Sunday, May 31, 2009

Under a Spell

I am sitting here watching a broadcast of the US National Spelling Bee. It's been delayed to fit our different time zone, so I already know who is going to win because that's been on the news for hours. Nonetheless, I am hooked and cannot not watch it.

There was a fabulous documentary out a couple of a years ago about this contest called Spellbound. It was tremendously involving and compelling, and it has made me aware of what these really smart kids under the age of 14 must be feeling as they stand up there trying to spell words they are unlikely to ever use, like pogonip, axolotl, goombay, xebec and passacaglia. Hey, they're so odd that the Microsoft Word spell checker has just highlighted three of them as incorrect.

They just interviewed a girl who was the first to get eliminated in the finals. She was from Florida and had drawn the word conchyliated. The CH is pronounced like a K, but she got past that tricky part successfully, only to falter by putting an I in where the Y was needed. The woman doing the interview started out by saying, "Conchyliated is a word you will remember for the rest of your life."

And she's absolutely right. It was 47 years ago that I competed in the Syracuse spelling bee. I made it through several rounds but got hung up on ephod which is pronounced E-fodd. It's a garment worn by ancient Hebrew priests, and I put an F in where the PH was needed.

The saddest part for me - while this word is permanently burned into my brain I don't think I have ever been able to work it into a sentence, much less a conversation. I suppose that's because there aren't any ancient Hebrew priests around any more. Otherwise, I could have certainly found one opportunity to say something like, "I can't believe Isaac wore such a loud ephod!"

But of course, if there had been ancient Hebrew priests around, I might have known how to spell ephod and it would have been another word altogether that stayed burned in my brain forever. But as it stands, I suspect I will do a Citizen Kane on my deathbed and totally befuddle whoever is around by gasping as my last word, "Ephod!"

Friday, May 29, 2009


In a week in which I had so much fun and so many good things happened, I awoke this morning to find an e-mail telling me a friend had passed away. It was expected and probably a blessing all around, but that still doesn't stop the air from being sucked out of you when you read it.

She had been in a horrific car accident last October and never awoke from a coma. She started out as just a corporate wife in the company, someone we saw at annual meetings and such. But over the years we became friends, shared lots of time together - even had some holiday time together.

I will always remember that whenever she came to Sydney she would bring Lily a gift - not the "I am going to impress you with a gift for your grandchild" type of present, but little stuff that kids like - activity books, little toys, even introducing Lily to the joys of filling in the blanks in MadLibs.

We will miss her, and it's sad to think we will never see her again.

I know this blog is usually silly stuff but it is also a diary of my retirement. So I wanted to record this unhappy moment, but not much more to write about today.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Bride Wore Black - and Red. The Pictures

You can check out some pictures from Jason and Laura's wedding at Shutterfly. Just click on this link.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Bride Wore Black - And Red

I'm getting married in the morning.
Ding dong, the bells are going to chime.
Feather and tar me, but don't use the army,
And get me to the bowling alley on time.
Get me to the bowling alley on time!

kinda like the lyrics of Allen Jay Lerner

Yep, it happened today. The world got a new Mrs Kennedy and we didn't lose a son, but gained a daughter.

Jason and Laura were married this afternoon and it is a banner day for the family. The vows were exchanged next to the ball return rack between Lanes One and Two at Tenpin City bowling alley.

All my life I've seen footage of people getting married at ball games, in hot-air balloons, even under water wearing scuba gear. Always wondered what it was like to be part of one of these non-traditional weddings. Now I know. It was fun, and it totally matched the personalities of the bride and groom - who looked fantastic in their monogrammed red-and-black bowling shirts.

It certainly didn't have the normal feel of a wedding because Jason and Laura exchanged personal vows two years ago today. They thought of themselves as husband and wife from that day, and so did we. So today seemed more like an exclamation point than an entirely new sentence. A short ceremony legalized their bonds; the celebrant explained that marriage was for life; the kids chose to perform an interpretive dance rather than a reading or a poem; then they exchanged vows and signed the documents.

It mixed love, a great sense of fun, a strong streak of independent thinking and bravery. Believe me, knowing a video camera was running and still doing the interpretive dance in a public place was brave.

Then we bowled. Or, to be more precise, the others bowled and I found out that my tenpin mojo had grown wings and flown away. But not before my lower back and fingers all made me feel like I was closer to being 100-years-old than 20. Oh, that's right. I am.

Didn't matter, it was fun being with our family and meeting Laura's in such a casual setting.

One slightly awkward moment - Jason asked Lily what she thought of the interpretive dance he and Laura had done. She thought for a microsecond before showing the makings of a great politician who can field any curly question by deflecting blame. "Well, Bampy said it was pretty dodgy," she told him.

Anyhow, We just got back tonight, and I will post some pix tomorrow on Shutterfly so check back later on today for the address. And if you're really nice to me, I will finally figure out how to edit video and upload it on YouTube. I think you'd all like to check out the interpretive dance yourselves.

You're Just My (Stereo)Type

"Will you still need me,
Will you still feed me
When I'm 64?"

John Lennon and Paul McCartney

For quite awhile I have subscribed to - mostly because I really have no clue how most stuff works. But yesterday they kind of wandered off the page with an essay called "5 Stereotypes about Aging (That Just Aren't True)". You can read the article yourself, but as an official older person I think I am in a pretty good position to comment on some of the insights written by author, Tom Scheve.

