Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Confessions of the Stomach

Let’s be honest . . . we are all finicky eaters . . . none of us likes everything that is called food . . . when it comes to the culinary results placed on our plates we DO draw lines on our plates as to what we are willing to eat and what we wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot fork.  When it comes to food and eating . . . we all have our likes and dislikes. 

The wife likes to tell me (and others) that I am a picky eater . . . and, there may be some truth to that; but, at the age of 56 years old, I can admit that I have tried a lot of different varieties of food as I will try anything once.  Once is usually enough for my taste buds and stomach to make a decision that will typically last a lifetime.  That includes any attempts of trying to mask the food or present it to me in a different form.  From childhood I have always tried to at least give new foods one chance . . . or, as I have always said to my wife and others, I will try anything once.  If it fails to win over the taste buds or stomach . . . well, it is out and no amount of prodding is going to change my mind (or the mind of my stomach).  I know what I like.  Yet, the wife calls me a picky eater.  I like to think of my eating habits as being quite refined and sophisticated . . . besides, why waste time and money on something that doesn’t taste good?

If we are going to be honest . . . we are all picky eaters.

Knowing this I was surprised to see the weekly Parade magazine that comes in the Sunday paper broadcasting its lead story as being What America Eats.  According to the article the magazine shares research that shows the eating trends of the typical American.  As usual no one I know took part in the research and its survey . . . including me.  No one called me up and asked any questions about my eating habits . . . no one sent me a questionnaire through the snail mail . . . not even a digital survey in the email accounts.  No one came up to my house, knocked on the door, and asked if I could spare a few minutes to answer questions about my eating habits to be included in research on the eating habits of typical Americans.  Nope, I was not one of the lucky one thousand from all the regions of the United States to be included in the research.  There are over 313 million people living in the United States and they are presenting research based on only one thousand people to represent the other 99.9999999999 percent of the rest of us!

It is no wonder I found so much to disagree with in their research finding.

One of the first findings that I disagreed with is that the researchers stated that adults eat 1,128 snacks each year . . . 1,128!  That is a little over three snacks per day each day for a whole year!  That is a lot of snacking.  That is a lot of food.  Who would have time to work . . . to play . . . to do anything except stuff the ol’ pie hole?  If this is true . . . well, then I am way, way behind in the snack department!  I am lucky if I have one or two snacks a week, and usually on the weekend.  Who are these Americans who eat 1,128 snacks a year . . . three snacks a day?  They must weigh a billion pounds!

According to the research those snacks fall into three categories: savory, sweet, and healthy.  I am taking that by “savory” they mean spicy and salty.  Savory comes in at 405, while sweet comes in at 366, and in third place is whatever is healthy at 357.  Of course, everything that is bad for us is what we seem to crave the most as they are what we Americans eat two-thirds of the time we have the opportunity to snack.  Now, if I was a logical person—and one who is actually eating three snacks a day, I would probably try to eat one snack in each category for a healthier and more balance diet.  But, in all honesty, I would probably focus on the “savory” snacks over everything else.  Yeah, I know, it keeps my heart doctor in business.

Now one of the reasons that the researchers came up with such a high number of snacks might be for the fact that 40 percent of the snacks we consume are eaten with—or instead of—a main meal.  I call those appetizers, not snacks.  Still, that is a heck of a lot of snacks . . . 1,128!

