Scratch and Sniff Marketing

My books for school have arrived just in time to go to class! And not only that, but they were the correct books, and the correct editions, and arrived in sufficient plastic wrap and packing peanuts to be in pretty good condition. (Ya'll, I love online shopping, and I'll buy online for anything that I possibly can, but when you're on a deadline and it's the day before class, you start to get a little worried about just what is going to arrive in your mailbox and when). But it turns out that I worried over nothing, because everything arrived just fine, which totally reaffirms my belief in Internet commerce and capitalism in general.

Well, okay, there is just one little thing. Ze Global Marketing book? 'E smells of fish. Really really REALLY strong fish. Yes, the book is brand new and was still wrapped in factory plastic when it arrived, but I'm telling you that the printing press must have been located in the local fish market and then transported by local fishing boat, and then distributed by Red Lobster, because actually opening the book conjures up very real images of seagulls swooping and fish flopping on decks and that Gordon's Fisherman Guy in his yellow overalls peering through a carton of Marketing textbooks. Did I mention that the smell was kind of strong? And it's not easy to Febreze a book either. The pages get soggy and tend to stick together. Actually reading the book involves propping it up on the edge of the desk and standing as far away as possible until it's time to hold your breath and turn the page.

On the other hand, the cats have very suddenly developed an intense interest in Market Segmentation and Product Positioning. Every time I take the book out, they both come running.

Pass the Gravy, Baby.

The state obesity rankings are back, and it turns out that my beloved home state is full of fatties. (Well, maybe not full of fatties...just 27.8% fatties). Tennessee tied with South Carolina for fifth fattest state. Louisiana was 4th, Alabama was third, West Virginia was second, and Mississippi was first. Why so husky? The AP article thinks that the bulkiness is linked to poverty, because poorer people buy lots of cheap processed foods with a high fat content. I'm not buying that poor-little-fat-state thing. There are plenty of portly rich people here. No, I think the link is the weather...and gravy.

Did you notice that all the fat states are southern states? And that southern states are currently blanketed under the oppressive southern heat and humidity for about eight months out of the year? Coincidence? I think not.

Here's how it goes in my good southern home:
Me: I know! Let's be healthy and go for a bike ride around the neighborhood before dinner!
Tony: Sounds good to me.
Open front door, where a wave of humid, soupy hot air immediately rushes in, instantly soaking us in sweat and stealing any breath we may have had (and frizzing my hair).
Me: Gak! It must be 200 degrees outside!
Tony: I'm already sweaty and I'm still standing at the front door!
Me: Let's watch tv and eat ice cream instead.

I firmly believe that if Colorado (the skinny state) had our kind of humidity, they'd be camped out in front of their TVs eating ice cream too. But what about fall and winter and spring, you say? Why don't you get your mammoth derrieres off the couch and do your bike riding then, you say? I'll tell you. Gravy. We Southerners loooooove gravy. And it just so happens that when the weather finally cools off down here (about November) it coincides with a lovely little holiday that we like to call Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is all about the turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes. And then, just as you're recovering from your gravy induced coma from Thanksgiving, you hit all the Christmas parties, which also involve gravy. Biscuits with sausage gravy. Country fried steak with milk gravy. Mushroom gravy. Meatloaf and gravy. Roast beef with gravy. Maybe a little red eye gravy. Chicken and dumplings (in gravy). Then you have your Christmas dinner, which includes (but is not limited to) mashed potatoes and gravy, dressing and gravy, beef tips in gravy, ham in sweet glaze (a cousin of gravy) and broccoli in cheese sauce (another cousin to gravy). All of a sudden, you're all aboard the gravy train, headed to Chunkyville. Sure, everyone vows to hit that treadmill in January, but Easter is coming up, and you can't skimp on the gravy on the Lord's Day! There are traditions to uphold, and they all involve passing Grandma's antique gravy boat. After that, you're back into the heat wave, and it's all you can do to ride it out until Thanksgiving comes again.

Don't get me wrong, I applaud the new laws that require 150 minutes of PE and only healthy snacks in schools. But southerners aren't going to give up their Salisbury steak (smothered in gravy) just because gym teachers are making us climb the rope again. We need to get hooked on an air-conditioned indoor sport and for someone to come up with a recipe for fat free gravy. THEN we'll give those mountain-climbing Coloradoans with their organic granola and fancy wheat germ shakes a run for their money.