The first stereotype he refutes is All Old People Are the Same. I am a bit surprised that this is a stereotype since I don't really know anyone who has voiced that sort of opinion. But if one of my 7 or 8 readers does believe this, listen up. Tom is right - all old people are not the same. Some of us have skills - like, say, fixing household appliances - and some of us do not. Some of us are creative - like, say, inventing toast that is soft on one side - and others stubbornly want it dark all around. Some of us just cannot drop certain topics while others wish we would. Some of us get cranky - oh never mind, we all pretty much do that.

The second stereotype he rebuffs is that Only the Young Believe Stereotypes About Old People. Apparently, lots of old people have also fallen for the bad image thing and started to believe the myths, making them more or less true. The worst offenders apparently are the elderly who watch the most television. They view their peer group worse than those who don't watch much TV. I can only imagine how miserable their outlook would be if they were to broadcast Masterchef Australia around the world. Then the elderly would think badly of old people AND Australians.

The third stereotype is that Less-Industrialized Societies Treat the Elderly Better. Apparently the myth of the venerable old people being held in high esteem by their nomadic tribes doesn't cut it when they become too much of a nuisance and absent-mindedly wander off into the tundra. Of course, it's also obvious to me that less-industrialized societies don't have as many resources to help with the care of the elderly. I suspect that there may be a direct link between the price of pet food and how well old people are treated.

The next myth is fun - The Aging Should Leave the Planning to Others. Scheve writes, "In the minds of many people, as soon as someone turns 60 or so, he or she can't be trusted with making even basic decisions."

Look, there are a couple of ways of skinning this cat. The first is obvious. Most of the people our kids' ages have assumed we have been making bad decisions for the last 30 years. We didn't need to turn 60 for them to come to that conclusion.

But you probably can't hear me making this argument very well because of all the loud laughter as my friends over 60 contemplate letting their kids make their decisions for them. You know, if you don't see how funny that is, then there's nothing I can write to make it clear. But let's just say that - even before this one was discussed - this myth was busted.

There's a last stereotype, but it's about elderly suicide and even I cannot think of a way to write a punchline with that topic. But I do see how writing about having our kids start to make our decisions for us could naturally lead to thoughts of putting your head in the oven.

Anyhow, it's an interesting little article. Check it out if you have time.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Poker Karma

Jason is getting married tomorrow, so yesterday I went with him to do the preparations that we men are responsible for in the lead-up to the wedding. For Jason, that consisted of making sure he told Linda and me what time to show up. Once that was done, he and I had time to go to a local club and play in a poker tournament.

I have only played in a couple of these, and I invariably got knocked out early. But with all my online games behind me I was ready to tackle the live table one more time. What I discovered is that my poker game is much better now than it was the last time I played in a tournament. And I also discovered my online game has completely ruined me if I wanted to look like I knew what I was doing - which may not be such a bad thing in poker, of course, but it doesn't help the ego when you're not doing it deliberately.

Online poker is played at a rate of knots. Cards are dealt in microseconds, hands are bet or folded with clocks constantly ticking. In the tournament, time crawls - cards need to be shuffled after a hand, and some players have watched way too much poker on TV and seem to love going into deep meditation as they debate what to do. My version of thinking about a hand tends to last four or five seconds, which not surprisingly appears to be my attention time span nowadays.

Online poker also has given rise to some bad habits. If the other players were to give me a nickname yesterday, I believe it would have been Don "Is It My Turn" Kennedy. I am used to the little beep on the computer that lets you know it's time to bet or fold when you play online. Sitting at the table, I found that I actually had to pay attention. And as the day wore on, I started to notice the slight annoyance at my table as I once again had to ask if it was my turn to do something. Hmmm, spotting any trends?

The online game also lets you know the minimum amount you can bet. I had a couple of raises rejected because I hadn't put enough in. Funny, it seemed like a lot of chips. Even funnier, both times I would have lost more chips if they'd let me raise like I wanted. Good poker karma for the old fat guy.

Anyhow, a good result. Jason and I both made the final two tables, and best of all we never played hands against one another. I don't know how Serena feels when she beats Venus, because I would have felt pretty bad had I knocked Jason out (and I am not going to even risk asking him how he would feel about knocking me out). I think he finished about 10th.

I had good luck till right at the end and came in second. That qualified me to play in a regional tournament in a couple of weeks along with a little money. I hope that's all I ended up with yesterday.

As he left the final table, I noticed that the dealer who was giving us our cards and pushing the chips our way when we won was clutching a bottle of Robitussin. I only hope he hasn't been to Mexico lately or I think my instant poker karma might be out to get me after all.


PS For you poker players out there, I thought you'd like to see a really awful hand that happened at a table I was playing on.

Fortunately I was not involved in the hand, but if you look carefully you will see that Coaterman, the player on the right, got exceptionally lucky and hit four 10s.

His karma, however, was not quite so good on the day as the player on the left managed to get a straight flush on the last card.

I keep that picture on my computer so that I never again feel poorly done by losing a hand that I was pretty sure would win.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Post-It Notes

Haven't had much blogging stuff rattling around my brain lately, but Sandy asked LK about it and suddenly the rumblings from my (very small) fan club made me feel stressed about the need to add an entry. And as my WiiFit keeps pointing out, stress is bad for my posture. (I am taking its word for that, by the way, because I can't figure out the connection myself.)

This picture is for all of you living in the northeast and Canada who are used to seeing poinsettias in little pots around Christmas.

I have lived here more than 20 years, but I am still not used to seeing these large shrubs towering way over my head. Saw this on my walk today and thought it also shows how pretty Sydney is even as we are only days away from winter.

