Tuesday, November 22, 2011

News Flash ... Bob has a tablet!

Finally ... a light at the end of the tunnel

For almost 25 years I've been trying to get Everlovin' interested in computers. When we lived in Naples, Florida, there was a wonderful computer club, PCBUG. The members were extraordinarily congenial, helpful, and in our age group, but he would never accompany me to a meeting. I set up side-by-side workstations in the house, and created a wireless network so that the laptop could be used without having to leave his favorite recliner. I shared forwarded email funnies and news stories of interest by handing him the laptop, and created an email account for him. None of this stimulated his interest one bit. He was always content to have his email forwarded to mine so that I could then read it to him, or print a hard copy.

Over the last several months I sensed a break-through. Every time he saw a tablet commercial on TV, whether it be a Kindle, an IPad, an HP TouchPad, or whatever, he always commented on it or asked some question about it. I took this to mean that he was somewhat interested. Now understand this: Everlovin' will go to any length necessary to avoid a situation where he could be perceived as uncool. I knew that he didn't know enough to know where to start shopping or what to look for, so I bought him a tablet, specifically, an Asus Transformer.

The device arrived yesterday, while I was at work. My love called to say that he had opened it and that it was indeed a pretty thing but I couldn't convince him to start the initial 8-hour charge so that we could play with it that evening. Later, it was revealed that he thought it was missing a cable as there seemed no way to connect it to a wall outlet. As this was an open-box special from ebay, that could have been the case, but thankfully, the prongs were folded inside the charger. The tablet charged all night and this morning, while I stood over his shoulder, our new tablet enthusiast tapped the onscreen keys to set up local weather, etc. The Asus made it easy as it immediately found our wireless network. I typed in the long access password to the network that has to be done only once as on-screen typing is a challenge in itself. I also configured the gmail account, after which for the first time ever, my love accessed and read his own email.

Those of you who know my husband know that he is a compulsive neatnik. New experience notwithstanding, his first concern was fingerprints on the touch screen. I cautioned him to keep his beloved Windex away from the Asus. We finished the lesson by taking a quick look at some of the pre-installed apps then put the Asus back to sleep to avoid [Bob's] becoming overwhelmed. He may play with it while I am at work this afternoon. Bottom line is ... I THINK HE LIKES IT!

A case for the unit is due to arrive in the next day or two. Obviously, we're going to need a screen protector and maybe a capacitive stylus. Probably we'll get a micro SDHC card which I will load up with books, a couple of movies, and any games that he takes a fancy to.

Stay tuned while my everlovin' moves into the computer age!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Things I Miss from Days Gone By - #3 - Enjoyable Air Travel

What's With Those Airline Folks Anyway?

Andy Rooney's gone, so someone has to step up and ask questions that need to be asked. I don't have Andy's talents, but I wonder about many of the same things, and it wouldn't be much of a stretch for me to become a female curmudgeon.

Right now, I'd like to plan a trip, or maybe even two trips. The departure point would be Athens, GA. Athens is a nice town but it doesn't have much of an airport, and getting out of town is a real hassle. Our first choice would be to fly from Greenville, SC. Greenville has a delightful airport, and even though it's a good two hour ride from our house, it's not a difficult drive. Atlanta is closer in miles and has a much larger airport with many more carriers but it's a horrible drive. My everlovin' is fully retired. I still work half-time, but can usually arrange to take a week off on occasion, so we're pretty flexible.

Here's the thing. With all the technology available and all the Internet sites that promise to get you the absolute best price, there is absolutely NO WAY THAT YOU CAN PRICE A TICKET WITHOUT INPUTTING A DEPARTURE DATE. Some sites will offer the extreme flexibility of departing a day or two from your preferred date. Big deal. We don't care when we go ... we just want to know when prices are lowest. "They" say that air transportation is down. In our case, if we found a good price, we would hop a flight several times a year but as it stands now, we pretty much limit ourselves to driveable destinations. Stand-by is not a good option if you have to drive a couple hours first and pay a hefty parking fee, then possibly sit in the airport for days, especially since the number of flights is constantly being reduced.

Why can't a site just display fares to and from given points for several upcoming months ... if necessary, with a disclaimer saying that prices could increase by a certain percentage?