Well, as long as the running is indoors...and right after lunch.

Because Everyone Remembers the European Cheese Shortage of 1843

I've started class again. I'm officially halfway through my graduate career, although I've just discovered that I may be spending an extra semester in these hallowed halls due to a scheduling snafu. It appears that the last class I need to graduate is not offered again until the summer session, which makes graduating in May a little more difficult. (In undergrad at UT, we referred to this kind of scheduling problem as the "Big Orange Screw". I'm not sure what to call it here. I think that the official school colors are blue and white, but the "Big Blue Screw" seems a little lacking in oomph. It's either a good name for a mixed drink, as in "I'll take a Blue Screw and a Mango Margarita, hold the salt" or an episode of Blue's Clues meets Bob the Builder where Bob and Blue search for the missing Big Blue Screw. What it doesn't convey is the school going, "You'll spend an extra semester writing your thesis because of the bizarre class availability...take that sucka!"). I talked to my advisor though, and if I'm really intent on graduating in May and can double up on the class load in the spring, he can provide a special independent study session that is really the same class that isn't offered until the summer. I'm still deciding if the May graduation date is worth it or not. If it isn't, I'm pushed to August.

Meanwhile, I'm taking Global Marketing and Statistics. I'm supposed to be reading the first two chapters in Marketing and the first three in Stats, but I ordered my books over the Internet, and they have neglected to grace me with their presence yet. I know that they've shipped and that my books are somewhere between here and Pennsylvania, traveling via media mail (which is probably a nice way of saying "carried by a random hitch hiker"), but who knows when they'll actually show. They're supposed to arrive any day now. Or up to 21 days from now. Hard to tell with media mail. I'm not really worried though, because I'll just look on with my neighbor for this class. We won't have homework due until next week.

I'm excited about these classes. I really like the Global Marketing professor, because he tells good stories about real marketing scenarios. Unfortunately, he also expects you to know a lot of world history, which I haven't had since the 9th grade, and apparently oozed out of my brain .000001 seconds after I learned it. (No doubt to make room for more important knowledge, like all the words to the Sir Mix-a-Lot song Baby Got Back). Suffice it to say, I'm at a bit of a disadvantage when explaining that Italy's cultural reaction to potato chips can be traced back to the European Cheese Shortage of 1843, but I can belt out "I like big butts!" with the best of them.

Stats is more of a tossup. I really liked stats in undergrad, but I think that was mostly because I had a good teacher. My current stats professor goes about teaching things a little differently, but I'm hoping that it won't cause me any problems. Right now, I'm optimistically choosing to believe that I'm a natural statistical genius, and that I'll sail right through the class. Whether or not this is a true statement remains to be seen. At least I know that I had a pretty good grasp of it at one time, so I'm hoping that the old "riding a bike" thing applies to statistical analysis and with a little prodding, it'll all come right back to me.

In the mean time, I'll have a Big Blue Screw with a twist of lime.

And Now For The Feature Presentation

For the past year or so, I've been watching the gradual progression of the new Regal movie theater that's being built down here on Gay street. Every morning, I walk past all of the construction workers while they do their little construction worker thing, which I've decided mostly consists of standing around and watching one guy shovel wet concrete. Even so, it's been neat to watch the progress. In the beginning, they tore down an old building, which was fun. Then they pushed dirt into a giant hill. Then they leveled the hill. Then they built another hill. Then the concrete was poured. Then more dirt re-arranging. Then I watched them scurry around on the three story high steel beams like high wire acrobats with a death wish ("OSHA? We don't need no stinkin' OSHA!"). Then they were putting up walls and laying brick and moving dirt around again (what is it with this mound of dirt?) and wiring in electrical. I watched the escalators being installed, and the building get painted, and then get repainted with another color. I watched the Regal sign arrive, and then sit there for 6 weeks (we heard that there were problems with the Regal sign...apparently it was heavier than it was originally designed to be. I'd also just like to mention that my company didn't do that sign). The point is, I've gotten used to watching the progress. It's part of my day. The construction workers wave to me in the morning when I go by. I've come to think of it as my own personal Regal. Now, it is 99% complete and scheduled to have it's grand opening on Friday, August 31st. That's nice, but it's REALLY good news if you're poor, or cheap, or just like a certain thrifty Quirky blog writer who appreciates a good bargain, because the Regal is having preview events starting Tuesday August 28 and going through Thursday August 30th, and all tickets, soft drinks and popcorn will be $1 each on these preview nights. Yes, I said a dollar. 100 pennies. A good bargain. Even better, all the proceeds for these $1 nights will go to charity (so you can have your popcorn, and feel good about it too). Anyway, the preview movies include Disturbia, Evan Almighty, Meet the Robinsons, Knocked Up, Ocean's 13, Wild Hogs, Shrek the third, and 300. For show times, click here. Tuesday night will be Superheroes for United Way night, Wednesday will be Christmas in August to support the Empty Stocking Fund, and Thursday will be WIVK day, which benefits the East Tennessee Historical Society and has the added bonus of a fireworks show at 9:30 (not in the theater, of course). So there you go, great date night ideas all next week. Come out and support my new movie theater. It looks really good after all that work...especially that nice leveled pile of dirt.