So there. You can be pretty sure that I haven't got much to blog about when I take pictures of plants with my phone camera and figure out how to write several paragraphs so the text wraps around it.

Fortunately, I was able to stretch the text out long enough that I didn't have to tell you that the plants were named after Joel Poinsett, the first US ambassador to Mexico, who introduced them to the US back when plants from Mexico were brought into the US because they were pretty and not for their, er, medicinal benefits. I say "fortunate" because googling the history of a plant in order to post a blog would surely be a sign that in just nine months this thing has pretty much sucked me dry of most ideas.

Anyhow, this week marks LK's last week of work (more or less), I am getting serious about tackling the work project I have taken on, Jason and Laura are getting married at a bowling alley, I am having lunch with Linton at a Greek restaurant, I am going back to the old company for drinks and we are having dinner with our best friend. I am guessing there will be enough material for a few more posts.

If not, there are more impressive plants I can take pictures of.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Rainy Day Blues

OAPs. You start hearing about them when you reach your 50s, but by the time you've started coping with the fact that you really are more than 60-years-old, you definitely understand OAPs -- Old Age Pains.

Right now several of my dear friends are coping with significant medical and health issues, so I don't want to act as if I think stiff joints and aching muscles are in the same league with serious problems. I am well aware they are pretty trivial, and I am writing about these mostly because it kind of startles me that the stereotypes of getting older are turning out to be true.

I used to think it was some silly TV comedy thing to hear a character say they know it's going to rain when their joints start aching. Now I find out that Dylan knew what he was singing about and you really don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows - or when it's going to rain. Bad hips and shoulders take care of foul weather predictions pretty well.

This morning I was telling my Dad that I had awakened early because it was cold and rainy during the night, and I couldn't sleep anymore because most of my joints were aching pretty badly. "I guess it just comes from getting old," I told him.

There was a brief pause on the other end of the line, then he quietly said, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

When I stopped laughing, I told him I really appreciated that optimistic outlook and it gave me lots to look forward to. He switched the call over to my mother. I think he knew that, even at the age of 60 and complaining about some minor aches and pains, after a dose of hard truth from Dad a guy still needs his mother to sympathise and make him feel a little bit better.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Big & Tall Story

In the very, very old days, being fat was a sign of success. You could always spot the success stories as they sat around the castle (and to paraphrase Rodney Dangerfield, "And I do mean around the castle!" Tish boom.)

Fitting a bit too snugly into the banquet chair obviously meant that you were successful enough to have plenty of food and it probably meant that you didn't have to do physical labor, unlike all those skinny serfs outside.

But of course, all that has changed now. Being fat, in fact, can be an impediment to your business success.

Except here.

There is a report out now showing that fat people in Australia make more money than people who don't sneak in a Snickers during their toilet break. Some academic from Australia National University has taken the data on thousands of Aussie workers and learned that tall people and fat people earn more than their counterparts. At least that explains why clothes cost so much more at the Big & Tall Store.

I am pretty sure this salary discrepancy favoring tall or heavy people here in Oz is because most businesses still pay their staff by having them sit on a scale, which is then balanced with gold coins. Short, skinny people are just plain out of luck. (And, on a tangent, it also explains why women make less than most men. Clearly, this has never been a feminist issue but has to do with body weight.)

This is, of course, just one more example of how academics, researchers and the media draw dumb conclusions. I don't even know if the ANU researcher correctly counted and tagged enough people to conclude that overweight people really do make more than others, but let's accept it for the sake of argument.

The media's headlines - if you are overweight, you are likely to earn more - is one plausible explanation. But I can think of two equally plausible alternatives right off the top of my head.

How about - if you are earning more than most people, you are likely in a sedentary job, work longer hours and are older. So you may tend to be overweight more than those earning less.

Or how about this? Just because more fat people made more money does NOT necessarily mean that there is any connection. Flip a coin a hundred times. Very seldom will you get 50 heads and 50 tails, but it does not mean you are more likely to get heads than tails just because that is what happened in one instance.

This is the sort of stuff that used to drive me crazy when I was publisher. Lazy journalists pick up just about any research that anyone releases and draw conclusions that are seldom logically valid from data that is too often not even close to statistically valid. In other words, it is crap. But it's easy to write the story, so crap gets on the menu again.

At one point I got so frustrated I wrote a long memo to the writers and editors urging them to stop this type of reporting. All of them agreed with me yet none of them changed a thing about how they reported research. (Proving, I guess, that journalists and editors are more likely to lie to their boss than others? I seem to have the stats to prove it!)

I forwarded column after column from Carl Bialik, the Numbers Guy from the Wall St Journal who is a fabulous analyst of research and often shows how the researchers and media get it so wrong. I love his columns, but alas they had little impact on my team of writers.

Nonetheless, this is a nice roundabout way of tying the knot in this post. Last week Bialik wrote a blog post called "How Not to Tell If You're Overweight" about the fact that BMI - the Body Mass Index - is probably a flawed way of analyzing whether you are overweight.

And here I had tried to devise a diet (The Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program) to lower my BMI. Now I have to consider that perhaps my BMI is misleading, and I may not be obese after all. It's all very confusing. If you're not really overweight will you still make more money? If I am thin, do I still need to wear XXL sizes?

Thank God the diet's trials are over. I think I need a glass of wine.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bowled Over

LK and I have developed what I think is a pretty good pattern for surviving our retirement years. We tend to be together, but do separate things.

