Feb 26, 2009

That feels better

A few years back my husband and I took in a Johnny Winter concert at the House of Blues in Chicago. As we entered the small concert hall, (really more of a big bar atmosphere) we had to decide where we would watch the concert from, we had two choices. Option one was directly in front of the stage. We would have been able to touch Mr. Winter if the notion so possessed us. The second option was in the back of the room on bar stools. No contest, barstools for sure.

In our youth up front and center stage, screaming your lungs out was the place to be. In our middle aged brains we reasoned, “We can hear just as well back here as up there.” It was at that point it began to dawn on me that the crowd was mostly people our age and the stools were a hot commodity. Apparently two hours of standing at center stage is not appealing to the almost AARP crowd. Luckily we were able to wrangle two stools for ourselves and enjoyed the concert in comfort.

The balance between comfort and style is one that slowly shifts over time. The older you get the more heavily the comfort factor weighs in your everyday decisions. These days as soon as I get home from work I don my comfortable pajamas, remove my contact lenses in favor of glasses and put my hair up in a headband. I haven’t reached the point of wearing sweat pants in public yet but those soft plushie pantsuits are starting to look better and better all the time.

Feb 24, 2009

Girl's Vegas Trip - The Highlights

So much happened it’s tough to know where to start.

We stayed at the Flamingo. First time I’ve spent any length of time on that section of the strip. It’s quite a bit seedier, which for Vegas is saying a lot. Lots of card flickers line that section of the strip. Card flickers are the guys (and a few girls) who try to give you business card sized ads for the local “dating services”. We called them card flickers because that is what they do to get your attention, flick the cards.

On Friday and Saturday night they close off some streets on that section of the strip and bring an army of police cars. You could be led to believe that all they do is pose for pictures with drunken tourists. Pretty girls up against the car spread-eagled while the cop pretends to cuff them. There was a lot of that going on but make no mistake, the cops there mean business. They brought a prison bus with them. It must be more cost efficient to collect the miscreants by busload than individually.

We did a day trip to the Grand Canyon, which was awesome. Traveling there took longer than traveling back because there were a lot more stops. Two of these stops were to let the Florida people play in the snow along the side of the road. The first stop was just a tiny patch of snow that they stepped in and touched. As we drove higher into the mountains the snow became more abundant. The second stop saw them walking through the snow barefoot (something the Michigan people knew was not a good idea) and sledding on a piece of cardboard we found on the side of the road. Other activites included the building of a 10 inch snowman on the Grand Canyon trail and numerous animal sightings in the park.

Other highlights include:
** Cousin Bonnie searched for and finally found an Elvis to take a picture with.
** Several of us (not me – too chicken) snuck onto Flamingo Island at the hotel. FYI - flamingos are light sleepers and don’t like to be woken up. They can make quite a ruckus when they are unhappy.
** I got groped by a passerby who was not successful at melting into the crowd. I followed him into a casino, poked him on the shoulder and told him to keep his bleeping hands to himself.
** Got comped a very nice lunch complete with a couple of margaritas for playing video poker at this nice little Mexican bar in Treasure Island.
** Several trips to Bill’s Casino for 99 cent margaritas . A little light on the tequila but we brought our own cups with a few shots already in them to fix that right up.
** Dancing on the bar at a biker joint downtown (not me – cuz nobody wants to see that).
** Several conversations with locals about their depressed economy. Made us Detroiters feel a little bit better to know that there was somebody worse off than we are.

Next girl’s trip, New York City summer of 2010.

Feb 18, 2009

Peace out!

Have a nice weekend everybody. See you all on Monday. If you really need me your best bet is to find my favorite blackjack dealer's table at the Mirage. She's a crazy old lady who puts up with no sass at her table. I do believe she'd smack your hand given enough provocation.

Feb 17, 2009

“Top Ten Signs” that your daughter just got engaged.

1. She and her boyfriend ask to talk to you and your husband. The boy has a grin from ear to ear and the daughter is crying. She is also hiding her left hand behind her back.

