Monday, December 14, 2009

A half-dozen reasons to enjoy living in 2009

It's that time of year when the "Best of 2009" lists will be appearing faster than Santa Clauses at the malls. By popular demand, I present my "Six Best Wines For My Palate in 2009" list -- in other words, the juice that made me stand up and salute in a year awash in wine around the planet.

From the bottom up:

#6 - 2006 Stelzner Claret (California, Napa Valley). A Bordeaux-style blend that is very food friendly and that keeps fruit, tannin, oak and alcohol in good balance. Surprisingly elegant. They can still do it on the Silverado Trail. Great value at just under $20.

#5 - 2006 CanBlau (Spain, Montsant) This Spanish beauty blends 40 percent Manzuelo, 40 percent Syrah and 20 percent Garnacha is a great blend in a rich, fruit forward style that is a not-too-big tasting pleaser for both geeks and casual drinkers. Around $16.

#4 - 2006 Antinori Tignanello (Italy, Tuscany) I had a whole two-ounces at a wine tasting but found myself glowing in the Tuscan night. Incredible balance, subtle nuance and a finish that lasts until next Thursday. Mostly sangiovese with a splash of cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc. Find someone who can share the $110 price tag.

#3 - 2005 deSegris Lirac (France, southern Rhone) Great sunny flavors and a food-friendliness that gives some of the same rushes as a Chateauneuf-du-Pape at a value price-point. Grenache takes the starring role with support from Syrah and Mouvedre. Around $18.

#2 - 2005 Jade Mountain La Provencale (California, Rutherford) - A Rhone-ranger that delivers the goods with great raspberry-like fruit, a steady finish and a friendly disposition. Mouvedre dominates with assists from Syrah, Granache, Carignane and Vigonier. It's a Californian that knows how to deliver a French kiss. Price around $16.

And, ladies and gentlemen, the Hab-kudos goes to...

#1 - 2005 Domaine du Colombier Crozes-Hermitage (France, northern Rhone) A perfect marriage of fruit, fragrance, tannin, balance, and alcohol. All elements balanced in wonderful proportion that can make any meal. Blackberry, peppery flavors coat the palate and make tastebuds jump at food. Incredible elegance for a syrah at about $21.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Character in paradise

Curtis Granderson's star power will burn brighter as he heats up the Big Apple in 2010.

Granderson, the Detroit Tigers' center fielder, is expected to be traded to the New York Yankees as early as today in a complex multi-player, multi-league deal. Besides baseball talent combining speed, power and defense, Granderson offers something even more tangible than stolen bases, home runs and circus catches.

He offers strong personal character, self-assurance and community compassion that has been lacking in the past several weeks in the national athletic arena.

To this point, New York media has chewed up a steroid-juiced Yankee lineup and the carefully crafted family image of a wayward professional golfer. Granderson gives them a view from the other side, a view that is part of an innocent baseball past that honored and revered positive role models instead of indiscretions and opportunism.

The critics will say that Granderson couldn't hit left-handed pitching and struck out a little too often. A change of scenery -- and a sweet spot in a Yankee lineup where he doesn't have to be the "go-to" guy all the time -- may be the tonic to boost his career to a new level.

He just may bake The Apple.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Driver sees red over yellow lights

It makes even the most cautious, careful driver accelerate faster than a NASCAR racer lurching toward a win at the finish line.

A yellow traffic light is no longer a signal to slow down, yield or prepare to stop. It's an invitation to fly ahead and through faster and meaner than a bull running and snorting through a scarlet cape.

In the process, it has made everyday driving a dangerous for drivers and pedestrians alike. In the last two days, I've witnessed frantic left turns on yellow and run-like-hell-through-the-intersection on yellow that would drive even a rookie driver education teacher nuts.

OK, now, take the pledge. Slow down, relax, wait out the 30 seconds it'll take the light to turn. You'd want someone else to do likewise.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Forward looks bring hope

Somehow it just doesn't feel right.

It's a week before Thanksgiving and the buzz of excitement around the upcoming holiday season just isn't there. It seems easy enough to get excited over golden roasted turkey, rich pumpkin pie, Aunt Sally's incessant chatter and the overpopulated, unsupervised kids' table. Not to mention, too, the thrill of Detroit Lions football broadcast nationally.

The regional mood is as sober and listless as the overcast weather. It's been a tough year for the old mitten state. Well, actually a tough half-decade. I thought things would look up after 2005. Instead, they've remained flatter than milk on a platter.

What to do? Get outside, do something, spend some time with a friend, enjoy a glass of syrah, walk in the fresh air and look ahead at what's possible instead of dwelling on what might have been. It's better to smile standing vertically than frowning down on the sofa.

In short, I've seen this movie before. And, in time, it has a happy ending!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Guilty pleasures provide living entertainment

Guilty pleasures are fun, entertaining and way out of character and comfort zone. Within that parameter I freely and wholly admit that mine glow out of a TV screen.

The two shows are polar opposites in taste, personality and depth of character and characters.

"Real Housewives of Orange County," broadcast on Bravo, is a disgusting, revealing peek at women who have too much time, too much money, and too much cosmetic surgery combined with cougar instincts, gold digging histories and narcissistic needs -- after all, they had to sign up for duty on this reality show.

Heaving bosoms, dye jobs and BMWs aside, the show reflects over-the-top consumption of material goods that reflect the worst of what a growth economy, great jobs, inherited wealth, and dysfunctional families can bring out in people. But, just like a car wreck, I can't turn away from this show.