On a related note, I tried to price Southwest Air flights from Greenville to Ft. Myers. No matter what date I entered for the return flight, I got an error message indicating that no flights from Ft. Myers to Greenville were scheduled for that day. It sounded as if they were
discontinuing service between those two points, so I emailed Southwest to ask if that was the case. The automated response indicated that they would respond within five business days, so I telephoned them. It turns out that as of March 10, they will only offer service between those two points on Saturdays. It happens that Saturdays is one of the two days each week that Allegiant, the super cheap base-fare budget airline, flies between nearby Charlotte County Regional Airport to Greenville. Why would Southwest choose to offer service for this route only on the same day that another airline already does? Beats me ... but I sure won't be buying airline stock anytime soon.

Does anybody else remember when people bought round-trip airline tickets
because they were cheaper than two one-way tickets but you could sell or give away the ticket for an unused segment? People seeking to buy or sell those one-way segments often advertised in the personal ad sections of newspapers. Fares were reasonable enough and there were no fees for changing plans, checking baggage, etc. I used to see a lot more of my family then, and flew a lot more often to other places too. "They" wonder why airline traffic has diminished ... and I wonder why charter airlines haven't grown exponentially.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Our Jobs - Part 1

A few days ago we received notice of the passing of a good friend from the Capital District of New York. We knew him from the Watervliet Elks Club, where my everlovin' was an active member for many years. Our friend was 93 and had enjoyed a long career with ConRail, a freight railroad. We don't exactly what his job was, but we know that it has not existed for many years.

Our thoughts turned to reminiscing about other friends from that era. One was Manager of Union Relations at Allegheny-Ludlum steel, a company which was bought out by employees and became Al-Tech Specialty Steel. Now there is no more steel mill.

The deceased's wife was a career customer service employee of the phone company. At that time, the phone company was very selective in their hiring. Besides passing the employment tests, they seemed to consider such non-job-related factors as your parents' standing in the community, e.g., if a relative worked for the power company, or was a bank officer, or a parent had some other significant position in the community, your chances of a job offer were much enhanced. If you came from a single-parent family on the fringes of society, not so much. Those who tested well were placed in customer service. Those who didn’t test so well ended up as telephone operators. After hire, if you "played the game," terminations were rare. Break times and days off were carefully monitored. A single day off from work was highly suspect. More than a few days required a doctor's excuse. In return, the pay was adequate, there was no chance of a layoff, and free phone service was provided so long as the employee didn't “abuse” the benefit -- meaning that if there were too many toll calls, you could expect to be summoned to provide an explanation. As those jobs disappeared, self-service became the custom. Now you don't even receive a directory unless you request it.

My everlovin's former wife was Personal Administrator at a local hospital. That hospital has merged with several others in the Capital District of New York, all of which have central administrative functions, so her old job no longer exists.

Other friends worked in a variety of administrative and labor jobs in the garment, textile, and paper industries. My grandmother was a sewing machine operator at Cluett Peabody, manufacturer of Arrow Shirts. Now Arrow Shirts are made in India. Not so many shirts are needed as not so many men wear dress shirts to work every day.

The paper industry was huge in Upstate New York, thanks to the abundant forests of the Adirondacks. There were also other capital goods manufacturers who produced textiles and parts needed by paper manufacturers. Many of the paper companies are now closed or operating at a fraction of their former capacity. We don't need paper for email or .pdf documents, and if less paper is being manufactured, there is reduced demand for papermakers' felts. Bye, bye F. C. Huyck. Hope you’re feeling better, Albany Felt.

We had a baseball factory and a billiard ball factory. Both are now closed. Their products are made abroad.

We used to receive mail delivery twice a day. Remember that? I can't remember that the same person did the route both times, so there must have been twice as many letter carriers.

Sealtest delivered milk, cream, cheeses, and other dairy products alternate days. When it was time to pay, a sales slip was left in your milk box. You put the money in an envelope and the milkman took it. So simple. That job is gone.

Freihofer delivered baked goods (actually by horse-drawn wagons until 1962 in Schenectady). On weekends and school vacations the driver often had a young boy as a helper. At the end of the work day, someone had to feed and groom those horses. The retail driver job, the youthful helper job, and the horse caretaker jobs are all gone.

We knew people who worked in gas stations, pumping gas and cleaning windshields. Do you know anyone who does that anymore? We also knew travel agents. When was the last time you called one?