2. Her Facebook status is immediately changed to engaged.

3. She’s on the phone for two days re-enacting the moment he popped the question with girlfriend after girlfriend.

4. You feel really old all of a sudden.

5. You wonder how long it will be until you are a grandmother (oh joy!)

6. You’ve been registered on theknot.com as the mother of the bride.

7. You are planning to join Weight Watcher’s right after the Vegas trip.

8. Bridal magazines everywhere…. OK, I admit I bought them but it’s still a sign.

9. Both grandparents give her the advice not to spend all her money on the wedding, (don’t worry Mom & Dad she will be spending some of ours too.)

10. It dawns on you that the next time she moves out it will be for good.

I wish I could reverse time so she could be that little girl who babbled incessantly and giggled at everything. Back then popsicles were “pockadoos” and cartoons were “rocktoons” and this day seemed an eternity away. But enough strolling down memory lane. Congratulations to both of you and welcome to our family Luis!

Feb 15, 2009

I'll take my chances.

The recent movie War of the Worlds ends when the aliens end up dying off to some bug or virus we have floating around here on earth. Voice over at the end by Morgan Freeman, who explains that humans have earned the right to the earth by living through the viruses and bugs. I loved that ending.

All the germophobes of the world should be made to watch that scene. Germs make you strong and tough. Anybody with a child is familiar with the endless cycle of illnesses that your kids bring home when they start school or day care. They get colds, flus, pink eye, ear infections and every other bug imaginable. Then gradually they build up their immunities and are fine.

Now they've got some new fangled chicken pox vaccine. Not only do I think that it's the sissy way out, I think that you're messing with the natural order of things. I get a funny feeling like something is going to backfire with us trying to avoid a common childhood illness.

But back to germophobes. What got me thinking about this is public restrooms. I believe the majority of women are squatters or liners. Squatters hover above the toilet and liners place toilet paper along the seat. I have no issues with that. If you really are worried about the germs on the seat, whatever. Here's my issue with most squatters and liners. They generally leave a mess for the next person. They pee all over the seat and don't wipe it up or they leave their paper dangling over the side of the seat, half in and half out of the toilet. They really don't care that the person using the stall after them has to clean up after them in order to use the toilet.

Years back I was discussing this with my sister and received a shock when I learned that not only is she a squatter (no surprise) but there is this whole other breed out there that flushes the toilet with their foot. WHAT??? You take your foot that has been walking around on the bathroom floor and use it on a handle? Handles are meant for hands. Thanks a lot. For years I have been flushing toilets with my hand after you paranoid footflushers have gunked it all up. Thank goodness I go straight to the sink and wash my hands.... but then I negate that by not opening the door with a paper towel, according to my sister.

So I will continue to take my chances. Eat a piece of candy that has fallen on the floor, sit on toilet seats and a myriad of other dangerous behaviours. Maybe it explains why I rarely catch any of the bugs that are floating around. My immune system is tried and true.

Feb 13, 2009

Love is in the air.

Hopefully my husband will forgive me for posting the above picture. It's from New Years's Eve. Illustrates one of the many reasons he is so dear to me. Willing to play the fool for a laugh. Corny jokes and silly faces are his specialty.

Sometime today I will be going out and frantically trying to get a Valentine’s Day gift that conveys to my husband just how much he means to me. How is that possible? No material object I give him will be able to make him understand that he means the world to me. Doubly difficult for him is that I don’t usually get all sappy. This blog post is already starting to make me uncomfortable.

Your spouse is the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with. The kids will go off and be on their own, as they should. That leaves just you and him. Something we are experiencing more and more of these days.

We have our disagreements, topics that are best left alone and sometimes our arguments can get pretty intense but never once in our twenty-five years have I doubted that we were meant to be together for ever and always. (OMG, did I really just say that.) I’m going to stop now. I hope my daughter has read this far (she avoids sap too) and clues him in that he should read this blog post. (He normally doesn’t read my blog because he gets an earful from me every day.)