On the other side of the spectrum is "Operation Repo," a TruTv offering. It features members of a family business that repossesses cars, trucks and boats. The show demonstrates that deadbeats come from all levels of the economic spectrum. And it also shows that some people can't seem to accept that you gotta pay the note if you expect to keep your ride.

Clearly, the family's business is challenging, dangerous and no duty for a nervous person. They face screamers, punchers, the occasional biter and all the obligatory profanity. But I love this family -- tattooed, ear-ringed, unpolished, and genuine. They do a job no one would want with dignity and professionalism.

Maybe they should be sent to repo The Housewives.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Wine glut opens opportunities for new tastes

Vintners are unloading excess wine onto the market at an exponential rate, providing great prices and great quality to wine consumers. The result is better wine, more choices and exceptional values.

Caught in a perfect storm of global recession, cash-strapped consumers and industry overproduction, the wine industry is liquidating a world-wide glut of juice.

Marketers are inventing new label names for brand-name clients who find few customers willing to pay extreme mark-ups for their signature bottlings. They are maintaining brand integrity but are more than willing to siphon off their excess capacity to labels they'd probably never admit to producing.

For a consumer willing to venture away from their usual favorites, the rewards can be substantial. The promotion aisle at your local store is ripe with bottlings from lesser-known regions and areas, as well as blends of complimentary grapes that yield exceptional drinking. And the prices are right!

Wine has everything to do with individual taste and preference, not high price or media ratings. Be curious, be confident, be bold, ask questions and be happy you're drinking in the golden age of wine!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can't flee the fee

Ever since I stood in line to register for college courses, I've been a healthy skeptic of The Fee.

Laboratory fee. Athletic fee. Parking fee. Did I say that it was always in addition to tuition?

At least I learned a lifelong lesson at university. Fees remain a way for companies and service organizations to build their revenue beyond advertised base prices. They're usually with the asterisk or buried in fine print.

I never understood why these aggravating additions can't just be built in.

The latest one that got my attention was the "Technology Fee" of $10 for high-definition television service from AT&T. Sure it's hip and new, but will I now look forward to a $100 Technology Fee for the MRI machine at the local hospital? It strikes me as ludicrous as a $10 knife-and-fork fee at a restaurant. Some things are just part of the package.

Another aggravator: I bought two concert tickets that had a combined face value of $99. The bored clerk at the concert venue box office rang me up for $105. Why, I asked? Facility fees of $6. Couldn't we bill the tickets at $52.50 each and call it even?

And, of course, we have the disposal fee for the dirty oil at the gas station; shop fee for the paper towels at the garage; and the new king, checked-baggage fee, for air travelers. I guess they figure you don't need to change your shorts on a cross-country jaunt.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Weekend spins create dizzy Monday

The late Detroit Free Press columnist Bob Talbert used to slug his Monday column full of information and news bits and pieces as "Monday Moanin'." With a tip to Bob's cynicism and sarcasm, I walk into the weekend's events that spun my brain.

. The Balloon Boy's father: A local sheriff declared last week's search-and-rescue for a six-year-old boy purported to be flying unaccompanied in a balloon over Colorado as a hoax. That was easy for me. Just looking at his dad's haircut made me suspicious. Who's had the Shemp of The Three Stooges haircut anytime in the last 50 years?

. Red Wings mediocre start: Anything less than a Stanley Cup around here causes uncontrolled wailing, gnashing of teeth or potential bridge jumping. Please, get over it and be proud that after nearly 20 years, the team is still better than 90 percent of its competitors this year. Grab a couple of Molson's, a slice of Little Caesars, and chill out already.

. MSNBC/Fox News: Could our friends on the far left and the far right just go out and take a pill? Every TV and radio station, newspaper, magazine, blog, social network and bartender enjoys what's known as free speech in this country. Whether you agree or not, every outlet brings a perspective to the national dialogue on everything from health care to foreign policy to American Idol winners. Everybody benefits...relish the ride.

. Texting: It has eliminated whatever social interaction and talk that was left over since the creation of email. Thumbs have taken over from tongues among the under-20 crowd. At least the gang of four at the local Dairy Queen were very silent -- the four teens were texting each other though all were within four feet of one another. I know, we don't get it. But over the years civilization has survived despite Nehru jackets, Pet Rocks, avocado green kitchen appliances and promotion of Julia Roberts as a serious actress.

Enjoy Monday...I did.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Zen and the art of fall home maintenance

Maintenance in, cash out.

Today is the day I'm get to wait impatiently for the furnace technician and the sprinkler guys to show up for their annual rites of fall. And it's certain they'll find something to fix beyond the cost of the service call. I've found the call is merely the price of admission for service providers to enter your house just to find bigger and better things to repair and bill.

It's like going into McDonald's for a double hamburger for a couple of bucks only to be served a Kobe/Wagu hand-patted burger dressed with artisan cheddar cheese on a roll that contains half the grains produced in Manitoba...priced for service in midtown Manhattan.

But, on the other hand, I like to stay warm in the middle of February. I also enjoy turning on the automatic sprinklers in June to keep the lawn in some semblance of green without leakage caused by winter freezes. It's cheaper to blow out the lines in the fall than having the whole system dug out in the spring.

So I will welcome Noah the furnace tech and Brandy the water-line shooter with open arms today. At least until I have to close them to write the checks.

A note: Today would have been T Hab's 55th birthday.

