Webner House Pumpkin Path, Halloween 2011

We had our traditional Halloween Jack ‘o Lantern entryway this year.  It features 10 carved pumpkins, including tributes to Braxton Miller and Jared Sullinger and attempts to carve scary, silly, goofy, and happy pumpkin faces.  It think it’s a pretty good crop.

Thanks to our neighbors, the Taylors, for their excellent help with the pumpkin carving this year!

Fat And Fairness — And The Federal Government

What to do to deal with the obesity epidemic in America?  (And not just in America, either — recent studies also are showing increasing obesity in places like Scotland.)  Normally you might say that the eating and exercise habits of individuals are their own business.  The problem, however, is that obesity, like smoking, is statistically likely to cause significant increases in health care costs.  And when most working people participate in group health care plans, where expensive health problems inevitably produce increased premium costs, individual cases of obesity and cigarette smoking end up being everybody’s problem.

The companies that sponsor group health plans for many Americans have tried to deal with this problem by sponsoring wellness programs and offering incentives to employee participation.  But you can’t force a person to exercise or quit smoking.  Now some companies are taking a harder line, and making obese employees and smokers pay more for health coverage to reflect their increased likelihood of incurring health care costs.  Predictably, those efforts are being met by questions about the legality of distinguishing between people on the basis of weight, whether the programs have a disproportionate impact on the poor, who are said to be unable to afford health clubs and good nutrition, and the propriety of companies getting into the personal lives of  employees.  Those on the other side of the debate argue that non-smoking, non-obese employees should not pay the tab for the risky, costly lifestyles of co-workers who can’t curb their appetites for cigarettes and sugar.

It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out — and even more interesting to see what happens if President Obama’s health care statute is upheld and the federal government becomes increasingly involved in health care.  Does anyone think that federal regulators, having been given the power to require people to buy health insurance, would hesitate to mandate certain kinds of individual behavior — like eating less, quitting smoking, and exercising regularly — and punish non-compliance in an attempt to hold down costs?

Happy Halloween!

As I’ve mentioned, I prefer creepy — and what could be creepier than suddenly coming upon a detached, eyeless, old-fashioned doll’s head in a darkened room?

At first you are merely startled by the disembodied visage, but then there’s something oddly riveting about it.  You look at it, and wonder how you would react if eyeballs sudden appeared in those empty sockets and snapped open, fixing you with a grim stare, as the plastic lips start moving and speaking in a soulless, metallic voice. Or if a gushing flood of roaches abruptly came pouring through those gaping, black eyeholes, covering the floor in an instant.

Now that’s the kind of disturbing creepiness that I’m talking about!  Happy Halloween, everyone!

Pumpkin-Carving Day

Tomorrow is Beggars’ Night, so today was our pumpkin-carving day.  This year, we had 10 pumpkins to be gutted, carved, and made ready to be implanted with candles and placed on our walkway to light the way for trick-or-treaters.

I love carving pumpkins.  I like doing the emptying and carving the day before, so that the pumpkins can dry out before the big evening.  I love getting ready for it, and laying out the carving implements like a scrub nurse placing the surgical instruments on trays in preparation for an operation.

Pumpkin-carving is an occasion that demands proper tools.  Our implements include a plastic ice cream scoop, knives, shallow spoons, and two excellent pumpkin carving tools that are blunt but with serrated blades — perfect for puncturing the tough orange skin of the pumpkin and then slicing, safely, through the pumpkin flesh.

I especially like the tactile sensation of pumpkin carving.  It seems basic and ancient, somehow, like skinning a rabbit, whittling a stick, churning butter, or performing another chore that would be done on the frontier.

You cut carefully around the stem, slicing horizontally to avoid the possibility of the pumpkin lid falling into the interior.  You feel the resistance yield and hear a satisfying tearing sound as you slowly pull the top, heretofore bound like Gulliver by the tiny threads of pumpkin innards, free from the rest of the pumpkin.  You look inside, and see the slimy strings and goop and seeds and smell that heady, rich pumpkin smell.  You know that your hands will be smeared orange and covered with flecks of pumpkin, because emptying the gut is something that requires you to use your hands, grip the spaghetti-like strands, and yank them out.

Our plastic ice cream scoop is exceptionally well-suited to scraping the insides of pumpkins until they are free of the wet threads and seeds.  (This year, we contributed the seeds to our neighbor, who will bake and salt them and use them for snacks.)  I like to scour the inside walls thoroughly, so that the interiors of the hollowed-out pumpkins are as smooth as a baby’s behind.  That allows the pumpkins to dry overnight and makes them better suited for candle placement and candle lighting and burning.  And if your interior pumpkin walls are thinned by vigorous scraping,  the candlelight will give your pumpkin a cool-looking, eerie inner glow on Beggars’ Night.