One of the questions researchers wanted to know an answer to was: which famous person would you like to invite over for dinner?  The number one answer might shock you . . . it did me.  Ellen DeGeneres.  Yes, you read that correctly . . . Ellen DeGeneres.  She was followed by Pope Francis, Stephen King, Bill Clinton, Mark Cuban, and Beyonce Knowles.  For those over the age of 55 the number one choice was Pope Francis.  Outside of Pope Francis I am not sure that I would want to have a meal with any of the others.  Ellen DeGeneres is funny, but I don’t think I want to spend a whole meal with her.  I don’t horror novelists or anything that Stephen King wrote in that genre . . . though he did write a pretty cool book on baseball once . . . he still is not someone I would want to entertain at a meal.  I never did like Bill Clinton . . . and, besides the new Bill Clinton cleaned up his eating habits and wouldn’t be as much fun as the Bill Clinton of twenty or thirty years ago.  Mark Cuban . . . well, he is jerk.  Beyonce, well she could come and grace the table, but I don’t think the wife would want me drooling on my plate.  The Pope . . . well, since I did not see Jesus on the list, would be an acceptable substitute for Jesus.  As I said, I was shocked that Jesus didn’t make the list.  Personally, I like my family and that is good enough for me around the table for any meal.

I guess having the Pope as a dinner guest would sort of make the meal a “holy” meal.  Meals are not as “holy” as they used to be.  Only about half of Americans say grace before a meal.  The people in the South region (56%) of the United States are the most apt to say grace before a meal, then the Central section (51%) of the United States, followed by the Northeast and West (both at 47%).  At our house we say grace . . . we are thankful for the food we have, thankful for those who produced it, and thankful that we are not hungry like so many others.  And, when the wife cooks some new concoction, I am thankful that . . . well, thankful that I have something to eat, even if it is a box of cereal from the cabinet.

The researchers also took on the “five-second rule” . . . you know the rule: if an item of food falls on the floor it is acceptable to eat it if it has been on the floor less than five seconds.  Fifty-three percent of Americans says that the rule depends on what fall on the floor.  If the fried egg plant falls on the floor it can stay and the floor . . .let the dogs have it if they will eat it.  Seven percent stated that if food fell on the floor—and it doesn’t matter what the food is, it would not matter . . . they would pick it up and eat . . . unless it was fried egg plant.  Eight percent said that if no one stepped on it that they would eat it.  This would never work at our house as I always step on food that falls on the floor to keep it from escaping . . . adds a little texture and variety to it for presentation sake.  Eleven percent had no clue what the “five-second rule” even was . . . of course these are the people who eat the beans right out of the can.  And, lastly, 21 percent of the people asked the question: What am I, a dog?  I assume that no matter how short of a time the food laid on the ground they would never eat it.  How sad, variety is the spice of life and if food hits the floor it is pretty difficult to avoid picking up some sort of “spice”.

One of the great debates at our house is on expiration dates on food.  The wife throws things away before or on the expiration date.  I, on the other hand, is a little more adventurous . . . and, cheap.  Food is expensive and throwing it away just creates a sharp pain on my backside where my wallet is kept . . . I want to get the most bang for my buck.  I am also adventurous and willing to try something once it has journeyed pasted its expiration date.  That is why you throw it on the grill and cook it until is good and crisp . . . cook all that bad stuff that could make you sick out of it.  Of course, I also believe that when I do this I should definitely make sure that I say grace before eating it . . . oh Lord, keep me safe.  According to the research . . . I am in good company.  Sixty-nine percent of the people in the United States consume food and beverages past their expiration date . . . most serve it as snacks and appetizers . . . sort of killing two birds with one food.

Apparently the chicken sandwich is the new burger.  Research is showing that it is ordered more often than burgers.  This is blasphemous.  Chicken . . . unless it is deep fat fried with the skin on to a golden crisp . . . is a choke down food for me.  For years the wife served chicken three to four times a week until my stomach rebelled.  Despite the wife’s politically correct and researched based argument that chicken is better for a person’s health, my stomach said it had had enough . . . bring on the cow!  Hey, I live in Montana where the cows out-number the people by six to one . . . someone has to support those ranchers!

I guess because people are eating three snacks a day . . . 1,128 snacks a year . . . it should come as no surprise that 41 percent of Americans stated that they have been on a diet in the last year.  You think!  Thirty percent say they have never been on a diet . . . they are liars . . . or they have no issues with their body image after eating 1,128 snacks a year.

