Saturday, June 30, 2012

Just When You Thought Pincushions Couldn’t Get Any Cuter

My beautiful wife has an Etsy shop where she sells beautiful and exceptionally well-made pin cushions. These functional treasures are made mostly from repurposed –  or upcycled, as Kelly calls them – cups and saucers, meaning it’s old stuff we find at flea markets.

But here’s one that prompted an idea. Tell me if you think this is funny.

It’s a pin cushion for someone with few pins but exceptional aim.
What do you think?

Friday, June 29, 2012

It's 95 Degrees Right Now, So Here Are Photos Of Our Ice Storm

Rummaging through some photos the other day, I found shots of our ice storm five years ago. It was a major weather event, with ice encasing everything for days and days.

Many people in our area were without electricity for 10 days or more. We were lucky.

Although our weather head was knocked off like everyone else, the wires didn’t lose connection. We lost Internet access for about six hours, but otherwise didn’t suffer much. They showed video of our house on the news because we had lights on at night and none of the neighbors did. It was weird.

Our neighbor wasn’t as lucky, so we ran long extension cords between our kitchens so they could cook and keep at least part of the house warm.

The long, sharp cracks of the wood splitting was nearly constant and always haunting, especially deep in the night. The ice from the limbs shattering against the ground were thousands of anguished voices, protesting against the cold.

Everyone dragged fallen limbs to the curb, where city work crews eventually got it all cleared away. One enterprising person near our house put a sign on his pile, "Wood For Sale."

In unsheltered places, the wind blew the mist in different directions, so the icicles that formed pointed in different directions.

After being trapped indoors for many days, we were happy to see the sunshine. Most of the trees in our neighborhood survived, but they all still show their scars. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Blessings From A Lama Are Better From A Distance

I didn’t know much about the Dalai Lama, so as Kelly and I rode through the dawn to see His Holiness, I tried to remember what I’d read.

The thousands of people streaming into the arena created a tangible vibe of anticipation and goodwill, like a McCartney concert. There were vendors outside, hawking t-shirts,  prayer shawls, beads, medallions, and incense sticks. Inside, there were more women than men, as many people over 60 as there were under 20, with all ages in between. There were delightful hippies who have gone to seed, but there were just as many professionals in suits.

Following a panel discussion, we broke for lunch. Because security required another bomb sweep, we were evacuated, which left 18,000 people looking for something to eat. While most of the crowd thought about food, I wondered whether the Dalai Lama's personal security team carried weapons. By the time we walked half a mile to the restaurants, there were lines of 30 or 40 people outside each place.

Whatever good feelings were generated before the event seemed to evaporate in the quest for nourishment. A group of five or six cut our line, which I thought was pretty rude. Here they had just heard one of the world’s foremost peace advocates ask us to be more thoughtful and considerate of others, and, well, at least my smoothie was good.

In the second session, the Dalai Lama stood in his red and gold robes and just talked to us, little bits of wisdom wrapped around often funny personal stories. He knew how to work a room. Although he violated nearly every principle I teach as a public speaking instructor, he was extremely effective. He has earned and carries such enormous credibility, he can do as he pleases, and he seemed pleased the entire time. He was warm, friendly, personable, sincere and he owned the crowd. They responded to every punch line, every point, with applause and laughter, and sometimes, with tears.

There are transcripts available of both sessions, but here are a few things he said as I remember them:
  • Happiness means deep satisfaction.
  • Human beings depend on external factors for satisfaction: taste, touch, smell. The ultimate source of happiness is within ourselves, our faith, our human warm-heartedness. Learn from babies, who must have physical touch, physical affection, to survive. You will have less fear.
  • We are social animals who must show concern for each other.
  • The way to reduce fear of others is to feel concern for others.
  • Have an unbiased compassion for and forgiveness of your enemies.
  • Always distinguish between the actor and the action.
  • The world belongs to humanity, not to governments.
  • Be compassionate, honest, truthful.
  • Always remember: to some extent, I can serve.
  • (In response to a question about his exile) Blessings from a lama are better from a distance.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Tip: $1.75 - Feeling Like A Million Bucks: Priceless

I’m not a big tipper by nature, but following advice from Jim Rohn, my favorite philosopher, I’ve learned how to do it right. Pay well for good service, he says, but then tip again for how it will make you feel all day.
I passed a lemonade stand down our street, four little kiddies smiling and calling to cars passing by. They had ice and cups, of course, bite-sized brownies, and piles of old toys and some little boy clothes for sale.

