguising my garden hose by hiding it inside a giant plastic tortoise "that looks like cast-bronze statuary!" I should buy one of these for a mere eighty bucks! Then I could waste an entire weekend placing and anchoring it!
Gardening catalogs give us unique insights into our society and the ways we are inspired to ruin our weekends.
For example, somewhere there's apparently a thriving industry in artificial boulders. The catalogs show page after page of "realistic" plastic boulders for use as hose-holders or address markers or hidey-holes for spare keys.
These boulders can't possibly be biodegradable, not if they're made to stand out in the weather, so they'll last forever. You have to wonder what they're going to think, centuries from now, when archeologists dig up fake rocks.
And what will they think about Soil Aerator Sandals? You see these in all the gardening catalogs. The soles are covered by steel spikes over an inch long. "Aerate your lawn -- easy as taking a walk!" The archeologists might assume we turn-of-the-century types were into kinky massages.
(Here's what would happen if I stomped around my lawn with spikes on my feet: I'd hit a tree root or something and be stuck fast. Would my family even answer my cries for help? They'd probably leave me out there as a lawn ornament, a convenient place to hide their spare keys.)
An ad for another item is headlined: "Disguise yourself as a dragonfly, and mosquitoes will leave you alone!" This immediately calls to mind a costume with antennae, diaphanous wings and a rod-like tail. No matter how much you're bothered by mosquitoes, such a get-up might give the wrong impression. ("Disguise yourself as a dragonfly, and the neighbors will leave you alone!")
But no, that's not the invention at all. It's a small electronic repeller you wear on your belt, which "simulates the low-frequency wingbeat sound of the dragonfly, the mosquito's mortal enemy!" Mosquitoes hear the clicking and "they turn tail and leave fast!"
Sounds wonderful. Here's my question: Are dragonflies attracted to this sound? If I use this product, will I be followed everywhere by swarms of aroused dragonflies? I might prefer the occasional mosquito.
Another hot gardening item: The new recoiling water hoses that "put themselves away." The hose looks like a giant green Slinky. Have you ever tried to untangle a Slinky? Get a foot caught in this hose, and you might find yourself tied up tighter than Houdini.
Then there's my favorite item, the "humane" trap for pesky varmints that dare enter your property to sniff your fake boulders. The cage-like trap always is depicted holding a well-groomed live skunk. The skunk looks very annoyed at being captured.
Here's what I always wonder: What do you do next? Once you've humanely captured the live skunk, how do you then get rid of it? When it was running around loose, the skunk was simply a problem. Now that you've caught it, it's become your responsibility. And you've made it mad.
Better to stay indoors in the first place. I've found the best use for all the gardening catalogs: Stack them up and use them as an ottoman. That way, you can stay on the sofa where you belong. And you won't scratch the good furniture with your Soil Aerator Sandals.
Our 16-year-old son always demonstrates a quick wit when it comes to evasion.
I find him in the kitchen, arms loaded with six different kinds of snack food. He's clearly headed for his bedroom, where Playstation awaits.
Me: "Hey, I thought you were helping with the housework."
Him (without missing a beat): "I'm cleaning out the pantry."
'Tis the season of garage sales, as millions of Americans try to unload their accumulated stuff on the unsuspecting public.
It's the Great Black Market of summer, the annual redistribution of wealth. People out in their yards in lawn chairs, marking down their worldly possessions.
We've all got too much stuff, piling up everywhere and thwarting every attempt to park in our own garages. So we sell off some of it, thin the herd, streamline things around the house.
And, before you know it, the house is jam-packed again, and it's time for another garage sale.
Why does this keep happening? Because we're buying stuff from our neighbors' garage sales, stuff they in turn got from garage sales years ago. The stuff goes round and round, and you end up buying a Salad Shooter that's just like the one you used to have . . .
There's a whole food chain of kitchen gizmos and baby furniture and bowling trophies circulating untaxed through the economy. Some items -- and I'm thinking here of ceramic panthers -- have moved from house to house for generations.
