Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008: It’s as good a time as any…



Well, yesterday was Thanksgiving, and international and economic crises aside, it couldn't have been a nicer day.  After a week of darkness & sleet & snow, everything brightened (both the weather and my spirits) and I enjoyed a lovely holiday with family.  (Shawn is a very good cook, and sent me home with a couple pounds of leftovers to boot!)  And of course her husband Jim was there, and my niece Sophia, beautiful and ornery as ever. 

(When I arrived and walked in the door, that angel ran right over, hugged me & said "Oh Uncle Doug, I've missed you..."  while Shawn and I exchanged some pretty emotional expressions.  That alone made my day.)


Later while I was loading some files on my sister's computer, I went online to see what some of my 'internet pals' were up to, and I noticed that someone had started a 'Giving Thanks' discussion, with items both traditional and non. 

It seems like I've been caught up in such a variety of negative things lately (squabbles with other family members, dental problems, fears about the economy) that I've neglected to consider the things that are right in my life as well. 

So in no particular order, and certainly not including everything, here's a few items I am giving thanks for this Thanksgiving weekend:


My job with UPMC Health Plan - It pays the bills (and then some)

While part of me resists sounding like a corporate shill, I want to be honest here--I like my job.  I work in the heart of downtown Pittsburgh, I feel I'm paid fair enough (in fact I just received a nice salary increase on Tuesday) and I'm treated both as a friend & professional (by my coworkers & manager).  I may grumble about my job from time to time, but I feel fortunate to be part of the UPMC organization.  (I've now begun my ninth year there too; it's a good fit.)


Stephen King and his return to the short story (among other things)

While I haven't always been proud to admit it (now why is that?) I've always been a Stephen King groupie.  From the first novel of his I read in college ("The Dead Zone") to bewildering works like "Insomnia", I've never failed to get excited when I hear he has something new out there. 

And with this just released collection of short stories (both old and new), I am reminded once again why Stephen King is my favorite storyteller.   (It also includes a return of his 'Constant Reader' introduction; how I've missed these personal glimpses into this thoughtful man's life.)



Jim, Shawn & Sophie (for including me in their holiday)

While of course I have more than one sibling (and I'm grateful for them too), it's my sister Shawn & her family who I'm giving thanks to here.  It's one thing to be loved, but when Shawn said "Doug please come, this won't be Thanksgiving unless you're here" (and I knew she meant it) then it becomes more than a feeling of gratitude, but a real sense of belonging. 

And for a single guy, that's often a nice thing to have.  




Nifty Chinese inventions

Here's what I currently enjoy using:  penstyle & mini e-sticks, which produce a harmless vapor with apple, caramel or mint flavoring

I know I've written about these "e-cigs" before in the teepee, but it bears repeating: the Chinese saved my life with this little invention that mimics smoking (allowing you to 'puff' on flavored water vapor instead).  I've now gone 5 months without a cigarette (I'll never go back to smoking) and I still enjoy 'vaping' mist with these electronic gadgets.  (They're not for everyone, but for someone who was desperate to quit smoking & get their health back...this did the trick.)



The truth may be out there but it's in here too (thanks to 'The X-Files' on DVD)

Scene: it's my day off, it's raining outside, I don't feel like reading and there's nothing good on TV.  And that's usually when I remember I own all 9 seasons of 'The X-Files', and I haven't seen most of the episodes since their original air-date.   I'm only up to Season 2 & I'm in no rush to get thru these excellent shows.  This series is in my Top 5 shows of all time, too.  617D5C2B848A9C67_4436_7[1]


Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name...

I love these girls--and thanks to their diligence, ingenuity & hard work, they transformed a quiet little lunch counter into my favorite place to eat downtown.  Their shop was formerly owned by a quiet, polite Greek man who (after only being open a couple months) decided to move back to Greece.  Sarah (the tall one) and Gina (the spunky one) worked the counter.   I had become friends with them, & they told me they were planning to become partners and buy the place.   Uh huh.

Well, they surprised everyone when they did just that.  They jazzed up the menu & transformed the place into a lively, inexpensive little eatery. 

