Thursday, May 31, 2012

BC2012: Otherwise Normal People: Inside the Thorny World of Competitive Rose Growing by Aurelia C. Scott

This book was a steal from The BookMarket in Glenview (a part of the local chain Barbara's) for only $1. My wife is a member of the Northeastern Illinois Rose Society (NIRS) so I know people like those in the book, and I would have been willing to pay more for it. Needless to say, I had to read this one aloud to her.

Scott meets and profiles various rose exhibitors in their gardens, all leading up to the 2004 American Rose Society Spring National Convention in San Diego. Then she attends the conference, including the early hours when exhibitors prepare their roses for competition. She captures the quirks and camaraderie of rose people very well.

I know a fair amount about roses since my wife has been a member of NIRS for more than a decade, but I still learned a lot from this book. My main complaint is that Scott spends almost all of her time on the coasts, ignoring Midwestern rose growers, but that's mostly my own regional bias. Anyone considering showing roses or anyone who wants to understand what rose exhibitors are like should read Otherwise Normal People.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

BC2012: That's What She Said by Justin Wishne and Bryan Nicolas

This is yet another book from a web site I've never heard of, TWSSstories.com. I bought it late during the Borders bankruptcy sale when the humor category was discounted 80 or 90%.

Like many humor books, That's What She Said seemed funnier in the store than it did at home. Part of it is redundancy -- when you're skipping around while browsing at the store, you don't recognize how similar many of the entries are. But the fatal flaw in this book is predictability. One of the main reasons "that's what she said" is a line that makes people laugh is that it is not expected. Somebody innocently says something that could be interpreted sexually, and someone else blurts out, "Yeah, that's what she said!" But when you collect hundreds of these situations together in one book, you eliminate that element of surprise. I used to have friends who overused "that's what she said" to the point of obnoxiousness (not hard to do), and this book reminded me of them.

The most incredible thing, however, about That's What She Said is that my wife let me read the first 100 pages -- more than half of the book -- aloud to her. She even laughed a few times.

BC2012: You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad News

If you have never browsed Cracked.com and read their amusing yet factual lists, you are missing out on one of the most entertaining sites online. Go ahead and check it out -- if you get hooked like I usually do, I'll see you back here in a couple of days. You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad News collects 40 of those lists into convenient book form. You'll be shocked to learn that I bought this from a closing Borders (Mount Prospect) last year.

The worst thing about this book is the title. Not only was the whole zombie thing way overdone by the time this book came out in January 2011, but also it refers to one of the least interesting lists in the book. Plus the sensational title undermines the factual content, which is enough of a challenge for the book and site to overcome with those of us who grew up knowing Cracked magazine as the second-rate competitor of Mad. I spent a fair amount of allowance and lawn mowing money on Cracked in the 1970s at the local drugstore (which wasn't a Walgreen's or a CVS!).

The most disappointing thing about this book is that it doesn't include the photos and captions that appear online, probably due to publishing permissions issues. There are some funny drawings that make up somewhat for their absence. Some of the lists are better than others, but all in all, You Might Be A Zombie and Other Bad News is an entertaining and even moderately educational book. In the "fascinating facts" genre, it is one of the funnier entries.

BC2012: How Did You Get This Number by Sloane Crosley

I liked Crosley's first book, I Was Told There'd Be Cake, so I didn't hesitate to grab this collection of personal essays when Borders in Lincoln Village (Chicago) closed.

The cover of How Did You Get This Number is, um, graced by an unfurled roll of Quilted Northern toilet paper. I assume that is because bathrooms feature prominently in one of the essays, but I can't help thinking a cover that looks like t.p. -- it's even textured -- suggests something about a possible use for the pages within.

You can do what you want, but I suggest you read the book first because it's pretty funny. It includes one of the best puns I've read in some time (and that's saying something considering how many puns are in Bill Maher's latest). Crosley writes about getting a phone call from Lauren, the longtime girlfriend of a man she was dating (he had told her that he and Lauren had broken up). Lauren had gone through the cheating guy's cell phone contacts while he was out picking up Chinese food and found her number.
When Ben returned home, dumplings in hand, Lauren confronted him. Dim and then some, he denied the whole thing.
That was one of many laugh-out-loud moments in this book, although there are some surprisingly touching and/or insightful passages as well.

