Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes a cigar isn't just a cigar.....

     Relax.  If you think I'm going to go all anti-Freud on you and make the case that cigars are really phallic symbols, well you are wrong.  I like them too much to go there, this blog is on why I enjoy them.....

     My first cigar was likely at a stag party or somewhere like that.   I remember a lot of these testosterone laden events in my 20's and cigars seemed to be at most of them.  I never purchased them, I just smoked what was offered, some good and some bad, and then developed a taste for them over time.  My cigar smoking became an actual habit, albeit a small one, when I started playing poker a few years later with a group in
In a Philly cigar room
Canandaigua.  Some of the others smoked and if I was going to come home smelling like I did it anyway, I might as well smoke too, I thought.  So I did.  I really enjoyed playing poker with this group and our games would last for about 4 hours, so I eventually purchased longer and thicker cigars that would last for a good portion of the game.  Once I connected this type of cigar to the camaraderie I enjoyed with this group each week, the habit was born and I never really went back to the smaller cigars. In my mind, ingrained forever after, a cigar has to last for a couple of hours, and good conversation is a great accompaniment to one.  What do I mean?

     I liked the poker group, not for the gambling, but for the shared evenings of conversation and interaction with such a diverse group.  We had a couple of real estate agents, a car mechanic, a heating and plumbing entrepreneur, a mailman, a town supervisor, a trucker, a tool and die guy, and an insulating guy known for his
Now, that's a good hand.
quirkiness, vegetarianism, and his liberal slant.  You can imagine the discussions that we had over the 12 or so years that this group met.  Sometimes, mid-hand, a discussion would get so interesting that slowly people would lay down their cards and engage the others, and then resume the hand 10-15 minutes later.  That's what I loved about the group, and I rarely participated without having a lit cigar in hand.  It just seemed fitting.  Over that period I can't tell you how many great talks we had, but I can say I still keep in touch with most of the group even though I stopped playing about 10 years ago.  My travel schedule got in the way first, then the popularity of Texas Hold' em changed the nature of the game (we were dealer's choice), the money got bigger and for me the final straw came when one of the newer members remarked on not getting in enough hands one night.  I wasn't playing to play a certain number of hands, but certainly didn't want to impede the game if that's what the group wanted, so I stopped going.  The game broke up for good within a year or so after.  Like, with a lot of things, it never was as good as those early simple years and every great night, came with a cigar in hand. 

     Until I built my Garaj-Mahal, my cigar smoking was limited to the non-winter months for the next few years, and it seemed like a natural fit when I started taking them onto the golf course.  There is a lot of down
Wenches with cigars, in one of the early years.
time in that sport while you are waiting for the others, so I found it relaxing to have a cigar while golfing.  My friend Dan started sponsoring free cigars for our annual tournament around then and did it for several years that he had his own business.  When he left it, my wife and I took over the sponsorship of free cigars for the tournament, it just didn't seem the same without them.  Speaking of my wife, once in a blue moon I can talk her into having one with me. She tends to prefer smaller cigars (don't go there), and vanilla flavored ones.  My girlfriend (see My Girlfriend Stretch) and I have even been known to relax with a cigar now and again.  She tells me I'm the only one that can corrupt her, but I'll bet regular readers aren't surprised by that at all.  I actually find it pretty sexy when I see a woman smoking a cigar (see the pictures attached, don't you agree?).  I'm sure that some are thinking right now "Sure, cancer, stale smoke, bad breath, that's sexy", so I'll re-but the point just a little.  The
cancer rates for light cigar smokers are non-existent if they don't inhale (which you generally don't with cigars), and the smell and bad breath can be cured with mouthwash and perfume, so I'll still take the woman who likes to indulge occasionally over the abstainers.  I've wrestled with whether I am setting a bad example for my kids too, but at the end of the day, we raised critical thinkers and we have to trust them to choose their own vices.  Admittedly I've had a cigar now with both of my adult children and I'd consider it a good way to find some alone time with them. I'm sure that you have your special bonding things that you do with your kids, I'd like just to be able to keep doing mine.  This summer on Thursday nights when I get home from traveling, I've been able to join my 19 year old son Dan on our deck for a cigar or pipe (he prefers the pipe I think).  We sit for hours out there and our conversations are fantastic and immediately take me back to my old poker group.  I hope we are able to keep doing this for a while. 