Some of it is just distribution of labor. I make the bed; she sleeps in it. I make the coffee; she drinks it. I push the shopping cart; she fills it. I get hungry; she feeds me. I wear my underpants; she washes them.

There are other times, though, when we are both ostensibly doing the same thing - say, watching a TV show - and are doing entirely different things. I will be playing poker online, for example, and she will be checking out the forum at Cruise Critic. You can tell because inevitably one of us will say "What was that they just said?" and the other one will say "I don't know. I wasn't listening."

We both have some things we do that the other does not. (OK, I am exempting bodily functions for this paragraph.) Linda reads voraciously and researches all sorts of things relevant to our new retired life. I exercise on the Wii, take walks, blog and play online poker most days. I know that doesn't sound like the most exciting life, and obviously LK agrees because she has opted out of all of these, preferring a third cup of coffee to the downward-facing dog.

But there is one thing we do together. I would never have predicted it in a million years, but every Sunday afternoon for the past three months we have bowled against one another on the Wii. Linda is much better at it than I am, and the harder I try the worse I get. So I have done the obvious thing. I now coach her so I can share some of the glory when she bowls a fantastic score and I discover why she is ranked about 20% higher than me.

I also help her maintain her high ranking. If she has a split or just plain misses a spare, I usually just restart the game so her rating stays where it is. As a competitor, you would think I would be happy to have a chance to finally get a score somewhere in the vicinity of hers. But I have made the clear choice that I will do better as coach, riding on her coattails, than I will ever do by winning the odd game or two.

It does have its risks, though. Yesterday she got a split and couldn't convert to a spare. I hit restart only to have her say in her most disbelieving voice, "But I had five strikes in a row before that!" She felt her ranking would have improved despite the missed split. And I learned another lesson. Not only am I not as good a bowler as she is, apparently I don't even cheat all that well either.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Show Her the Money

Linda is thinking a lot about her pending retirement, which will start in a couple of weeks, and what she will do.

Some of the things she is doing are a natural for her. She loves to travel, and she has taken the role of family travel planner with gusto. She has long been our in-house property expert (which is to say, our in-house house expert), and probably has as much expertise on the local real estate market as most of the people who make their living at it. This will be very important down the road since selling our house is a key element of our retirement.

And just the other day potential changes in the laws affecting our retirement fund had her focus her research and thinking on that. I know it was on her mind, because over morning coffee she looked at me and asked, "What are we going to live on next year?" She didn't seem to appreciate the way I shrugged my shoulders.

It is a good question, I grant you, and it probably says a lot about us that LK is only asking it now - two weeks before she kisses the working world a fond adieu. To be fair to her, I need to stress that the question wasn't asked in a "How-in-the-world-are-we-going-to-survive?" sort of way. It was more a "When-neither-of-us-has-a-paycheck-coming-in-how-do-we-pay-the-bills?" way.

We probably should have mapped out all this pension and annuity stuff long ago - or at least around the time I stopped working. But, for all the reasons most of my friends do not sit by the phone waiting for me to call, we just haven't got around to it.

It's all got to do with minimizing taxes and maximizing returns - stuff that gets more and more important when you stop earning money. Unfortunately, I have never been able to work up enough interest in this stuff to be able to make smart decisions. I feel like I've already done my bit to minimize our taxes by no longer working.

I know we have to get some sort of income stream in place before the end of the Australian tax year on June 30, but there's a bit of a perfect storm looming because our accountant and the guy who advises us on our retirement fund are both procrastinators like I am. I suppose it will finally be LK who spurs us all onto action when she realizes that even she cannot create gourmet meals with dry cat food.

I have faith that it will all work out. But with her own retirement looming, LK seems to want a little bit more of a plan and a little bit less of my faith-based initiative. Money may be the root of all evil, but I am pretty sure that not having money coming in would be just as troublesome in its own way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Double Century

Welcome to my 200th post. This blog started on August 4th last year with no idea if I would bother to keep it up or not. But thanks to my loyal fans - and the four of you know who you are - I have surprised myself by managing to write 200 posts since then.

Along the way I have learned a few things. Most notable, though, is that lots of guys cross their arms when they have their picture taken. I am not sure about Robert, Jorge and Ian, but I cross my arms in the vain hope that they will mask my industrial-sized love handles. The ledge from my belly also is a convenient place to rest my arms and take the strain of my very long arms off my shoulders.

But back to writing 200 posts. . . It may not seem like such an accomplishment to most people, but for me it is. I am a procrastinator by nature, which is a nice way of calling myself pretty lazy. Yet in my retirement I have doggedly stuck to two things - writing this blog and exercising. Most of the rest has been the abridged version of Great Expectations.

Which is all a roundabout way of telling you about the weight loss experiment. But first, a second run of the first picture I ever posted on this blog - my Mom and son Tom at my 60th birthday party in Rutland.


Testing the Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program.
Log. Day Seven.

I continue the tests to determine the viability of losing weight by not drinking while eating and exercising as normally. Well, technically that's no longer true. Last night, frustrated by a week of very little weight loss, I reintroduced white wine into the diet to see what the impact would be.

These are this morning's measurements.

Body Mass Index. Down -1.5% from yesterday and -2.0% from seven days ago. It is the lowest BMI in the three months of measurement.

Weight. Down -4.4 pounds (-2kg) since yesterday. Down -6.4 pounds (-2.9kg) in seven days.

Conclusion: This is a very exciting development. After drinking only water for six days, last evening a miracle occurred as I turned water into wine. My weight and BMI plummeted. It is likely that my grateful body celebrated the return of alcohol to its bloodstream by having an internal beach party and burning a body-fat bonfire.