Happy Valetine’s Day!

Postscript – Everybody who goes on and on about boycotting Valentine’s Day because it’s a Hallmark holiday should just confess that they are looking for an excuse not to have to do anything for their significant other. Hallmark makes birthday cards too but I don’t see anybody calling for a ban on birthdays. Who says you have to buy a card, you cheapskate!

Feb 11, 2009

Double Down. You're here to gamble, aren't you?

My daughter sent me an e-mail this morning. She is in the upper peninsula of Michigan for work. (That is if you can call testing brakes, abs and traction control in the snow and ice, work. It’s basically snow sledding and ice skating in a big expensive vehicle.) Anyway, she is staying at an Indian casino and won $55 from the complimentary chips she gets every day from the hotel. She is thinking about trying her luck at some blackjack when she goes back to the hotel tonight.

My daughter is no dummy. She knows that if you need advice you ask the expert, hence the email to me. I have cultivated my blackjack skills over the last 15 years or so. I first saw a blackjack table in Reno Nevada when my husband and I drove there from San Francisco for an overnight trip. I didn’t play any blackjack on that trip. It was too intimidating with me not knowing anything about the game. When I got home I bought a book and studied the rules of the game. The rest is history….well not really. I have had a few good nights at the table but overall I don’t bet big enough to win big. Of course that means I can’t do much damage either. It’s all about the fun of the game for me anyway. That’s why I tend to not walk away when I should. Oh, I read the money management chapter I just don’t adhere to the advice 100%.

Below is the short version blackjack advice I gave my daughter. I’m such a bad mother!

The important thing to remember is the game is about beating the dealer, it's not about getting close to 21. Everything depends on what the dealer has. There are more 10s in the deck than any other card so you pretend the dealer has a 10 underneath his up card. He has to hit if he has a 16 or lower. So if his up card is 2-6 chances are high he will bust with a 22 - 26 when he has to hit. If he has a 7 through ace he will have a 17 to 21 so you can't even compete with him until you get to at least 17. Therefore:

General Rule
Dealer's 2 - 6 = Stand on 12 or higher (some people hit a 12 against a 2 but this is your choice)
Dealer's 7 - ace = Hit until you get to 17 (Don't be a wuss and stand on 16.... take your cards. It doesn't always work out but this is a math game, not a hunch game)

Always splits Aces and 8s (Again because there are so many 10s your aces could turn into two 21's. You split 8's because 16 is a sucky hand)
Never split 4s, 5s, or 10s (4's just cuz they say so. Two fives equal ten so you have a good chance to draw a ten for a total of twenty. Two tens equal 20 - how will you improve that hand? Leave it alone)
If the dealer has (2-8) you can split cards up to what he is showing. For instance if he has a 8 you could split 2,3,6,7 if you wanted to.

Double down
After the first two cards you can put out another chip to double your bet. Don't be afraid to double - You are there to win money and doubling is how you do it.
Your Total is 9 = double if dealer has a bust card (2-6)
Your Total is 10 - double on dealer's 2 - 9
Yout Total is 11 - double against everything except a dealer's ace.

Now go out there and make your mother proud.

Feb 9, 2009

Vegas or bust.

Feeling generally funky today, not a good funky either. The current economic tsunami is hitting home. We announced last week that the parent company would be “evaluating staff levels” at all affiliates. Everybody knows what that means so now as a member of HR I either get the fake friendliness or people try to avoid making eye contact with me. It’s going to be a rough couple of months until decisions are made, actions are taken and the dust settles.

The decision to announce that you are considering downsizing is not an easy one. If you do it then the workplace is understandably disrupted. If you don’t announce it you take people by surprise and that’s just not good. We opted to give people the heads up and suffer the general sense of skittishness that will become the norm around here. Having been on both sides of that table I can tell you neither side is pleasant. Firing people is generally easy because people did something to deserve losing their jobs. Nobody deserves a layoff. It just sucks all the way around.