A cup of cold lemonade and a green metal lunch box proved irresistible, so for $1.25 I got a good deal. This is where Jim Rohn comes in.
I asked the little ones if they took tips, and they looked at each other and giggled. I handed the girl who poured my drink $3 and walked away. I heard the sharp intake of breath and a chorus of oooooohs from four tiny voices, and saw the little boy running up the sidewalk, shouting. I turned to see the other three, standing on their toes, grinning like it was free Ben & Jerry's Day, waving.

Yep. Best seven quarters I’ve ever spent.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Put Your Head On My Shoulder For Only A Nickel

I’ve said before I was born too late for my favorite music, you know, Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Elvis. Thank goodness for Amazon, where I just bought 111 classic oldies as an MP3 download for $5.99. That’s not a typo. I got 111 new tunes for my iPhone for less than $6, or right around a nickel each.

The collection has a lot of obvious standards common to this type of album, generic favorites like Why Do Fools Fall In Love, The Great Pretender, Teenager In Love, Rock Around The Clock, Lucille, Rockin’ Robin, Tequila, Put Your Head On My Shoulder.

But it’s also stuffed with a terrific assortment of great, often overlooked tracks, like Sweet Nothin’s, Brenda Lee, Stupid Cupid, Connie Francis, Hey Paula, Paul And Paula, True Love Ways, Buddy Holly, Hello Josephine, Chuck Berry, 3 Steps To Heaven, Eddie Cochran, Born Too Late, The Ponytails, and perhaps one of the finest songs of the generation, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, by The Platters.

There are plenty of surprises, too, songs I’ve never heard such as True Love by Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly, Halfway To Paradise by the unique Billy Fury, and Honey Love by Bunny Paul.

With few exceptions, these are the original recordings my parents listened to on the rcar adio when they were dancing on the picnic tables at the roadside park with all the headlights pointed toward them. Hello Mary Lou is a live version, probably recorded later in Nelson’s career. A couple of the Little Richards sound live, and some of the Carl Perkins songs sound like they were recorded about the time he played the Carl Perkins & Friends Rockabilly Session, so they sound great, but not like the original Sun recordings.

Except for Hound Dog, the Elvis offerings are obscure, buried treasures like Harbor Lights and I’ll Never Let You Go. There are only five Everly Brothers songs, all classics, but there could have been more. The set is light on Roy Orbison and heavy on Bill Haley, but I could not be more pleased. If it included Birthday Party or 442 Glenwood Avenue by the Pixies Three, it would be perfect.

Check it out here.

Note from John: I saw yesterday, July 8, 2012, that Amazon had this download listed for $2.99. That's so cheap, I'm thinking of downloading it again.....

Thursday, June 21, 2012

One Hit Too Many For Pete Rose

We had good seats that day in St. Louis, five rows up from first base at Busch Memorial Stadium. Pete Rose, playing at first, chased a foul pop up our way. Don't you love being part of that whoosh as hundreds of fans stand and will the ball to land near them?

The ball was almost certainly headed for the stands, but Rose made a show of banging into the wall and reaching through the arms and hands seeking the souvenir. A boy with a glove caught the ball, just beyond Rose’s grasp. Rose intentionally smacked the kid in the face with the back of his glove, swore, and told the boy to keep out of the way. Of course, there were boos and hisses from our side of the stands, but Rose just trotted back to his position.

I don’t care how many hits Pete Rose had, I'm betting he had one hit too many. That just doesn’t seem like Hall of Fame behavior, 4,000 hits or not.

What do you think?

In case you missed it, here’s why I dislike Martha Stewart.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I’m Not Actually Pleased That Martha Stewart Went To Jail, But…

Let’s just say I’m not a member of Martha Stewart’s fan club.

My encounter with her was years ago, when I was selling jelly, the best 10 ounces of jelly that $4 would buy. I paid big bucks to set up a booth at a garden show in a large city, where Martha Stewart was the guest speaker. She made a tour of the booths (reluctantly, from the look of her), and her entourage stopped briefly at mine.