She would be very proud to know the house is still standing. T was a
meticulous maven of maintenance of home, health and husband.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Health trumps wealth...again

It's a time that keeps it all in perspective.

When you have friends dealing with health issues, it helps prioritize what is really important in your life. This week, one good friend began radiation treatments for a form of lymphoma. The other faces a leg amputation forced by an insidious cancer.

One of them has gold plated health insurance, the other gentleman has none. In either case, the focus has to center on great treatment and full recovery supported by the hopes and prayers of those who love them. In the long-winded political debate surrounding insurance reform and health care reform, the voices of those most affected are often lost in the cacophony.

My morning treadmill run gives me 40 minutes to free-think about people, politics and possibilities. I'm thankful I can reflect without pain and with two legs in full motion.

It's what I hope for the most for my two good buds.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thrill of the chill finds no quarter

It's cold again.

As the third quarter of 2009 ends today, the remaining quarter is shaping up like a football game. We gotta rally to win.

I want Brett Favre weather to line up over center for the fourth quarter, ready to rip bright sunshine and comforting warmth. But even Brett can't pull a Hail Mary on the chilly weeks ahead...the season of clouds and gloom is ready to knock down the pass.

There are the optimists who would suggest embracing the season...tripping to cider mills, taking a fall color tour, or decorating for Halloween. And I'm right with them!

But the thought of cold rain, premature snow flurries and perma-dark afternoons and evenings is already popping the goosebumps. I'll take two blankets and call you in the morning.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cutting to prosperity hits the marketplace

If the economy is shrinking, there's no better evidence of it than at the local grocery store.

The bag of Dole cole slaw has been a 16 ouncer just about forever. Now it's weighing in at 14 ounces at, of course, the same retail price.

My apple cherry pecan breakfast muffins will continue to raise their little selves in the oven but I will have to shop for their wrappings almost twice as often. The paper muffin pan liners used to come in a 52-count container. Now the package count is 36, without a concurrent reduction in price.

It's part of a trend I've noticed over the past several years that I have dubbed The New Counting Standard. In other words, 10 donuts is the new dozen. A 14-1/2 ounce can of chicken broth is the new pint. I've read that our food purveyors are loath to reduce the price of an item, but have no problem cutting quantity.

We've had a whole generation of business students tuned to the concept of value-added. It's too bad economic conditions and cost slashing has led us to value-subtracted. I always thought it was easier to climb off a mountain instead of digging yourself out of a hole.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Respect for civility finds no audience

Yes. No. Thank you. Please. Congratulations.

These simple yet powerful words continue their devaluation in today's society. The current state of civility in the United States has gone lower than garter snake through the weeds. And I thought it bottomed out a decade ago.

No one seems to know when to shut up anymore. Worse yet, boorish behaviour or verbal indiscretions derided and dismissed by sensible people can be converted into fame, fortune or infamy by the perpetrator.

Joe Wilson, the South Carolina rep who dissed President Obama as a liar in a joint session of Congress, gets wrapped on the knuckles by his colleagues yet manages to raise millions for his re-election war chest. If we can't respect the message, can we at least respect the office?

Kanye West, rapper and self-styled video critic, upstages a young singer's greatest professional recognition on a national broadcast. And, the next night, he just happens to turn up on a late-night comedian's opening show with what is described as an apology. Orchestrated for ratings? The band plays on!

Respect for words reflects respect for people. Neither group now gets what it deserves.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Weather serves as metaphor for reinvigoration

It's amazing what a run of sunny skies, moderate temperatures, and bearable humidity can do for a region down on its luck and up on its bankruptcy.

People walk cheerfully with extra bounce, kids play engage in chatter and laughter with one another without the artificial aid of electronic gadgets, and store clerks feel the love with their customers. There is indeed a new day in Michigan and it is ours to enjoy.

For most of this summer, the weather has been a combination of cold drizzles, cumulus sun blockers, and temperatures more suitable for October. The new wave climate of early September has removed the stain of a summer lost for vacationers, golfers, gardener and other weather worshipers.

Sure, the leaves will turn color and the air will ripple with cutting chill before month's end. Change is inevitable and somewhat welcomed.

But I believe that change will mark a seismic shift in the outlook and attitude of a region that has picked itself off the ground many times before now. Better days are ahead.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Value comes from mining old personal gold

One of my greatest pleasures at this stage in life is reconnecting with long-known but little connected friends and colleagues over breakfast, lunch or beverage.

Family remains close and contacted, but time, circumstance, geography and interests sometimes keep you away from the hundreds of important players in life that have come and gone over the decades. Their contribution to your development, laughter, education and sense of community and purpose shouldn't go unrecognized.

This week found me sharing chuckles, war-stories and bon mots with three gents I worked with at a major manufacturing company -- one I hadn't seen in two decades, another I've missed for about a dozen years, and a third who shared the pain of a similar life tragedy with me several years ago.

Jim, Joe and Matt are solid citizens, great professionals and renaissance men. Seeing them in person and hearing their voices just makes you wonder why it couldn't have happened sooner. It may be months or even years before we connect again, but the effort to meet, greet and eat demonstrates that a network of associates has greater value than any Mega Millions lottery jackpot.

And, yes, I bought a ticket. And no, I didn't win. But, over the long-term, I had a more valuable week than anyone who did.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ink-stained wretch shares frustration

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday are the lost days of my life. They are the local-newspaper-delivered-to-your-home-or-office days around here.

