Category Archives: Food For Thought

frap

Ordering a Low-Sugar Frappuccino: The Impossible Dream?

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Starbucks:  You are leaving money on the table.  Luckily, I’m here to help.  I’m talking about the steadfast way you ignore your many customers who are trying to reduce the sugar in their diets.  I’m one of them.  I absolutely love me a Venti Mocha Frappuccino, but ordered as is, the sugar content in it would probably render me unconscious.  I want to order the lowest-sugar version of this lovely treat that I can.  But, because your baristas collectively have zero clue about sugar as an ingredient, every time I try to do this, it’s a frustrating ordeal.

 

The first problem is that your lovely employees don’t know how to distinguish between low sugar and low fat.  Just today while I was waiting for my custom-ordered frappe (“Light syrup.  Light base.”), the manager turned to me and said, “So, for that skinny mocha frappe, what kind of milk did you want?”

 

Uh, no.  Even I know that in Starbucksland, “Skinny” means low fat.  I never said low fat.  In fact, I asked for whole milk and whipped cream.  I’m not afraid of the fat.  I’m trying to reduce the sugar.

 

I’m never confident that I’m getting the lowest-sugar version of the Mocha Frappuccino, no matter how many times I order it.  Sometimes the manager tells me to ask for “light base.”  Sometimes the manager tells me to ask for “light syrup.”  Which is it, my dudes?

 

The answer is so simple.  PUT A LOW SUGAR FRAPPUCCINO ON THE MENU.  There.  Done.  Add it to the list of drinks your employees learn to make.  Then my low-sugar caffeine addict friends and I will know how to order it.  And, hopefully, your baristas will get clear on how to make it.  We’ll all waste less time talking about it; you’ll move the line along more quickly, sell more drinks and everybody wins.

 

Starbucks, you are in the business of selling complicated overpriced caffeine drinks to urban people willing to pay for them.  Understanding and owning what the ingredients of these drinks are is sort of your job.  Do it better.  You’re welcome.frap

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You Gotta Talk To Them!

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It's just a bonus!

When I passed a certain milestone birthday a few years ago, I made a few resolutions.  One of them was, talk to strangers more.  This has generally worked out very well.  It’s particularly good advice when speaking to working people.

By that I mean, people you encounter during your normal day-to-day routine who are busy doing their jobs.  In particular, the people who are serving you.  Sales clerks.  Waitresses.  Toll booth and parking lot folks.  Fluffers.  Parole agents.

Talk to them  Look them in the eye.   Speak to them as your peers (because they are).  Talk to the tired host at the restaurant like you’d be inviting him to join your table if his shift was about to end.

I’m serious.  It’ll make you happier and it’ll make them happier.

There’s an added benefit.  Several times lately, I’ve been given freebies by salespersons I’ve been chatting up.  Let me emphasize that this isn’t generally my goal, but it can be a surprise fringe benefit.

Please allow Henry and me our privacy.

I was at one of my favorite health food establishments in Santa Rosa, California recently, and the girl behind the counter was enjoying chatting with me so much that she deliberately served me a treat that was a size larger than the one that she charged me for.  And just today, after I lavished praise on the clerk at a steakhouse in Midtown Sacramento for the business’s practice of including Diet Dr. Pepper among their soda selections, she gave me two drinks and charged me for one.

Of course, it’s not life-changing when you get these freebies, but they are a) nice surprises and b) handy reinforcements that you’re doing something right.

Also, let’s not forget the lesson we learned from Scott Prouty, the bartender who basically lost the election for Mitt Romney last year by filming and going public with the Governor’s “47%” remarks.  One of the reasons he was loaded for bear against Romney was because of an earlier incident in which Romney was rude to him when he served him a Diet Coke.  It simply didn’t occur to Romney to treat a bartender like a human being.  Perhaps if Romney had followed my advice, he’d be President now.

So trust me on this.  Talk to the people who are doing jobs for you every day.  It’s an easy way to improve your day.