Next time you have a garage sale, do a quick inventory. Half the stuff you're selling probably came from flea markets and other people's garage sales. Stuff you never should've bought in the first place. Stuff people were GETTING RID OF.
(Thirty percent of the stuff you're selling will be things you bought "on sale," even though you didn't need them. The rest will be wedding gifts that you'll never unload.)
Getting rid of it all becomes more complicated once you have children. Kids never want to get rid of anything, ever. Broken toys, commemorative T-shirts, filthy sneakers, rocks, bones, lumps of dirt -- all these things have great sentimental value to children.
This detritus accumulates around the house, filling our lives with sentimentality and whimsy and punctured bare feet. We parents can never throw any of it away because of Murphy's Law of Parenting: The item you throw out will be the one the child really, really needs to finish the big school project on deadline.
This law applies to all homework papers. No matter how much the parent may try to parse out a date or a grade or some other signal that each stray rumpled page is no longer current, he or she will make the occasional mistake and throw out the child's important homework. Or, worse, some other child's important homework. And the parent will never hear the end of it. So school papers amass around the house like bales of cotton on a riverboat dock.
Same goes for any plastic "action figure" or balsa-wood airplane. Throw it out, and it's the one the child was using to prove Important Facts About Gravity in the science fair.
Any teddy bear or toy the parent tries to discard will immediately become the child's favorite one. How could you possibly get rid of that broken Shrek we got for free at some burger joint? The child LOVES that toy and is now emotionally bereft and will require expensive therapy.
When spring cleaning comes around, parents are forced to engage in stealth operations to get rid of their children's stuff. We ship bales of old homework off to the dump when the kids aren't looking. We creep around in the middle of the night, stuffing toys into black trash bags, hiding the evidence. On the day of the garage sale, we ship the kids off to Grandma's to keep them from scaring off customers with crying fits in the driveway.
We roll out the bazaar of baby clothes and broken burger toys and ceramic panthers and important homework, and a few customers trickle by and haul off some of the stuff. American commerce carries on.
Unfortunately, most of the inventory doesn't move. All the unsold stuff must return to the "warehouse," otherwise known as the space in the garage where the car should live.
So what if we must park on the street? At least we've thinned the inventory. We've cleaned out closets and raked toys out from under beds. Our lives are organized and ready for summer.
Just in time for the flea markets.
Americans are obsessed with their diets and spend billions every year on how-to-lose books and "lite" foods and various other snake-oil remedies. In an attempt to cut off a slice of that action, we now present the Easy Diet Plan for Home-Office Workers.
Millions of people now work out of their homes, sitting alone at computers all day, while the refrigerator is right there, humming its song of seduction. A diet plan for these workers should be a lucrative hit on the market. Get in on the ground floor!
With our Easy Diet Plan, we reveal the secrets to good nutrition known only to those who work at home. It's all about calories, friends. Consuming 'em and burning 'em. But unlike other so-called diet plans, we don't insist that you count calories all day or worry about every little thing you feel like stuffing into your mouth.
No, with the Easy Diet Plan, we teach you that some foods, depending upon how and where they're eaten, have no calories at all. Our research among at-home workers -- who tend to be a peculiarly gourd-shaped people -- has found they are convinced of this Proven Fact, and their eating habits reflect a superstition bordering on religious fervor.
You probably know the most common tenet of this dieting belief system: Food eaten while standing over the kitchen sink has no calories. This dieting maxim is so widespread there are websites maintained by its followers.
What you learn from our Easy Diet Plan is WHY eating over the sink is preferred by anorexics everywhere. It's the Drip Factor. Crumbs and spills from your messy food drip into the sink, carrying calories with them. Clean-up is a snap, and all those nasty calories are whisked away down the drain. Time for dessert!
Research has found many other such exceptions to biology, and they're all revealed in our Easy Diet Plan.
For instance, did you know that food eaten at your mother's house has no calories? It simply doesn't count! Doesn't that make you want to go visit Mom?
Here's one that especially important for home-office workers: Food eaten at your desk contains no calories. How can this be, you might ask? We don't know. But we firmly believe it to be true.