The local print rags operating under the business umbrella of a Joint Operating Agreement decided to eliminate home delivery of newspapers on those days. They encourage readers to click on their respective web sites to get Tigers baseball scores, GM bankruptcy updates, and recipes for Crunchy Top Apple Pie and Savory Turkey Burgers.

That's certainly a logical route for the digital, 21st century reader. But these pantheons of journalism still produce a printed product on those days, sold only at stores or in coin-operated newspaper boxes.

Unfortunately, they do not permit -- for some unknown reason -- third party delivery services or hustling entrepreneurs to pick up the slack for readers who still prefer ink on their fingers first thing in the morning. A U.S. Mail option is offered, but who wants an afternoon information fix of stale news?

Information is power for those who provide it and for those who read, interpret and act on it. I hope they will make it easier for all of us to access it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Belgians skate through Canada for visit

Belgian cousins Luc and Leen are scheduled to visit here beginning tomorrow after a barnstorming tour of eastern and French Canada.

It is heartening to know they are currently visiting Niagara Falls and, in the finest tourist tradition, have taken the Maid of the Mist cruise. It's now official...they are sons and daughters of North America.

We've flocked to the Falls for years and it's still a treat...providing you concentrate on the Falls. The town itself is nothing more than a glorified tourist trap filled with T-shirt shops, wax museums, and emporiums that sell those silly snowy paperweights. The area around the Falls, however, is rich with vineyards, cute Canadian villages and a professional theatre scene that transcends its remote location.

Our cousins will roll down the QEW to 401 and then down the chute that is the 401 -- North America's straightest highway -- to the tunnel under the Detroit River. There's nothing more exciting than visitors from The Old Country!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Happy birthday wishes to me

I'm 57 today and don't feel a day over 37. I'm just thrilled to be here.

Yeah, I admit I work at it. I play hockey three times a week, work out at the gym twice a week, throw in an occasional golf-ball whacking and saunter around the neighborhood whenever the mood strikes.

Fried is not in my vocabulary (except for the more politically correct "sauteed") and red wine is the mother's milk of conversation with good friends around a dinner table.

There are others who have followed a similar regimen who are no longer living on this planet. Accidents, disease, bad luck and other maladies can tear down and waste even the most healthy person.

So enjoying the occasional double latte, fat Dominican cigar, Roquefort cheeseburger, or coconut cream pie should be considered a celebration of living even by the most fastidious fitness freak.

Excuse me now , please, while enjoy my birthday cake!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Sibling hits major milestone with panache

Hooray! It's Jim's birthday.

My brother, Jim, celebrates a milestone birthday this week...which birthday isn't important.

Very important, however, is the fact he can celebrate another year of brilliant golf shots on the 17th at Redhawk, revel in the delicacy of California Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara, enjoy the health care provided by the Federal government, smile at the serene view from his backyard, reflect on nearly a half-century of marriage, polish the red beauty of the mobile fiberglass, create great framed art out of simple digital photographs, walk the neighborhood in the morning, sip a strong Peet's coffee in the middle of the afternoon, pontificate about professional hockey strategy, demonstrate excellent Weber grilling technique, flatten a chicken with his bare hands, and just enjoy what passes for fresh air in southern California.

May we all be so lucky. Hey, life really is good. Happy birthday, brolove!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ink costs more than wine; outrage ensues

I bought a new color ink cartridge for my Dell computer printer today. It cost $37.99.


I am befuddled why this little black rectangle filled with no more than a few ounces of tinted vegetable fluid costs as much as a 750 ml bottle of a modest Chateauneuf du Pape. The wine is much more enjoyable, can be shared with friends and provides an air of romance even in a smelly, cigar-smoked room. Ink is ink.

A business model that dictates giving the device away on the cheap but getting money through the backdoor is strange to me but clearly profitable to others.

Braun does it with the alcohol-filled automatic cleaner cartridge for my shaver and Verizon does it with new phones that keep me tied to two-year service agreements. I'd probably look at it differently if I was a Dell, Braun (Procter and Gamble) or Verizon shareholder.

Getting ink to paper, however, shouldn't take you down the yellow brick road. Or is that the gold brick road?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fido finds walkers tempting, owners wandering

"Don't worry. He's very friendly."

The freedom-loving mutt tears across the rolling lawn like a lightening bolt, ears flapping like a hummingbird and paws pounding the turf with the swagger of Secretariat.

As a recreational walker, however, how am I supposed to know whether I'm dealing with Toto or Cujo?

Inevitably, the dog's master barks out the kind-and-gentle disclaimer while walking with the canine's leash in his hand instead of having it attached to Man's Best Friend. The dog might not have the same innocent thoughts in his head.

While I'm all for animal health and fresh air, I think it is best manifested with man and beast joined together for their mutual benefit. I trudge through my neighborhood in latent fear that I will appear as a mobile chew stick to some dog who has had a bad day.

My experience with all of this activity usually happens in the late afternoon when people get home after a hard day's work. They're not in a really good mood and certainly the pets who have spent all day in the family homestead with only warm water, dried food and no company are not in the best of sorts either.

So enjoy your dog, your neighborhood and your exercise...but tie it all together with a leash.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Fifty becomes the new 90

The cultural icon of our era is dead at 50.

Millions of fans adored his facial features and bellowing delivery helped make millions of dollars. People of all colors and creeds hung on his every word at his rare public appearances. He nurtured an aura of trust and understanding that rang true in a cynical world.

Michael Jackson? Nope. I'm talking about Billy Mays.

