Bettering Breakfast Bars

I’ve been traveling on business long enough to remember when a free hotel “breakfast bar” consisted of a few packets of instant oatmeal, a bin of stale muffins, and a pot of coffee of doubtful provenance.  It was a sad, grim place that you wanted to leave at the earliest opportunity– if you even went there in the first place.

No more!  Now hotel breakfast bars are actually decent places to have breakfast.  The breakfast bar at the Hyatt House in Lakewood, Colorado, where I stayed this week, had fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and toppings, cooked bacon, eggs, and potatoes, cereal, muffins, bagels, and bread, different kinds of juices and coffee, and a made-to-order omelet station that turned out a really good, piping hot omelet.  The surroundings were spotlessly clean, bright and cheerful, and you could read the Wall Street Journal while you ate.  It was such a nice place I actually heard a guy go up and order a second omelet.

Imagine!  A hotel breakfast bar where you’d actually like to linger for a while.  It’s a welcome change.

Fact-Checking Porcupine Sex

The days of speeches by the likes of Daniel Webster are long gone, and for some time now the United States Senate — which once seriously was described as “the world’s greatest deliberative body” —  seemingly has been filled with unremarkable politicos who don’t exactly set new standards for eloquence.  So when Kansas Senator Pat Roberts made a curious argument during the ongoing Senate debate about health care reform, the Associated Press decided to take a closer look.

In trying to describe the difficulties in resolving health care issues, Roberts said:  “Once in Glacier National Park I saw two porcupines making love. I’m assuming they produced smaller porcupines. They produced something. It has to be done carefully. That’s what we’re doing now.”

8068693778_38e62ec1de_bSo the current atmosphere in the U.S. Congress is like two porcupines having sex?  That’s not only not reassuring — which presumably is what Roberts was trying to communicate — it’s a distinctly disturbing image, isn’t it?

But the AP decided to have a deeper look at the whole porcupine sex issue.  It didn’t look at whether Roberts has ever been to Glacier or actually saw two porcupines in an intimate situation, but it did ask exactly how porcupines engage in the act.  The AP fact check cites a Duke University biologist who says that porcupine spines may be intimidating to predators, but when mating occurs porcupines can let down their guard.  The AP adds:  “Courtship rituals can be aggressive but when the animals have negotiated the art of the deal, the females relax and reposition their quills.”

So we’ve got Senators talking about porcupine sex and Associated Press reporters fact-checking them?  Apparently this is what passes for useful interaction of the political class and the fourth estate in these days of President Twitter and “fake news” and obvious political agendas on all sides.  It makes me think that those of us out in the country should be careful not to relax and reposition our quills.

Seat Grab

I was sitting in my seat on my flight to Denver, doing some reading for work and minding my own business, when suddenly my seat lurched backward.

I momentarily wondered what had happened,, then I realized the truth:  the person who was sitting in the seat behind me was getting up and had to grab the back of my seat with both hands to help themselves up — and from the amount of the backward movement of my seat, I figured it was a big person.  When I looked behind me, sure enough I saw a heavyset guy struggling to rise from his seat and head off to the bathroom.

How often has this happened to you?  For me, it’s become commonplace.  We’ve got such an obesity problem in this country that people can’t get up from their seats without help.  Even the armrests that allow you to balance yourself as you rise from your seat on the airplane aren’t sufficient, so the obese travelers have to hang on to the back to the seat in front of them and pull themselves to their feet.  Never mind that there’s somebody sitting in that seat they’re grabbing, and that the seat grab is going to cause that unlucky person to move backward unexpectedly, interrupting whatever they might be doing.  There’s never an apology, either.  It’s as if the seat you are sitting in was intended solely to help tubby passengers stand up, giving them every right to wrestle with your seat and maneuver it as they see fit so they can get on their feet.

It’s a minor annoyance, to be sure, but it’s just another little reminder of how extensive the obesity epidemic is in this country.  When people can’t even get to their feet on a plane without putting both hands on the seat in front of them and pulling with all of their might, it’s obviously a problem.

The Straight Dope From Colorado Road Signs

I’m in Colorado for work, and as I drove my rental car in from the airport I was stopped dead in a massive traffic jam on I-70 heading into Denver.  While I was stopped on the road I saw this sign about driving on I-70 taking up to four hours and saw how that could be true — but the line about “edibles” initially mystified me.  It was only when I noticed the marijuana plant logo at the bottom the sign that I figured out the meaning of the “edibles” and four-hour references.

Still later I saw an “adopt-a-highway” sign indicating that the stretch of road I was on was maintained by “Silver Stem Fine Cannabis.”  I don’t know what was more unnerving — the thought that other drivers in the traffic jam may have mistimed their “edibles” ingestion or the notion of stoned clerks from a marijuana emporium wandering around a highway picking up litter.  It’s nice to know that the Silver Stem proprietors are good corporate citizens, at least.

It’s a brave new world in Colorado!