A satisfying conclusion to a difficult and challenging experiment.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Love Thy Neighbor

"Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won't you be my neighbor?"

It's a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
, Fred Rogers

Put this in the category of One of Life's Little Mysteries Is Solved. For quite some time now, our trash bins have been miraculously appearing back in their normal space after the garbage trucks have emptied them and left them on the street. This morning I was sitting at the computer upstairs shortly after the trash was collected when I noticed one of our older neighbors a few houses up the block putting other people's trash bins back. He walked across the road doing the same including our house.

I have no idea if this is his idea of performing small, anonymous acts of charity for people you don't even know all that well or whether he has a type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which compels him to tidy up all the trash bins with their lids open or lying on their side in the road. In Greenwich either one is a real possibility. I will take it as an act of kindness.

I could ask him, of course, but the fact is that we have lived directly across the street from one another for nine years and have never spoken. We're friendly in the half-smile-nod-your-head way, but one thing no one will ever accuse Linda and me of is being overly close with our neighbors.

In the 20+ years we have lived in Oz, we have been in our neighbors' homes three times - and only once here where we have lived since 2000. Our neighbors have been in our homes, if my memory serves me correctly, never.

The funny thing is that we consider ourselves friendly with several of them. We stop and chat for awhile when we bump into one another on the sidewalk. They've collected our mail when we were away for a short time. We've asked some of them to join us for a drink on the deck in the summer, not really expecting them to accept - and they don't.

I think it's probably pretty urban. You live so close to one another that it's probably a lot safer to be cordial with one another than test a friendship by socializing only to realize that you would rather find out what it's like for a hairy man to wax his body than listen to them one more hour. And then you end up with the incredibly awkward times when you meet someone on the street whom you owe a dinner and have no desire whatsoever to return the favor because they are so boring/irritating/just plain dumb.

However, I am pretty sure the main reason for all this is because LK and I have been like bears retreating to their cave during our working years. We really savor evenings and weekends where we just veg out. When she joins me in retirement in a couple of weeks, I suspect this will be less desirable. But then again, it may get worse as we both start to grumble when we have to wear anything other than sweatpants and a t-shirt. It could go either way.

It was the New England poet Robert Frost who wrote, "Good fences make good neighbors," but I really can't claim I was raised to be like this with my neighbors. When I was growing up, my parents were great friends with so many of their neighbors. I can remember them all taking turns having get-togethers at one another's house. They became lifetime friends and forty years later, with great distances now between them, my folks are still in touch with several of those people.

And while it's nice to get phone calls, visits and e-mails from old neighbors, I will have to content myself with having the trash can brought in from the street.


Testing the Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program.
Log. Days Four through Six.

I continue the tests to determine the viability of losing weight by not drinking while eating and exercising as normally. I am beginning to think my theory is more wishful thinking than science. But wait, that's not really so bad, is it?

The monkeys have finally left the house. I did awaken to voices in the bedroom and thought it was them, but it turns out it was only Linda complaining - once again - that she cannot sleep on her side of the bed because she keeps rolling downhill toward me.

On Days Four and Five, blood glucose stayed level and BMI and weight both went UP, although not to the levels at the beginning of the test. Day Six saw glucose down quite a bit - although that may have had more to do with remembering to take my meds than any diet. BMI and weight both went down, but neither is as low as they were on Day Two.

So, cumulative six-day results:

BMI Down 1%
Weight Down 1.76 pounds (.9kg) (but 2 pounds higher than after Day Two)

Conclusion: I could have lost more weight by drinking two glasses of prune juice each day. I am even cheating a bit by increasing my exercising time in the (vain) hope of driving the numbers further down. If tomorrow doesn't yield some worthwhile results, this test is toast - admittedly, only browned on one side. I may mark the end of the test by going vegetarian - well, olives in the martinis.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fantasy and Reality

There are three great train wrecks in entertainment history.

Undoubtedly the best is in the early scenes of The Fugitive with Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones. As the train jumps the tracks and roars straight at you, you tense up and sit back in your seat, waiting for the impact to blow you to smithereens.

Second best is a wreck that is never shown, but the whole movie is about the lead-up to the crash. That's Runaway Train with Jon Voight and Eric Roberts. It's tense and heart-pounding, but ends in a eerie, dreamy acceptance that this train is going to be in little pieces in a few seconds.

The third best train wreck in entertainment history is happening right now. It's called Masterchef Australia, and it is a reality show that manages to combine mean-spiritedness and banality with a complete lack of suspense. It features judges so little known outside their own restaurants that they have to keep repeating their credentials every episode.

This won't mean much to you folks outside the US, of course, but it has been massively hyped here in Oz. It started out with a huge audience - mostly, I would guess, people who loved the BBC show called Masterchef. In the space of about nine episodes the local producers have managed to turn so many people off that it surely must rate as one of the worst examples of bad decision-making in the history of TV - and think how many of those there are!

The British original is a good-spirited show that is all about cooking. A bunch of people cook their hearts out and two judges decide who advances. Even when the dish is inedible, say raw chicken, the judges inevitably look really sorry for the contestant and commiserate that things didn't quite work out.

The Aussie version is actually nothing like the British show. It's more like Australian Top Chef Idol Survivor, with contestants undoubtedly being chosen for their personality and TV-ness. The judges love to mislead the contestants, much in the manner of an idiot uncle who thinks it's funny to tell a kid they're not getting any Christmas presents because Santa died only to say "Just kidding" when the kid starts bawling.