My first “real” job was in Classified Ads at the Schenectady Gazette. To qualify, you were required to be a reasonably good speller and have a good handwriting so that the compositors could read the ads that you carefully wrote down as they were called in. It was an excellent part-time job except that absolutely NO time off was permitted for any reason. We worked seven days a week, 5-8 PM Monday through Friday, Saturday morning from 8-12, and Sunday evening from 6-8. A sick day, especially around prom time, was suspect. You could count on being summoned to the Classified Ad Manager’s office for discussion. I worked there for nearly six years and learned a lot about real-world work from that job. It’s too bad that it doesn’t exist anymore.

Every college student's nightmare summer job was being a toll collector on the NYS Thruway. While students found it boring, there were many career toll collectors who had passed a civil service test to qualify. Every Thruway toll gate and every bridge gate was staffed. Then they started collecting double tolls for traffic going in only one direction, so they could reduce the staffing by half. Now there are only a few gates staffed at any given exit or entry point, so there are fewer jobs. You take your own ticket and throw your own coins in the bin.

The racing and wagering industry was responsible for a tremendous number of jobs, Before computers, odds were calculated manually at incredible speed by folks with awesome math talents. It was necessary to pass a civil service exam to be hired and it was extremely difficult to find qualified candidates. Not only were superior math skills required, but there was also a background check, and many of those who could pass the exam had convictions for bookmaking. Computers have replaced pari-mutuel examiners. Gambling is done online, so even the bookies' jobs are gone.

Schenectady General Electric always employed at least 20,000 people and at one point reached 26,000. In recent years, plant employment was at 1,500. Latest figures that I could find show current employment to be about 4,000. This was where all non-college bound students aspired to work, and where many college graduates hoped to start their career. I wonder where they go now.

Young, unskilled boys often started their General Electric careers as Mail & Supply Helpers. As they matured and acquired seniority, they bid on promotions. If GE was hiring for plant employment right now, it would not be for mail and supply helpers. There are no more of them. Helpers are not needed to deliver email and .pdf documents.

Nearby Amsterdam, NY was a hub of textiles and smaller manufacturing. Remember the Cabbage Patch dolls...the Adam computer...Easy-Bake Ovens? The toy factory closed in 1998. Now the toys are made in China. Mohawk and other carpet manufacturers that once thrived in Amsterdam moved to Georgia and other southern states. Then they moved to Mexico.

My grandson is studying Mechanical Engineering Technology, which is essentially manufacturing processes. I wonder if he will ever be able to use his degree in United States.

Our Jobs - Part 2

If we're not longer a manufacturing economy, are we now a service economy?

If so, we should at least enjoy it and make the concept enhance our lives. Husband and I are fortunate to live in an area where supermarkets still pack our groceries for us. Publix even carries them out to the car. In many places this is no longer the custom. Does anyone really like packing their own groceries? If your total grocery bill was another dollar or two to cover the cost of packer’s employment, would it bother you when you understood that your money was supporting someone's job?

How about those telephone trees. "Listen carefully, as our options have changed." Yeah, right. Is there anyone who doesn’t hate them? If there is an abundance of people willing to answer the phone and direct calls for a modest salary, why is there no company gutsy enough to say “enough is enough” and hire someone able and willing to help a caller?

Would you pay a few cents more per gallon at a gas station if there was someone available to pump your gas and wipe your windshield, especially if he/she checked the air in your tires too?

Here in Athens, Georgia, at many restaurants you walk in, grab a menu, stand at the door and read it, go to a register, place your order, find yourself a table, help yourself to a soft drink or ice tea, then wait for a server to bring your meal. These are not buffet restaurants nor fast food establishments. For the most part, they are nice dining establishments that simply do not offer full service. What’s the point of going out to dinner if you are not going to be served? And there are people who need and want these jobs!

Why are we tolerating all these reductions in service if none of us like it? A proposal to raise taxes captures our attention immediately as we often feel that we get nothing additional for the increase. But for a miniscule increase in prices or perhaps even just a tip expense, we could have the services back that we miss. More of us would be working and maybe there wouldn’t have to be a tax increase. Maybe visitors to the United States would be so impressed that tourism might increase.