     I'll close with some quick reminiscing on some cigars and times that I've had in the past.  My last company once rented me a humidor in Boston's North End on Hanover Street.  I got free appetizers and desserts for
Nate at Mahogany on Walnut in Philly
my group when I entertained there, but the alcohol we had to buy.  It was a underground place near Mike's Pastry but I really couldn't justify the expense after the second year rental came due. Several notable people also had humidors there and believe it or not, Danny DeVito had one that was place higher than mine.   I've smoked cigars with a bunch of my nephews and even nieces, and the picture here is of my nephew Nate when we met up for a cigar in Philly once. I really have enjoyed those times getting to know those relatives and a lot of their friends, a good cigar will give you time enough to connect.  I haven't mentioned my favorite cigar, but it is an Ashton Churchill which is 7 1/2 inches long and a 52 ring gauge. It's made with Dominican tobacco and a Connecticut Shade Leaf wrapper.  I purchase these when my budget can afford them, but most times, I'll go for a JR Cigar knock-off.  Since I get the leftovers from the tournament, this is what I smoke most of the summer and fall.  Speaking of the fall, I like to take a few with me to my sister's pig roast, but I'll generally smoke them when I stay up cooking the pig, since she has a lot of kids in attendance.  So to close, it seems odd that something arguably smoky and smelly might be able to bring you closer to someone, but that's what I've found out with cigars.   Don't believe it?  See you some Thursday on the back deck.  
Papa Frank, the first cigar smoker that I knew


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Reunion of Troop 50

     It's really not my story to tell, however, I know my wife and she doesn't realize how good of a writer she is, so she is highly unlikely to tell this story, and you know I hate to let a good story go to waste.....

The girls that attended
     Last weekend we hosted a reunion of my wife's former G*rl Sc*ut Troop at our home (I'm editing so that this blog site doesn't show up on a search as it isn't always appropriate for younger kids).  Ten years ago they had put together a time capsule and promised to get back together to open it during the 100th anniversary of the organization, and they did.  My wife was one of the original leaders and shortly thereafter, our family friend Helen, joined as her co-leader and they, together, were able to take 7 girls to their senior year in high school all while remaining active in the organization.  The Troop had it's ebbs and flows of membership, reaching a high of 18 and a low of 6, but I suspect each and every member of that Troop, regardless of the duration of the time spent there, came away with fond memories of the experience.  I played no part in the Troop, official or unofficial, but as an outside observer, it was easy to tell how special this group was. I was able to accompany them on a trip to NYC once, and that is a memory that I will always cherish. The Troop was
Boston Trip
more traditional in the beginning earning badges and ranks, but it eventually moved to more of an activity focused group.  That's not to say that they didn't advance, because they did, and in fact the membership had one Gold recipient, two Silvers, and many Bronzes. They seemed most comfortable though in the more relaxed meeting sessions, and they worked on organizing many trips and camps.  Aside from the NYC trip they were also able to tour Washington D.C, Boston MA, and I don't recall them ever missing a year of summer camp.  I'd hear the camp stories from them each year for weeks afterwards and they were always told with great enthusiasm and mirth.  As with all great groups, the leadership team can take some credit here, and I saw how well the 2 leaders balanced each other out. As previously stated, I felt the Troop helped to mold some exceptional young women and I suspect I enjoyed the reunion as much as they did.

     The Time Capsule was part of each girl's Bronze project and every girl was asked to donate something that was important to them or something that was indicative of the time period.  They were also asked to do a short biography or note on what they were donating.  After they all had donated, the capsule was sealed,
The Time Capsule
and rather than buried, it was  hidden in our attic until 10 years had passed (FYI, it's easy to hide stuff in our attic for ten years, I'm sure we do it on accident all the time) .  Some girls had enclosed parts of their uniforms, like skorts, banners or swap hats.  Others put in beanie babies or other precious mementos.  Each wrote a short note, except for Ali, who waxed philosophic ad nauseum on how she would be sure to grow up to be a farmer and that she could not imagine her life being complete without her living on the farm.  It got a lot of laughs considering she had just completed her Senior year at Syracuse University and spent some time this summer in Cannes France (It was a literal case of "How are you going to keep them down on the farm, after they have seen gay Paree?" )  Each girl, in turn, opened her item and read the short passage that she had written 10 years ago.  Few could see themselves then as they were now, especially Kilee the vegan
Some of the old gear
vegetarian.  Some tried on their old uniforms and the entertainment value in that was unparalleled.  As each item was opened, they kick-started memories of that time period in general and then of the activities of the Troop in particular.  I knew, from past experience, that the day wouldn't end without some of their favorite camp fire songs and stories coming out.  I'm sure I overheard "Priscilla", and "I don't want to go to G.S. Camp" along with their story of their friend "Hermie" who ate everything and got progressively larger until he burped (a direct rip-off of a joke I used to tell in 3rd grade at St. Mary's).  The morning quickly turned to afternoon and the quiche and salads that were served for brunch got a second wave of lookers as the time progressed.  My wife had done a fantastic job on the food and Helen's hummus dip and pita bread was a perfect accompanyment.
Finally one of the girls had to leave and soon after the others departed
And after the clean up all that remained was the smile on my wife's face
Her girls had come home.