Divine Cookie Intervention

Ohhhhh! You will not believe what just happened! I had a cookie craving (no surprise there) which I'd been struggling valiantly to resist. It started last night, right before I clicked off the TV, when some Pillsbury commercial came on. It was the one where they were pulling freshly baked cookies out of the oven. (You know the one...the camera is shooting from inside the oven, and the perfect American mom with her perfect 2.3 kids are gazing lovingly at the perfectly shaped, perfectly spaced cookies as she pulls them out. It's enough to make you REALLY want cookies). Anyway, I don't have any cookies in the house, so I went to bed cookie-less. And I woke up with an even STRONGER cookie craving. And I've ignored it all day, but only because I want soft, oven baked cookies...not these hard vending machine cookies. (I may have to swing by for some cookie dough on the way home though. Darn you Pillsbury doughboy! You know that my willpower is no match for your subliminal cookie messages!) Anyway, the cookie craving was getting out of control, so I decided to smother it with a Twix from the vending machine. (Twix has a cookie crunch in it, so I say that it counts). Normally I don't buy candy from the vending machine because candy is not good for me. Sometimes though, the craving is not swayed by that, which is where the double whammy comes in because, hello! a Twix is 75 cents, and that is highway robbery in vending machine form. But today the cookie craving decided that a Twix would be an acceptable sacrifice, even if it wasn't good for me, and even if it did cost 75 cents. So off I went to the kitchen. When I got there, Vending Machine Guy was refilling everything. He stopped and asked me what I wanted, and I said that I wanted Twix, so he pulled two out of the vending machine and was all like, "Here, take an extra". I tried to pay him for it, but he told me not to worry about it, so I actually now have $1.50 worth of Twix for free! You know what that means, don't you? God wanted me to eat these Twix. So I ate one pack of Twix today, and am saving the other Twix for tomorrow. Because really, who am I to disagree with God AND a cookie craving?

More Rafting Pics

Andrea came through with the pictures taken from the water camera, so allow me to present more Whitewater Rafting pictures!

Photo 1: Before the trip. Look how dry we are! If you look closely, you can see almost see the monster flippers...almost.

Photo two: And we're off! (Please ignore this moment of vanity when I say my bicep looks good! I'm impressed with myself!)

Photo 3: Half-way down! We survived the upper part and are getting ready to raft the middle Ocoee. The bridge in the background spans the dam for the TVA. We wanted to go over the side of the dam, but apparently there are guys with guns on either side to make sure that no one tries that. Party poopers.

Photo 4: Here's where we all bailed out to do some swimming. Check out the mountains in the background. Can there possibly be a more picturesque place to play? I don't think so.

White Water Rafting: Awesome!

Well, I don't know about you guys, but I had an AWESOME weekend. Rockstar awesome! The kind of awesome that you need to split into two posts because otherwise you would just be overwhelmed with all the awesome awesomeness. That is how awesome it was.

First, the White Water Rafting:
It. Was. Awesome! Every year, the hiking group and friends of the hiking group go white water rafting. This was my first year to go with them though because I was already booked up on the calendar during last year's trip. (Sadness). But this year there were 12 of us in attendance. There are a couple of different white water rivers in the area, but we decided to do the Ocoee again because it is pretty much the most awesome within driving distance. (The 1996 Olympic whitewater events were held on the Ocoee River). Andrea set it all up for us, to which we all chanted in sing-song unison: "Thank you An-dre-a!"