Mays, the ubiquitous product huckster who was the star of numerous television product infomercials, died recently of issues apparently related to his heart. His signature beard, which appeared almost spray-painted and chiseled, combined with a carnival-barker voice to move products that none of us ever thought we needed. But he had that sincerity and eye-twinkle irresistible to the buying public.

Never since Paul Popiel -- "It slices, it dices and makes mounds and mounds of cole slaw" -- has there been a better spokesperson for the sprays, pans, hoses, hoes, brooms, kitchen gadgets, and tens of other products produced by anonymous makers. Mays was worth every penny they spent for his services and delivery, honed hawking goods on the Boardwalk in Atlantic City.

A couple of months ago, Fortune magazine had a profile on Mays. Fortune interviewed Mays as he spun around Tampa in his Bentley...thrilled with his unexpected success but humble enough not to wallow in it or get taken up in it or in his success.

It's a certain contrast with the single-gloved one. But neither needed to check out at 50.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wimp gets toe hold on fluke injury

I stubbed my little toe on my left foot on Sunday. A relatively slow crunch with a chair leg has made my flipper look like I dropped a bowling ball on it.

It's your basic black-and-blue imprint on an unfortunate case of wrong place, wrong time

While it's not in the league of a broken leg, ovarian cancer or even swine flu, it is the type of seemingly minor injury that has become a major nuisance. It has put my old-person's hockey career on hold, kept my feet out of hard leather shoes and put me out of action for the 40-minute treadmill run at the Y.

And, oh yeah, I'll never drive a golf ball straight again. (But never did that before either with healthy ground digits.)

I'd like to kick back at the chair but it would hurt too much. I suspect it's a bad sprain. Of course, I went to the web to find out what constitutes a broken toe. Apparently, the battle between a sprain versus a break is a draw. You can't put a splint or a cast on it so you just stay off of it and tough it out.

I will man-up with this malady and move ahead by reading a book and talking to people on the phone -- two things that are on the short list of endangered human activities in a world of Tweets and texts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The state of June gloom

I have returned from a sojourn out west to the The Nation of California. Unlike those of us here in the midwest, The Nation isn't obsessed with automotive company bankruptcies or the Stanley Cup Finals.

But it does wrestle with its own regional narcissism, self-contradictions, and general self-absorption about all things Californian.

Californians seem smug in extending their environmental viewpoint about motor vehicles to the rest of the country, especially in terms of fuel economy and choice. However, it seems that not all Californians want to impose that philosophy evenly.

In Paso Robles, I was treated to beautiful vistas and memorable scenery. The picture I will always remember, however, was the sight of a 30-foot motor home towing a Hummer H2 right behind it. It would be great as the June photo on the official OPEC wall calendar.

The folks in the southern portion of The Nation always seem proud of their perpetual sunny skies and warming temperatures. But I seemed to have visited at a bad time for planet alignment.

On a Wednesday in Temecula, I got to see quadruple lightning bolts and thunder claps that would drown out a 40-lane bowling center. For good measure, the cold, grey skies then pelted us with marble-sized hale. I thought I had to worry about earthquakes more than bizarre weather.

But while the midwest frets about its corn, cherry and wheat crops, The Nation of California is powered by its wine grapes. The industry is flourishing in outposts such as Paso Robles and Temecula and, judging by prices, sees itself immune to global competition. They have yet to learn what the midwest has painfully accepted -- never say never. Like a Japanese car of 40 years ago, a $5 cabernet sauvignon from Chile or a $4 syrah from Australia could evolve into a product that could undercut established domestic markets. And might not get bailed out by the feds.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

All bets off on casino benefits to region

A stroll through a local casino this weekend was like a jog through hell -- smoky, hot, noisy and teeming with unsavory characters.

While I would never expect to see Mother Theresa playing the slots, I thought people of a certain age tethered to oxygen tanks might find a healthier venue to pass their time. As usual, I underestimated peoples' will to spin and win at all costs.

The cocophony of dropping quarters, screaming winners and frustrated losers created more of an atmosphere of a kindergarten convention than an adult enertainment center.

And then, of course, there was the entertainment lounge. A sultry singer swung into a medley of cover hits, screeching to a half-inebriated audience that had all the enthusiasm of cruise ship passengers too late for the midnight buffet. Her backup band blared bigger than a fleet of high-powered diesel trucks, drowning out what little voice she could muster.

It might have been more relaxing to sit on the back patio at home, pull out a CD and bet with myself whether the wind would be blowing east or west in the next five minutes.

I'm glad the casino is generating tax revenue for my city and state. If it could only generate something healthier and educational for its patrons...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking it to the streets

My best lessons in Americana come from my community's Memorial Day parade.

The high school marching bands strut their stuff down the avenue, playing patriotic tunes in a just off-key manner that somehow places them somewhere between punk rock and Sondheim.

Little Bobby and Sally turn their two-wheelers into garish road machines sporting more red, white and blue than a twelve-foot-tall Uncle Sam. They are joined by dozens of their friends thrilled to ride in front of thousands of people...and throwing penny candy to their contemporaries with their butts planted firmly on the curb.

Shiny red fire engines also get the star treatment, as if the taxpayers who funded them need a reason to ogle at them. At least the lime green paint jobs that became so avant-garde among the smoke-eater set have finally gone the way of Beanie Babies, Pet Rocks and other trends-du-jour.

The Miss Whatevers of 2008 roll down the boulevard on the cowls of late model convertibles seemly embarrassed by their fortune. All needed training on proper hand-waving motion. Clearly it's something you have to learn in the pageantry minors before you move on to the big leagues.