 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

BC2012: A Viking Voyage by W. Hodding Carter

One night last year, I stopped in at the Oak Brook Borders just fifteen minutes before closing time. For some reason, I headed directly to the travel section and this book practically jumped off the shelf. I've read two books by W. Hodding Carter -- Westward Whoa, a modern recreation of the journey of Lewis & Clark, and Stolen Water, wherein the author figuratively and literally explores the Florida Everglades -- and enjoyed both. With Norwegian and Swedish family heritage, I have a natural interest in the Vikings and their adventures. So this book brings together an author I like and a subject that fascinates me. And best of all, although A Viking Voyage came out in 2000, I had no idea this book even existed before I saw it that night.

I started reading with high expectations, and A Viking Voyage did not disappoint. Carter starts with a crazy idea and makes it come true. He organizes an expedition to follow Leif Eriksson's suspected route from Greenland to Newfoundland. This book describes the whole process, from choosing a builder to construct an authentic Viking knarr to the crew's two attempts at making the journey. Carter writes with humility, awe, and of course the sense of humor that makes his books so enjoyable.

   

Saturday, May 26, 2012

BC2012: True Bloggywood Stories by Perez Hilton

Okay, I'll admit that this is trash. If I wasn't keeping score this year, I wouldn't bother to blog about it (heck, I probably wouldn't have finished it). Hilton's first book, Red Carpet Suicide, was better; it had some sort of general message (a sarcastic guide to how to be a celebrity). My wife got some laughs from that book, so I bought this follow-up at Half Price Books for $2. True Bloggywood Stories doesn't have a plot or a point. It's mostly catty, unfocused ranting and rambling.

If you like Hilton's blog (I don't read celebrity blogs), you might like True Bloggywood Stories. But even then, it's the sort of thing that's outdated by the time it's published. More than two years have passed since it came out, and now it's pretty irrelevant. After all, celebrity news is the most disposable news there is.

 

BC2012: The Hardest Working Man by James Sullivan

I'm embarrassed to say that I never got into James Brown. By the time I was a teenager, Brown was like a caricature of his former self, easily dismissed by a suburban white kid. What's incredible is that in my late 20s, I went through a funk phase -- especially George Clinton/Parliament/Funkadelic -- and I still didn't get into Brown. I also saw this book several times at reasonable prices but passed it by.

Last month I found The Hardest Working Man in the clearance section at Half Price Books in Highland Park for $2, and I finally bought it. Conveniently, the store also had a CD of his 20 greatest hits so I could really immerse myself in the man's life and music.

The book is a mixture of Brown's life story and the tale of his concert in Boston the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Blacks in many American cities rioted, but Brown's concert, which city leaders decided to broadcast on television, is credited for keeping the situation calm in Boston. Naturally, Sullivan writes a lot about Brown's relationship to the civil rights movement, including the classic song "Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud".

Brown is legendary, and I liked the book. But then I put in the CD. Damn! Of course I knew some of the songs already, but holy shit, Brown just blew me away.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

BC2012: Murder at the Conspiracy Convention by Paul Krassner

This is the Desert Solitaire of May, another book that I started reading long ago and finally finished. With the Chicago media constantly comparing the NATO protests to the 1968 Democratic National Convention, I felt it was time to revisit this collection by Yippie co-founder Krassner. It seems like it's been more than five years since I started it, but the Powell's sticker on the back suggests that I bought it on our trip to Oregon in 2007.

At 331 over-sized pages, Murder at the Conspiracy Convention is a long book that takes some time to read. I think that's why I put it down years ago (then my wife picked it up and I never got back to it). There is a lot of great stuff in these articles, though. Krassner has led an interesting life intertwined with counterculture icons including Lenny Bruce, Ken Kesey, Jerry Garcia, and of course, Abbie Hoffman. He's also funny, sometimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.

BC2012: How to Really Stink at Work by Jeff Foxworthy & Brian Hartt

I got a great deal on this "Guide to Making Yourself Fire-Proof While Having the Most Fun Possible" at Borders in Oak Brook. Originally $16, it cost me only $3.59 during the bankruptcy sale. Although How to Really Stink at Work is funny -- people should know by now that Foxworthy isn't a one-trick pony who only does redneck jokes -- I wouldn't have paid $16 for this book. There just isn't much meat to it. Even reading aloud, I buzzed through it pretty quickly.

The book is mostly aimed at office jobs, but my wife thought a lot of it applied just as well to her job as a police officer. It would probably make a good gift for a recent college graduate, if you happen to know one who has actually found a job.

