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Generic Is Fine With Me!

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I bought some butter today.  Yes, just butter.  Not Land-O-Lakes, not Nu-Maid, just butter.  Actually the best butter is homemade, Amish-made, but I just needed some butter fast so I went with store-bought.   I guess I’m a generic product manufacturers dream because I can’t tell the difference between generic butter or Land O’Lakes.  Gimme store-brand peanut butter over Jif or Skippy any day.  Or generic paper towels over Bounty. Really, what’s the difference?  Can anyone REALLY tell the difference between Kroger store-brand peanut butter or Jif?  I was in the grocery business for awhile once (that is a post for another day) and I can tell you that you have some name-brand products that are simply repackaged as “private label” when in reality it’s the exact same thing.   So why not save a few bucks and buy generic? I can’t think of a reason not too…Rachel is a bit more discriminating in her taste and she says she can tell the difference in items…if I had it my way the whole cart would probably be full of generics!:)

When I was a kid the grocery store actually had a “generics” aisle and all the products were packaged in plain black and white…with non-descript lettering like “PAPER TOWELS”, “DETERGENT”, “COLA.”  People kind of looked askance at you if you were browsing in the generic section.  Today’s generics, however, are much more appealing, packaged colorfully and given names like “Food Club” or “Premium Selection.”  But they are still generic and that is fine with me!  How do you feel about generics?  Can any of you really tell the difference between Land O  Lakes butter and just generic butter?

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Feeling Lucky?

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I will confess that I rarely play the lottery.  But the Mega Millions jackpot is HALF A BILLION dollars this week.  Now that is some serious buckage! (great thing about one’s own blog, you can make-up words!)  The amusing thing is that as these jackpots grow, more people jump in on the action which then drives DOWN your already slim statistical odds of winning.  What people SHOULD do is wait until after this drawing when the jackpot is back to a measly million and then play.  Your odds of winning would still be slim to none, but they’d be better than they are now.  I might buy a ticket once a year to get in on the action of a big prize like this but I generally view the lottery as a tax on the poor.  It’s a fun tax. It’s more fun than filling out a 1040 (why can’t we fill those out, send them in, and have the IRS draw a name for a jackpot?)  but it still largely sucks money out of the coffers of those who can least afford to play. Anyway, a half a billion bucks is difficult to even wrap my head around.  What would you do if you won?   And, since someone is probably wondering, as a general rule the Amish don’t buy lottery tickets.  That said, a half a billion bucks has the magnetic pull of the sun so I’m sure somewhere there have been a few customers hiding under broad-brimmed hats at convenience stores buying a few tickets and then jumping back into their buggies:)

Running Peace

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I didn’t really begin running in earnest until I was in my mid-20s and I often lament that I didn’t run in high school.  At first glance running wouldn’t seem to be the best fit for me because I’m a  larger guy,  but I really do love running…Running has helped me deal with some of my most sad and stressful days and allowed me to savor some of my happiest and most celebratory moments.   The exercise is a superb emotional outlet and it’s also a great way to see new places.  Feeling a new city with your feet instead of in the confines of a car is a much more intimate way to connect.   Ah, running in the town of Robinson, Illinois last summer,home to a Hershey Chocolate factory, now THAT was olfactory bliss.

 

One of my favorite places to run is Twin Creek MetroPark a few miles from where I live.  It’s a place I can go to run and reflect and often both.  I love the connected feeling with my surroundings, spiritual and natural as my feet pound step by step on the soft trail.  Here’s a photo of the trail ahead.   I always feel that if I can conquer the hard hills and root-rutted trails of the outdoors I can probably handle the same ones that life throws my way.  One of my favorite spots on my trail run is a bend in twisting Twin Creek where I can stop and savor the silence of the surroundings, the deep blue water, the blazing red buds, and cackling birds. I’m sure I’ll write more about running, but I’m curious if we have any runners among my blog visitors?   

Grass Always Have To Be Greener?