I had to pick up some snazzy water shoes for the adventure because Tony threw out the grungy tennis shoes that I usually wear after I went to Midnight Hole. (Apparently, if you wear grungy tennis shoes in the water and they get all wet, and then you take them home and forget to put them in the washing machine for like a week, then they get all mildewy, and no amount of washing will get rid of that smell. Go figure.) Anyway, the good news is that Wal-mart is having a super clearance sale on all their water shoes, so I was able to pick up a pair for $2. The bad news is that they only have Men's and children's sizes left, so I had to get the some slightly too big men's water shoes. Let me tell you what a fashion statement that makes. I don't have dainty little feet to begin with, and if you add another 2 inches of empty water shoe on the end, you end up with very long black mesh flippers. So stylish. But this is white water rafting, so no one is going to be checking out my feet anyway, right?

We were supposed to arrive at the White water rafting place by 8:30am, and it was a bit of a drive, so we met at Turkey Creek at 6:45. AM! In the morning! Do you know that it is still dark at that time? It is. Normally I don't do pre-dawn unless I'm seeing it as a continuation from the night before, but I decided to make an exception because not even a pre-dawn meeting time could deter me from the awesomeness of white water rafting. Plus, no one would notice my freakish flipper shoes in the dark. An unexpected bonus.

Anyway, the caravan over to Ocoee Tn was uneventful, and only took about an hour and a half. Mapquest says two hours, but an hour and a half is more realistic. (Especially if your caravan ignores the speed limit...which I'm not confirming or denying here Trooper Joe, or if your monster flipper foot happens to get accidentally lodged under the top part of the gas pedal).

There are roughly 26 different rafting companies for the Ocoee, and after careful consideration, we went with Cascade Outdoors. I highly recommend them. We've gone with a couple of different outfitters before, and these guys are the best so far. We did the full river trip, which consists of about 5 and a half hours of rafting time. We were a little late getting started because some of the other groups that were going with us were late to arrive (shame on you!) but Cascade thoughtfully employs a kitten, so we passed the time waiting for the late people by dragging small sticks around for the kitten to chase. When the late people finally moseyed up, we hopped on the school bus with our paddles, life jackets, and helmets for a 15 minute ride to the top of the Ocoee.

After a little paddling instruction time, we jumped in our little raft and headed down the river, a la Race for your life Charlie Brown style. We started out on the Upper Ocoee with Class 2 rapids, which were awesome. Then we did the Olympic section, which has some really (you guessed it) awesome Class 3 and Class 4 rapids. There's a class 5 rapid right at the end of the Olympic section, which also happens to have a fantastic vantage point. Spectators come to watch people flip out of their rafts while going through this part. It's a riot! We didn't lose anybody out of our raft, but we did get off on the whole paddling together thing and ended up getting turned around and went through it backwards. (We got lots of applause from the crowd on that little feat, and our guide told us that in her five years running the Ocoee, she'd never gone through that rapid backwards before). The trick to staying in the raft is to wedge your feet under the sides of the raft so that you can't fly out...and if you happen to have an extra two inches of giant flipper shoe to secure you, then nothing short of the Apocalypse is getting you out. Bring on the rapids!

After that, we stopped for lunch to refuel and watch the other rafters. Some rafting companies provide a little box lunch for people...Cascade does an entire feast. I had spicy peel and eat shrimp, and fancy deli cold cuts, and gourmet sandwich fixin's and cookies and chips and every kind of salad available. Nothing like a good lunch while watching boatloads of unsuspecting rafters fly through the air when they hit that last rapid. Lunch AND a show! You just can't buy entertainment like that.

After lunch we hit the middle section of the Ocoee, where the rapids are more spaced out instead of on top of each other. There's also a couple of calm areas where you can get out and swim. (And by swim I mean float along at 10mph in the's like a lazy river without the lazy). I did a little bit of kicking against the current to work off some of the lunch overindulgence, but it didn't get me very far, even with the power flippers.

All in all, we rafted roughly 10 miles on the water. A lot of paddling and bouncing around and getting soaked. I thought that my arms would be sore from all the paddling today, but instead it's my rear end that's feeling the burn (that's a sore muscle kind of burn, not a Preparation H kind). Apparently it takes a lot of thigh and glute work to keep yourself seated while bouncing over rapids. But man oh man what fun we had!