A few days ago I received yet another of the type of email that I consider "hate mail." Like most of these pieces, the statistics presented in the email differ from the actual facts, but the gist of this one was that America needed to embark on a massive program to deport all illegal aliens in order to get American citizens working again. I’m thinking that of all of the jobs that everlovin' and I were recalling, and all of the ones that I thought of when I started to write this piece, I can't think of any where the jobs were “taken over” by illegal aliens. I can, however, remember that back in the 1960s and 1970s some people saying that they could not get hired because too many minorities were being hired. Those minorities were American citizens, so it shouldn't have made a statistical difference. It's just that we shared unemployment a little more equally. Thinking back, I suspect that even then we were just not yet aware of how rapidly jobs were disappearing.

Illegal aliens haven't taken the jobs or the entire career paths to which we once aspired. The jobs have evaporated! We let them slip away without capping the escape. Like an opiate, we got high on the enabling technology, the substantial cost savings, the speed at which things could be done. Now we’re coming off the high. The jobs are gone and our high is now a downer.

So what do we do now? I have no clue. But I ramble on and contemplate some ideas in Part 3.

Our Jobs - Part 3

If we can’t create enough jobs, we’ve got to reduce the number of people in the labor market at any given time!

How might we do this? To start with, we could redefine “full time employment.” Maybe a typical work week should be reduced from 37-1/2 or 40 hours per week to 20 or 25 so that two people shared a single position. The big negative is that compensation would have to be reduced as well. But instead of some of us working full time and partially supporting those unemployed or in receipt of public assistance, more of us would be employed so there would be reduced costs of unemployment insurance and public dependency. Another possible negative would be the trickle-down effects. With reduced compensation, we would live in smaller, more affordable houses. But as newer neighborhoods were built, instead of super-size homes where 10-20% of them were vacant or in foreclosure, most would be occupied by folks who could afford to buy and maintain them. Would you rather live in a neighborhood with supersize homes but declining values due to distress sales or one with smaller but well-kept owner-occupied homes? Your choice. We might drive more affordable cars, or keep the ones we owned even longer. We might try to get by with one family car and share rides, none of which are bad choices. We might spend more time cooking nutritious meals at home instead of eating fast food, which is also not a bad idea. We might even engage in more quality time with family.

Alternatively, we could mandate one-year sabbaticals after each four years of employment. This would reduce the number of workers in the labor force by 20% at any given time. How one would live during the year off is up to conjecture. If you're a conservative, maybe the answer is that everyone would have to save enough during the working years to be able to survive the year off. If you're a liberal, maybe unemployment insurance would be available during the year off with salaries reduced during the working years to cover the cost of salary and medical benefits paid during the non-working year. During the year off, people could either work on home projects, pursue additional education or travel, as they chose. This could result in a better prepared and more focused workforce. Young people would be able to travel while they were still young enough to enjoy it and make a difference in the world instead of having to wait until they had money, by which time they were too old to enjoy the experience. It would give a much-needed boost to our travel and recreation industry and possibly improve our relationships with other countries and cultures.

A recent television news feature described in-depth personality pre-employment tests that have recently come back into vogue. I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut's 1952 book, "Player Piano," which today would probably be named “Technology Gone Wild.” All workers underwent a battery of tests and the government maintained a database of workers’ credentials. If your ID card didn’t carry the proper credential you could not be hired, and there were penalties for gaming the system. Special arrangements were in place for people who did not qualify for any job. Employers like to think that they always hire the best person for a position but that is simply not true. Instead, if they are lucky, they hire the best person available at the time that the opening needs to be filled. When we have so many well-qualified, highly skilled, experienced workers available right now, what is the point of subjecting these individuals to such a test? What if the test shows that they would have been better suited to an entirely different career? Do we ignore decades of successful experience in the occupation for which the individual is now applying? Why should anyone care if an accountant's responses parallel those of a poet rather than the accountant that he is? Maybe instead of expending the effort to set in place hurdles that potential workers must surmount, we should put more effort into figuring out how to best utilize whatever employment resources that we still have before those resources are gone too.

Our career options and life expectations have changed and will continue to change. We need to figure out how to improve the quality of life for all of us, given these changes.