Last night's episode was the ultimate as the judges decided they had better things to do and they let the contestants decide who should be the first person to be kicked off the show. In the words of Reality Raver, a fun local blogger who obviously watches waaaay too much TV, the show has turned into a farce.

All of which is only interesting to me because Linda applied to get on the show. Thinking it would be like the BBC show for amateur cooks, she thought it would be a hoot to give it a go. She certainly cruelled her chances when she answered No to the question about whether she could give up three months away from her family if she were selected.

Thank God she did. Every time I watch one of those episodes, I picture her in the group. I could see her standing before the judges as they decide which 20 go to the finals. "Linda," they would say ever so slowly, "you're a good cook, but we're looking for a great chef so I've got some bad news for you." Camera shows Linda looking resigned to not going through. And then the judge smiles and says, "The bad news is you're going to be away from your family for three months because you're a finalist!"

They actually did that over and over to the contestants until you wanted to slap them upside the head. Most contestants went from abject dismay to near hysterical joy. My darling, however, would have been far more likely to scowl at the short judge who had said this (well, two of them are verrrry short and one is a flamboyant giant, so let's say the shortest judge), and my darling would probably have said something that would have aired like, "BLEEP you, you cruel midget BLEEPhole. Why would I want to spend one more BLEEPing day much less three months with BLEEPs like you?"

But let's say she held her tongue and ended up in the house with all the others. The mind boggles to think of her putting up with the clueless cute blonde - "Would you get a clue, you dumb BLEEP?" - or the super earnest one who is so scared of being eliminated - "Honey, it's a BLEEPing cooking show in BLEEPing Australia. Get a life!"

Well, you get the idea. In fact, the only reason I am enjoying this show at all any more is because I keep fantasizing scenes with my darling in the midst of all this. Frankly, that would have been fantastic entertainment. Chalk it up as one more mistake the local producers made.


Testing the Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program.
Log. Day Three.

I continue the tests to determine the viability of losing weight by not drinking while eating and exercising as normally. Significant changes are being noted. Perhaps most notable, the monkeys are no longer screeching at me, and are in fact conversing intelligently.

6.00pm I made a scotch and water for LK. Surprised myself by not wanting a drink myself.

6.01pm Changed my mind, but held firm. It helps that I have made sure there is no white wine or vodka in the house.

6.03pm Looked in the cupboard. Asked Linda what Framboise tastes like.

9.00pm Dinner. Tonight LK made baked penne with roasted cherry tomatoes, chili peppers, olive oil, fresh herbs and bits of sausage. I am beginning to suspect the fact that she didn't get on Masterchef has motivated her. I decide not tell her I never mailed her application.

9.10 Have more baked penne. Not even hungry any more, but it tastes so good. No, I mean I am doing this in the interest of the experiment to see if booze alone is why I am not losing weight.

10:50 Fighting sleep.

10:52 Fighting monsters in my sleep. The scariest is Freddie Krueger with a wine glass in his blade fingers. I know what will happen if I take it, and yet....

6.00am Wake up feeling good. Decide that means it's not time to get up and try to go back to sleep.

8.05am Measurements

Blood glucose levels have gone down -3.6%.

Body Mass Index down -1.9%

Weight down -1.5%

Conclusion: Very concerned about false readings. Must not jump to conclusions that booze really does have an impact of weight. May have to abandon trials if this disturbing trend continues.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Working Class Man

That's Maynard G Krebs.

Anyone younger than me will be thinking, No, that's Gilligan. They were both played by Bob Denver, but his first big role came as Maynard the beatnik kid in The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis - the TV show that started in 1959 and anticipated the announcers CNN would hire in later years by having the characters named Dobie, Maynard, Zelda, Thalia and Chatsworth.

I was thinking of Maynard today because he had a signature line on the show. Whenever anyone mentioned the possibility of work, his eyes would open wide and, in a voice about an octave higher than normal, he would screech "Work!" as if it was the most awful thing that could happen to a person.

Well, I have to confess that I have accepted some work ("Work!") in my retirement. Last month I did a couple of days and in the next few weeks I will really be tied up with a fairly large project. I am of two minds about mixing business with my life of pleasure.

The first is obvious. Getting a few more smackers in the bank account won't hurt given the trimming everything has taken during the (deep, ominous voice here) Global Financial Crisis. The 600-pound gorilla I haven't written about is, of course, the drop in retirement savings and plans that happened about 30 seconds after I walked out the door of the company.

But the truth is that we will be fine if things come back in the next year or two and Sydney's housing prices don't decide that they've stayed high long enough and it's time for a little lie-down. No sense in worrying about what you can't control, so I am choosing to believe that everything will be just fine. And if it isn't, we should at least be able to buy tinned cat food and not just the dry stuff.

Nonetheless, doing some work keeps me involved to an extent, keeps my skills up, and gives me a new focus while I am writing. To which, I say, Who cares?

And that's the other part of my thinking about taking on this work. Even when I was working, I didn't do it to keep myself involved, maintain my skills or have focus. I did it because I liked it. And when I didn't like it, I did it because I had made a commitment.

So doing this stuff now is like those times you took a job when you had summer holidays in high school. Sure, it was still vacation, and sure you could always use the money. But it definitely did not feel like summer vacation.

The flip side to all of this is that I am still pretty good at the type of work I have agreed to do, and it will not be a huge chore to get it done. Oh, and one thing I forgot to mention - it will make Linda happy.

So in one of the other signature lines of the great Maynard G Krebs, "You rang?"