And what of my other resolutions?  Well, out of respect for his privacy, I choose not to discuss the key “Start Returning Henry Cavill’s phone calls” resolution at this time.

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A Knife to a Gunfight

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Ray Gently Debriefs the Republican Party

Morning, Republican Party.  Thanks for coming.  Have a seat.  Can I get you some coffee?  Tea?  How about a joint?  Sorry, a little joke lol.

 I won’t keep you long.  I just want to make sure you understand what happened yesterday.  Yes, I know it was a very upsetting day for you all around.  Yes, we can wait a moment.  No problem.  Do you need a tissue?

 Okay.  So here goes.

 I want to help you, Republican Party.  I don’t want you to make the same mistakes in 2016 that you made yesterday.

 It’s important that you understand that your Angry White Man Anti-Gay Anti-Woman Anti-Immigrant Anti-Anything-That’s-Not-Your-Brand-of-Christian Anti-Science Anti-Fact campaign, which came very close to winning yesterday, will never come this close to winning ever again in a National Election

 I’ll explain.

 Let’s take those stances in reverse order. 

 THE ANTI-FACT THING. 

 Let’s look to history for a little perspective.  When Bill Clinton was President, you HATED him.  But the things you went after him for were actual things.  Whitewater was an actual situation.  Travelgate was actually based on a real incident.  Clinton’s roving genitals were a REAL problem.  Next, during the Bush years, our people hated Bush, but we went after his REAL failings:  A trumped up phony war, the treasonous outing of an acting CIA operative, clueless economic policies.

 All that changed when it appeared during the Democratic primary process that The Magic Negro was overtaking lefty favorite Hillary Clinton.  From that moment, until the present day, you have engaged in a shameless campaign of fabrication about Barack Obama.  You’ve branded him a Kenyan, a Muslim, a Nazi, a Socialist, a Communist.  You have claimed he’s after your guns.  You’ve claimed that he’s after your religious freedom.  It was all lies, and despite the best efforts of Fox News, yesterday you were shown that…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-SCIENCE THING/THE ANTI-ANY BRAND OF CHRISTIANITY BUT YOUR OWN THING

 Global warming is real.  Women’s bodies don’t have magic Rape Sperm Detectors.  It’s not curtailing your religious freedom when the law prevents you from discriminating against other people or trying to impose your religious ideas on other people. 

 Perhaps the biggest mistake you made in this area was your cynical and transparently hypocritical embrace of Mitt Romney as a “good Christian.”  He’s not a Christian.  He’s a Mormon, and if you’d turned Fox News off for five minutes and done just a tiny bit of reading about the Mormon church, you would know that this man believes stuff even YOU would consider wacky.  And yet you branded Obama, who’s an ACTUAL Christian, a Muslim.  Again, if you knew four atoms worth of facts about Islam, you’d know there’s no such thing as a “stealth Muslim.”  No President would be able to hide the fact that he prays towards Mecca five times a day and keeps a halal kitchen in the White House (look it up).

 Scariest of all, guess what the fastest-growing religious demographic in our country is?  Yep, it’s us non-religious folks.  We’re gaining ground at a dizzying pace, as young people reject the Bronze Age superstitions of their parents.  In every election going forward, the “Christian” base you think you can play to is going to be a smaller and smaller slice of the electoral pie.

But you tried to sell all this nonsense to the American People and ….

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT. 

 THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT THING.

 Bush got 40% of the Hispanic vote!  McCain got 30%.  Guess how much Romney got last night?  20%.  Yeah.  It turns out all those Hispanic voters were listening when you spewed all that anti-immigrant hate, and as a consequence…

 AMERICA DIDN’T’ FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-WOMEN THING

Romney was TROUNCED by women voters last night.  And two of the most notorious Republican lawmakers who made stupid and hateful remarks about rape were defeated as well.  It turns out, women DO vote in this country.  And they’re not going to vote for you if you don’t think they know when they’ve been raped, and you don’t think they own their own bodies.