During the luncheon, one of Stewart’s flunkies came and asked if Ms. Stewart could try our jalapeƱo mustard with her meal. I fixed up a three-jar gift box with the mustard, our best seller, some shrimp sauce and strawberry almond jelly, my personal favorite.

Now, that’s not a big deal. It cost me $10, and I gave away a lot of them over the years. What bothers me is that Ms. Stewart never bothered to say thank you, or sent one of her people to say thank you, and I just think there is a major, fundamental flaw with people who do not say thank you.

What do you think?

Tomorrow: why I don’t like Pete Rose, either.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

My Father's Name


Sixth grade. I walked home from school and met two kids I knew but did not hang out with. They were going to the lumber yard to climb on the stacks of wood, and invited me. I should have been suspicious when we crawled under the back fence. We climbed around until the two guys pulled out cigarettes and lit up. I wasn’t interested in that, so I went to another stack and kept climbing.

Of course, cigarettes in a dry lumber yard are a bad idea, and they were caught. We were all taken to the manager’s office and scolded. He asked our names. When I told him mine, he stopped. "Are you Gary Gratton’s boy?" I said yes, and knew I was doomed. He let the other guys go, then called my dad. "Gary, I just caught your boy smoking in my lumber yard. I know you didn’t raise him that way." About three seconds later, I heard tires squealing into the parking lot.

It was fairly easy to convince my dad that I hadn’t been smoking, but I’ve never forgotten that my dad’s name was known in our town, a thing of value. I decided I would never again do anything to tarnish my father’s name. Nor mine.

Thanks, Dad.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Elephant Rocks, Well Worth The Walk

Jackie, Devyn, and Dumbo, 27 x 35 x 17, 680 tons.

If you’re traveling this summer, visit my favorite place on the planet, Elephant Rocks State Park, seven curious acres of granite bliss.

We grew up near Elephant Rocks, before it was a state park. We would sometimes picnic there, climbing on the rocks, admiring the adults swimming in the quarry and diving from the steep cliffs. As a teenager, it was a favorite place to hang out, although my hanging out was while the sun was out. A lot of teenagers did their hanging out after dark, with campfires and alcohol.

Kelly is the one on the left.

As a parent, we went to Elephant Rocks at least once a summer, but often more, and my kids still love to go. It was a genuine state park by then, with picnic tables, his and her outhouses, a paved walkway through the boulders – the Braille Trail – with signs describing features, written in Braille.

The granite outcropping is 1.5 billion years old, but doesn’t look a day more than 1.2 billion. I love the mystery of the place, however these elephant-shaped rocks formed. The obvious, round rocks balanced together for centuries are wonderful, but I am fascinated by the enormous expanses of bulging granite, like the backs of giant whales, forever trapped just above the surface of the sea.

I marvel at the extinct industry, the relics of a once-thriving rock quarry, established in 1869. The granite was used for construction in St. Louis and part of the governor’s mansion in Jefferson City. I can see the cuts they made into the stone, the piled scraps of rock that weigh more than my car. I can see it but can’t imagine what it was like for these men, more than 140 years ago, with little more than picks and hand drills. How did they cut the stone so cleanly, and how did they move pieces that weighed many tons? Some carved their initials into the stone, whether for practice or for posterity, I don’t know.

Me with Aubrey, 2005. She has changed so much.
These rocks have not.

The social history of the place also fascinates me. Like mine, it is part of the history of generations of families who live within 30 miles. I’ve learned that my parents did some of their sparking there. There are rumors of swimmers eaten alive by snakes in the quarry, but that might have just my mom’s attempt to get us to quit asking to swim. There are rumors of mafia hits and drug slayings in the park, with bodies being tied with chains and stone, dumped into the bottomless pit of water. In fact, some years ago, there was a trial in St. Louis where the judge ordered the quarry drained to find a body. Two wrapped corpses were found, but not the one they were looking for.

Can you believet that my mom wouldn't let us
dive from here as boys?

Anyway, I digress. Do the research. Make the plans. Take the time. Go see the Elephant Rocks while you can. They’ve been waiting a billion years, just for you.

My dad claims to have carved his initials here as a teenager.
It seems unlikely someone else was named Gairhart Arthur,
so maybe he did.

Nearby places of interest: Johnson Shut-Ins, Fort Davidson, the mine where my dad worked underground all those years, and my grandma's house.
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