I am also assuming that since snacks are still more on the unhealthy side of the scale that Americans are attempting to make themselves healthy through other means . . . like with health supplements.  The researchers discovered that 71 percent of Americans takes some sort of supplement for their diets.  Multivitamins were number one at 43 percent . . . fiber was at the bottom of the list at six percent.  That surprised me considering what most people eat for snacks . . . I would have thought fiber would have been a bigger percentage.  After all, regularity would be necessary after all of those savory and sweet snack.  The rest were all vitamins.  I was taught that if I eat a healthy and balance diet, exercise regularly, and got my body out into the great outdoors that I would never ever need to take vitamins . . . that most vitamins are like throwing money down the drain.

And, the last interesting research that I want to share from this study has to do with the five treats that people would like to be magically calorie-free.  Ice cream and shakes . . . of course my favorite flavor of ice cream is Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia . . . good luck in getting the calories out of that!  Number two was chocolate . . . I am a dark chocolate fan.  Pizza . . . the food of the gods.  Soda . . . I have about three a week.  And, alcoholic beverages . . . oh no, my microbrews!  The truth of the matter is that the only two I probably imbibe in on a regular basis is the pizza and beer . . . can’t have one without the other.  Of course, a little Cherry Garcia after a few pieces of pizza and a couple of beers sure does top off an excellent meal.

There you have it . . . What America Eats . . . a research survey on what Americans are eating, drinking, and craving.  Or so they thought.  When actually taking the time to peruse the survey and results it actually says nothing about what Americans are actually eating, drinking, or craving.  Nothing!  What does any of this research have to do with what we Americans actually eat?  What does having a guest over for supper—famous or not, have to do with the eating habits of Americans?  What does taking a dietary supplement have to do with eating habits?  What does food falling on the ground and being scarfed down after five seconds have to do with what Americans like or dislike when it comes to eating . . . all that tells us is that we are willing to eat anything if we like it, even if it falls on the floor.  Very little of what was presented as “fact” about the eating, drinking, and craving had anything to do with the actual eating habits of Americans.  Besides, when did a thousand people out of over 313 million people speak for everyone?

My stomach and I have an agreement . . . I give it what it wants and it let me get by with little discomfort.  We also agree that life is short . . . that everything can kill you . . . so you might as well eat what you like and want and enjoy it.  Neither I nor my stomach need anyone else to tell us what we like . . . so, please don’t tell us to “try it because you will like it”.  My name is not Mikey . . . nor is my stomach’s name Mikey.  We know what we like.  As the writer of Ecclesiastes said: “Eat, drink, and be merry!”  Or was it the founder of Dairy Queen?  Either way, they were both wise in their advice.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Late to the Game, but Catching Up

I think that this is the gig I was born for . . . “Grandpa”.  Two years ago the daughter and son-in-law made the wife and I grandparents with the birth of our first granddaughter . . . about three months ago they blessed us with our second granddaughter.  The two of us are now grandparents and we are loving every minute of it.  Being a grandparent is an excellent gig and one I was born for.

The only problem, at least according to the statistics reported by the AARP Bulletin, that grand source of information for those entering and in the geriatric stage of life, is that the wife and I are entering the game late in the grandparenting stage . . . approximately seven years late!  According to the monthly newspaper from the AARP the average age for a grandparent is 47 years old.  The wife and I were both 54 years old when the first grandchild arrived.  Somehow, unbeknownst to us, we lost seven years in the grandparent department . . . seven years!  What was were our children thinking by making us wait seven years before we had a grandchild!

We have been making up ground ever since.

Luckily for us our granddaughters live close by.  We get to see the two of them on a weekly basis as they live within thirty minutes of us.  According to the statistics reported by the AARP Bulletin 43% of the grandparents in the United States travel more than 200 miles on an average to see their grandchildren.  Luckily for us the grandkids are just down the road . . . plus they are easily attainable on the way home from work in the big city.  The wife and I get to see the girls on a weekly basis . . . and, I must admit, it has been great for us. 