You counted on women, and people who LIKE women (like me) to hate the Black Nazi more than they loved themselves, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANTI-GAY THING

This one must REALLY chap your ass, because it’s been such a bountiful Golden Goose for soooooo long.  In days gone by, you could whip up your electorate by spreading lies about gay people for free.  No more.  When the President came out for equality for gay people, it HELPED him, it didn’t bury him.  Your candidate, on the other hand, maintained a position that no longer reflects a majority of the American public:  He supported an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would have made gay people second class citizens forever. 

 Even more dramatic, America elected its first openly gay senator last night.  And in an unprecedented series of victories, marriage equality was on the ballot in four states and WON IN ALL FOUR STATES. So there.  Gay people are here to stay, my homophobic Republican friend.  You tried to demonize us once again, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 THE ANGRY WHITE GUY THING

 This one is probably the hardest one for you to take.  But please understand the reality of the situation.  This was the LAST presidential election in our history in which white voters are the majority.  Which means the blaring voices of your Tea Party are going to grow dimmer and dimmer in the coming years.  You counted on xenophobic white guys to clinch the election for you, but…

 AMERICA DIDN’T FALL FOR IT.

 For four years, your entire focus has been on making sure Barack Obama was a one-term President.  Not on making the country better, not on creating jobs, not on expanding freedom.  You’ve been obsessed, like a stalker, at neutralizing The Magic Negro. 

 To defeat him, you nominated, by default, a Rich White Empty Suit.  A man so conviction-free that if he had won it would have been essentially having a lobbyist for President.  A man more comfortable with lying than I am with sitting through double features.  A man you KNEW wasn’t really a good man.  You just thought he might be an ELECTABLE man.  It was a cynical move on your part, and you’ve paid the price. 

 All of your lies, and all of your billions of Rich White Guy dollars, didn’t work yesterday. 

 Now that you’ve utterly failed, I hope you decide to find some wisdom in this failure.

 I hope you come back in 2016 with something better than the Klown Kar of crazy candidates you had this time.  I hope you start ignoring the crazier members of your party.  I hope you decide to grow up and embrace policies that actually benefit the middle class. 

 While you’re casting about for new techniques, I discourage you from studying the Democrats.  We really kind of suck at politics.  We did not do a very good job at selling the President’s many accomplishments during this campaign.  We only won because we had the better candidate.

 So, in closing, I’d like to thank you, Republican Party.  Thanks for the enormous stimulus package your rich sugar daddies just infused into the economy.  Thanks for being my fellow Americans.  I want America to be a great place for you just like I want it to be a great place for me.  We’re all in this together. 

 Now get out of my office.  I’ve got a conference call with Lady Gaga, Cris Kluwe and Elizabeth Warren in a minute.

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Special Power: Recognizing Famous People

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My friend Rusty Cawley was amazed that I recognized author Michael Lewis on the street the other day.  He asked me how that was possible.  Here’s my reply:

Rusty, to properly answer this I have to mention my Theory of Special Powers.  Everyone you know who’s worth anything has Special Powers in some area.  My sister Donna has Special Organizing Powers, for example (she could have straightened out the mess in Iraq).  Your own mother has the Special I’m Always Sweet and Fabulous Power.  Remember James Boedecker?  He had the Special I Was Born With This Ridiculous Physique Power.

I have several Special Powers, and one of them is Remembering and Recognizing Show business People.  I have a casting director’s memory.  In fact, casting directors think I should BE a casting director.

Also, I’ve been a bookwork since second grade.  And I am a lifelong Lazy Writer.  So I have the Lazy Writer’s worship of people who can actually put down the donut/PS3 controller/Kindle long enough to actually write something and finish it and get it published.

Michael Lewis

I LOVE my writers.  I’ve written to many of them over the years, and they ALWAYS write back.  I have received letters from Garry Trudeau, Charles Schulz, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov – and all of those were before email.  I watch interviews with them.  I read about them.  I read their blogs.  I go meet them and hear them speak at Book Festivals.