But when all is said and done, the Memorial Day parade is for America's veterans. Nothing is more heartwarming than seeing a grizzled World War II sergeant stomp down the street with nothing but a too-tight uniform, a love of country and an appreciation of all things American. They gave up years in their lives so we could enjoy every second of ours.

Friday, May 22, 2009

A day and a dollar short

A journey through northern Michigan this week has brought more evidence that the economic recession continues to bring a whole-lotta-no-good to people and communities.

There are more storefronts without supporting businesses. Vacationers, hunters, golfers and general outdoor types keep these moms-and-pops going for the population that actually live in these areas during fall, winter and spring. Those traditional big spenders, however, have already seen their wages, salaries, pensions, jobs and own small businesses shrink.

The manufacturing crowd from southeast Michigan no longer can carry their dollars to their brethren in the other corner of the state -- they just don't have them. It's trickle down economics in reverse.

Even the golf courses have resorted to couponing, joining restaurants, car washes, dry cleaners, and other consumer chasers to grab customers and market share. I wonder if Consumers Power, DTE Energy and AT&T will offer such a utilitarian break to their captive audiences?

Here's hoping the "Pure Michigan" advertising campaign to bring more tourists here will hit the mother lode. We have to have a green state, both environmentally and economically. But until the manufacturing base can be reinvigorated or replaced with some other hard industry, the whole-lotta-no-good is destined to become more-whole-lotta-no-good.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Politics opens flat can of pop

The proposal under discussion in the U.S. Senate to tax sugared sodas and certain juice products has my normally placid blood pressure perking at a rolling boil.

It assumes people can't make choices for themselves and takes away personal health responsibility. Personally, I can't stand sugary beverages such as Coke or Dr Pepper...I'm a Diet Pepsi guy.

There's an anxiety in some quarters over that regimen as well. Some folks think that aspartame, used in a variety of low-calorie drinks, should be banned as bad for my health.

To all sides -- let me make the decision based on what I feel is best for my health. Don't make generalizations that prevent people from doing what is best for their individual situation, lifestyle, preferences and health issues.

Don't try to tax behavior to get the job done. The marketplace will decide the winners and losers. Giving people choices is the best path to success.

I recall a former employer would not accept for reimbursement a glass of red wine on an expense account, but had no problem authorizing a hot fudge sundae with whipped cream. Components and elements of the wine have been cited by medical experts as preventing cardiovascular disease and minimizing the possibility of stroke. While there is some benefit from dairy, the sundae is a potential contributor to high cholesterol, artery plaque and diabetes.

Would someone please do the cost/benefit analysis on what is the healthier choice over the long term? Let science and the marketplace triumph over political engineering.

Monday, May 11, 2009

New weather gets cool reception

It's May and its still cold outside.

OK, I know you're saying "man-up." But the chill in the air still sends my goose pimples to Himalayan proportions. The bright sun gives the illusion of spring warmth yet my numb fingertips and a blowing northerly wind tell my brain otherwise.

The spring/summer transition around here is as fickle as a New England snowstorm. I know that I'll have to cut through the sizzling heat and oppressive humidity around here in another six weeks or so with a sharp sword that Zorro couldn't even master.

Pardon me while I throw on another gas jet or two on the artificial fireplace logs.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Just can't spend enough on upscale eats

There is nothing like a specialty market opening for shopping amusement.

I just returned from a suburban Detroit market that is now in its second day of operation. It's a knock-off of Whole Foods but takes "Whole Paycheck" to a whole new level. They're into green too but not just in terms of organic offerings. Rational pricing is out the window. Does America really need $15 pound cakes?

Well, I guess we do. Carts were chuck full of flax seed oil, organic tortilla chips, artisan cheese, feta spinach sausage, designer olive oils...and pound cakes. Similar products are available elsewhere at more modest prices.

But opening week shoppers can't resist the thrill-of-the-kill in a new retail environment. I admit I can't resist the aroma of freshly-baked pizza, the sweetness of four-berry pies and the zing of natural baking-powder toothpastes. And I love the convenience of not having to roam all over to find a jar of herbs de Provence. I have made more mistakes over the years underestimating the lust of shoppers for upscale everything at just about any price.

The big draw, of course, is product sampling. Our friends at Costco, of course, have raised this bit of tasteful marketing to a high art. An afternoon of shopping there quickly turns into a luncheon buffet. Savvy shoppers now have an expectation of a potpourri of guacamole, cheese bits, pretzels and mustard, and popcorn bits at every turn.

It's all fine...except when little Billy dumps his entire hand into the hommous to retrieve an errant pita triangle or Uncle Stu sneezes into the chocolate bits.

Give us your tired, your hungry...and your Benjamins.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

House of cards falls short

Men seem more comfortable inside beef jerky outlets, stinky cigar bars and greasy garages than inside local greeting card shops.

The card shops seem overtly oriented toward women who take responsibility by default for the purchase of greetings for birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, Passover, ad infinitum.

It is at this nexus of gender occupation that I ventured into a local Hallmark to buy a Mother's Day card for my mother-in-law. There were cards for grandmother, mother-to-be, stepmother, adoptive mother, and every mother type in between from husbands, fathers, grandfathers, sons and other males who only venture once-a-year into Hallmark heaven.

There were tens of varieties for every category at every price point. But not for mothers-in-law.

There must be an unwritten code in card retailing that a guy would never buy such a card for his in-law, unless he was looking to butter up for a warm meal, inheritance or redemption. I guess they just don't figure they would sell.