Andrea took pictures, but it'll be 2 weeks before she gets around to getting them developed. So instead, here's a lovely screen shot of the Cascades website. Notice I am not stealing a copyrighted (copywritten?) picture...I am just showing you a screen shot of the fabulous Cascades website, which just happens to be showing a picture of our raft. (I'm in the front of the boat, daintily looking cool calm and collected as we barrel through the rapid...the Queen Mum would be proud). If you go to the website, our pictures start at 34 and run through 39. If you flip through them quickly enough, it's like watching a little movie of me getting hammered by a giant wave. Sadly, the giant flippers were never captured on film. They're an urban legend, like Big Foot. Actually, they could have been Big Foot's water shoes for that matter.

If you're ever in the area and feel like doing some awesome rafting, head to the Ocoee. Then call up Cascade. (They haven't paid me for this endorsement. They don't even know about it. If they find out, I'm hoping that all the positive press will convince them not to sue me for the screenshot above).

The rest of the group went to dinner after our trip, but I had to hightail it back to Knoxville to prepare for Feasties with the Beasties. But that's tomorrow's post. (And no, the Beasties are not my water shoes).

Move In Day!

It's going to be a very busy weekend this weekend, so I thought I'd get an early start on reporting all of the activities. Specifically, the students are moving back to UT this weekend. Even though we're in summer's death grip with it being 102 degrees out (ack!), the Powers that decide when to begin that adventure that is higher education thought that they might as well get started on the "fall" semester. (I can't really blame them. If we waited until we started having fall-like weather around here before going to class, we'd be halfway through November). Anyway, the band kids and sorority kids are already back, but the general mass student population is scheduled to move in this weekend. And that's when the fun really begins.

All through the summer, the University sleeps. Sure, there's some summer classes going on, but compared to the rest of the school year, the place is a ghost town. You can drive down the "strip" without hoards of bodies stepping mindlessly into the street in front of you (be warned UT students...if you're outside of the crosswalk, you're fair game and I'm not slowing down). You can find a parking space within 2 miles of your destination, and almost no one comes to Mass in tattered shorts and flip-flops. And all that is nice. The University needs that break every summer to rest and regroup and repair. We all do. But every August, the relaxed feeling in the air gradually gets replaced by a buzzing excitement. Almost like a nervous energy. You can feel the University brace itself. The students are coming.

I love living in a college town. There's an excitement here that you just can't find anywhere else. And move in day is one of those days where the excitement reaches a fever pitch. (Rivaled only by home football game days). Move in days are like being on a roller coaster and waiting in line for it all at the same time. UT has roughly 27,000 students at any given time, and 99.9% of them will try to move in this Saturday. (I don't know why they all decide to come on Saturday. Classes don't start until Wednesday. If you're going through check-in, come on Sunday. I promise that Sunday will be a cakewalk compared to Saturday. Saturday is a zoo). Anyway, they'll wake up early and load up their parents, friends, clothes, computers, stereos, TVs, school stuff, decorations, boxes of Mac and cheese, party supplies, cooking pots and pans, floor rugs, shower shoes, beanbag chairs, bedding supplies, and the kitchen sink into the backs of their cars, trucks, and SUVs to the point that they can no longer see out of the rearview mirror and overflow stuff is tied to the roof. And they'll come. Unfortunately, no matter how close they live to campus, the traffic jam caused by 27,000 cars all going to one place will guarantee that the trip will take at least 40 days and 40 nights, and the college bound caravan will arrive hungry, already exhausted, and ready to kill their newly independent adult child, whose nerves are expressing themselves through moods swings that make menopausal schizophrenics jealous. They'll want to park and regroup when they get to the residence hall ("Dorms are made of bricks...Residence Halls are made of people") but they'll discover that the entire parking lot has been turned into a 30 minute unloading zone only, and the local police are ticketing any vehicle left unattended. So someone will sit with the car in the 102 degree parking lot, snarling at the roaming packs of cars intent on stealing their space and trying to fight heat stroke. Everyone else in the moving party will shuffle into a rat maze of lines that have been constructed inside the lobby.

They may think that they've made it once they're inside the lobby, they're almost through. Ha! Checking in to a residence hall is like going to Disneyland, only instead of rides, you get to fill out paperwork. You stand in line. The line inches forward. You reach a table. You fill out a form. You stand in the next line. You inch towards the next table. You fill out another form. You stand in the next line. This process repeats until either you've seen more forms than the IRS, or the nice people in white coats drag you off to the loony bin. All you really want is the room key so that you can start moving stuff in, but housing staff knows this, so they deliberately keep the keys at the last table. (When I worked in housing, this was my favorite station to work, because people were so happy to finally see me. You can tell when people are at their form breaking point).