Growing up, due to distance and things like money, I rarely (and, I mean rarely) saw my grandparents.  On my mother’s side it was once or twice every couple of years . . . while on my father’s side it was maybe once or twice over a lifetime . . . at least until we moved into the area where my mother’s parents lived when I was in my junior year of high school.  Then I saw my grandparents practically every day.  Basically, other than those last two years of high school, I didn’t have much of a relationship with my grandparents.  I swore that that would not be the case when grandchildren appeared in my life.  I would make whatever effort it took to be a part of their lives and them a part of my life.  So far, so good.

As I stated earlier, the granddaughters are a pretty regular part of our lives.  Whether we make the effort to go see them, or their parents make the effort to come see us, they are a part of our lives.  I would have to say that my time in their presence is a highlight of my week . . . the one thing really look forward to each week. It is the sort of anticipation in which I catch myself sitting on the front porch the homestead waiting . . waiting to see that car pull up and hearing my two-year old granddaughter cry out, “Grandpa!”

Being a grandparent is great . . . but, it is also expensive.

According to the AARP Bulletin grandparents spend $57 billion on their grandchildren each year.  Fifty-seven billion!  I am not quite sure what the share is that the wife and I contribute each year to that amount . . . got to be at least a hundred thousand . . . but, thank God, we are both working.  This puts us in good company as 62% of all grandparents are still working.  Darn right we are still working, how else are we going to put in our fair share of $57 billion! 

Now, I am not really sure how much we actually spend on the granddaughters . . . mainly because the wife is the one who spends all the money on them and informs me later.  In the spending on grandchildren department I plea ignorance . . . but, I am beginning to find out that we have rarely, if ever, not “gifted” the grandchildren when they are in our presence.  There is always an outfit here, a book there, a toy over there . . . or some other expense that comes with grandparenting.  After the shock, it is usually money well-spent.

On my part though, the granddaughters and I get by fairly cheaply.  Now it might be because I am one of the world’s tightest tight wads or because I have discovered that at the age my granddaughters are at we don’t need a whole bunch of stuff except a vivid imagination and lots of time.  I have plenty of both.  Much of what the two-year old and I do is free.  We enjoy walking around the yard, picking up sticks, throwing rocks, exploring the flower gardens, running in the yard, telling the dogs “no!”, and just being in the presence of one another.  Shoot!  All the two of really need is one another!  We have a lot of fun.

Of course, I think the idea of me being a grandparent scares my daughter and son-in-law.  Scares them to death.  Grandparents get to get away with all that stuff that parents cannot get away with.  Grandparents got the privilege of teaching their grandchildren all those things that their parents don’t want them to learn.  Grandparents get to do all those things that their parents would never let them do at home.  Grandparents get to teach them all those embarrassing things that their parents would rather them not to know.  Grandparents get to be their grandchildren’s best friend who knows things that they are dying to know . . . that their parents would rather them not to know . . . so that they can go out into the world and embarrass their parents when they least likely expect it.  That is the “gift” of being a grandparent . . . and, the curse of any parent.  Unfortunately, despite being seven years behind the average, I have more than made up ground.  I have accomplished in being able to teach my two-year old granddaughter that which has the possibility of embarrassing her parents much to the chagrin of her parents.  Payback is hell!

I enjoy being a grandparent . . . I really do.  I enjoy the laughter that my granddaugthers bring into my life.  Grandchildren seem to laugh at the simplest things.  Laughter is a welcome companion at this stage of my life.  I enjoy the joy of discovery . . . each new thing is a wonder to my granddaughters.  I am seeing the world through “new eyes” and each new discovery is an adventure.  Wonder is a gift of being a grandparent.  I enjoy silly songs and noises . . . I am learning that Grandpa can make all sorts of weird and disgusting sounds . . . can create all sort of new words and sayings . . . that bring great satisfaction and joy to a two-year old.  Unfortunately, it brings great fear to her parents!  I love the enthusiasm that my two-year old granddaughter brings to life.  It stands as a reminder what a gift life really is.