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Today I mowed my lawn for the first time this young spring/summer season.   As the lawn blade chopped through the beautiful green grass, I noticed the first bright buttons of dandelion flowers shining in the sun and a sprawl of purple petals from a plant I couldn’t identify.  Yes, these interloper plants were in my lawn.  Blasphemy in most suburban settings!    The prevailing lawn attitude in suburban America is to go for the golf-course type (neighbor’s lawn pictured here, care for a tee and putter?) lawn without a single dandelion, weed, etc (um…no offense to anyone has a golf course lawn, my parents have one…SIGH, this blog probably will get me in trouble)…but, really, when and why did that become the norm?  Am I strange for thinking that the dandelions are pretty and comforting? My Amish friends eat the dandelions each spring in delicious salads, or they beat them into jellies and sometimes wine while the rest of America smothers them in chemicals and makes war on them.  I guess as I get older I’m finding more comfort in nature…it’s where we came from and it’s where we’ll ultimately return and embracing it just seems, here’s the word again: comforting.  I love seeing splashes of color or twists of green that I can’t identity or doesn’t match the rest of the grass.  Truly, it’s not because I’m a lazy lawnkeeper..I love working outdoors. What I can’t figure out is how and who ever made us think a weed was ugly?  It’s a plant, it’s one of God’s creations and what’s so bad about that?  I’m not being sanctimonious here, to each his own and I’m not advocating that we all just let our lawns go to become waist-high thistle-ridden messes, neighborhoods dictate some decorum,  but how much?.. Aren’t the flowers in my back yard appealing?  Technically they are “weeds”, but so what?  

Ah, and as soon as I posted this, the lawn chemical company arrived at another neighbor’s house hose in hand…SIGH

Talk Radio Top 5

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Being the rather nerdy teenager that I was I would sometimes listen to radio talk shows when I was in high school.  I had a little shortwave radio by my headboard and as I would fall asleep at night I’d either listen to baseball games on Cincinnati’s 700-WLW or radio talk shows crackling in from as far away as WBZ in Boston.  I don’t listen to radio much anymore and I’m not sure why.  I suspect the internet has chipped away at such listening time and long road-trips aren’t as common for me anymore, so car talk radio isn’t as accessible to me as it used to be.  I do have some favorite hosts through the years and some not-so favorite shows, so, just for the heck, of it, I thought I’d list a few.

1 Bruce Williams (no relation to me) – just good, common-sense advice on a range of topics, generally financial, but not always.  Do we have any Bruce fans out there?

Picture:  Bruce Williams 

2)  Dr. Joy Browne – I always enjoyed her show when it aired in Cincinnati.  I can still pick up her show on CKLW radio out of Windsor, Ontario when I am driving on the highway north of Dayton in the afternoons. A  real treat.

3)  Diane Rehm –  NPR…her show is a mix of topics and good conversation and interesting guests, I always love listening to her.

4) Pat Buchanan – I don’t think he does radio anymore but he could present a politically conservative view and not do it in the mean way that some hosts do (see #1 below).  I think Sean Hannity is usually pretty respectful too in promoting a conservative viewpoint.

5) The Dolans – Fun to hear financial advice from a married couple, Ken and Daria Dolan have been dishing out money advice for years.  Any Dolans fans among us?

 

Least Favorite:

1) Rush Limbaugh:  I am not getting political, but I think you can be correct on an issue and still be civil.  I’m sorry, but he’s not.  Too many times he has crossed the line with poor taste.   Years ago on the day that President Clinton’s mother passed away he had to hurl insults at the late President’s mother.  Sorry, he lost me on that day…..no need for that. Ever.

2)  Dr. Laura Schlessinger:  I enjoyed listening to her show in the beginning but I just thought she got too preachy and self-righteous and then my local station dropped her. Haven’t heard her in years.

3) Bill Cunningham (WLW – Cincinnati)  – Local radio host, too shrill for my taste.

4)  Mike Gallagher – a nationally syndicated radio host….annoying.

5)  See, I’m a pretty agreeable guy….I couldn’t even think of a 5th radio host that annoys me.  When I am driving listening to the radio or listening as I am falling asleep at night I don’t want to listen to someone who gets all worked up about stuff, is mean, or too loud.  I like a radio show that either provides interesting guests, news, or political commentary in a nice, civil centrist way.

Who do you like on radio? Who do you dislike?  Or do you not listen to talk radio at all?