Coffee, that home-office staple? No calories. Even if you load it up with cream and sugar and that frothy stuff people wear in their mustaches. No calories. Not a one. Coffee is a stimulant, people. It burns up calories. If anything, you should drink more of it. Right now. Go get some. Faster, faster.
Food dropped on the floor? A caloric freebie. Of course, for reasons of food hygiene, you should always follow the Five-Second Rule. If the food's been on the floor more than five seconds, it's probably acquired too many high-calorie dust bunnies to be safely consumed.
Here's another Proven Research Fact: Any food you can eat without benefit of a napkin has no calories. No, really. This is why so many of us home-office workers wear relaxed-fit jeans all day. We wipe our hands on our pants. With blue jeans, you can't even tell. For days.
Food items too drippy or otherwise messy to be eaten at the desk or without a napkin should, of course, be eaten over the sink. It's simple logic, friends.
If you work at home, you can eat light, quick meals (over the sink) several times a day rather than sitting down to the dining table for three hearty, calorie-heavy meals. This so-called "grazing" method is recommended by dietitians and snake-oil salesmen worldwide.
By "grazing," some at-home workers have been known to eat upwards of 15 light, nutritious meals a day! And they don't gain more than twenty, twenty-five pounds per year. Try applying your calorie math to that!
By carefully monitoring your frequent snack-food intake and the geography of your dining habits, you, too, could enjoy the benefits of the Easy Diet Plan for Home-Office Workers.
Sign up today!
Yesterday, I added something called "Google Webmaster Tools" to this blog. It's a package of diagnostics so I supposedly can track how many people stop by, how they got here and where they came from.
The hilarious part is the word "webmaster." I'm about as far from a "webmaster" as one can be and still be capable of posting stuff to the Internet.
I'm more of a "tool."
Here's an ugly little secret: We parents sometimes look at our children and ask ourselves this question: "What the hell were we thinking, having kids?"
Yeah, yeah, we love our children more than anything. They bring great joy to every day. And if, God forbid, something ever happened to them, it would leave a hole in our souls that could never be filled.
BUT . . . once in a while, their behavior is such that we can't help but have second thoughts about the whole parenting deal.
These unwelcome thoughts usually come as we witness our children do something so incredibly goofy or disgusting or downright dangerous that we parents can do little more than stand there slack-jawed, poleaxed by the foolhardiness of youth.
Kids feel compelled to try everything, no matter how hazardous or filthy it may seem. They're experiencing the world first-hand, and they must push the limits. It's their job.
The fact that we parents have gone there before, that we can warn them of the possible results of their actions, means nothing. We didn't listen to our parents when they told us get down from there/sit down/shut up/be careful/don't put that in your mouth/stay away from the "wrong crowd." Why do we expect such warnings will work with the next generation?
Yet we try to warn them. It doesn't work. They do it anyway. And it's then -- and this step often occurs on the way to the emergency room -- that we secretly think, "We could've lived our lives child-free. We could be sipping daiquiris on a beach somewhere, unfettered by worry and fear and impending college tuition. What the hell were we thinking?"
Take, for example, tree-climbing. If there are trees within 30 square miles of your home, your kids are climbing them. You may have told them to stay out of trees. You may even think they've obeyed. But somewhere, right now, your kid is up a tree, hanging on for dear life.
We parents know tree-climbing is dangerous; many of us have the scars to prove it. You don't see adults climbing trees and hanging from the branches like chimps, not unless they're professional tree-trimmers who get paid to do it (and you have to wonder about those guys). But a kid sees a tree as a challenge, a gangly Everest. It must be climbed because it is there.
Before you know it, you're outside with a ladder, trying to get a frozen-with-fear child down out of the high branches. Or, worse, calling the fire department. And those dreaded second thoughts come to the fore.
Another example: Sock-skating. We adults know that if you spend enough time sliding across hardwood floors in your sock feet, you eventually will bust your butt. But to a kid, it's irresistible. Why? Because it's fun (and there's an alien concept to a parent if ever there was one).
We parents may say we're all for having fun, but when we're standing over a squawling child, examining the injured area for any sign of a broken tailborne, we might secretly question our life choices.