Testing the Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program.
Log. Day Two.

I continue the tests to determine the viability of losing weight by not drinking while eating and exercising as normally. It seems remarkable that this is only Day Two. It seems more like six or seven months. Clearly, one of the side effects of forgoing the grog is that time stretches out and two days seems closer to an eternity.

7.00pm Watching dreadful cooking show on TV. Cannot focus on what is being prepared as bottle of wine in the background dominates my vision.

7.20pm Make LK a scotch and soda. Inhale fumes from Johnny Walker bottle for several seconds until she looks over.

9.00pm Dinner. Steak. Corn. Baked potatoes with butter, sour cream, chives. Briefly think that if this program works, it's not too shabby. Then realize that the best thing with a steak is not a glass of water.

10.30pm Surprise myself for second night in a row by falling asleep quickly. Dream of Flying Monkeys from the Wizard of Oz.

11.45pm In bathroom, eying Listerine bottle. I do not see any warnings that drinking contents is harmful. Slightly concerned that stomach could blow up in the manner of the people's cheeks in the Listerine ads. Do not need more stretch marks. Will think more about it.

7.00am Awake feeling better and more alert than usual. Consider this an annoying side effect as I recall the old line - this is the best I am going to feel today.

8.30am After five cups of coffee, decide to do exercises. Great difficulty standing still for yoga positions. Deep Breathing more like Shallow Panting. I blame this on lack of alcohol, not excessive caffeine. As you would.

9am Test results:

Glucose levels up 6% since start of program. However, still within the safe range. Forgetting to take meds for last two days may have contributed as well. Hmmm. No drinking for two days. Forgetting medicine for two days. Consider possibile loss of short-term memory as damaging side effect due to absence of alcohol.

Body Mass Index up (UP!) 0.4%.

Weight up 0.2%

Conclusion: One of three explanations seems most likely.

1) This diet doesn't work and I should return to drinking immediately or risk significant weight gain.
2) The measuring devices are not functioning properly. Perhaps they have never functioned properly. Perhaps I am already thin.
3) Day-to-day changes in BMI and weight are meaningless, since they are affected by such things as time of day, fluid retention, etc.

I want to opt for #1. But I will give it another day or two to see if this is a temporary fluctuation. Alternatively, I may have to exclude baked potatoes in addition to alcohol on this diet.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Retailer Therapy

We have been watching the two-year-old BBC show, "Mary Queen of Shops", which just began airing here. I had my doubts about this show, but it is turning into one of the more interesting things on TV.

The Mary of the title is Mary Portas, who had a noteworthy career in fashion retailing, and now operates a business advising other retailers how to succeed. In each episode of the show, she visits a fashion shop that is struggling and tries to help them get on a successful track.

Sounds dry as old biscuits, which is to say it sounds like most BBC shows. However, it turns out that it's actually very interesting. I am quite surprised that I like the show so because I enjoy shopping about as much as my cat Streak would enjoy having a bubble bath. And when it comes to shopping for women's clothing, my aversion to shopping is multiplied tenfold.

I so do not want to go into a women's clothing store that I have become one of those men who prefers to stand outside the shop on the sidewalk. Sure, it's my way of putting a little bit of pressure on LK not to take too long. And of course it never works because all women have pledged never to give in to such blackmail from men when shopping is involved. If you doubt me, just go to most malls and check out how many old guys are sitting on the benches killing time.

Anyhow back to the TV show, it may be about fashion boutiques but it really is a nice little primer on business in general. Mary Portas takes the shop owners out to meet their customers, has them take a close look at their nearest competitors, shows them some best practice shops that are doing very well and lets them interact with some of the best in the business. She then applies her extensive - successful - experience to advise them on what she thinks needs to be done.

And that is when the show becomes interesting. Because inevitably one or both of the shop owners digs in their heels or is offended or in some other way lets her know that they don't think much of what she is suggesting. Here you have people who are struggling in their business, have obviously asked this top-class expert to advise them and have been given a crash course in business. And they get defensive about their failed ideas! Amazing - and probably predictable.

There's no question that most businesses - hey, most everything - fail because people lock into things they need to change and refuse to do so. Fortunately for the folks on the TV show, Mary Portas is charming and persuasive. She usually gets her way. And inevitably the shop starts thriving and doing record business. And the person who fought her gives her a poor-faced You Were Right while they stuff money in their pockets they would not have had otherwise.

I want to check these shops out the next time we are in the UK. It will be interesting to see if they are still successful or if they only thrived when the TV cameras were rolling. You'll know if they're still doing well. There will be several older guys hanging around on the sidewalk checking their watches every few minutes.


Testing the Heavy Drinkers Quick Weight Loss Program.
Log. Day One.

I have begun the tests to determine the viability of losing weight by not drinking while eating and exercising as normally. Interesting results.

6pm Looked longingly at the wine glass in the cupboard but drank water instead.

7.15 Ignored screeching monkey hanging from the chandelier in the living room when I remembered there is no chandelier in the living room.

8.45 Forgot about wine for 15 seconds as I began to enjoy Mary Queen of Shops when Pom losers became defensive about their bad ideas.

9.15 Ate dinner. Realized I was no longer hungry and stopped eating. Very strange side effect to not drinking!!!!

10.30 Went to bed and fell asleep. Most surprising.

11.110 Woke up feeling refreshed. Wondered why it was still dark.

8.30 am. Time to measure.

Body Mass Index down .3% Might not sound like much, but that means that in 3 days, I could reduce the BMI by 1%. Theoretically, in 300 days I could cease to exist. If I haven't started drinking before then, I won't care.