After a long search, I finally spotted two mother-in-law specific cards languishing on the bottom shelf. They were just next to a niche that had three different types of cards -- Mother's Day greetings from the cat. FROM THE CAT. If you're familiar with comedian Lewis Black, this lunacy would take his comedic anger to a new stratosphere.

Hallmark must take the cat demographic as a more profitable one than the typical male. But if you screw up a Mother's Day greeting, you won't have nine lives to recover.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Golf and the art of personal maintenance

There's a reason why golf spelled backwards is flog.

Anybody who has watched me hack at the dimpled orb makes the reason obvious. It doesn't matter if I tighten my grip, reposition my feet, keep my head down or adjust the club face, the ball basically never goes where I want it to go.

For this scribe, golf is a perpetual challenge akin to oil-well drilling, fly-fishing or walking a tightrope suspended between Manhattan skyscrapers. You better be good at it or you eat dust, get drenched or go splat. The game has perplexed me since riding on my bicycle with a bag of clubs slung across my back to Chandler Park Golf Course.

Unlike most everything else in my life, my golf game has not improved with age. In fact, the decline continues down a slippery slope that no amount of advice, cajoling or outright criticism can change. What does improve, however, is the sense of camaraderie and bonding that a golf outing brings with great friends. That's the scorecard that really counts.

So polish the clubs, enjoy the outdoors and flog to your heart's content. Your game won't get better but your outlook will!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Big bang theory gets laundered


I had just settled into the lounge chair after a long day of visiting friends in Windsor and enjoying a great Ethiopian feast in a downtown hole-in-the-wall. Flipping on the tube and hunting through the channels, I thought the wind-down time to sleepy hollow would be quiet and uneventful.

Wrong again.

The big bang. Was it the cabinet full of kitchen dishes and glassware? How about the shelving in the garage filled with decade-old oil-based paints, wasp spray, mole traps and assorted vegetable fertilizers.

It wasn't a meteor or earthquake. It was the glass globe that covered the light fixture in the laundry room, smashed in a thousand shards on the beige vinyl floor. A cleanable mess but I had to ponder what could have been a nasty whoop upside the head. I had done a weekend full of laundry there. Significant other RA had just used it for a staging area for retrofitting a bunch of phlebotomy training arms (don't ask, don't tell). As they say, at least no one got hurt.

That light fixture had been a fixture on the ceiling for at least 20 years since its installation. I don't even recall ever changing the 60-watt light bulbs it covered. I can't imagine a conspiracy theory -- I really don't think that Jack from "24" or the same gods that deemed a third overtime victory for Anaheim over Detroit were involved. My probable cause theory: Vibrations from washing and drying machines over the years or from the up-and-down cranking of the electric garage door opener caused the set screws too loosen.

The challenge today is finding a 10-inch, mushroom-shaped glass globe--not in stock at hardware havens Aco, Jean's, and Home Depot. Oh, the humanity!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Vexing virus vendetta

I'm gratified that health and government officials are staying on top of the new strain of flu virus that's creating national and international concern. There's no such thing as a "garden variety" flu when you are the one burning a fever that could roast a small animal.

I just wish that we can keep it all in perspective. While a pandemic is certainly possible, it isn't probable. And, in my own circumstance, I probably have more strains of bacteria inside my hockey gloves that could cause me as much or more harm.

Our national and local news media seems to have caught a virus that is creating an electronic anxiety attack. Each outlet has to outdo the other one better.

They're all doing a decent job under the competitive pressures, but unfortunately are sometimes aren't letting the facts get in the way of a good story. The count of confirmed flu cases doesn't seem proportional to the amount of air time or column inches devoted to this public health question.

Are we making the important interesting or the interesting important? Only time will tell.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

A chicken out of every pot

I'm crazy with 'roid rage. No, I'm not hanging with A-Rod or Barry Bonds. It's all about the chicken in my freezer.

I picked up a package containing two, bone-in chicken breasts at the grocery store yesterday. Unwrapped at home, these big-boned wonders looked like they peeled off a turkey or a pterodactyl. Huge is not the word; artificially plumped are the two words.

I thought back to the playground days when we used to refer to the smallest kid around as "as skinny as a plucked chicken." My plucked chicken had the pecs of Arnold Schwarzenegger.

How has chicken reached gargantuan proportions here in the 21st century? OK, people have gotten taller and stronger over the decades through better nutrition and better health habits. But that gradual growth for humans seems to have been eclipsed by the exponential growth of domestic fowl. I don't think the chickens have been pumping iron, downing Clif bars, jogging across the road or popping iron supplements.

Mom made baked chicken back in the day. But I remember the protein on my plate was the size of a deck of cards. My new-wave protein chicken breast will barely keep itself anchored on my dinner plate. I also remember she made veal chops for my father. Those little chops were barely bigger than my youthful clenched fist. I bought some last week that would make fine door stops. Bigger than ever -- but better?

Don't get the wrong idea. It's been a wonder that the geeks of agriculture have been able to increase the yield of essential grains and livestock to keep foods as widely available as possible and as cheaply as possible.

In the case of my chicken, however, are they also keeping the taste and texture at the maximum and the artificial enhancements at a minimum? I'm doubting it.

Let's keep the 'roids in the stadiums where they belong.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Green with envy

There's something about freshly mowed green grass that screams "spring."