And that's just the dangerous stuff. There's a whole universe of behaviors that are simply annoying: bickering, slamming doors, talking back, breaking stuff, spilling, bed-trampolining, crying, more spilling, wheedling, nose-picking, midnight upchucking, homework avoiding, yet more spilling.
We wouldn't put up with such behavior from another adult. If, say, a co-worker came to your house and started jumping on your bed while spilling his Big Gulp and shouting the taunt, "Neener, neener, neener," you'd toss him out on the street.
But when our kids do the same thing, we sigh and tell them -- for the thousandth time -- to cut it out. And they respond by running outside and getting stranded up a tree. In their sock feet.
Why do we put up with it all? Because they're our kids and we love them. Because they're so damned cute. Because we know they must learn some lessons for themselves. Because we believe that, with enough patience and fortitude, we can eventually teach them to behave like humans.
But, on the inside, unknown to the kids, we sometimes wonder, "What were we thinking?"
With home prices in the basement and the economy in the toilet, it's not the best time to sell your house, but circumstances sometimes force a move.
The first step is unloading your current home, and that brings us to Today's Important Real Estate Tip: To sell for a decent price, your home needs to look better than it ever did when you were actually living in it.
Real estate experts call this "staging" the house for sale, and they use the word strictly in a show-business sense, to mean creating a pretend world of order and style.
Basically, it means cleaning the house to within an inch of its life, accomplishing all previously-ignored repairs and making the place look as much as possible like a photograph out of Metropolitan Home magazine.
(When reading Metropolitan Home in the doctor's waiting room, parents may seem to be marveling at the modern, sterile rooms presented there. In truth, here's what they're thinking: "No children in that house.")
Staging your home isn't as easy as it sounds. First of all, your house is filthy. Yes, it is. You may think it's clean, but once you start rearranging the furniture and stowing stuff, you'll find crud you never knew was there. Secondly, you (and your children) have a lot more junk than you think. Thirdly, you'll see your home with fresh eyes, with all its shortcomings: faulty wiring and balky drains and jelly fingerprints and dappled carpet.
You've been living with these shortcomings for years, and likely have gotten where you don't even notice them anymore. But you'll see them now and, if you don't, the potential buyers will.
Selling your house boils down to this: People -- strangers -- come into your home and examine it closely. Your job, as the seller, is to persuade these people that your family does not live like pigs, and that everything is in good working order. You want these strangers to imagine themselves living in your house, arranging their own furniture in your familiar spaces.
If they can picture themselves in your home, they might buy it and you can get back to packing your junk into recently-emptied liquor boxes.
How to properly "stage" your home?
Let's start with the exterior. You want your home to have "curb appeal," which means you must freshen up the outside, tend the grounds, do something about those yellow dandelions that dot the lawn like dropped eggs. If the house's paint is peeling or you've got an old Chevy up on the blocks in the yard, you might need to hire professional help.
Inside, every surface should be cleaned off. Put away your knickknacks and bowling trophies and family photos. Potential buyers want to picture their own stuff on the shelves. If you can somehow get photos of their families, you might want to artfully arrange them somewhere.
The most common approach to hiding junk is to stuff everything into closets. Showing your house becomes a horror movie: "Don't Look in the Closet!" To keep potential buyers from opening closet doors, you may need to employ a basketball-style man-on-man defense. ("Put a body on somebody! Now!")
Once all your junk has been carefully hidden, you can go all-out in the cleaning department, rounding up dust bunnies and scrubbing toilets and scraping grime out of corners.
Work at it hard enough, and your house eventually will be sparklingly clean, and tidier than it's ever been before. The trick becomes keeping it in that condition while people parade through day after day. You thought it was hard to keep the house passably clean -- clean enough to keep the health inspectors off your neck -- wait until you try for Metropolitan Home every day for weeks.
Somewhere during this process, you will have two predictable reactions: 1) Why didn't we keep the house this nice when we were living here? And, 2) Since the current house has turned out so well, maybe we shouldn't move after all.