So I remember writer’s faces.  Also, it doesn’t hurt if they are handsome, like Michael Lewis.

Of course, handsome isn’t a requirement.  I’d instantly recognize Joyce Carrol Oates, and we all know she looks like an “After” photo of a certain diminutive fisherman named Sméagol.

So this Special Power of mine acts like an antenna that’s always powered up.  So I notice things like, Hey, that’s Edward Albee I his running shorts on the elevator with me.  Or, hey, that’s Alex Rocco from The Godfather on the elevator with me.  Or I meet Gore Vidal in a porn shop in West Hollywood.  Or, Hi, aren’t you Octavia Butler perusing the stacks at the library next to me?  Or, look, I’m holding the door at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for Oscar Winner Linda Hunt.  It happens to me all the time.

I have no doubt that I would instantly recognize Terry Pratchett, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, George R. R. Martin, John Scalzi, Michael Connelly, or John Irving.

I’m sure you have Special Powers, too, Rusty.  What are they?

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Get Those Awful Books Out of My Hotel Room

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I travel a lot for work, and I frequently find these two weird books in a drawer in my hotel room. One of them is obviously sophomoric claptrap fantasy revisionist Jewish history. The other one, however, is truly awful: the main characte…

r is a petty, jealous tyrant who disallows basic human attributes like sexuality, but who enthusiastically promotes murder, genocide, intolerance, xenophobia, and misogyny.

For a while I considered calling ahead and asking the hotel to keep these reprehensible books out of my hotel room, but then I realized, this isn’t about me. What about the children? Both books are written with a certain air of authority. What if an impressionable child, or even an adult with sub-normal critical thinking skills, were to come across these books? Think of the damage that could occur on these unsuspecting travelers!!

So now, it’s part of my public service to take these books out of the hotel the morning after I check in and dispose of them, so they can’t hurt anyone.

Sure, it’s a lot of trouble, but I have to think of the greater good here. In this small way I make the world a little safer.

I encourage all my fellow travelers who care about their fellow man to do the same.See more

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Book Review: Reality is Broken by Jane McGonigal

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The author just comes right out and says it:  Games are better than reality.  But this book isn’t an exhortation to drop out of real life:  it’s a recipe for remaking reality based on what we’ve learned from games.  We’re only five months into 2012 and I’ve already read two books this year that blew my mind.  The first one was Ready Player One.  This is the other one.

I’ve been a gamer for many years.  I’ve always felt luckier than my non-gamer friends, who I think seriously don’t know what they’re missing.  I feel gaming is far superior to passive pastimes like watching television.

Jane McGonigal is a game designer and researcher, and her amazing new book makes me prouder than ever to be a gamer.  In her beautifully written book, she describes why we love games, why games are better than reality, and how we can use games to make reality better.

Jane McGonigal

The book is broken up into three parts.  In the first part, McGonigal explores just what it is about games that makes them such effective engines for happiness.  Reading this section was pure joy, because it made me feel like someone much smarter than me had reached into my head and then sat me down to patiently explain to me all the reasons I love my favorite pastime so much.  Every single thing she asserts – that games provide a better work/reward feedback loop, that games make failure fun and educational, that games can improve our social connections, and many more – rang utterly true.

As fun as that portion of the book was, it was all stuff that I already knew intuitively, even if I’d never managed to articulate it as well as the author did.

But my brain really started to go crazy with the second portion of the book, which deals with how games can begin to make our real lives better.  She educated me about the concept of alternate reality games, which are just as fun as they sound.

Playing Tombstone Hold'em

Playing Tombstone Hold'em

McGonigal describes two new games that help the unpleasant experience of commercial flight more bearable.  A game that helps facilitate physical therapy and recovery.  Schools using games as a way to create more effective education.  Games played in graveyards that make us happier even as we think about death.

But it’s the third part of the book that really blew my mind.  In it, McGonigal explores how really large games played by large groups of people can change the world.