Squelching Summer Fun

When we were kids and lived on The Circle in semi-rural Bath, Ohio, a typical summer day went like this:  we got up early, ate cereal, and ran from the house to play outside with the gang of other kids in the neighborhood.  We’d ride our bikes and climb trees, play “army” and baseball and kickball, build dams and catch tadpoles in the creek that ran through the woods, and make up stupid games.  Except for stopping to eat a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches served by one of the moms in the neighborhood — usually selected at random — we were outside and on our own all day long, and after we’d eaten dinner at home, often at the picnic table outside, we’d find our friends again and catch lightning bugs and play freeze tag until it was time for bed.  And if we were lucky enough to go somewhere for a beach vacation (in our case, to Ocean City, New Jersey), we’d dig in the sand, bury each other, and build sand castles.

fun-ways-to-celebrate-the-summer-solstice-sqI remember those long, hot summer days fondly — but if you read the expert advice given to parents these days, you’d think that our entire group of friends was unbelievably lucky to survive them without experiencing serious injury or lifelong trauma.

Consider the “10 Rules for Summer Safety” published by parents.com.  It cautions against overexposure to the sun, heat exhaustion, doing anything around water, wearing clothing with floral patterns that might attract stinging bees, poisonous plants, and bug bites, among other things to worry about.  Some experts (including, apparently, the U.S. EPA) are very concerned about sand, whether a child is digging in it, being buried in it, or even walking on it.  And don’t even think about letting your child walk around outside barefoot!

All of these cautions about potential death-dealing problems lurking outside on that sunny summer’s day are bad enough, but what’s really troubling about these “rules” for child safety is that they presuppose that the parents are right there, at all times, making sure that the kids don’t take off their shoes or touch creek water or walk on sand or risk brushing up against what might be a poisonous plant.  We seem to have totally lost the notion that kids might actually be able to fend for themselves, and that whatever problems might occur — skinned knees, bug bites, sun burns, and the like — were a small price to pay for letting kids get lots of fresh air, have fun, engage in creative, self-directed play, and establish a little independence with their neighborhood friends.

If you took these warnings seriously, you’d decide that the best course is to just keep your kids inside, where there are fewer dangers around every corner and they can be in your line of sight at all times, as they sit watching TV, or playing video games, or tapping away on a computer.  Could it be that the worries about outdoor play that the experts have raised, and the parental response to them, have contributed to the rise in asthma, obesity, and diabetes in children who never go outside and get any exercise, sunshine, or fresh air without being lathered with sunscreen and scrutinized by helicopter parents?

Who knows more about what kids are capable of — the skittish experts of our modern world, or those Moms of the ’60s who were perfectly willing to let their kids go out and play, unattended by adults, confident that the kids could take care of themselves.  I’ll trust the practical experience of the ’60s Moms over the experts any day.

Morning Walks With Kasey

The last few days I’ve been responsible for walking Kasey in the morning.  We’ve got a routine going:  she sleeps in while I take my lap around Schiller Park, she barks angrily when I return, she waits impatiently while I shower and dress, and then we set out toward Frank Fetch Park.  On the walk, Kasey smells everything there is for a dog to smell — namely, everything — and along the way she answers the call of nature multiple times, leaving it for her trusted aide to clean up after her.

Some might argue that picking up after your dog helps prepare a lawyer for the work day ahead.

Cereal Killing

Cereal has been in the news a lot lately.

The Washington Post letters to the editor page has seen a significant debate back and forth on whether cereal is a good way to start the day at breakfast, or whether sugary cereals have ruined the kind of breakfast Americans used to eat.  The President of “Morning Foods” for Kellogg’s wrote in to emphasize the nutritional value of a cereal breakfast, noting that “[a] serving of cereal and a half-cup of skim milk can provide protein and four nutrients most people don’t get enough of: fiber, calcium, vitamin D and potassium. That meal is also 152 calories; a bagel with cream cheese has more than double the calories and saturated fat.”  He added that “Kellogg’s offers more than 20 cereals that provide a good source of protein when eaten with a half-cup of milk, and more than 90 percent of our cereals have 10 grams or less of sugar per 30-gram serving.”

f14cc6b5-59c8-4468-b1be-a50e3689fb18_1-303be2af9801047b84102e79b4624761I’m not sure what a “30-gram serving” is, but of course the problem with cereal is not whether you can structure a breakfast that makes sense from a nutritional standpoint.  No, the problem is moderation and portion control.  Even if people knew what a “30-gram serving” looks like, they end up eating heaping mixing bowls of cereal while they’re watching TV.  Or, at least, I do — which is why we have a longstanding rule to not have any cereal around our house.  In my case, where I’m helpless to resist the lure of Frosted Flakes and would eat a whole box if given the opportunity, total abstinence is the only practical course.

And here’s another issue for cereal manufacturers:  millennials aren’t eating it.  But their objection isn’t nutritional in nature; instead, according to survey data, many millennials apparently don’t like eating cereal for breakfast because you have to clean up after eating it.  The millennials prefer yogurt cups and breakfast sandwiches because you can just throw the remains away, whereas cereal requires that you rinse off the bowl and spoon and put them in the dishwasher.  This has caused some people to make fun of millennials as lazy, but I think millennials simply acknowledge an important point — if you don’t fully rinse off the bowl after you’ve eaten cereal, the remains of the cereal and the milk create some kind of chemical bond with the bowl, leaving the flakes seemingly welded to the sides of the bowl, that makes later clean-up an enormous hassle.  If you’re rushing to get to work in the morning, therefore, maybe cereal isn’t for you.

Poor cereal!  Caught between the Scylla of poor nutritional value and the Charybdis of too much work to consume!