Beanie Baby

     I hope I've told this tale well, but as I had said, it's not my story to tell really. I'm hoping it will draw comments from the girls did attend and even from those who couldn't or who had lost touch (if they find this blog.)  They say you can't go home again, but I think it can be done. The trick is to make "home" a comfortable place, to foster a sense of well being, camaraderie and acceptance, to truly care for each other, and yes, to make sure you serve quiche. 

Summer camp

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

London, it's closer than you think

I've never been to Europe, my wife and daughter went to Spain together a few years back, but I've never been to Europe. That is not to say, however, that I haven't been to London, because I have, London Ontario, that is.

Prince of Wales hotel in Niagara on the Lake
     From my house, London is only a short 4 hour drive. I go up through Buffalo, head through Niagara Falls, and then cross the border in Lewiston. If you want to split up the drive, the quaint town of Niagara on the Lake is about halfway and a great picturesque spot to spend the afternoon. I went there recently and learned that the town spends a million dollars annually on their street flowers and plants, and trust me when I say,  it shows. If you choose to stay in Niagara on the Lake, I'd recommend a Bed and Breakfast. In that town you have 300 to choose from, but now about London....

The tower at University of Western Ontario
     London was founded in 1801 and it is now the largest Southwestern Ontario municipality, with a population of 350,000.  If you do any research on the history of the town, you'll find it was fraught with tragedy.  These included outbreaks of cholera, a major fire, 2 floods and a ferry sinking that killed 200 people.  They don't let these tragedies define them, but they are a part of their history.  The London area hosts two major Canadian Universities, Western and Fanshawe.  UWO is one of the prettiest campuses that you will find yourself on, and it dates back to 1878.  The entire campus takes up about 1,100 acres in London, and hosts about 28,000 students.  Like I said previously, it's a real pretty campus to visit.  If you are looking for other tourist type things to do, you could consider one of the art museums in London.  I've been to the one on the Thames (I think it's called London Museum), and I really think that the statue of the rhino out front is the best thing that museum has to offer, but it's a free walk through, so take a look and see if you agree.  London also has a theater, the Grande Theater, which hosts a variety of Broadway type shows.  If you plan to visit you should check
their schedule to see what's playing.  They frequently have live concerts in their parks too, so that might be another fun thing to check out.

The deck at Barneys
     I always judge a city by their restaurants, and there are some great ones in London.  For happy hour, you have to check out Barney's in London.  It's an open air space with picnic tables with umbrellas and is a local hot spot.  If the sun is out, the deck will be crowded, guaranteed.  There is a Keg restaurant down the street, a place called the Mongolian Grill, and another called Garlic's and they are all excellent.  I found a neat little hidden gem my last time there, called The Black Trumpet.   The menu was smaller and had some seasonal items on it, but it's hidden back garden was a great place to have a meal.  It has a Feng Shui kinda thing going on with trees planted next to tables, plants all around and a running water small pool that was very peaceful, but it did make me have to go to the bathroom more often. I thought the prices were reasonable for the quality of the food and the portions weren't small like I find to be true in Canada sometimes.  If you don't do happy hour at Barneys, you could always consider taking the Labatt brewery tour.  They have tours at 1:30 and 5:30, so you can choose the more convenient time for you.  The tour is comprehensive and they show you from beginning to end how the beer is made.  I found it to be pretty fascinating and that was before they gave me my 4 samples.  The tour takes between 1 hour and a half and two hours to complete, but I never got bored with it.  When you walk around London, you'll notice
the great architecture immediately and on one street they have a large cathedral right down the block from a Basilica.  If you don't know the difference between those two, I'll educate you now.  The cathedral has to have a bishops chair (called a cathedra) on the altar and the Basilica must have had a Pope designate it as such.  Once a church is designated as a Basilica by the Pope it will always remain a Basilica afterwards.  It generally has to have some historical value to it, but once the Pope calls it one, that's it.  I've hope I given you enough reasons to want to travel to London.  They don't get a lot of visitors like Toronto or Ottawa does, but it does make them more appreciative of the tourists that they do get.  They have major sports that are played in the town and they have an enclosed market in the middle of town that reminded me of a scaled down version of the Reading Terminal Market in Philly.  All in all, I think you'd enjoy a trip there, and after all it's a lot closer than the other London. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Some days you can't win for losing

So this blog post is late, but still up on Tuesday, so I haven't missed a week afer all.