Monday, September 5, 2011

How to Sleep With a Snorer ... Worth a Try

My everlovin' and I have been together for 34 years, and in all that time I have never been kept awake by his snoring. For most couples, this would not be remarkable, but in the case of my guy, anyone who has ever had the experience of trying to sleep near him will attest to his extreme snoring. This would include a former spouse, adult children, military buddies, former neighbors, and patients on the same hospital floor.

I have normal hearing and am considered to be a light sleeper. If one of our dogs makes the slightest movement or sound, I am immediately aware of it. I am always dimly aware of the sounds of the refrigerator's ice maker, the wine cooler, or changes in weather, but I never hear a snore. Others are not so lucky. I can remember the two of us sharing a hotel room with daughter. During the night my daughter sat up in bed. My immediate response was to ask her what was wrong. She replied that she could not sleep because of "the noise." "What noise?" I asked, to which she responded, "Bob's snoring." Although he was right next to me, I did not hear him. Why is it that I do not hear extreme snoring that affected people as far away as neighbors and patients on the same hospital floor?

I suspect that I am blessed with an innate ability to categorize sounds as "OK" or "Not OK." Theorizing further, for those who are troubled by another's snoring, or by any other sound that interferes with a life experience, shouldn't it be possible to use self-hypnosis to teach oneself to categorize sounds into "OK" or "Not OK" categories?"

This mind-over-matter technique is waaaay less expensive and definitely more pleasant than surgery on the snorOR, earplugs for the snorEE, or the use of any of the contrivances shown here. And, who knows...it might even work for weight loss and wealth acquisition! A Google search provides some starting points. Here's one: Self-Hypnosis Techniques.

Good luck!

PS. My everlovin' insists that I also snore, but I know that cannot be true!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Things I miss from days gone by - #2 - "Real" Classified Ads

"Real" Classified Ads in Local Newspapers.

All through high school and college I worked in the Classified Ads department of the Schenectady Gazette. It was an excellent job for a student -- good hours, nice people, pleasant working conditions, adequate pay, but, above all, the sense that you had an insider's knowledge about what was going on in the community...just because you worked in the building where the paper was published.

If you are older than me, you will remember when Help Wanted ads were divided into categories, Male Help Wanted, Female Help Wanted, and Male or Female Help Wanted. The Male Help Wanted category encompassed all the best-paying jobs in addition to the jobs involving heavy labor. The Female Help Wanted category included all the lower-paying and dead-end office jobs, child care jobs, personal service jobs, waitressing, etc. The Male or Female Help Wanted category was always much smaller and included the jobs that nobody wanted anyway, such as traveling magazine sales. Within each of the categories, employers were permitted to specify age, education, and marital status restrictions thought by employers to be critical to job performance whether or not those restrictions were in any way job related.

Fair Housing, too, was in its infancy at this time. While race and color restrictions had been disallowed for employment ads in our state some years before I started working, when it came to housing, landlords were still permitted to mention in a convoluted way their own personal race or religious orientation in ads, as for example, "Apartment for rent in home occupied by white, Christian family." I leave it to you to figure out who was probably not going to rent that apartment. Eventually, the law and newspaper policy eliminated such references, but meanwhile, my co-workers and I, as high school students, had the fun of explaining to employers and landlords why we could not word their ad as they wished.

There was a lot wrong with the system then, and no thinking person of conscience would ever want to return to those days of rampant discrimination, but sometimes I wonder if we haven't inadvertently embraced other types of discrimination. There are very few employment ads in any local newspaper anymore. Online editions of newspapers provide a link to sites like Yahoo Careers, Monster, Snag-a-Job, etc. Even if a job seeker presents himself/herself at the office of a major employer, before any real relationship is established, the job seeker is likely directed to a computer to complete an online application. Similarly, most housing rentals are done through Craigs List. Besides the mechanization of a human experience, there are a lot of evil people "out there" and one rarely knows exactly who they are dealing with. Applying for anything this way can be dangerous!

Disregarding for the moment the dangers possibly inherent in the application process, who can apply for these jobs or housing units anyway? Obviously, ONLY persons with basic computer literacy,
an active email account, access to a computer (their own, someone else's, or one at a library) plus, of course, the means to get to a computer frequently enough to check for an email response. Let's see now, who might this system eliminate from consideration? Maybe low income folks without a car, or gas money, or a computer or internet service? Older workers who never saw the need for a computer? Speakers of other languages? Non-readers? Do you think some employable folks with a good work ethic be included in these categories?