If you find yourself falling into that trap, take the one sure remedy: Go look in the closets.
Hope all you moms have a great day.
My column in today's Redding Record-Searchlight is about how Mother's Day is a $15 billion industry in America, though surveys show we're spending a little less this year because of the stumbling economy.
The column includes a silly little poem. I try my hand at rhyming poetry about once a decade, just often enough to send me fleeing back to prose.
With gasoline prices at record highs, a trip to the pumps can feel like a particularly efficient mugging. You stop at a gas station with an empty tank and leave with empty pockets.
Oil companies attribute higher prices to the war in Iraq and other overseas scares, but we consumers aren't so easily fooled. With Texas oilmen running the federal government, it's a pretty safe bet that domestic price-gouging will continue to be "overlooked."
Oilmen hope higher fuel prices will make military action in the Middle East and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge seem like good ideas to Americans who hear their life savings ding-ding into their gas tanks. We'll bomb our way out of high prices, or we'll plunder the Earth in search of more fuel. And caribou don't get to vote, except in Florida.
All the protest marches and angry e-mails in the world probably can't stop our nation's drive to slake its oil-thirst, or the ever-rising prices. So what's a consumer to do? Use less gasoline.
There's never been a better time, for instance, to work at home. Cut the daily commute out of your life, and you consume less gas. The money you save can be used for purchases for your home office, such as snack food.
Not everyone can work at home, of course. And, even people who don't commute to a job find they must drive sometimes. Children need rides. Face-to-face appointments must be kept. It's easier to ferry groceries home in a car, particularly if you're transporting large amounts of snack food.
But there are ways to cut our fuel consumption. Here are some to consider:
--Try human power. Walking, for example. Bicycles, skates, scooters, skateboards. Not only will you save on gas, but you'll get some exercise. Better to burn those snack-food calories than to burn gasoline.
--Public transportation can be more relaxing than a grueling commute. If you don't have to pay attention to the road, you can spend time reading or napping or exchanging ideas with your fellow passengers. These discussions can be lively. On a bus, you often hear passengers communicating about topics such as personal hygiene, DUI histories, psychotropic medications or each other's parentage.
--Try hitchhiking. If you think the people on the bus are scary, wait until you see who picks you up.
--Carpooling saves gasoline, and you can save even more if you make excuses for not driving whenever it's your turn. You can skip several turns by having your car "in the shop" before your fellow carpoolers catch on and dump you on the shoulder of the road.
--If you have children, much of your gasoline consumption undoubtedly goes to transporting them to after-school activities. Tell your kids such events have been canceled. Once they figure out you're lying, tell them it's their "patriotic duty" to stay home and save gas. If that still doesn't work, try this phrase: "We'll go as soon as you pony up your allowance for Premium Unleaded."
--Park your car and turn off the engine when communicating on your mobile phone. If you insist on using your car for a phone booth, you can at least sit still while you're doing it. Not only will you save fuel, but it'll be safer for the rest of us.
--Drive a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Much has been written about giant SUVs and how much gas they consume. Most people who drive SUVs don't need all that four-wheel-drive power and cargo room because they never take them outside the city limits. They drive SUVs because they think such vehicles are "cool." (Note: SUV is not pronounced "suave.")
Smaller vehicles not only get more miles per gallon, they're easier to push when you run out of gas altogether.
Or, follow my example and drive an aged minivan. It may not be fuel-efficient, but you'll be less tempted to cruise around aimlessly because someone might see you. Plus, if it runs out of gas, you can just abandon it.
And walk away.
Here's a job offer from NASA that seems too good to pass up. They'll pay $5,000 a month to someone who'll stay in bed around the clock so they can test the effects on the human body.
Finally, I could get caught up on my reading.
When marketing experts and social scientists extol the benefits of the Computer Age, there's one factor they omit. A computer -- unlike any other tool in our history -- gives one the ability, on a global scale, to look like a jackass.
Through the miracle of e-mail, we can send our mistakes to everyone we know at the speed of light. No longer are we limited to our immediate surroundings when we do something moronic. Now we can share with the world.