They know all their original customers by name (like me & my friend Karyn) and on a couple personal occasions, have helped me out (making hors d'oeuvres, cookies, even a cake) for special occasions at the office.   They also happen to make the best pita pizzas around!


And last but not least, I'll always give thanks for my own little piece of the planet

It's corny but true: while it isn't much, there isn't a single morning that I awake & not feel real gratitude for my little teepee here in Pittsburgh. 

When I moved to this city in 1988 to go back to school, I had less than a hundred dollars to my name and didn't know a single person here.  (Of course I hoped to finish school, land a good job & get my own place, but until all of that actually happened...)  

Anyway, I promised myself I'd never forget where I came from or take for granted what I have once I got it.  And I never will.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Everything old is new again (well, lately it certainly seems that way….)


Have you ever noticed that when a friend or loved one is going to have a baby, suddenly there's pregnant women everywhere?  I think this can apply to phrases too. 

Earlier this week on my way home from work, I overheard two women on the bus talking about the 'new recession' and how stores were restarting "layaway shopping", and one of them said "Well, everything old is new again." 

It certainly seems so, in both good and bad ways.  Anyway, the next thing I knew, that phrase just seemed to apply to everything else going on this week too.



In the above photo, I'm about to dig into the 'Arrogant Onion' Fatburger; Erin with me outside of Fatheads  

Here's an example:  this week, I went with Julie D & Erin O to Fatheads, a popular bar/restaurant on the Southside.  I used to love this place, but it's been years since my last visit; I felt like a 'first timer' again.   It was nice to see the place as popular as ever, it was jam-packed in there.  Also, it was nice to just be in a social setting; this is a personal thing with me, something I need to work on more.


Anyway, I need to get back there soon--they have an awesome 'Voodoo Burger'.  Thanks again, Erin & Julie.  


Meanwhile, they're coming... to a theater near you

While I don't like "talking Trek" in these blogs, I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't mention it in this one; because just today, Paramount finally released an image of the "new old" Enterprise for the upcoming "retro Star Trek" movie being released in May 2009.  

abrams version


JJ Abrams groovy reimagining of the 1960s Enterprise  


There's really nothing more I can say about it (that hasn't already been discussed, critiqued & spilled blood over on a million other online forums in the last couple days).  All I know is, I'm genuinely excited to see the franchise get such a serious reboot (this film will be the most expensive Trek movie to date) along with being grateful that a mainstream director like JJ Abrams is doing the picture.  But for the phrase "everything old is new again", it doesn't get any bigger--or better--than this!   (Well, if you're a self-confessed Trekkie that is...)   


Getting back to the 21st century... could a "new" Great Depression be around the corner?  

Ulp--while typing up that piece about Fatheads, I watched President Bush on CNN, stating that he & other world leaders met earlier today, & have agreed to coordinate & modernize their financial systems to keep the economic system from getting worse.  He ALSO said that the United States could have gone into a depression worse than the Great Depression.

Just when I thought we might be revisiting the recession of the '70s, we could be heading towards a depression similar to the 1930s instead? 

Working in the healthcare industry, I've always (perhaps falsely) assumed my job was relatively safe, even after witnessing recent layoffs at my company.  But of course if enough companies begin laying off workers (or even closing their doors), that means less members belonging to company healthplans about 'trickle down economics'.   Gulp.   Well, if Bush believes he's responsible for staving off such a dastardly crisis, so be it.  We don't have to wait for Obama, let the Texan take the credit.  

Didn't Nostradamus (or Albert Einstein, or both) predict this planet wide 'economic calamity' for the dawn of the millennium?  It seems like just yesterday that we were all worrying over potential Y2K issues... compared to this, how I miss that goofy time. 

Speaking of the Millennium...Catherine Black is alive and well again in the Teepee


While everybody is familiar with Chris Carter's creation "The X-Files", I'm always surprised at how few are aware of his OTHER show, 'Millennium'.  It aired on Fox from 1997-1999, and simply put, was ahead of it's time.