"It just isn't the same without Ted!"

I can only imagine how crushed the members of Harvard's "Class of '62" are that Ted Kaczynski is not attending their 50th reunion.

I think it's hilarious that the Harvard Alumni Association published his alumni questionnaire responses in their directory without editorial restraint:
Awards: "Eight life sentences, issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, 1998."
Heck, it sounds more impressive than my entry would be. At least we are both published authors; his book is titled Technological Slavery: The Collected Writings of Theodore J. Kaczynski, a.k.a. 'The Unabomber.

Alas the association wimped out and apologized when the eccentric mathematician's entry drew undue attention: "We regret publishing Kaczynski's references to his convictions and apologize for any distress that it may have caused others." Distress? Who would be distressed by that information? I would expect most people to feel relief -- at least the guy isn't out on the streets!

I do not understand why this is such a big deal. A graduate is a graduate. You can't take that away from him (remember how your parents always told you to stay in school and get your degree because they can't take that away from you?), and you can't disown him or omit him or pretend he never existed just because he later did something you find offensive. I suspect this is really about some snooty Harvard grads who still can't accept that one of their own turned out bad. For those who can't get enough of this tempest in a teapot, there's more here and here.

Reporting Without Thinking

This is National Dog Bite Prevention Week, so the U.S. Postal Service put out a list of cities with the greatest number of dog attacks on mail carriers. The Chicago Tribune picked up the story and apparently couldn't be bothered to do ten seconds of critical thinking before blurting out "Postal Service ranks Chicago high for dog attacks." My first thought was, No wonder our mail carrier always jumps back when we open the door. But that isn't the real story at all.
There were 30 dog attacks on postal workers last year in Chicago. That puts Chicago at No. 11, tied with Philadelphia. Los Angeles topped the list with 83 dog attacks on postal employees last year.
Notice that the article is about the total number of attacks per city rather than, say, attacks per postal customer or per capita. Chicago is the third most populous city in the United States. If Chicago is ranked eleventh, that means there many cities with fewer people that had a higher number of attacks. I found a complete list of the "top 25" (actually there are 43 cities listed*). Here is part of the list:

Ranking
City/Location
Attacks
1
Los Angeles, CA
83
2
San Diego, CA
68
3
Houston, TX
47
4
Cleveland, OH
44
5
Dallas, TX
41
6
San Antonio, TX
39
7
Phoenix, AZ
36
8
Denver, CO, and Sacramento, CA
35 each
9
Minneapolis, MN, and St. Louis, MO
32 each
10
Louisville, KY
31
11
Chicago, IL, and Philadelphia, PA
30 each
12
Seattle, WA
28
In fact, there are twelve cities ahead of Chicago, and all but one are smaller, some of them significantly so. Chicago has about 2.7 million people, while cities like Cleveland, Minneapolis, and St. Louis come in under 400,000. In other words, Chicago is actually a pretty safe place for mail carriers!

Note: I'd like to show you bites per capita, but I'm not very good with tables in Blogger (the only reason I used the table above is because I copy/pasted from another site). Here is a list of U.S. cities ranked by population.


* Normally, if two cities tie for second place, one would expect the next city to be ranked fourth. But on this list, the next city would be third. Because the numbers of attacks are relatively low to begin with, there are a lot of ties, resulting in a lot more than 25 cities represented on the list.

BC2012: The New New Rules by Bill Maher

My wife and I love Bill Maher so when I saw his latest book in paperback at The Book Cellar, I couldn't resist. Then I managed to keep it hidden from my wife until we had finished Obsolete. Needless to say, we both enjoyed The New New Rules. Much of the book's material originated on Real Time with Bill Maher, but since we don't have cable, it was all new to us. My only problem was Maher's use of puns as titles: "Hell Sinky", "Mourning in America", "Slay Belle", and many more. Reading aloud, I had to spell them out so my wife would understand them. And spelling out a pun, like explaining a joke, sucks out most of its humor.

Speaking of New Rules, I am adding a New Rule to Book Challenge 2012: to purchase at least one book per month from The Book Cellar, my local independent bookstore. That contradicts the goal of buying fewer books, but it furthers the goal of supporting local businesses. Such a dilemma! Fortunately, several of months of good behavior book shopping-wise have made me confident that I can follow my New Rule without putting Book Challenge 2012 in jeopardy. Heck, this month I even bought two books locally.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BC2012: Obsolete by Anna Jane Grossman

My wife was sick for a few days last week, so I read several books to her. This one, another Borders bankruptcy purchase, made us both feel old. Obsolete is "An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By." Many entries are short and humorous, but some get a deeper examination. Grossman actually did research and interviews unlike some other authors in the "remember when..." sub-genre (not thinking of anyone in particular, but I've seen similar books that seem like the author just farted them out).