Assuming that the job or apartment seeker clears these hurdles, the individual must then know which websites to go to and which to avoid, be aware of the need to configure a pop-up stopper, or be tolerant of many unwanted and inappropriate ads. The unsophisticated may think that they MUST accept such advertising offers in order to access the job listings. Finally, the job seeker must remember to turn off the computer's speakers to avoid the audio ads that bypass the pop-up stopper. Optimistically assuming that the individual gets this far, he/she still will not know whether there is truly a job or apartment available or whether someone just wants to collect their email address to deluge them with email spam.

A job is a very personal, hopefully long term, experience between a worker and an employer. An apartment rental is a personal experience between a tenant and a landlord. The current system requires input of substantial personal information without a hint of human reaction such as a smile, a nod, a frown, etc. We have allowed the processes to become overly de-personalized and might all be better served by substituting just a little bit of technology with some old-fashioned humanity.

On a related note, newspapers throughout the country are experiencing diminished revenues and staff layoffs. It used to be that a good ad section helped sell papers. Yet newspapers have forgone their revenue from classified ads by providing only links to monster, yahoo careers, etc., and they might even be paying for those links. It seems as if a community newspaper should have a certain responsibility to the community they serve. Jobs and housing are a huge factor in any community and I feel that newspapers are shirking their responsibility in this regard.

Maybe, just maybe, there more people could be working and more housing occupied if seekers could more easily connect with decision makers. Wouldn't it be nice if just for a little while, just until we figure out if it works, we went back to advertising local jobs and housing in local papers, with applications reviewed by "real" people who would engage in in-person discussion with applicants?

Could we try it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Simple Foodie Pleasures - #2 - Slovenian Sausage

Slovenian Sausage. I'm not a sausage enthusiast. Except for an occasional hot dog and possibly Italian sausage with pasta, I rarely buy or order sausage or wurst. But that all changed when our good friend and neighbor, Jim, introduced us to Slovenian sausage. On that occasion, Jim's brother, John, was visiting from Joliet, IL, and had brought a generous supply with him, so Jim hosted a cookout and offered the sausage along with hamburgers and hot dogs. This batch had been made at a local meat market and was neither branded nor pre-packaged. I was told that three brothers at the store make several varieties of sausage, each doing 2,500 lbs. a day, but that they are all of advanced age and have neither children nor grandchildren who wish to take up the occupation, so these "home made" sausages will not be available for much longer.

That was a year ago, and I was hooked with the first bite. When Jim went back to Illinois for a family gathering a few weeks ago and brought back enough to share, I was delighted.

Slovenian sausage is known by several names including Carniolan sausage and Kranjska klobasa (various spellings). See the package below on the left. The contents are coarsely ground pork and beef, plus spices peculiar to that type of sausage to give the distinctive flavor. You can see the coarseness of it below on the right.

Slovenian has been called both the queen of sausage and the scourge of the digestive system. No doubt in my mind that it's both! Eastern European cooks do a lot with it, including it in casseroles, etc., but I'm well satisfied by just putting a link of it into a really good bun (such as from the Publix bakery) and adding a good deli mustard, like Boar's Head.

Another poster here introduced the blogspot community to Dat Dog sausage restaurant in New Orleans where Slovenian is included on the menu. You can see that her reaction is similarly enthusiastic. Dat Dog gives you a choice of dressings. Here it is with onions and peppers besides the mustard. Doesn't it look good?

Don't know how I missed this special sausage during all the years
that I lived in the ethnically-rich city of Schenectady, NY, but I will be forever grateful to Jim for the introduction. It's getting more and more difficult to find this treat (even in Europe) as the old-time sausage makers are passing on, so if you live in an ethnic area where you can find it (that would NOT be Athens, GA), buy it. Taste it once and you, too, will be hooked. (If I'm wrong, email me and I'll come get whatever you have left.)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Simple Foodie Pleasures - #1 - Tomatoes!

Fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes. Growing up in Columbia County, New York, then living in the Schenectady area, we so looked forward to the homegrown tomatoes and sweet corn that used to become available about mid-July through August. Lucky New York City folks got world-class tomatoes for a longer season as growers on Long Island and nearby New Jersey could eke out several crops a year.