It seems today was the day that muscled landscapers and potbellied husbands finally answered the siren call to get out into the yard and contribute to the carbon footprint with screaming power lawn mowers, decibel-challenging leaf blowers and chattering weed-whackers. All told, it created a symphony of springiness that a 100-piece orchestra couldn't match.

But after all of that hard work, the grass is still greener on the other side of the golf course!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Rowe your boat north

The Rowe Inn in the northern Michigan outpost of Ellsworth continues to maintain a high quality, delicious, and classy niche in the state's dining landscape.

A Saturday visit yielded a lively yet refined dining room, service akin to a visit to your best friend's home and food that reflected fussy foodies in the kitchen. And it all comes at a fair price for the value received. You not only are served a meal but a dining experience wrapped in a sublime atmosphere.

It is particularly gratifying to see that the Rowe outlasted its culinary neighbor, Tapawingo. While Tap was an excellent place in a gorgeous setting overlooking a lake, its edgy, more-out-there approach to cuisine apparently didn't have legs to appeal to the economically stretched palates of Michigan residents. The Rowe's formula seems to emphasize white-tablecloth standards updated and refreshed for contemporary tastes.

For an appetizer, I enjoyed mussels baked in asiago cheese, fresh bread crumbs and a splash of fresh cream. Significant other RA called a simple bibb salad with hot bacon vinegar very good, although the dressing got a bit heavy. My entree of duck breast with a slightly sweetened sour cherry sauce over wild rice reflected mind over matter; normally, I wouldn't care for a sweet sauce by the tart cherries made it perfect. RA raved over her beef tenderloin.

A 2006 Gigondas from the southern Rhone enhanced all the courses. Indeed, the Rowe's wine list is well constructed and shows the proprietor's care in what he offers his guests. There were excellent options at all price points from around the globe.

Simply, a wonderfully relaxing evening presented by people who care.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Temperature tantrum

It was out of the frying pan and into the refrigerator.

I pointed the Impala toward northwest Michigan on Friday afternoon in anticipation of a glorious springtime fling of sunshine, moderate temperatures, blue skies and fresh water. After all, the temperature downstate was a lovely 80 degrees and even the overworked, underpaid workers in the local junk food junction were smiling and offering the obligatory "have a good one" with the unbridled enthusiasm of an IT wonk flying on a six-pack of Mountain Dew.

I wheeled up the Interstate and the state two-lane, watching the outside temperature gage on my car creep up like a wooly caterpillar on a birch tree. The only care I had rolling up and down the hills was counting lazy cows, beef jerky stands and uncovered dump trucks. I just thought about great lakes, a relaxing weekend and fermented French red grapes in a Riedel glass.

But suddenly just south of Charlevoix, I glanced down to see the temperature gage had freaked was 54 degrees! And it continued south with more northern coolness. Turns out it was giving me an omen about Saturday and Sunday. The sun gave way to dark, rolling clouds and cold, driving rain. The lesson learned: Don't be in denial about what you can find on And, more important, make the most of whatever opportunity gets placed in front of you. Despite everything, the weekend got filled with new discoveries and new wonders that would never have been found under a shining sun.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Runnin' on the road

Sun is out, heat is pumpin'. Time to get out on the highway.

Only a short post today. Heading out on a weekend road trip. Time to forget the depression, unemployment and general malaise of the populace and to think about life, fun and people who really count. It's all that matters anyway.

It's the weekend, my friends. Out of the house into the garden, whatever or whereever!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unscheduled universe

That right rear tire looks kind of funny.

Take a closer look.'s a flat, or more to the point, a soon to be flat.

OK, fine. Run over to the repair station, get it plugged and roll through the day. Well, not so fast. Station opens at 8 a.m. and it's 7:30. Park the car there, enjoy the pause that refreshes and grab a coffee, muffin and newspaper next door. Get the decaf and whole-wheat raspberry and smile at the perky cashier. Hand over a $10 bill and get the change.

The Washingtons and Lincoln are handed back in a mixed pile -- some left, some right, some upside down, some downside up -- without a count-out. In my clerk days, you made sure all the bills were in the register in the same direction right side up. Unless the dead presidents and other Treasury wonks were lined up like the queue at the Comerica box office, you looked like a retail rookie. And you counted the change for your protection as well as the customer.

I'm back at the station promptly at 8, but already two others had jumped ahead of me with similar woes. Jim, the greased owner, just laughed and said it's either business feast or famine. Jeff, his trusty assistant, finally gets to my tire and rips out the one-inch Phillips head screw is responsible for screwing up my day. He's happy, I'm happy, and we charge into the sunshine of the new day.

Except, of course, I can't make the university lecture downtown. It's OK. Life looks a bit funny anyway.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The View From Here

Good habits are hard to maintain.

As someone who made a daily corporate living out of writing news releases, speeches, talking points, and executive presentations -- and managing people who yearned to do them better-- for about 35 years, I've fallen out of practice. Sure, I've enjoyed the freedom of doing what I please now as an early retiree and owner of a small consulting practice. But I've found that the discipline of writing sharp sentences and pithy paragraphs has become an occasional pleasure instead of a daily discipline.

Today I have met the enemy...and it is me. And, beginning today, the enemy of time, energy and ingenuity will be wrestled to the ground.

I've launched Hab-bitz, a personal blog that will present one person's Midwestern view of everything from federal bailouts to NFL draft choices to fruit-forward west coast wines to out-of-control texting...and even a bit snotty sarcasm. In other words, I want to write contemporary words for a contemporary world.

Make it a habit to stop here!