Since I work at home, I usually perform my feats of idiocy right here in the house and the only witnesses are 1) my immediate family members, who just roll their eyes because they're accustomed to me, or 2) the dog, who finds everything I do, no matter how ludicrous, to be fascinating, particularly if it might involve dropped food.
But my computer allows me to do something really stupid and share it with friends and business associates everywhere. No matter how much I might've impressed them as a competent human in the past, one flick of the keyboard can show them that, no, they're dealing with an idiot.
A case in point: Recently, a friend sent me a warning about a computer virus running rampant through the e-mail address books of the international computer community. Usually, I disregard such notices because I know they're often hoaxes. But this time I took it seriously. I have several mitigating excuses:
A) I was operating the computer on four hours' sleep.
B) The friend said she'd already checked out the warning and it was not a hoax.
C) My mind was busy thinking about the war in Iraq, and CNN was spewing in the background.
D) I was concerned that my friends and loved ones could fall victim to this virus.
But it all boils down to: E) I am an idiot.
So, being an idiot, I e-mailed the warning to dozens of people. Within minutes, several kindly replied with the information that the warning was indeed a hoax, and the insidious "virus" I'd urged them to delete was, in fact, an installed program that probably did something important in the computer, though nobody was sure exactly what.
Oh, the embarrassment. I sent an immediate correction and mortified apology to all the people I'd warned, then spent the next several hours hurtling around the house, doing physical gyrations as I tried to kick my own butt.
(Yes, I recognize that by writing about this incident, I'm now proving to tens of thousands of other people -- you, the readers -- that I'm an imbecile. But consider this a cautionary tale. If I can save just one of you from similar humiliation, then I'll willingly throw myself on the grenade of ignominy.)
But let's not lose sight of the point here. It's really the computer's fault, not mine. If it weren't for the computer, there would be no viruses, no warnings, no hoaxes. If I didn't have a computer, I couldn't race out onto the Information Highway and wreck my reputation.
Computers can be wonderful tools, and mine does make my job more pleasant in some ways, such as allowing me to waste hours every day playing Solitaire. But for most of the work I do, I could get by with a decent typewriter and a deck of cards.
Sure, e-mail lets me stay in contact with friends and conduct business without spending unnecessarily on postage stamps. The Internet can be a wonderful research tool, as well as a way to fritter away many hours when I could be doing something more valuable to the betterment of mankind, such as laundry.
But I may junk my computer, just to save me from myself. Better to go without e-mail and the Internet than to have -- right there on my desk -- an easy method of looking like a fool before the multitudes.
Without a computer, I could stick to being the village idiot, rather than a global one.
If you want to see the average American male go spiraling into squirming insanity, take away his television remote control.
Men feel it's our inalienable right to hold the remote. It gives us a sense of command, of standing at the helm among the day-to-day storms of life. We might relinquish every other responsibility around the house, but when it comes time to turn on the TV, we men want to be in charge.
Take my household, for instance. My wife is a smart, capable former executive. She manages our household, competently dealing with accountants and utilities and government entities. I believe she essentially can master anything she attempts. I, on the other hand, am lucky to find my way out of bed each morning.
But when it comes to flipping through TV channels, she doesn't do it right. She leaves the sound on, for one thing, so we're exposed to blaring snippets of every passing program. She lingers on the wrong channels, such as the one that shows disgusting surgery 24 hours a day and causes me to run screaming from the room. She skips ahead at crucial moments, such as when a basketball game is going into overtime.
When she's flipping channels, I get itchy all over. It's all I can do not to snatch the remote control away from her. If she'd just hand it over, I think, I could zip back to the important programs necessary to being an informed adult, such as "SportsCenter."
To her credit, my wife recognizes that I feel this way and she usually gives me the remote rather than torture me. I think it's all the sighing and fidgeting I do.
But that's not the case in every household. Some women insist on running the remote, no matter how much it disturbs their spouses. If sociologists studied the root causes of domestic discord and divorce, they'd find that a substantial number of marriages hit the rocks because of the remote control.