Remember that notorious scandal involving the Members of Parliament in the UK abusing their expense accounts?  The newspaper The Guardian was covering the story and wanted a full accounting of all of the MP’s expenses, so it could investigate just how serious the corruption was.

Under intense pressure, the government grudgingly agreed to release four years’ worth of records, but they made sure that they provided the data in the most unhelpful format possible:  558,832 separate pdf documents.  The Guardian knew it didn’t have the personpower to scan and evaluate all of those images.  So it decided to crowdsource the problem.  It invited the public to get involved.  It launched the first-ever Massively Multiplayer Investigative Journalism Project, which it called Investigate Your MP’s Expenses.

Did it work?  It worked staggeringly well.  Just three days into the contest, 170,000 of the documents had been studied!!  When the project was over, the resulting scandal led to resignations, indictments, and changed rules and laws.

Because The Guardian decided to make it into a game.

The book is rife with energizing examples of harnessing the power of online social networking and using games to make the world better.

Many people think crowdsourcing could be a way that we could solve enormous, dangerous problems, like global warming, water shortages, or why George Takei doesn’t get better roles in major films.

I can’t remember another book that prompted me to join so many different websites!  I am eager to participate in these worthy and exciting projects.

Reality is Broken isn’t billed as a self-help book, but I think it’s the best self-help book I’ve ever read.  I heartily recommend it to anyone who is interested in how play and technology can make our lives more happy and fun, and how we can use games together to make the world a better place.

 

http://realityisbroken.org/

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My Second Birthday

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Dr. Kathy Magliato: My Hero

Ten years ago today, I was admitted to Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills.  I had been ignoring increasingly serious chest pains for ten days.  I cannot defend this behavior, other than to tell you that I have actute “white coat hypertension” – meaning I’m terrified of doctors, doctor’s offices, and hospitals.

 

This time the fear nearly killed me, because when I finally went in, my main cardiac artery was 97% blocked.   In other words, I was a walking corpse.  Later I learned that the type of lesion I had on my artery had a nickname in the cardiac healthcare community:  The Widowmaker (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Widow_maker).

 

Lucky for me, Dr. Kathy Magliato and her talented team at Cedars swooped in and saved my life.  I’ll never forget the first thing she said to me as she leaned into my hospital bed and shook my hand:  “Mr. Ivey, you have a beautiful heart.  There is nothing wrong with your heart.”  It was an odd, but welcome thing to hear from the woman who was getting ready to cut me open and rewire said heart.

 

Dr. Kathy was ridiculously kind and calming.  She was way nicer than surgeons are supposed to be, and I’ll always be grateful to her for that.

 

I as, of course, beside myself with terror.  Lucky for me, my friends and family immediately began taking care of me.  Bonnie kept me calm while I was being admitted.  My Dad flew in from Louisiana, slept on a shelf in my hospital room the night before the surgery, and took care of me for two weeks.  My friends Tayler, David, Anita, Ellen, and others made sure I had visits.  My cousin Sheryl was her usual championship self.  Even my boss, Erica, visited me while I was in ICU.  That’s hardcore.

 

Thanks to Dr. Magliato, I received a second chance at being alive.

 

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Spring Forward: Day 63

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Salzburg, Austria
May 14, 2011 

Distance Traveled Today:  145 miles

Distance Traveled So Far:  10,477

A Trip to Soundofmusicland!!

The hills are alive!

The hills are alive!

Saturday morning.  Excited about my day trip to Salzburg, I hurredly showered and got ready.  As I was dressing, I noticed a sound coming from the windows.  A soft pattering sounds.  Not an upleasing sound, yet on this particular day a decidedly unwelcome sound.  With mounting dread, I pulled up the shade.  Rain!  Bah‼ I realized I hadn’t checked the weather for today.  Maybe it’s just Munich, I said to myself, firing up the laptop.  Nope.  Rain in Salzburg also.  Damnit!