On the home front I am faced with a son who despite our best efforts is struggling a little bit to grow up. Off on his own now at school he is making some bad decisions and letting some important things slip. He is learning the hard way that being an adult means facing the adult consequences of those bad decisions. I try to remember that I really didn’t find my own way until my early twenties and made some bone-head decisions of my own. But I don’t have a crystal ball so I just have to hope that he has an “ah-hah” moment like I did and straightens up. He’s a good kid but I really don’t want him living in my basement when he’s 30.

Just trying to hold out until the 19th of this month. Flying off to Vegas to spend four days with my favorite women in the whole world (sister, aunt, cousins, cousin’s daughters). Noticeably absent will be my mother, daughter and nieces but they will be there in spirit and I am sure we will have a round of drinks in their honor.

We Lauchstaedt women have to get together every so often just to laugh and enjoy each others company. We are all crazy in our own unique way. We understand that and we really don’t give a flying f*** about it either. That’s what is so great about our get-togethers, no pretenses, no acts or shows. Just let your hair down, act goofy, have fun. I can’t wait. And since it’s in Vegas I get to play blackjack until the wee hours of the morning. Woo hoo!

Feb 6, 2009

Give the kid a break.

Poor Michael Phelps has discovered that fame comes with a price. We like our Olympic heroes to be squeaky clean. We like to keep the illusion that maybe they really did descend from Mt. Olympus to grace us with their presence.

We had to let this illusion go for most of our professional sports as we’ve seen a parade of scandalous behavior from the best of the best in baseball, football and basketball. So we stubbornly cling to the notion that our Olympic athletes are somehow different.

Now, I’ve known for a while that he is no angel. My daughter happened to attend U of M with Michael and although she doesn’t know him personally she did know of his reputation on campus as being a womanizer with a big ego. Not surprising for a relatively handsome young man who finds himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated at such a young age.

The way in which he has handled this mess is textbook. Admit you made a mistake and that you’ve learned your lesson and want to move on. But Michael underestimated the damage to his reputation. When your pedestal is so high it’s a mighty big distance when you fall off of it. He was handed a three month suspension from the USA swim team and Kellogg’s will not renew his contract set to expire this February. According to the report I heard this morning “Parents are outraged.” Well I’m a parent and I didn’t get to vote. I’m not outraged.

More outrageous to me is that somebody Michael thought he could trust snapped that picture and then decided to sell it to earn a little cash. That person has more to be ashamed about than Michael Phelps. But my opinion about this whole thing is slightly skewed because I believe marijuana should be legal. I have seen alcohol cause much more devastation to a family than marijuana ever will. Pot doesn’t tend to make you mean but I have met some very nice people who turn violent when drunk.

I hope this whole thing blows over quickly for his sake. Maybe there’s another “football player / dog fighting ring leader” story that’s about to break. Or maybe the God-like Tiger Woods will do something shocking. Nah, not Tiger, he’d never.

Feb 4, 2009

What? We've had a rough year!

The stories of luxurious perks being cancelled on Wall Street are flowing faster than the champagne at a day trip to the spa for AIG executives. The banks that received federal bailout money are oblivious to the fact that they have any duty to exhibit good judgement and care with how they spend taxpayer money.

This week Wells Fargo cancelled a 12 day all expense paid trip to Las Vegas for its top performers and their guests. The trip is an annual tradition at which Wells Fargo has footed the bill for up to 1000 people as they wined and dined and were entertained at private concerts by the likes of Jimmy Buffet, Cher and Huey Lewis (OK Huey’s not as impressive as Cher, but still…).

This year the accommodations were at the new Wynn property, Encore, one of the most expensive hotels in Vegas. The festivities were set to begin this Friday but when word leaked out to the AP, Wells Fargo tried to defend the trip by making this statement, the Las Vegas trip provides a "unique opportunity" for Wells Fargo employees and employees of newly acquired bank Wachovia Corp., "to focus on continuing to do all we can for U.S. homeowners.” (Rubs eyes, accompanied by squeaky sound.) Did I read that right?