It's a matter of tempo. When you're in charge of the remote, you pause on each channel just long enough to register the program in your brain. Then, bam, it's time to move on because -- let's face it -- there's never anything good on TV. The amount of time you stay on each channel depends upon your own interests, and those are different for each person.
Most guys, for example, can't hit the button fast enough if we land on "Oprah," while a woman might at least pause to see if the talk show topic is relevant. If a man hits a sporting event, he'll stick around long enough to check out the score, even if he has no interest in the game. And if he lands on a program that features women in bikinis, he'll probably hang around at least until the next commercial interruption.
It's not merely an issue of gender, however. Men typically don't share the remote with each other, either. The average man would no more let other men handle his remote than he would let them give his wife a bath.
We recently had a houseguest who wanted to watch TV and, as a matter of courtesy, I let him flip the channels. Within minutes, I was going nuts with thoughts like these: Why are we stopping on this station? They've never got anything worth viewing. Wait, go back, that was my favorite show. My God, he's watching commercials! And listening to them! Doesn't he know you only do that during the Super Bowl? Doesn't he know the damned remote has a "mute" button?
I had to leave the room before I throttled him. When I returned, he'd fallen asleep on the sofa. I gently removed the remote from his limp hand. Once it was back in my possession, all was right with the world. I turned off the television and hid the remote under the couch cushions. Better to live without TV than to let some other guy run the show.
To sum up, most men see it like this: You can have our remote controls when you pry them from our cold, dead fingers. And then -- finally -- you can watch whatever you want.
In these troubled times of international saber-rattling, missile-wielding madmen, rising gasoline prices and daily "booga-booga" terrorism alerts, nobody could blame Americans for wanting to spend all their time at home.
Our homes are comforting hidey-holes, quiet sanctuaries where we can shut out the tumult of this crazy, mixed-up world. They're the only places where we'll feel relatively safe for the foreseeable future or, at least, until the next presidential election.
But there are dangers to hunkering down at home. Chief among these: You can become a hermit, cut off from friends and relatives and fellow citizens.
The isolation hazard is especially severe for those of us who work in home offices. If we don't have to leave the house to go to a job, why leave at all? Next thing you know, we're indoors all the time, unwashed and ungroomed, fearfully monitoring CNN and mumbling to ourselves.
It's a fine line between cautious "cocooner" and full-blown paranoid, crazy-as-an-outhouse-rat hermit. But how to tell the difference? If you spend all your time at home, how do you know you haven't already crossed the line?
What follows is a handy quiz for determining whether you've become a wartime hermit. Ask yourself the following questions:
--Do you spend more than 22 hours a day inside your home?
--Are you afraid to fly? To drive? To walk in any position other than a crouch?
--Is your only form of human interaction via e-mail?
--Do you remember the names of your neighbors? Your friends? Your children?
--Can you use the term "cocooning" without smirking?
--Do you carefully monitor the federal government's indicators of terrorism danger? Can you recite the color code by heart?
--Do sonic booms make you "duck and cover?"
--Do you watch so much television news that you've started referring to the anchormen by their first names? Do you find yourself harboring a "crush" on Wolf Blitzer?
--Do you consider television to be a "weapon of mass destruction?"
--Do you keep careful written inventory of your duct tape, flashlight batteries and canned goods?
--Does your idea of "casual wear" include a gas mask? Kevlar pajamas?
--Have you drilled your family on how to respond in case of an airborne bioterrorism gas attack? Have the drills included seeing how long you can hold your breath? Have they included the phrase, "Pull my finger?"
--Do you have a backyard bomb shelter? How about an "entrenching tool?"
--Do your neighbors describe you as "a quiet person who always kept to himself?"
--Do your neighbors provide such descriptions to the FBI?
--Are you afraid of strangers? Arabs? The French? All foreigners? Men with mustaches? The Avon lady? Teen-agers who wear their baseball caps backward? Your mother-in-law?
--Do you answer to the term "shut-in?"
--If you encounter a stranger and he smiles at you, is your first reaction: "What's wrong with that guy? Maybe I should call the FBI!"