The Fortress

The Fortress

So much for my plan of wearing short and a T shirt.  Trying to minimize my martyr-like sighs, I pulled on jeans, a shirt and my stupid, faithful, huge green trenchcoat that has served me so well on this trip.  I made my soggy way over to the main train station.

Do you recognize this fountain?  HINT:  Not a MALE deer, but a . . .  .?

Do you recognize this fountain? HINT: Not a MALE deer, but a . . . .?

An observation:  European cities don’t have the 24 hour mentality that big American cities have.  People actually close their stores on Sundays, not because of archaic Blue Laws, but because, uh, they don’t want to work on Sundays.  City streets in Europe are very very quiet on weekend mornings.  I was practically alone in the subway on my way over to the main train station where I was to meet my tour.

D'oh!!!  Ray: Me.

D'oh!!! Ray: Me.

It was a small tour group of seven:  A nice young Toronto straight couple in their 20s, a very friendly and uber- gay couple from Vegas, a sinfully handsome young Omani named Abdullah, a German woman who didn’t say ten words the entire day except for fretting over the trail of personal belongings she lost across the city of Salzburg, and your faithful correspondent.alps

Our tourguide was Susan, an eight months pregnant half-German, half-English sweetheart who was moonlighting while in the middle of her three-YEAR paid maternity leave from her regular job.

My new pal Abdullah

My new pal Abdullah

It was a lovely two-hour train ride southeast to Salzburg, city famous for salt (hence its name), Christian Doppler (yes, discover of the eponymous Effect), Mozart, and that little musical film starring who was it again?  Oh, yes, I think it might have been Julie Andrews.  I warned John of Toronto that, due to the campy nature of the tour, that exposure to too many of the day’s projected locations could spontaneously turn him at least temporarily homosexual.  He noted the warning with good humor.

Stupid Rain!

For only three Euro, you can take a couple of potshots at the town.  It's all in good fun, and it keeps the population in check.

For only three Euro, you can take a couple of potshots at the town. It's all in good fun, and it keeps the population in check.

When we got there, things were pretty gloomy for the walking tour portion of our day.  I was constantly putting my camera back into its protective plastic bag between shots.  We began to work our way through some of the major locations in the film.  I got a shot at what I call the “Do Re Mi” fountain, the plaza where Maria sings the written-for-the-movie “I Have Confidence,” and even a shot in the graveyard where th efamily hid from Nazis.  Of course, in the film the graveyard was on a soundstage, but the event evidently actually occurred in this particular graveyard.

Leisl!  Friedrich!  Don't let the Nazis see you!!

Leisl! Friedrich! Don't let the Nazis see you!!

Of course the city has much more to offer than just Sound of Music porno for middle-aged Americans.  It’s a perfectly beautiful place, well worth a visit even if you were utterly indifferent to screen adaptations of Rogers and Hammerstein musicals.

This beautiful statue of Mary is part of a cool optical illusion.  The cherubs who seem to be crowning her are actually on the exterior of the church about 60 yards behind this statue.  You have to stand in the exact spot where this photo was taken to make it look like she's about to have the crown placed on her head.  Those tricksy sculptors!

This beautiful statue of Mary is part of a cool optical illusion. The cherubs who seem to be crowning her are actually on the exterior of the church about 60 yards behind this statue. You have to stand in the exact spot where this photo was taken to make it look like she's about to have the crown placed on her head. Those tricksy sculptors!

Happily, when the walking tour was done and our free time began, the sun came gloriously out and I headed up the funicular to the spectacular hilltop fortress with the other homos.  At the top is where I managed to get my obligatory “Julie spinning on a mountaintop” photo.  I then had a lovely lunch with the Mos, who are named Dave and Sing.

That Wacky Darwin

After a few minutes Abdullah joined us as well.  I’m tempted to say that made us a quartet of queers, but of course I cannot be sure about Abdullah.  For all I know he’s as pure, 100% straight as Ted Haggard.  Abdullah, if you are reading this, I promise you I have no intention to offend, and also I freely admit that my gaydar is notoriously unreliable, particularly when the data is very likely distorted by wishful thinking.  But be that as it may.