And it’s not just Wells Fargo, they all are living well beyond “our” means. Other recent stories include:

* Citigroup is selling their $50 million dollar luxury jet.

* AIG has cancelled day trips to the spa for its top executives that included pedicures and massages.

* Wachovia cancelled a Greek cruise.

* Morgan Stanley cancelled a trip to Monte Carlo for its top employees.

This is the reason I became so angry when the automotive executives were scrutinized and criticized when they asked for a government loan. It was right to ask them these questions but why in the hell did nobody bother to ask these bankers about their spending habits and how they planned to clean up their act. Nope, Congress just ponied up billions of dollars and trusted them to do the right thing. No “Bank Czar”, no action plan, no elimination of executive bonuses and salaries. Here’s your money, now run along.

The bankers were apparently too stupid to figure out that after GM sold the company jet the press would be turning their attention to them. Hopefully they’ve learned that they can’t hide this type of activity and that it can’t be justified, especially now, in the dire situation we find ourselves in.

Each one of these arrogant assess ought to be smacked upside the head repeatedly and then forced to go live for a month with a family that is recently jobless and close to losing their homes. Then come back and tell me how your little trip to Vegas is going to allow you to help these people. I have an idea, get your head out of your ass and quit scheming up ways to keep your perks and start putting things right by figuring out what you did to contribute to this freaking mess and then change it. But be forewarned, it may include a healthy dose of good old fashioned hard work and honest dealing.

Feb 2, 2009

Happy Woodchuck Day

Today is “Groundhog Day”. That is the day on which Mr. Punxsatawney Phil prognosticates on the remaining length of winter. Or for you optimists, he forecasts the likelihood of an early spring. Now, for some reason, his benchmark is 6 weeks. If he sees his shadow we will have 6 more weeks of winter, if not then we will have an early spring. I don’t know about Pennsylvania but here in Michigan, where April snow is common, we would call spring in mid-March a miracle.

We have groundhogs here in Michigan but we call them woodchucks. You remember the kid’s tongue twister, “How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” The name does not come from the woodchuck’s lumber tossing abilities. It actually comes from the American Indian word wuchak.

Phil, the world’s most famous woodchuck, actually lives in the Punxsatawney library year-round with his wife Phyllis and is waited on hand and foot by the “Inner Circle”. Apparently a prerequisite to becoming a member of the Inner Circle is that you are delusional. These elite caregivers are sworn to uphold the absurd assertion that Phil’s accuracy over the last 120 years is 100%. Actual accuracy of Phil is about 60%, which admittedly is better than my local meteorologists but still is a far cry from 100%

The Inner Circle also insists that the same Phil has been making predictions for the last 120 years. The secret to his unusual longevity is the “Elixir of Life”. This miracle potion has kept him going well beyond his normal life span. My advice to the Inner Circle is forget “Groundhog Day”, you‘re sitting on a gold mine if you really do have such an elixir.

Every year on February 2nd, Phil the Woodchuck is taken to Gobbler’s Knob for the ceremony. (I understand from my research this morning that Gobbler’s Knob has a decidedly different and somewhat inappropriate meaning in Britain.) Phil is forced down a man-made burrow only to emerge moments later amid a throng of admirers and anxious journalists. Everybody snaps some pictures, news spreads round the globe and then back to the library with Phil to resume his life of leisure.

Contrast Phil’s lifestyle with that of wild woodchucks. They have thrived as humans expand their territory because they prefer open country and the edges of woodlands. As we clear forests we provide them with exactly the habitat they love. As a result, their population levels can become troublesome for farmers. When this happens their numbers are culled by hunting and in extreme cases by poisoning their burrows. In some locations in the US they are even considered good eatin’. Their normal lifespan is six years which is a far cry from the 120 years of plush living Phil has enjoyed.

Not to be outdone by a rodent, I have my own prediction on how much longer winter will last......too damn long!