 

The Problem With Olive Garden….

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Marilyn Hagerty, an octogenarian columnist with the Grand Forks paper, recently wrote a review about the Olive Garden that went viral.  I don’t expect mine to do the same, but I was inspired to share my thoughts on this part of America’s chain-restaurant wasteland. Chain restaurants are like Presidential campaigns.  In a general election (not the primary season when the opposite of what I am about to describe happens) Presidential candidates attempt to appeal to the masses.  A candidate that is too “spicy”, has too many creative or jarring ideas isn’t going to appeal to the largest slice of the electorate and they’ll likely lose.  So candidates attempt to appeal to the masses and how do you do that?  Be as bland and flavorless as possible.  People may not love you, but they’ll like you enough to vote for you (or in Olive Garden’s case order and eat you).  And that is how I find chain restaurants to be, in general, and the Olive Garden is especially guilty (it’s even faster fare cousin, Fazoli’s can enter a plea also).  Gone are the generous flavors of oregano, basil, sage, and parsley that are used in real Italian kitchens, replaced instead with smothering amounts of bland cheese and tomatoes.  This is a photo of my 5-cheese ziti the other night when we went to the Olive Garden to celebrate my Mom’s birthday. It was passable pasta, but does it compare to anything you might get in Italy or even in an Italian enclave of a large American city?   Of course not. Do I enjoy going to the Olive Garden?  Sure.  When we do go, it’s usually with family and friends which by its nature is enjoyable.  The endless breadsticks (again, bland bread with a hint of garlic..God forbid we add flavor) and salad and good conversation can make it an enjoyable evening.  But it’s barely a facsimilie of true Italian food.  Americans love consistency and predictability and you get that at Olive Garden (except when my Dad ordered the lobster florentine and was mistakenly given chicken florentine and then guilted into keeping it by the waitress who kept guffawing that her mistake was actually better for his wallet since chicken is cheaper).

So, what are your impressions of the Olive Garden?  And if you wanted to recommend a Mom & Pop type Italian restaurant that uses REAL spices and recipes, where would you recommend?

Bordering On Insanity?

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I’ve long had a fascination with borders (No, not the bookstore…Well, actually I did have a fascination with them,but now they are closed).   No, the borders I am referring to are the kind that divide countries.  Rachel thinks my fascination with them is a little strange and maybe it is.  But I was relieved to read an article in the New York Times last week that made me realize I am not the only one.   I remember traveling with my grandparents once and staying in the village of Calais, Maine on the border with New Brunswick.  At the time there was just a small checkpoint and a stone-wall separating Calais from its Canadian counterpart, St. Stephen.  I was 14-years-old and thought it would be fun to explore on foot one evening, until I accidentally walked over the partly unmarked border and found myself surrounded by Mounties questioning me on where I was going and why.

I didn’t cross the border into Canada again for probably another 20 years when I drove across at Windsor, Ontario.  It’s always struck me as quaint that all they have is a tiny sign marking the border, yet I’m not sure what I expect, a continuous 3-piece orchestra announcing the location?  I’m always nervous for some reason whenever I cross into Canada (maybe it was the experience with the Mounties), so much so that I sometimes bobble the most basic questions.

“What’s your name, sir?”

“Um..k..um..kevin..”

“hmmmm, why don’t you pull over there and go into immigration for some more questions.”

SIGH.  I’ve been to Canada 7 or 8 times over the past 5 years and on probably half the occasions I stutter or stumble over some simple question and find myself dragged into customs. For awhile I knew the immigration staff by the name (just kidding).  When Rachel and I were visiting an Amish settlement near Rexford, Montana last year it turns out the cabin we were staying in was only 4 miles from the British Columbia border crossing of Roosville.  Was I crazy for just wanting to drive those miles to look at it?  Maybe…so we didn’t, but I am kicking myself for not now.

I long to travel someday south of the border to Mexico.  Below is a State Department file  photo of the border at Tijuana, with the US on the left and Mexico on the right.  What a dramatic difference! I just think it would be so neat.   But I’ll try not to fumble my name if I ever cross there.   Have any of our readers crossed over into Mexico?  What was the experience like?   I’ll post tomorrow about why borders came to mind today!

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