I have confidence in Julie!

I have confidence in Julie!

He told me that, while still conservative, Oman isn’t nearly as repressiv e as Saudi Arabia and some other Islamic states.  Many women wear the burka, but it’s entirely voluntary.

Abdullah works in media in Abu Dhabi (which is more liberal than Oman), and has a college degree in, of all things, English Literature.  I asked him who his favorite writers in English were.  He told me he preferred American writers to British writers (booyah) and that he was particularly fond of Huckleberry Finn.  I said, “Believe it or not, that book is still controversial in American schools,” which amazed him.  I said it was amazing how some controversial books can stay controversial for long periods of time. 

“]”][REJECTED SALZBURG PHOTO LOCATION]

REJECTED SALZBURG PHOTO LOCATION

“Take Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  It’s still very controversial in America.”

Abdullah nodded emphatically.  “Oh, yes, it is in my country too.  People don’t like that book.”

“Really?”

This is what they used for the exterior of the Von Trapp villa in the film.  It's smaller than I would have expected.  The magic of the movies, huh?

This is what they used for the exterior of the Von Trapp villa in the film. It's smaller than I would have expected. The magic of the movies, huh?

“Yes.  We are taught that Adam and Eve were the first people, and they had a child of each color, and that’s how all the races were made.”

I remained calm.  I smiled.

Yes, as in the Effect

Yes, as in the Effect

“Okay… you do realize that isn’t true, right?”

“I don’t know.  What I told you is simply the story we are taught from the Koran.”  He clearly seemed conflicted on the issue.  And the more he talked, the more I understood that this isn’t a kid who’s wants to refuse to budge from the familiar thinking he grew up with.  He’s done a lot of traveling, and is clearly curious about the world.  We talked about other books and Dave and I insisted that he should consider trying To Kill a Mockingbird, a title he eagerly wrote down.  We told him the story of Truman Capote and Harper Lee, and how many people believe Harper Lee didn’t actually write the book (I am not one of them).main_street

The birthplace.

The birthplace.

This July he’ll be heading to Wyoming, of all places, to do some sort of very fancy internship that he applied to more than once before getting accepted.  He’s a really good guy, and we wished him well in his continuing adventures.

On the train ride back I had a nice long chat with the Toronto couple, who eventually admitted to me that they were evangelical Christians.  This surprised me, simply because I don’t think of Canadians as being that evangelical.  “We’re a very small community in Toronto,” they said.  They were in the middle of a three week romp across Italy, Germany, France and the UK.

The very McDonalds where Maria took the children in the movie.  Remember how mad Christopher Plummer got?  I loved the song!  "Hurry, hurry, Gretl, hurry, finish eating your McFlurry...." etc.

The very McDonalds where Maria took the children in the movie. Remember how mad Christopher Plummer got? I loved the song! "Hurry, hurry, Gretl, hurry, finish eating your McFlurry...." etc.

Oh, Please Stop Believin’

A peek at the old city wall

A peek at the old city wall

Speaking of irrational belief, when I got back to Munich and said so long to my fellow tour members, I sat down to grab a quick bite and had to endure, over the loudspeaker, one more rendition of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.”  I swear, this song is following me everywhere on this trip.  It needs to stop.  I can think of few songs which are so famous and so beloved and so enduringly popular and yet so vapid and uninteresting.  I sincerely don’t get why people are so fond of that damned song.  I much prefer the soulful “Lights.”  Don’t you?