You may think that you're almost through because now you have your key, but wrong again! You have to get your stuff out of the car and into your new room. All the residence halls have a couple of rolling luggage carts for just such purposes, and by a couple, I mean no more than 5. Unfortunately 5 cannot be easily shared by the 27,000 people checking in. So there's a cart list at the front desk and your room phone will be called when a cart is available. There's also a huge black market for luggage carts, and the bidding, bribing and begging for use of anything with wheels will reach astronomical proportions. (Bring some luggage carts with you and you'll make a fortune). Most people just start dragging stuff in by hand while they wait for the cart, but you're now another man down, because while one is guarding the car, another is stuck in the room, waiting for the cart call.

The halls all have elevators, but don't count on using those because they are absolutely packed with people and their stuff. You'll wait 10 minutes for an elevator to show up, and there will be no room to get on. Better off just walking those 6 flights of stairs. Carrying your TV. And the beanbag chair. And Grandma. You'll work all day to get your stuff into the room, and then you'll head out to Wal-mart to purchase yet more stuff to make the new 10x10 cinder block wall room feel more like home and less like a prison cell.

If you're a girl, it will take you days to organize all of your stuff. If you're a guy, you'll leave it stacked into a pile in the middle of your room until Thanksgiving. Mom and Dad will head back home (in tears if it's your first time on your own), and you and your new roommate will stare at each other, wondering what you've gotten yourselves into. Don't worry about it. That's just move-in day nerves. You'll have parties and cookouts and games and outings and book buying and 50 mile hikes around campus, and that will just be your first day there. It will take you a little while to get into the college student rhythm, but don't worry, because you will find your classes, and you will make friends, and you will be able to sleep through that racket in the hall. And in no time, you'll be jumping out into traffic on the strip, taking up my parking spaces, and wearing tattered shorts and flip-flops to Mass.

Welcome back guys. Have a great new semester.

Anarchy in Arby's

I was in line at Arby's today at lunch, and the weirdest thing happened. I walked in the front door right behind a man and a woman. The guy looked like one of the bajillion-zillion office workers around here, and the woman was probably late 50's/early 60's. There was already someone at the counter, so we all had to wait. When that person was through ordering, the Arby's worker turns to the guy in line and says "Can I take your order?" Guy starts to say something and all of a sudden, the woman behind him yells, "Excuse me! I was next!" and starts to push her way forward. The guy looks really startled since this woman is obviously behind him, but he steps aside and lets her order first. Here's the thing though! She wasn't next! First the guy walked in, then the woman, and then me. We came in in that order, and we stood in line in that order. (I was taller than both of them, so I had a pretty good view of the whole thing). I'm not sure what crazy woman was thinking. Maybe she's nutso and forgot that the guy was there. Maybe she was really hungry and thought that she couldn't stand another second without her Junior Beef and Cheddar with a side of Curly fries. Maybe she's an evil old bat and she just thought that she could get away with it. I dunno. I really wanted to point and yell "Line Breaker! Line Breaker!" to help right this obvious injustice, but the lady was already ordering, and I suppose in the scheme of things it really doesn't matter if Office Guy waits another 45 seconds to order his food. Definitely not worth getting in a fist fight over, and this woman looked like she'd fight this one to the ground. Still, society only works if everyone plays by the rules, and this woman definitely cut. I'm going to rule her actions as temporary insanity to preserve my stalwart sense of justice, but if you're out there reading this Office Guy, know that you were in the right and she's just a Cheater Cheater Pumpkin Eater.

Book Time!

Sorry I didn't write this weekend. I've been reading. I'm a little late to the game, but I've just discovered Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum novels, and I'm tearing through them like Sherman through Atlanta. Oh. My. Goodness. I have laughed until I've cried. I've laughed until my stomach hurt. I've laughed until losing bladder control became a very real threat. If you're like me and were out in la-la land when the first 12 books came out, then go out and get them and block off the rest of your day because once you start them, you can't put them down. (I'm averaging a book a day).

The idea is that Stephanie Plum is just your average girl from Jersey who loses her job and is scrambling to find anything that will pay the rent. She has a cousin Vinnie who is a bail bondsmen, and he reluctantly hires a very unqualified Stephanie to be a bounty hunter. The chaos that ensues is very Rockford Files meets I love Lucy. The characters are fantastic. They build through each book, so be sure to read them in order. I'm in the middle of book 9, and at one point had to smother myself with a pillow to keep from waking Tony up with all my guffaws.
Trust me. Get the Stephanie Plum books, call in sick for the next week and a half (I have a great book on bloody stool if you need ideas) and spend the whole time reading (and laughing) in bed.