The best laid plans of mice andd men oft go awry, or so they say.  That's what happened with  my blog this week too.  I'm out of the country and got up early this am to write a blog, but I counld not get access to my site, no matter what I did.  I changed my password and it didn't work and every time I entered it correctly, it gave me one of those weird word verifications that are almost unreadable.  I kept asking for different ones but the letters ran together so much, I'm not sure I got it right at all.  Here's a few examples of what I saw this am, although these weren't actually mine....

Simple right?

How about this one?

Yeah, thanks that's what I want to see at 4:30 in the am, just to get to my own site.   Last one, I promise.......

So after you see what I dealt with all morning, you'll forgive this short blog, I'm sure.   I am cantankerous enough in these things without writing after these kind of frustrations.  See you next week, if they let me on.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A peek inside my pill box.

     I am writing this blog against my wife's advice.  I think she feels that discussing my myriad of medications will lose the younger portion of my audience, but relate-able or not, I'll take the risk.  Like all of my blogs, feel free to skip this one, if you don't feel you can relate, but you never know, it might be entertaining.....

My pill box
     I could write an entire blog about how I am slowly turning into my Mother, struggling to remember people's names, repeating my stories (not on the blog yet, but wait for it), becoming less judgmental of people's choices and habits, but this morning, it's all about the pills.  Recently my pill box became as full as my Mother's, which one would expect, except I'm comparing hers at 83 and mine at 47.  A few years ago, when I started to assist my sister Teary occasionally with my Mom's care, I first noticed her pill box.  Mom's was broken down into each day and then into the 3 parts of the day.  They weren't sealed compartments so as many times as I went to open hers, I'd do it upside down and her pills spilled together on the table and I had to take a best guess at how they went back in.  Playing pill lottery became my second favorite game over there right behind comparing sugar levels with Mom and wasting her test strips.  My pill box has sealed compartments and I only have to take pills twice a day, so it works pretty well.  Another difference is that Mom hated to take her pills and would stall forever before she swallowed them.  She liked to take a drink first and then take them one at a time.  With no exaggeration, I sat with her for a 1/2 an hour with 3 pills in front of her, going nowhere.  I, on the other hand, take all my pills and then swallow them down with a little water. In a pinch I can forgo the water even. 

     So what pills do I take?  They really are mostly vitamins.  I take a C, a D, a Fish oil, and a multivitamin with iron.  I manage my chronic arthritis with Glucosamine-Chondroitin, an anti-malarial (they found that it improves flexibility), and a light dose of an anti-inflammatory.  The last pill I take is a Statin for my
cholesterol, but I'm down to twice a week on that one and could eliminate it altogether if I wanted to.  Other than Ibuprofen for swelling and pain, that's the gamut of my pill box.  Pretty impressive isn't it?   Yes, I've ready the studies that say all I'm doing with the vitamins and supplements is making my pee more expensive, but who really wants cheap pee?  Not me.  It's kind of a status symbol. I'm sure other guys notice it while standing next to me at a urinal.   While I've always considered myself a medical minimalist, my pill box seems to defy that and has gradually swelled to near full.  I've questioned the need for each one, but at the end of the day, I don't pretend I know more than my doctors, well not often anyway.  My latest checkup and my physical condition seem to support the necessity of the pills or at least their effectiveness, but I still want to take fewer than I take right now.  I want to simplify a lot of things in my life eventually (think Thoreau in the woods, and stop laughing, I really mean it) but the pressure to perform in everyday life keeps me seeking the optimum balance of pharmaceutical assistance.  I'm thankful that I've been able to avoid the steroids and some of the arthritis medicines with the bad side effects (my wife is glad I avoided the Viagra). 

All things considered, I guess I can't really complain about the pills that I pop, and there are days that my quality of life would be diminished without them.  Speaking of complaining though, I'm old enough now to rant a little about the things I would change if I could.  I'll start with child proof caps. I'd like to play the odds on this one, if the odds of a toddler wandering into the top of my medicine cabinet is greater than my need to get my pill bottles open each day is greater, fine, give me the cap that you have to push down and twist hard just to reach it's contents. If it's the other way around, how about giving the my swollen arthritic hands a break once in a while and let me at my pills. If it's not asking too much, can I get the big labels on each bottle to actually have big writing on them too? Sometimes, even with my glasses on, I struggle with what I am actually taking. 

     I'm probably pontificated enough on the topic of pills, so I'll finish this up now.  It's getting late so I've got to start my morning routine, and on Tuesday's that includes thinking of next week's blog topic.  I've got a good one picked, that I think you will like, not to tease it too much but I'm thinking of blogging about my pill box.