     I enjoy all the parts of being a grandfather . . . except for those rare occasions when I have to change a diaper . . . especially a poopy diaper.  There is no worse of a smell than a baby’s poopy diaper.  I have been encouraging the granddaughters to get a move on in using the potty. 
Yes, I think I was born for this grandparent gig.  It is the one place where I have finally been able to meld together all that worthless information, trivia, and infantile behavior I have been saving for a rainy day.  It is the one place where I have been able to act silly and actually get away with it in public . . . because I am a grandpa!  It is the one place where I have the opportunity to enjoy life at its basics level with laughter, joy, and great discovery.  It is the one place that reminds me that in getting older there is great adventure when looking at the world through the eyes of a small child who looks up to you with admiration and love.  It is a wonderful gig.

I thank my daughter and son-in-law for making it possible for the wife and I to enter into this journey of grandparenting . . . though it was beyond the average.  We are looking forward to that day when the other children begin adding to our joy with children of their own.  I thank my granddaughters for bringing a renewal love for life . . . a sense of adventure . . . and, just plain old happiness into my life.  Being a grandpa has been a joy!  The perfect gig!  I might be late to the game . . . but, I am more than catching up!  Ask my granddaughters.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Samuel Gompers, Can We Talk?

On September 4, 1910, Samuel Gompers, the first president of the American Federation of labor (AFL) wrote the following in the New York Times: “Among all the festive days of the year, of all the days commemorative of great epochs in the world’s history, of all the days celebrated for one cause or another, there is not one which stands so conspicuously for social advancement of the common people as the first Monday in September of each recurring year—Labor Day.”  According to Mr. Gompers Labor Day is the only holiday that celebrates the common man (and woman, though not then)—not religion, a war anniversary, or the birth or death of a famous person.  I disagree.  I think that Mr. Gompers and I need to talk.

Someone much smarter than me once said that a person’s religion is those standards that give meaning and dictate the way that one lives his or her life.  It is their purpose in life. This person argued this in saying that there were no non-religious wars . . . that all wars were religious.  Someone was always pushing one way of believing and living onto someone else who did not care to give up the way that he or she was already believing and living.  Another person, again probably much smarter than I, stated that the one true religion is economics . . . that all of life is dictated by economics . . . all of life.  Having now lived more than a half-century I am seeing a whole lot of wisdom in that statement . . . plus a whole lot of truth.  Based on that, I am not sure how Mr. Gompers came to the conclusion that Labor Day was such a clean and pure holiday that celebrated nothing but the common worker.

First of all, what do you know about Labor Day?
Did you know that Labor Day was a result of labor unrest?  In the late 1800s the labor movement was growing and beginning to have more and more influence in national politics.  On May 11th, 1894, a strike took place in Chicago by the employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.  A month later there was a call to boycott all Pullman railway cars that basically crippled all rail transportation across the nation.  In typical government fashion, the federal government sent troops to Chicago to break the strike.  Well, when push comes to shove the strikers pushed back . . . riots broke out and more than a dozen workers were killed in all of the violence.

So, how does one make amends?  The federal government, under Congress, created Labor Day as a legal holiday to celebrate the social and economic achievements of American workers and their contributions to the strength and prosperity of the nation.  It was Congress’ hope that it could regain the support of the American workers.  After all, a little gesture can go a long ways in getting people back to work.  What good is an economy when no one is working?  The date? June 28th, 1894, Congress designated the first Monday in September of each year to be a legal holiday.

Despite the recognition of the government and the establishment of a federal holiday, it would be nearly twenty years later before a whole lot of respect was shown to the common worker.  It was not until 1916 that workers were granted the eight-hour work day through the Adamson Act.  This Act established an eight-hour work day and additional pay for overtime.  Prior to that it was not uncommon for a laborer to work twelve-hour days for six days a week.   The movement towards a five-day workweek started in 1908 when a spinning mill in New England started accommodating its Jewish workers.  The Jewish workers had difficulty observing the Sabbath under the traditional six-day work week.  If they took Saturday off and worked on Sunday they risked offending the Christian majority, but to work on Saturday violated their own religious beliefs . . . so the owners went to a five-day work week.