Just make sure you've emptied your bladder first.

It's Not the Amount of Blood You Lose, It's Where It's Coming From

So here's something fun: Yesterday, the head of HR came to our team meeting and announced that according to our health insurance people, Ye Ol Company was going to the emergency room 40% more than other companies they represented. 40% more! HR thought this was extremely fishy, because either we are all prone to frequent extreme mishaps, or some people were going to the emergency room when they didn't really have to. So the head of HR was making her rounds to explain to everyone in the company that the emergency room was just for that: emergencies. And since emergency room visits cost an average of $900 and regular doctor visits cost $60, the insurance company was most keen on reducing these little medical sojourns.

While HR Lady did her spiel, I studied the faces of my cohorts to see if I could tell who might be a closet emergency room abuser. I was smugly secure that I wasn't the problem, because I haven't been to the emergency room since the time I was playing flag football in college and that fat sorority cow on the opposing team pushed me down and stomped on my ankle. (I'm pretty sure she did it on purpose. Never trust a sorority football team. They play dirty). Not only that, but I had to go get it X-rayed, so I sat in the waiting room for HOURS with the rest of Knoxville's clumsy, unlucky, or just plain crazy. (It's my experience that the emergency room attracts people that are more than a bit nutty, and since my team "uniform" happened to be a severely cropped pink tie-dyed t-shirt with "K-3 Hotties" glitter-painted across the chest, I'm sure that I fit right in. I knew we should have been the K-3 Krushers!)

But I digress. The point was that my hypochondriac coworkers were abusing their emergency room privileges, and the company was out to put a stop to it. Their weapon of choice was a book entitled, "Health at Home" which was designed to help you decide if you needed the emergency room, or a regular doctor visit, or just 3 Advil and a Band-Aid. It's a good sized book, and it covers everything from cancer to scrapes and burns to excess flatulence. (And because we're all really 12, we immediately read choice parts of the flatulence section out loud while we snickered).

The book plays out in kind of a Choose Your Own Adventure deal, where it asks you questions, and depending on if you answer yes or no, tells you how soon you need to seek medical attention. Only instead of "Should you swim into the deep dark underwater cave after the mysterious guy with the knife? If yes, turn to page 23" it says things like, "Can you see the bone protruding from your flesh? If yes, go to the emergency room." I was flipping through the book last night though, and I noticed a common (if a bit disgusting) theme. No matter what the ailment was, there was a question about blood in the stool. The section on sinus inflections asks if you also have blood in your stool. The section on pink eye asks about blood in the stool. The section on excess flatulence has an entire paragraph on blood in the stool. (I'm guessing that the authors really had a hang-up on bloody stool. No doubt an interesting back story there somewhere). Pink poop must be serious business too, because if you answer yes to it, you best get to the emergency room ASAP.

I don't know if the book will help us reduce emergency room visits, but it is a neat thing to have around the house. We keep it next to our first aid kit so if I happen to fall off the roof or cut my finger off with the circular saw, Tony can grab the Band-Aids and the book at the same time. Then I can be wrapping my severed limbs in gauze while Tony goes through the emergency room checklist.

Heaven help me if I ever have bloody stool.

Chicago- My Kind of Town (to visit)

Tony has always wanted to live in one of two places: Chicago or somewhere on the Florida coast. Chicago has the Cubs and Bears and Blackhawks, but Florida has sea creatures, and I think he's always had a thing about being a dolphin trainer. I, always supportive and interested in his happiness, have poo-pooed both living areas in no uncertain terms. One, Chicago gets FREAKING COLD, which I do not do, period. And while Florida is blessedly warm, it has been known to be repeatedly hit by pesky little hurricanes, and I have no desire to fix up an overpriced coastal house only to watch it be swept out to sea. I'm just picky like that. Yet as I headed up to visit the Stepher in Chicago this weekend, Tony held out hope that I would fall in love with the city and demand that we move there.

Me (looking at map of Chicago): Look! Chicago has an area called Goose Island!
Tony: It must be fate! We're meant to live there! I'll call the realtor.