During my middle years in Southwest Florida, I was always disappointed in the local tomatoes. They looked absolutely beautiful but had a thick white core, were not as juicy, and in my mind, were not as tasty. I don't miss them at all.

Georgia generally has wonderful produce -- sweet corn, blueberries, super-sweet vidalia onions, and, of course, peaches. But Georgia tomatoes are AWESOME! They rekindle my memories of the flavors that I enjoyed in childhood -- plain tomato and mayonnaise sandwiches (if lettuce and bacon were not readily available), sliced tomatoes and sweet corn almost every night for dinner.

I'm not sure why tomatoes vary so much between locations. My attempts to grow tomato plants in potting soil in the "perfect growing climate" of Naples, Florida still produced fruit with more of the white core than I appreciate. The heat in Northeast Georgia is way more intense than Southwest Florida and it's been cold enough for snow for the past several years. Maybe it's the variation in weather that the plants need to produce tasty fruit? Does anybody know?

While we contemplate this, join me in enjoying this season's crop of "love apples." In some areas, there are only a few more weeks!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Things I miss from days gone by - #1 - Youth talent shows

Local amateur talent TV shows for kids. I grew up in Upstate New York where the major TV channel was WRGB. For many years running there were two amateur shows. Juvenile Jamboree for younger talent aired on Saturday afternoons. Teen-Age Barn for older youth appeared on Friday evening at early prime time. Both were produced by Tommy Sternfeld.

Groups, duos and individuals were all represented in every possible talent area. There were vocalists, ethnic dance groups, ballet dancers, ventriloquists, musicians, acrobats, as well as any other talent that you can think of.
Short interviews before each act relaxed the performers and instilled pride in the communities mentioned. Each act had to audition for each appearance so some performers only appeared once or twice while others became regulars. A few eventually went on to professional careers in the entertainment world while others enjoyed careers as attorneys, CPAs, teachers, hair dressers, and owners of various businesses in the Albany-Schenectady-Troy area but nearly all were remembered as former Juvenile Jamboree or Teen Age Barn "stars."

I don't even know if kids still take ballet lessons, learn to be ventriloquists, etc. any more. If not, it's too bad as excellence in these pursuits is satisfying and leads to self-esteem as well as keeping kids out of trouble. Viewers looked forward to the shows and paid sponsors must have been abundant as one of the shows ran for 17 years. (Juvenile Jamboree did not last quite as long as Teen Age Barn.)

Why don't we do this any more? We still have kids with talent, an abundance of TV commercials, and time slots where such a show would be an improvement. It may also be that we owe our communities' children a little more than we're giving them. For sure, if I owned a company able to buy TV commercials, I would look into the cost effectiveness of buying a commercial spot that was certain to capture the loyalty of some talented local performers, their parents, and the communities in which they lived.

Is anybody listening?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

It's Not Always the Food ... or the Price

Sometimes it's just about making people happy.

Husband and I recently vacationed in Naples, Florida, where we used to live.  On a rainy Sunday evening in July, one of the slowest months of the year, we visited an expensive, relatively new seafood restaurant in the pricey Third Street South area.  We sat at the bar and enjoyed a glass of wine while we contemplated whether or not this was the place for dinner.  Although there was a wonderful outdoor seating area, there was no one seated at that particular time, possibly because the exceeding warm temps were not offset much by the rain.  There was one other party at the bar and two parties seated in the indoor dining area.  Our bartender gave us a menu and the first thing that caught my eye was a $39 raw platter appetizer for two.  My everlovin' cannot eat raw seafood, so I asked for a half-order, just for me.  Request denied.

Often, if we feel that we've established a relationship with the bartender, we will eat at the bar, especially on this kind of a night, but this time we decided to eat inside.  Thinking that my request was not unreasonable, I asked our table server and again received a firm but polite No.  Since I was disinclined to order a $39 appetizer and leave half of it, or attempt to bring the leftovers from a raw platter back to the hotel, I ordered something else.  

I'm an extreme foodie and a seafood foodie, in particular.  For real foodies, once we get a taste for something, there can be no substitutes. 
We'll just think about that item forever until we finally get it.  The near-miss on the raw platter happened a month ago and I'm still thinking about it and wondering how I can ever enjoy it.  Maybe make a paper sign indicating my interest in sharing a raw platter and stand outside the restaurant on our next visit?  Probably there will be no next time for us at this particular establishment, and unfortunately, we live in an area where there is little fresh seafood, so my craving cannot be resolved at home.