What is most amazing is how recently and completely many of these things have disappeared. Airport goodbyes vanished in the wake of 9/11 -- now a quick curbside peck is all we are allowed before security shoos us away. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone refer to shorthand, though it was a commonly taught secretarial skill when I was a kid (heck, even typing has transformed into keyboarding). And what about Rolodexes and boom boxes?

A book like this could be overly nostalgic -- "things were better back in my day" -- but Obsolete includes plenty of entries are not. I'm sure few people yearn for long appendectomy scars or tonsillectomies, no matter how much ice cream the latter merited.

We both enjoyed Obsolete, though it could have been a bit longer. It would make a great birthday gift for someone turning 40, 50, 60, etc. -- everyone would laugh when it was opened, but the recipient would enjoy reading it afterward (much more useful than, say, a walking cane with a horn and mirror).

Sunday, May 20, 2012

BC2012: Dog Tips from Dogtown: A Relationship Manual for You and Your Dog

I bought this book during the first round of Borders bankruptcy closings last year. Dog Tips from Dogtown was inspired by a TV series about the dogs at Best Friends Animal Society, and it was written by their trainers along with Michael S. Sweeney.

I know there was nothing we could have done to prevent Ginger and Gracie's deaths earlier this year. Ginger was an old dog with uncontrollable seizures and a likely brain tumor, and Gracie was genetically cursed to develop an incurable bone cancer. Even though I know rationally that their deaths weren't my fault, I still feel some guilt. I feel like I could have been a better parent to them, particularly Gracie (I had assumed we'd have plenty of time together when I could make it up to her -- as it was, she may have been bemused by my constant devotion during her final days). That's what led me to buy several dog books in March and eventually to start reading Dog Tips from Dogtown toward the end of last month (if you're wondering why I chose to read this book instead of my recent purchases, I really don't know). My wife's desire to get another dog ASAP was also a factor. I want to be ready to deal with whatever training and care our next dog needs.

I thought enough time had passed that I could read a dog book with dry eyes, but I was wrong. I made it through the early chapters about picking out a dog, but the chapter about training brought back too many memories of the trials we had with Gracie when we first got her (we had a private trainer who used techniques similar to those described in the book). If that hadn't done it, the photo of the Catahoula mix named Little Girl on page 204 would have.

I haven't read any similar books for comparison (though I like to think I know something about the subject since I've had dogs most of my life), but Dog Tips from Dogtown seems reasonably thorough without being overwhelming. It's easy to read and it's filled with useful tips from people who have dealt with a variety of dogs. For those who prefer CliffsNotes, the Epilogue provides a nice recap of the most important points.

Monday, May 14, 2012

BC2012: Lighting Up by Susan Shapiro

This book has one of the longest subtitles I've ever seen: "How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex." I bought it last Thanksgiving weekend at Half Price Books in the Kansas City area, as evidenced by an address label on the inside front cover from former owner Nancy H. of Shawnee Mission, KS. Ms. H. also left behind a "Novel Scents" bookmark that apparently is supposed to smell like fresh orange but now just smells like old paper.

There are roughly two billion addiction memoirs scattered among America's bookstores, and I usually try to avoid them. But the wordy subtitle caught my eye, and sampling a few pages of Shapiro's writing had me chuckling in the aisle.

What made me choose to read this book at this time? Blame those TV commercials for the NicoDerm CQ, the ones with the miniature band singing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Seriously!

Lighting Up is pretty funny, but it gets pretty weird, too. While Shapiro sheds her bad habits, she becomes addicted to her therapist. And the more therapy she has, the more she acts like a therapist toward others, including her own therapist, quizzing people and drawing conclusions about their psyches and their addictions.What's crazier than dropping $175/hour for therapy? Dropping $175/hour to ask your therapist questions about his personal life!