Unfortunately for Tony, Chicago and I remain just friends. There are things I really like about Chicago, like the architecture, and people watching on Navy Pier, and Chicago style pizza (especially from Giordanos), but there are also things I really dislike, like the fact that housing is small, yardless, and overpriced. And the fact that it's cold for 9 months out of the year. And that you have to take mass transit because it's impossible to drive in that city. And that it's just flat out crawling with people EVERYWHERE you go. (It's this last one that really gets my goat...sometimes you just want to get away from the masses, and that just doesn't happen in Chicago, because Chicago IS the masses). So I may be lured there on a vacation from time to time, and if I ever get obscenely wealthy, I might sublet an apartment and make it my summer home, but I couldn't ever live there year round. Sorry Chicagoans. My heart belongs to my big backyard and driving my own car and winters above 30 degrees.

But feel free to still send me some of that fabulous Chicago style deep dish pizza.

Men are from Mars and Sisters are from Flea Markets

Mom and I flew up to see The Seester in Chicago this weekend. Whereas I am everybody's favorite quirky suburbanite, Stepher is the sophisticated big city yuppie lawyer professional. I'm not sure how we ended up coming from the same genes. (When I was young, I used to tell people that the family purchased Steph at a flea market when she was a baby. I also swore that at a nickel, we were overcharged. I still stand by the flea market statement, although with inflation, she may begin to be worth the price).

Anyway, in many many ways, Stepher and I are a lot alike. People tell us that all the time. This is mostly due to common mannerisms and facial expressions. In just about every other way, we're opposites. My preferred outfit of choice consists of jeans and a simple shirt. Stepher loves the height of fashion. I bought a mountain bike last night. Stepher spent the same dollar amount on a bottle of wine. I buy Wal-Mart brand shoes and still grumble about the price. Stepher has amassed thousands of dollars worth of fancy high-heeled shoes and is still always on the lookout for her next pair. She's a shoe junkie...I'd go barefoot everywhere if I could. Stepher likes a good club scene. I like to stay at home. She attends fashionable parties. I rank parties at the same annoyance level as a trip to the dentist. I like plants. Stepher does not personally own one bit of flora...not even fake ones. I like to build things. Stepher would rather just buy it (which completely misses the point of building it). I read whodunits, she reads about supreme court justices (snore!). I drink instant hot chocolate with cute little freeze-dried marshmallows. She drinks Mocha Fraps from Fourbucks. You get the idea. (I'm normal, and she's Frasier Crane with a Sex in the City shoe obsession).

You would think that this would cause problems, but for some reason, it doesn't. That's the good thing about families. People who would otherwise never run in the same circles get thrown together because they're connected by blood. For us, it works. Whenever we get together, we click right into place. She overlooks that I can be cynical and (dare I say it?) perceived as possibly dull and I overlook that she's a know-it-all that turns everything into a debate. We finish each other's sentences. We remember lines from movies that we haven't seen in years. We stay up all night talking. I know not everyone is lucky enough to have the sisterly relationship that we have, but I would also like to point out that having opposite personalities shouldn't stop you from trying. The way I figure it, you can have friends, you can have best friends, but one step up from best friend is a sister, because they have the added bonus of being blood friends. (It's a major redeeming factor for putting up with a sibling).

Hmmm. This was supposed to be about my trip to Chicago, but instead kind of veered off to be a touchy-feely Hallmark card blog about the bonds of family. Ack.

We'll try again tomorrow with more about the trip. Specifically, the joys of Chicago style pizza, and why it should be added to the Wonders of the World list.

In the mean time, call your family and tell them that you love them, especially if it makes you uncomfortable to say it. You need the practice, and they need to hear it.

More about Barry

Apparently, Sweet Lou has figured out the secret to Cubs success (obviously he follows along with a certain Quirky blog), because Tony was listening to the game last night in Chicago, and it just happened to be...70's night! And who should be singing the National Anthem and Take me out to the Ballgame but the one and only...Barry Williams! Yes that's right. Barry had so much success with 70's night in Cincinnati that he also traveled up to Chicago to do the same thing again at Wrigley Field the very next day!

After he did the 7th inning stretch, Barry mentioned to the announcers that he must be a good luck charm for the team, since they won when he was around.
Don't forget about my Combos, Barry. I'm sure the only reason Lou hasn't called me yet to offer me the official job of Lucky Team Combo Eater is because he's still waiting on the truckload order of Pepperoni Pizza Pretzel to come in.