Back home in Athens, GA, our most-patronized restaurant (DePalma's East Side) is not our favorite because of its extraordinary food but rather because they always go overboard to assure a pleasurable dining experience.  Want to try a new wine?  They will pour a sample.  Want a different side?  Sure, no problem.  Want a little more sauce than usual with your entree?  Of course.  Any reasonable request is accommodated, and at a very nominal charge, if any.  And so, we go there at least once a week.  

If anyone can enlighten me as to why Sea Salt in Naples or any other restaurant would  choose not to accommodate a customer request on a slow summer evening to shuck just a half-order of that fabulous-sounding raw platter appetizer, I'd sure like to be able to understand. 

In the meantime, if you're ever in Athens, GA, give DePalma's East Side a try.  (Don't expect northeast/middle Atlantic style traditional Italian, but you will get good food and they will do their best to make you happy.) Take a look at their dinner menu here.          

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Wandering Watch

What an amazing weekend!  I'm mentally exhausted but emotionally exhilarated.

Saturday started off normally. 
It was my everlovin' husband's birthday, so I was planning on taking him to dinner.  During the afternoon I made a mall run to get a replacement battery installed in my watch.  Most people would see this watch as a very dated vintage piece as the band is the nugget gold that was popular in the 1980s.  But to me, it's a very special watch because it was a gift from my darlin' and I've worn it every day since April of 1986, except for the few days when it needed a battery replacement and wouldn't run. 

The actual battery replacement was quick and uneventful.  The jeweler commented on the watch, saying that because gold had increased so much it price that it would cost more than a thousand dollars to buy a comparable watch today.  I wasn't planning on selling, but that was good news.  Since I was already wearing my "emergency watch" I put the good one in a zippered outside pocket of my bag, stopped for an Orange Julius in the mall, made a purchase at one other small shop across from Orange Julius, then went directly home. The first thing I did upon arriving home was to check for similar watches on ebay.  Sure enough, there was a watch exactly like mine offered for a starting price of $1,199. 

As husband and I readied to go to dinner, I opened the zippered pocket of my bag to retrieve the watch.  IT WAS GONE!  Since I often tend to think that misplaced items are "gone," husband assured me that it couldn't be and he helped me search every pocket of the bag and felt every crevice of the lining.  No watch.  Then I noticed that the zipper was defective and after being zipped, would split apart.  It must have fallen out.

We both checked my car.  No watch.  I called the shop where I had made a purchase to see if they had found a watch.  No watch.  We enjoyed a lovely dinner but I was heartsick.  Even woke up several times during the night, thinking of the watch. On Sunday, I drove back to the mall just before they opened to check out the exact area where I parked.  Even if the watch had been crushed, I still wanted it.  There was no watch.  I went back to the jewelry store and asked one of the same clerks as had been on duty the day before if I might have left it on the counter.  She told me that I had put it in the outside pocket of my bag, which is exactly what I remembered.

Sadly, I headed home.  As I passed the Orange Julius stand, I noticed that the same two women were working and that at the moment, there was no line awaiting service.  I stopped and asked the same person who waited on me if, by any chance, they had found a watch yesterday afternoon. 
With a big smile, she picked up the watch from under the serving counter and handed it to me.  I was so stunned and so pleased that I burst into tears.  I tried to get her name but was unable to do so because of the background noise from the food court and because it was not a name that I have heard before.  She explained that her boss, the other woman on duty, had found it.  Jubilantly, I went back to the jewelry store, still crying with delight, and told the clerk what had happened.  The following day I went back to Orange Julius with a thank-you card containing an appropriate reward for each of the two women who had held my watch for me.  I will never be able to thank them enough and will always think of their honesty and accommodation every time I pass an Orange Julius stand.

While I'm thrilled to have my watch back, I cannot help but ponder how limited the opportunities are to recover lost property.  There are few "Lost and Found" procedures still in place.  There was nothing potentially helpful in our rarely-read local newspaper. Have we become so insensitive that we cannot relate to another's profound sense of loss and make sure there are ways to match lost items with their owners?  It may be old-fashioned, but it's part of a sense of community and I miss it.