 

Saturday, May 12, 2012

BC2012: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane by John Amato and David Neiwert

This is another one I picked up from Borders when they went out of business. In many ways, Over the Cliff is the book that John Avlon's Wingnuts could have been, had he abandoned the ridiculous premise that the far left is anything like the far right, as if Keith Olbermann has had anywhere near the popularity and influence of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. Over the Cliff devotes many pages to Beck and the Teabaggers, as well as the resurgence of the radical right wing groups (militias, American Nazis, Operation Rescue, and the like) that had quieted down somewhat after President Clinton left office.

Amato and Neiwert, the founder and managing editor respectively of the Crooks & Liars blog, are the ideal authors of a book like this because their site has been documenting the nuttiness of the right-wing media for many years. Like me, they are especially amused and perplexed by the way Beck and others call Obama a fascist and a communist -- often in the same sentence -- despite those being at opposite ends of the political spectrum! They also discuss the fake outrage that the right-wing media conjure through deliberate misinterpretation. For example, when the Missouri State Police issued a document warning their officers about the threat of violence from far-right activists, commentators on FoxNews claimed that the government was declaring war on conservatives (ironically, whenever a far-right person flips out and commits crimes, the greater right-wing media disassociate themselves from that person).

The authors reiterate an important point about the media that Daniel Gardner covered in depth in The Science of Fear: they love stories that fit into a larger narrative. This drives them to over-cover stories that fit and under-report or completely ignore those that do not. Gardner gave school shootings as an example. In the wake of Jonesboro and later Columbine, it seemed like every time a kid brought a weapon to school it was big news (in fact, such incidents were actually occurring less often, so the media coverage misled the public to think the opposite of what was really happening). Amato and Neiwert attribute the media's under-reporting of right-wing domestic terrorism to this phenomenon -- the larger narrative in the early 21st century has been Islamic terrorism, so domestic terrorists are ignored or brushed aside as lone nuts.

I enjoyed Over the Cliff and found it worthwhile. At the same time, however, it reminded me of all the bullshit we're going to be hearing this summer and fall approaching the election. That makes me want to bury my head in the sand until November.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ten Years After

It's hard to believe that Sunday will be the 10th anniversary of the day I dipped my Co-Motion Americano's front wheel into the Pacific Ocean in Morro Bay, CA, completing a 3,055-mile, 75-day solo cross-country bicycle trip.

To mark the occasion, WTTW (Channel 11) will debut a new series on Saturday at 11 AM called Pedal America (read about it here). Unfortunately I won't be home to watch it, and it looks like each episode will only be shown once. But I appreciate the thought just the same.

I was going to launch into some sort of analysis of my life then and now, but no one really wants to read about that anyway. Let's just say I'm glad I did it then because I lack the nerve and resolve (not to mention fitness, although that would come within a few weeks) to do it now.

UPDATE 05/12/2012 - Hey, it turns out I will be home to watch it. Cool.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Upcoming NCIS Season Finale

This is it, the episode we've all been waiting for, at least since Jamie Lee Curtis began her guest stint as Dr. Ryan. In the last episode of the season, she will finally confront Gibbs about his regularity: "Jethro, have you tried Activia?"

Even the usually curious very special agent Tony DiNozzo will be horrified by this turn of events, and he'll stop conjecturing with Ziva about Dr. Ryan and Gibbs' relationship ("Is there a bounce in his step?" "No, it's just gas"). Abby will perform a chemical analysis of Gibbs' diet, and McGee will hack into Dannon's computer system (why? who knows? that's just what he does). Palmer, suffering from intense pre-wedding anxiety, will be running for the bathroom every ten minutes. Meanwhile, Ducky will launch into a lengthy story about the time he performed an autopsy on a man "whose bowels were packed tighter than Japanese businessmen in a Tokyo subway car."

C'mon NCIS fans, you had to see this coming. For years, Gibbs and his team have been referring to his legendary "gut."

Saturday, May 05, 2012

BC2012: Rickles' Book by Don Rickles with David Ritz

After watching Rickles on David Letterman's show Monday night, I dug up this memoir I bought during the Borders bankruptcy sale. Seeing him on TV turned out to be the perfect lead-in to reading his book. The chapters are very short, two to five pages, and each reads just like Rickles telling a story on a talk show. I can't imagine co-author Ritz had to do much work aside from writing it down and putting it in chronological order because it all sounds just like Rickles speaks.

This is a book about old-time Las Vegas and Hollywood. Rickles tells stories about Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart, and many other entertainers. He also writes about his family, including his mother's role in getting Sinatra to come to his show in Miami (his opening line when Frank walked in: "Make yourself comfortable, Frank, hit somebody!").