--Are you so lonely that you welcome calls from telemarketers? What about obscene phone calls?
--Do you fantasize about visiting the airport, just to get a strip-search?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you're in danger of becoming too isolated, also known as "Hermit Code Orange." You should immediately get up and go outside and breathe some fresh air. Maybe have a chat with your neighbors.
If it goes all right, signal to the rest of us hermits that it's safe to come out. Send word via CNN.
Spring is in the air, and a young man's thoughts turn to rage.
With the arrival of warm weather, cities are plagued by a blossoming of orange barrels and blinking sawhorses as all streets are demolished and rebuilt. Everywhere you turn, signs say, "Seek Alternate Route" until you end up back where you started. Motorists spend all day sitting in hot vehicles stalled in traffic, becoming edgier and more aggressive until words or fender paint are exchanged. Some short-fuse guy starts screaming and swinging or, worse, shooting a gun.
Suddenly, detours are the least of the problem.
Road rage has gotten a lot of media attention in the past few years, and airline rage is becoming more common all the time. But many other forms of rage exist in our hectic world. These rage phenomena have been overlooked by the press and the government, but they represent a ticking bomb that could detonate any second into senseless violence and random bad vibes.
Rage can happen anywhere, anytime, but you can protect yourself by becoming familiar with the symptoms of impending furor and by avoiding places where rage likely will erupt. Post offices, for instance.
Here, then, are some types of rage to watch out for:
--Home Improvement Store Rage: A man who's making his fourth trip of the day to a hardware store is only one metric-sized nut away from true rage. These guys roam the warehouse aisles, holding a broken part, grumbling to themselves while desperately searching for the correct replacement. And nothing fits. They can't remember what the other thing was they were supposed to buy. And they have to keep dodging those beeping forklifts. Next thing you know, our aspiring Bob Vila has become Attila the Hun.
This form of rage is particularly dangerous because there are so many blunt instruments and lethal gizmos at hardware superstores. Think nail guns.
--Package Rage: This form usually occurs within the home and, fortunately, causes only brief outbursts. It's triggered when a person tries to open a box of cereal or other packaged good and finds the words "Open Other End." For the thousandth time.
--Jogger's Rage: Rarely makes the news because joggers usually are armed with nothing more dangerous than underwear and $200 sneakers. But, trust me, they're really angry. Joggers often are set off by more sensible people who are driving cars in air-conditioned comfort. Various road hazards also cause this rage. See: "Curb Your Dog Rage."
--Personal Computer Rage: There's a reason it's called a computer "crash."
--Gardening Rage: Often triggered by defenseless animals such as gophers and rabbits, this rage can be particularly dangerous to the gardener himself and to anyone sipping beer nearby, particularly if said gardener happens to be holding a rake at the time.
--Plumbing Rage: From the slow torture of drip, drip, drip to the barked knuckles to the eventual flood damage, plumbing is rife with potential rage. Every fitting has to be tight enough that not a molecule of water can escape. But not too tight or it won't work. This form of rage often manifests itself in anti-social behavior such as cursing and "plumber's cleavage."
--Lawn Sprinkler Rage: See "Plumbing Rage."
--Rave Rage: Most prevalent in fathers whose daughters stay out dancing until 4 a.m. Highly explosive.
--Phone Rage: A particularly virulent form of rage with a variety of triggers: telemarketers, poor reception, midnight wrong-number calls from mysterious guys named Guido. Cellular phones have introduced a whole new format -- phone rage mixed with the ever-popular road rage. Call for our new safety brochure: "Hang up and Drive, You Idiot."
--Age Rage: The feeling, every time you look in the mirror, that you want to spit. Sometimes results in bizarre behavior such as radical plastic surgery and the purchase of sports cars.
--Rage Against the Darkness and the Light: For people who are angry all the time.
Now that you're more informed about rage, take the proper steps to shield yourself from it. Forewarned is forearmed. Get forewarned enough, you'll have arms like Popeye.
Just kidding. I didn't mean you look like Popeye. Did not. Aw, come on. Gee, you don't have to get mad about it. Hey, put down that rake . . .