After the preparation comes carving time — when all creativity can be loosed, and the pumpkin can become a temporary, soon-to-be-discarded testament to your artistic sensibilities.  I’ll share some pictures of our jack-o-lanterns, and our pumpkin walkway, when they are lit and on display tomorrow night.



To Blog or not To Blog ….

Blogging seems benign enough until you decide to actually commit yourself to putting words on paper – or rather out in the ether. Blogged words are forever available to all to consider: the F.B.I., C.I.A., Mom, Dad, siblings, children. (I’m reminded of the Facebook horror stories of those who didn’t think their bosses, and others about whom they comment would be viewing their unguarded moments.) In addition, a blogger has to consider others who are blogging on the same site, if there are others on the same site as there are at Webnerhouse. A new entrant has to be concerned how his or her blog will compare with the other contributors’ works.

And so, I have to consider how any blogs I may add to Webnerhouse will stack up with other Webner contributors, primarily Bob and Jim. Bob’s contributions are prolific and, usually, entertaining. The dog things don’t do a lot for me, but otherwise he presents a formidable challenge to most anyone’s writing skills, and certainly to mine. Jim’s contributions are fewer but well considered and usually about something of importance to him and, thus, well thought out and well presented. So it is with these concerns prominent in my mind, I will with fear and trepidation and at Bob’s urging submit some ruminations to Webnerhouse from time to time.

Once that commitment was made I had to then consider the all important issue of when does one write one’s blog? Apparently Bob writes his morning, noon and night time, as soon as any new breaks that he feels deserves comment. For me, as a retired person, I don’t have a lot of extra time on my hands. Therefore, a decision has to be made. Do I write first thing in the morning or the last thing at night or sometime in between? I can’t write while on the golf course, that’s clear. So mid-day is not an option most days. Late afternoon is music practice time – a retirement exercise I have taken up, modestly seriously, to try to keep dementia at bay. I am a slow starter in the mornings, and so the early a.m. is not really an option. Late at night, if I forego the martinis is probably the best time for me – but foregoing the martinis may be an issue. I may need Bob’s guidance on this subject. Today, I decided that I would not watch any professional football as none of the teams particularly excite me this year. So this Sunday afternoon, at least, by default presented itself as a viable time slot for blogging.

The next consideration will be what subjects to take on that may be of any interest to any chance reader of the blog. I am not without opinion on most topics and I am now of an age where I don’t have to be concerned if anyone agrees with me or not. That allows for a wide range of matters to be “discussed.”   This could get interesting, once the fear is put to rest.

I Prefer Creepy

What makes for a good Halloween scare?  For me, it’s the more subtle, deliciously creepy stuff that is most thrilling.

I’m not much for over-the-top gore or slasher films.  Buckets of blood spraying everywhere as a masked guy who can’t be killed eviscerates a bunch of horny teenagers may be startling, but ultimately is boring.  I’d rather watch a Hitchcock movie than any of the Friday the 13th series.  Old-fashioned horror films, where character development occurs and back stories are told, are better than the recent movies that devote all of their creative energies toward figuring out new ways to behead, impale, or disembowel the indestructible killer or his hapless victims.

Good scary movies are always suspenseful, but don’t need to be gory.  The best ones have a weird, interesting character — and sometimes more than one.  Usually they involve a twist or two, and a false start or other surprise.  Consider Silence of the Lambs.  It’s really not a very bloody movie, but I’d wager that most people felt a deep, horrible, mounting anxiety and terror as FBI agent Clarice Starling closed in on the profoundly disturbed Buffalo Bill in that ancient, darkened basement.  In my view, that scenario — and Clarice’s spine-tingling interactions with Dr. Hannibal Lecter — are scarier than Jason anyday.

Mount Rushmore’s 70th

Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the completion of work on Mount Rushmore.  From start to finish, the blasting and shaping of the colossal heads of four American presidents took 14 years to complete and cost less than $1 million.

Mount Rushmore was the dream of one man, Doane Robinson, and became the obsession of its sculptor, Gutzon Borglum.  They determined that the huge heads should be carved into Mount Rushmore, and they obtained the support of President Calvin Coolidge and key members of Congress who helped make their dream a reality.  They were capable of envisioning a memorial blasted into the face of a mountain and then figuring out how it could be done safely.  (No one was killed during the construction, despite frequent use of dynamite and other explosives.)

The result is a classically American monument, a testament to American ingenuity and the product of people who dreamed big, bold dreams.  But Mount Rushmore is more than an engineering feat, it is an artistic achievement as well.  Americans who visit Mount Rushmore feels a sense of pride in the accomplishment and a patriotic stirring at the depiction of the four Presidents.  If you’ve visited Mount Rushmore, you’ll know what I mean.