Megan Gallagher as Frank Black's wife Catherine  

The show dealt with a mysterious organization (The Millennium Group) and one investigator in particular; Lance Henriksen as Frank Black (man, he's terrific).  He dealt with horrific crimes believed to be related to the upcoming Millennium (the year 2000-remember all the Y2K paranoia?)  This show saw the new century very ominously. intlcms_003021  

I recently got all 3 seasons on DVD & frankly I'm amazed how well this show has stood the test of time.  It's extremely literate (and darkly poetic) with movie production quality.  Frank Black is a man both blessed and cursed, with terrific insight and great sadness.  He's all too aware of the darkness in the world, and has "visions" of sinister events, usually thru the evildoers eyes.

(Ironically, all the emphasis on the year 2000 (er…2001) doesn't date the show; what does is Franks research on the internet, which looked a lot different in 1997 than it does today; along with the fact he only had dial-up access!)  

What I find amazing however is how little I remember about the show--I watched it during it's original airing, but could only recall that I loved it--no specifics.  It's like every episode is brand new again. 

I saw a recent interview with Lance Henriksen talking about Millennium & he said "I didn't want to do it, it just felt too dark; but Chris (Carter) convinced me, he said  ‘That's why you live in a yellow house on the show, in a nice neighborhood.  The yellow house will be your salvation.’  I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but he was right, you know… the yellow house saved me.”    

Gosh I just loved that…. I hope someday I find a yellow house of my own.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We have a winner—and as corny as it sounds, it’s all of us


I was never a strong follower of politics, but how could you not have been during this (long) Presidential election?  It's been quite a ride, but I'm relieved it's finally over.  We have a new Democratic President & frankly I couldn't be more happy about the outcome. 

I stayed up late last night just to hear Senator Obama's acceptance speech and once again, he did not disappoint.  (I don't know if it was because I was so tired, but the man is such a powerful orator that he left tears in my eyes.)

To be honest, I'm surprised that McCain's electoral count was as high as it was--but he's also a good person and I was moved by his gracious speech conceding the race to Obama.  (Just so relieved he didn't win this race, we were desperate for a real change.)

Anyway--I honestly couldn't be more excited; not only for my country, but for my nieces who will have this as a piece of their own history; and of course, the African American population (and all other minorities).  While I think it's awesome that we're finally tearing down godawful prejudices & racial divides, it certainly helps to have it done by someone like Barack Obama.  He's a good man with real class & style, confident and earnest and I honestly believe he's going to be a great leader...not just for this country, but for much of the planet. 

I honestly thought I was too old (and too cynical) to feel such excitement and hope about a new President...but for the first time ever, I do.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween 2008: It’s that time of year again, for masks & mortality


I take real pleasure in the smallest things. For example, this morning I woke up & noted with smug satisfaction that it was still dark outside; the clock said 5:20. I love getting up before the sun rises--when I looked outside, the other houses on my street were dark, and everything was very still.

I felt like I had the world to myself for a little while, this Sunday morning; well, my small piece of it. Sometimes I wish this wasn't as important to me as it is.  As of Friday I am 47 years old, and for some reason… ah well, nevermind.   

Anyway, I hadn't planned on getting up this soon, but I fell asleep earlier than usual last night--I always do after I come home from a long car trip. I spent yesterday back home with my sister Shawn, her husband Jim & my beautiful niece Sophia for my birthday. (They had originally intended to take me to a restaurant called 'The Porch', a buffet style place, but based on my wishes we had lunch at their house, then went to little Washington to do some shopping & dinner at my er... favorite "seafood place".

(Okay, I confess, Long John Silvers. It was my mom's favorite place & mine still--I'd go there everyday if I could, I love their menu.)



Sophia presented me with a big 'Happy Birthday Uncle Doug' cake; I know this pumpkin loves me, but she loves birthdays like none other!


Sophie sure made me feel special--that sweetheart kept hugging me for no reason & asked me to hold her hand when we were walking into the restaurant. I believe she yelled "Uncle Doug!" 67 times during my visit--she's a little squirrel and a real treasure.    

Thanks again for the nice day, guys