I was somewhat pleased with my excursion to Salzburg.  It wasn’t a complete success; the weather compromised my photo opportunities.  Also, since this was just a day trip, we couldn’t see some of the most important movie locations, like the gazebo and the palace used for the Von Trapp family villa.  Also, the convent and the place where the family performed were not available for photos.  But still, I got some fun shots, and it’s a perfectly charming, beautiful place.  I’d go back in a musical-comedy heartbeat.the_at_the_ball_under_that_one

Well-Beloved Boring Mediocre Pop Songs

  • “Juke Box Hero,” Foreigner
  • “Private Dancer,” Tina Turner
  • “Roxanne,” The Police
  • “Don’t You Want Me,” by Human League
  • “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” Culture Club
  • Every Journey hit except for “Lights”
  • Pachelbel’s Canon (a three hundred year old pop song that still torments us)

old_town_from_fortresssteeple_2

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Spring Forward: Day 59

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Munich
May 10, 2011 

This church was built in thanks to God for a much-needed royal male heir.

This church was built in thanks to God for a much-needed royal male heir.

Thanks to a great suggestion from the office manager here in Munich, I am now booked on a tour of Salzburg for this Saturday!  I didn’t realize how close Munich was to that magical city.  I’m looking forward to my Sound of Music tour!

Looks like a minaret, but it's actually a chimney.

Looks like a minaret, but it's actually a chimney.

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Realized today that I need to work harder on my German food word vocabulary.  We went to a cafeteria today and I inadvertently got duck breast curry.  Ew.  Icky poo. 

Places I’ve Had Duck Meals That I Didn’t Enjoy

  • Beijing
  • Munich

 

Dinner was better.  Bert and I fired up his cell phone, hooked up the GPS, and navigated our way to the nearest McDonalds.  Sometimes you just have to go for cheap comfort food.

Very popular poplars

Very popular poplars

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Spring Forward: Day 24

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New York
April 5, 2011

The Bank of Ray

I’ve been interested in microloans for some time.  Are you familiar with the concept?  You make loans in tiny amounts to people across the globe that you’ve never met.

I finally decided to take the plunge.  I joined Kiva, an organization I highly recommend (www.kiva.org). The site is well-organized, which makes it easy to zero in on what kind of loan you’d like to make.

My client Sugar in his grocery store in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.  He is bringing computer gaming to his community.

My client Sugar in his grocery store in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. He is bringing computer gaming to his community.

I skipped over the boring stuff like farming and manufacturing and went straight to Entertainment.  Hey, just because I’m being altruistic doesn’t mean I have to stop being shallow.

After only a couple of minutes of searching I found my guy:  Sugar Ayush, a married father of one, wants to raise money to expand one room of his small grocery store to make a PC gaming center.  Well, that’s an idea I can get behind!  Just because a kid lives in Mongolia shouldn’t mean he can’t get his Gears of War on, right?

At first I was worried, because I was the very first person to loan Sugar a chunk of the amount he was trying to raise.  But in just a week, other wise lenders had followed my lead and I was delighted to see that his loan amount had been met!  I’m actually quite proud that my name is listed as the first lender right on his page.  The smug feeling of righteousness I feel when I think about Sugar’s PC game room is well worth the $25 I lent him to expand his business.

So.  The next time you’re in Ulan Bator and you have a hankerin’ for some Halo, go see my client Sugar and tell him Ray sent you.

Other Microloans I Should Make

  • Help open a bodybuilding gym
  • Help pay for World of Warcraft subscriptions in a developing country
  • No Child Left Behind (Without Her Own GameBoy)
  • Open a Mrs. Fields in a developing country

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Here are some more photos I’ve taken while in New York. 

I lived in this building for the summer of 1983. While living there, my sister and I were at The Witte Museum in San Antonio and we came across a painting that included this building. It made me feel even more important than I normally do.

I lived in this building for the summer of 1983. While living there, my sister and I were at The Witte Museum in San Antonio and we came across a painting that included this building. It made me feel even more important than I normally do.

 

You'd have to agree that, when it came time to name this church, they pretty much hit the nail on the head.

You'd have to agree that, when it came time to name this church, they pretty much hit the nail on the head.

I’m still learning both my Nikon D90 and Lightroom 3.

blue building

Pretty good band in the Times Square subway station.

Pretty good band in the Times Square subway station.

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