In 1926, Henry Ford jumped on the bandwagon and started to close his factories over Saturday and Sunday to give his workers a two-day weekend without reducing their pay.  The first union to jump on board this movement was the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America as it negotiated a five-day work week for its members.  The nation ponied up to the five-day work week in 1938 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act that established a five-day, 40-hour work week for many laborers.  It has been said that it is at this point in history that the great American weekend was born.  It only took 40 years to get to this point in was a wonderful gift and recognition of the common worker, until 1938 most laborers were still working a six-day week . . . so, at best the holiday only gave them a two-day weekend, unlike out three-day weekend celebration of Labor Day today.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2013, there are 155.7 million workers in the United States over the age of 16.  Many of them won’t get the holiday that is set aside for them to celebrate because they will have to work.  A good chunk of the workers in the United States are working in retail . . . approximately 4.3 million of them . . . who will not be off due to the fact that most retailers are open for their big Labor Day sales.  Kind of ironic isn’t it?

Looking over the history of the labor movement and the establishment of a national holiday to honor labor, one could argue that the actual holiday is set aside—though indirectly—to honor those dozen or so people who were killed in the Pullman strike and riots in Chicago.  That would make it a holiday for the death of someone.  One would argue whether or not it is a celebration or an appeasement when viewing a history that has taken decades to bring fairness and justice to the labor practices of industry . . . the eight hour work day . . . the history of the five-day, 40 hour work week . . . child labor laws . . . payment for overtime . . . health benefits . . . and on and on the list could go.  The arguments are still there.  And, why? Probably because such changes effect the profit margin of industry . . . usually to the lower end.  When this happens industry makes less money.  Money deals with economics.  Economics is what makes the world spin around.  It is a religion in the minds and hearts of many.

Very few of us who celebrate the big three-day weekend of observing Labor Day on the first Monday of each September actually know anything about the holiday.  As much as Mr. Gompers wants to believe that it is a non-religious holiday, I just cannot agree.  I cannot agree because the almighty dollar is the altar that many of us worship . . . that gives us purpose and meaning . . . that dictates our lives . . . that gets us out of bed every morning.  The truth of the matter is that we, as a nation, would not be where we are today in the economic world if it were not for the dedication and hard work that was put in by those who labor through the years . . . but, the question is: Who profits?  It is not the common laborer.  Someone has been getting rich off all of this . . . and, it is not the common laborer.

As much as I would like to embrace the mythology behind Labor Day, thanks to people like Mr. Samuel Gompers, I find it difficult to jump on that bandwagon in ignorance.  History that is based on facts, not wishful thinking and mythology, usually paints a different story than the one that most Americans embrace and celebrate . . . and this is true in other nations too.  I appreciate the gift of a three-day weekend that Labor Day affords those of us able to actually take it off and celebrate it; yet, at the same time I do not want to fool myself into thinking that it is a pure and simple gesture of gratitude for all the hard work of millions of laborers—past and present.  For a great many, unbeknownst to them, it is a religious holiday . . . a holiday of remembrance for those who gave their lives for equal rights and justice . . . and, based on the fact that many retailers are open, an altar to the almighty dollars that is making someone rich.

As usual, this is my rant . . . my opinion.  But, I ask you: how much do you really know about Labor Day . . . about what you are celebrating?  Labor Day is more than the unofficial end to summer.  What is it?  Well, it depends on who you ask?  Those who run the world’s economy will say one thing, those who are doing all the work another, and those of us who are celebrating it even another.  Maybe we need to sit down and talk . . . wouldn’t you agree, Mr. Gompers?  Happy Labor Day everyone!