Rickles' comedic style isn't for everyone, although it's pretty mild by modern standards. He's an insult-slinging smart-ass, but he's not Lisa Lampanelli or Andrew "Dice" Clay. Surely everyone has seen Rickles on TV at some point by now anyway (if not, search YouTube). Anyone who enjoys those appearances should like this book.

Friday, May 04, 2012

Pet Peeve

Damn it, Monti's, I really wanted you to be perfect. Sure, your Philly cheesesteaks are a bit pricey, but you cram more meat and more cheese into them than other places, plus you use authentic Amoroso rolls. And unlike those weenies at Philly's Best, you know which cola is the best. You also have table service, unlike PB where I have to listen for my number and go fetch. Besides, the cost is offset by the $2.50 I save by not taking the L.

My sandwich was excellent. I even ordered it wit' onions for authenticity's sake (I usually get mine without), and it was still excellent. The provolone was great, and I'm anxious to try the smoked cheddar. The fries weren't my fave (I was forewarned about the celery salt and should have known better), but I usually skip the fries anyway. Or I can load them up with your pizza toppings, a great option that PB should offer (PB's cheese fries are pretty awesome, though).

The server was friendly and attentive, right up until I paid my bill. And then... nothing. I finished my Coke as I was reading, but no one offered a refill. I saw my server with her purse slung over her shoulder, so I assume she was leaving and it wasn't really her fault. But they weren't closing for the evening, and there were several other staff members around the bar 15 feet away. There was only one other patron, so it wasn't like they were busy. I sipped water as my ice cubes melted. I placed my glass in plain view and tried to make eye contact with a server. But I was invisible.

I hate it when restaurants ignore you as soon as you've paid your bill. I understand if they're busy and they want to gently persuade you not to linger so they can turn over the table. But when the place is nearly empty, why ignore your customers?

Anyway, the food at Monti's was so good that I'm willing to give them a second chance. But this time when they bring the check, I'll just let the damn thing sit there gathering dust until I've had all I care to drink!

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

April - BC2012 and Other Goals

Another month has passed already. I still think about Gracie and Ginger a lot, but this month was definitely better than last. The worst is over. Now maybe we'll see some action on more of these goals besides BC2012.

1. Book Challenge 2012: It was an awesome month for the Book Challenge. I read ten books, right on target, and several were very good. I even managed to write about all of them by the end of the month without fudging the time stamps to squeeze them in before midnight (you didn't really think I whipped out half a dozen reviews in less than 20 minutes at the end of March, did you? Unlike some bloggers, I actually proofread my entries before posting). But what's really incredible is the purchase total -- I only bought one book all month! I'm starting to build up a respectable ratio of finished to purchased, which was another of my goals. April totals: 10 books finished, 1 book purchased. Overall totals: 39 books finished, 20 books purchased.

2. Cut down on e-mail: Not only haven't I cancelled anything lately, but my inbox is out of control. Last month I lamented that I had 100 unread messages; now it's pushing 300. Yikes.

3. Drive less: This one is still going well. Aside from Easter, I stayed within five miles of home.

4. Physical activity: It was a dud of a month for this. The weather wasn't nearly as nice as last month although my mood was better. I walked 2-3 miles a couple of times early in the month, but that's about all. Spring should come for real in May.

5. Drink more: I finished off the Moldovan vodka and started on the French vodka, but I'm getting tired of vodka. Regardless, I had a great vodka drink at the Pony Inn -- it was like a screwdriver plus orange soda. Yum! I also finished off Grandpa's bottle of Cutty Sark. But don't worry; between the Chivas Regal and the Absolut, Grandpa's spirits will be around for a long time.

6. Dine and shop locally: Not bad. I bought groceries at Gene's Sausage Shop instead of driving to Jewel, and most of the meals I ate out were local. I also learned of a new restaurant called Monti's serving Philly cheesesteaks only a few blocks away, but I haven't tried it yet. I used to go to Philly's Best on Belmont until those bastards swapped out the Coke fountain for Pepsi. Monti's serves Coke.

7. Clean and declutter: I didn't accomplish much, but at least it didn't get worse. I moved a few things from the kitchen to the attic.

8. Enhance and expand my web presence: No progress.

9. Figure out my professional future: Nothing here either.

10. Floss regularly: I nailed this one. I don't think I missed any days in April.