Weight down 1.1 pounds (.5kg). May be a good sign but just as likely it is the aftermath of the pea soup LK made last night.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Weightier Matters

It's easy to ignore the elephant in the room, when you are the elephant. But it's time to take action about this weight thing. Every morning my Wii Fit tells me I am obese. When you look at the chart of my Body Mass Index, you have to take the Wii's word that it's there because its graph's scale doesn't go that high on the screen.

It's not like I am new to this overweight thing. I've been loosening my belt after dinner mot of my life.

I distinctly remember when I was a kid I wore husky dungarees. Don't know why denim jeans were called dungarees back then (actually I do, but I have promised not to tell you about things like the Hindu word dungri, meaning coarse cloth), and I really don't know why chubby chubs like me ended up being called husky.

But husky we were. Not husky like Julie London's voice, and definitely not husky like the sled dog. I don't think we resembled husks, but maybe that's because I a biased. But no, there was no confusion. Husky dungarees were designed to be worn by plump boys. And they started me on a lifelong pursuit of the relaxed fit.

But now I am getting very tired of it all. I have decided to reacquaint myself with my feet. And I have to accept that it's not going to happen without some drastic action.

For more than ten weeks I have astonished those who know me by exercising at least 45 minutes, and most days well over an hour. The result - not much. Obviously just moving my butt is not going to make it shrink. So today I am embarking on an experimental new diet that I have developed on my own.

I am pleased to announce The Heavy Drinker's Quick Weight Loss Plan. It's very simple and yet everything in me says that I am onto a winner.

The premise is uncomplicated. And with one small exception, it is dead easy.

First, exercise to the same level as normal. No need to do one tiny bit more than you are doing the day before the diet starts.

Second, eat exactly as you have been eating before. Love your potatoes? Have an extra one. Prefer them fried? Sizzle away. Rather have pizza? Pizza Hut delivers. Hate salad? Skip it.

Well, you get the idea. And there's no hidden trick here. No need to touch your tonsils after the meal. No need to drink 3 gallons of water before a meal. Nope, just do what you've been doing when it comes to stuffing your face.

Told you it was easy, didn't I? As I said, there is one small exception to this being dead easy. The trick to quick weight loss, I believe, will be to forgo wine and other booze for a while. Hundreds of calories will stay in the bottle instead of my belly. It would be like suddenly deciding not to eat a daily Quarter Pounder with Cheese and the fries. Seems like it should work.

Only that's not guaranteed. There is a theory that the calories of alcohol don't actually convert to fat so this may not work as easily as I think it will. It's also pretty well known that alcohol also helps keep your blood sugar down, so a diabetic like me may need to monitor glucose levels pretty carefully if I am giving it up.

But hey, I must be brave. In the interest of science, I am willing to subject myself to the enormous risks posed by not drinking a lot every night. I need to point out that I am not fanatical about this, and every good experiment needs a time line. So let's say two weeks. I will plot the changes and report.

And if I change my mind tomorrow night, I will let you know that, too.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Blog Block

Instant karma. On Thursday I posted that I would have more than enough material to post blog after blog for the next many months. And of course I haven't posted anything since then.

I have started a few times. The topics were certainly easy. My son's birthday. My close friend's birthday. Even could have gone the sports route with the great Celtics playoff games. And I got a note from Jamie about the huge upset in the Kentucky Derby.

But nothing happened. As I said, instant karma. It's payback for the fact that I was so confident of just hitting the Edit button and writing something easily. So confident, in fact, that I even began making something a little different for the 200th post, which should have happened this Wednesday or Thursday and is now heading to the middle of the month.

I've started reading quite a few blogs lately and I have noticed that most bloggers eventually run out of interesting ideas and end up writing about writing their blogs. It's the long-form of tweeting that you're sending a tweet. And about as interesting.

I would call it navel gazing, but that would remind me that I can't see mine. Well, I can, but only in the bathroom mirror and unfortunately I have to take in the rest of me as well so I try to avoid that. So instead of writing about writing blogs, let me write about reading them.

My favorite blogger is Kelley, who does MagnetoBoldToo. She is just a fantastic writer and very funny and perceptive on top of that. She is also the most creative user of the f-word I have encountered in a very long time. Right now she's having medical, emotional, and family problems and I have realized how much you can end up caring about someone you have never met - don't even know her last name - and all because they were able to make you enjoy it when they wrote about themselves. And it doesn't hurt that she is able to do all of this while being excruciatingly funny most of the time. (If you go there right now, though, she is using guest bloggers so read down through the archives to see what the genuine article is all about.)

Poker star Daniel Negreanu's blog is interesting, especially if you're a fan of his. Besides writing about poker, he wanders off into all sorts of other stuff that makes it fun for me to read. Ricky Gervais is often foul and filthy, of course. And very funny. As is Stuff White People Like as well, although it does get a tad self-promotional. Carl Bialik, the Wall St Journal's Numbers Guy, has been one of my favorite columnists for a very long time. I couldn't do HSX without reading Tom O'Neil's Gold Derby. And LK turned me onto Chubby Hubby: Whining, Dining & Marriage, a fantastic cooking site by Singapore's Aun Koh. And I get my Boston sports fixes by downloading the BS Report podcasts by ESPN's Bill Simmons.

So now you have plenty to read if I don't post, and all the pressure is off me to produce. Which means I will have either kicked this writer's block into the next county. Or not. But I promise no more writing about writing.