Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Verdict on Atlanta Drivers

From my point of view, Atlanta drivers are worse than Sicilians. There are several reasons: they are rude, angry, dangerous, and there are too many of them. While it is true that driving in Sicily is crazy, it makes more sense than it does here.

In Sicily, there are not six or more jam-packed lanes of giant SUVs and 18-wheeler semis all going 70-80 MPH right through the middle of the city while jockeying for position (lane to lane to lane) with total disregard for anyone else. It is more random and unpredictable than Sicily, where everyone did follow the (unwritten) rules!

Cell phones . . . it is legal to talk on your cellphone while driving (or attempting to) in Georgia. NOT a good idea. They are also texting, eating, drinking coffee, smoking, and changing channels. You get the picture?

The worst thing, though, is that the drivers here do not slow down or even pretend to see you if you are making a turn or anything in front of them. In Sicily, when other drivers saw you doing that (and they were paying attention!), they would slow down, swerve, or whatever, to allow you to make your move. I have to exit my condo complex onto a very busy four-lane street. Every time I do, I take my life in my hands and my heart rate goes up (and probably my blood pressure). A car might be a block away and, of course, he/she sees me turning onto the road, but they do not slow down or indicate in any way that they see me. They appear to be bearing down on me and willing to hit me rather than slow down! In fact, I have already been hit one time because of this. The other driver clearly saw me turning across traffic but did not even attempt to slow down, but rather plowed into my right rear fender without even slowing down! And it was my fault for "failure to yield!"

So, in spite of my Sicilian driving skills, I'm going to have to re-program myself here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Taste of Germany!

No, it wasn't a German restaurant or a fake Oktoberfest, it was simply a trip to ALDI'S! It brought me back instantly to Heidelberg, Bad Aibling, and Rosenheim! Just like Germany, you have to put a quarter in the shopping basket to unlock it from the others and use it. When you are done shopping, you have an incentive to put it back, because you get your quarter back. (That costs a euro or 50 euro cents in Europe.)

Roll it into the store and there are the same aisles stacked with products in boxes with their prices displayed above. They had a lot of German (and some Italian) products: wafer cookies, white asparagus in a jar, German beer, wine, bratwurst, spaezle noodles, sauerkraut, candy bars, gummi bears, and a million cheap, off-brand products along with a few name-brand ones. I hadn't come with anything in mind, but I left with $45 worth of great stuff, all much cheaper than the big-name super markets like Publix and Kroger.

One lady in the store said, "Look at how cheap these frozen chicken wings are! They are twice that price in Publix!" I agreed with her! So is the Swiss cheese, the yogurt, nuts, rice, fish, and ham! It's out of the way, but it's worth it to go there once in a while.

Just like Germany, you bag or box your own groceries as the clerk puts them directly back in your basket. Once major difference, though: the American checkout clerks are at least twice as fast as the Germans, many three times. Anyone who has been in a German supermarket knows what I mean by this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

High and Dry

There has been record-breaking rainfall here in Atlanta over the past eight days. In case you were wondering how MUCH rain we got, here are some of the community totals. The one I live closest to is Chamblee, just a few miles away. All the rest are in and around Atlanta. And it's not over yet! (See residential area above and Six Flags over Georgia below)

The National Weather Service has released some rainfall totals measured at selected measuring sites for the 8-day period ending at 8 a.m. Tuesday:

Canton -- 17.14 inches
Doraville -- 13.88 inches
Chamblee -- 13.19 inches
Lafayette -- 12.73 inches
Sautee -- 11.47 inches
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport -- 11.23 inches
Dallas -- 11.09 inches
Gainesville -- 10.27 inches
Cartersville -- 7.59
Macon -- 9.46 inches
Athens -- 8.72 inches

A friend of mine sent me this on Monday morning: "I was flooded out of my home this morning at 4 am. I had literally 5 minutes from the time the water got to the corner of my house until it was gushing up thru the floor vents. I tried to make it to my truck, but it was flooded too, the door wouldn't even open. It was totally submerged so fast, and I was up to my chest. If my (dog) hadn't been on her leash, she would have been swept away. We went back into the house and into the attic. A few minutes later my wonderful neighbor Barry showed up. The fire dept. even came and asked if I needed to leave. Barry sat in the attic with me until the water receded . . . " Computer, phone, cellphone, everything was ruined, including the vehicle. Later she found out that the rain had swept a doghouse and other large debris into the culvert, which then backed up the creek and caused the flood.

I happen to live in a high and dry area (plus I'm upstairs), so I have luckily not had any problems or damage. The schools are all closed today. (See Clarkdale Elementary above) The mothers were all at the club/gym, complaining about their kids being home. Of course, it's beautiful out and the sun is shining! Many places are still underwater, though, and many people are without homes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Personal trainer/torturer

On Wednesday, I had my first personal training session with a very, very nice young man named Robert at the club I joined. He is twenty-five, a grad student, and fit as you can imagine. He is also very personable! So, what did we do? We talked about goals and he talked about the importance of strengthening "your core." That's an important concept in physical training, and I got to wondering why they call it that instead of "torso," which it is. I keep thinking of an apple with the word "core." Apparently, though, all good things come from strengthening this part of your anatomy, so that's what we are working on (or I am).

We started with a little five-minute warmup on the elliptical, which I had seen but never used. It looked and seemed really easy, easier than running, but that turned out to be an illusion. I could hardly do five minutes, because it was killing my quads. When I finally did finish, I could hardly walk. My legs were jello, rubbery jello. I'm sure Robert wondered what took me so long to catch up with him, but I feigned some excuse.

Next we did static exercises, those you pose and hold, like a pushup, a bridge, and another on the side. Again, they look easy, but just try holding them for 45 seconds or so! I immediately began to sweat and drip onto the mat, but Robert assured me that was why they people to clean up after me. All of that takes time, with repetitions, rests between sets, and instruction on form over and over. From there we went on to squats (a very unnatural movement, I must say, until I made the connection between them and peeing in Sicily where there are no toilet seats) and then modified pushups. We ended with a few stretches.

So, I felt pretty good after all of that, and I felt like I really did something. But it wasn't until the day after, and the day after that, today, that the magnitude of it really hit me hard, in the quads. I can still hardly go up and down steps, sit down, stand up from sitting down, or much of anything else. It was all I could do to walk to the mailbox and back, and I forced myself. He wasn't kidding when he said to wait about a hundred hours before doing this again. That's another two days . . . we shall see if I can do anything by then.

Luckily, I don't see Robert until late in the week next week, so I hope to be fully healed by then and ready for more torture . . . er, training, I mean.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where is our social conscience?

Seems like every day in the news someone is outrageously angry or rude. You've got the Congressman calling the President a liar, a tennis star berating and threatening a line judge, a rap star taking the mike away from an award winner and basically saying someone else should have won, a guy slapping someone's toddler for crying in the store, and on and on. Kathie Lee and Hoda on TODAY have been talking about rudeness and anger on every show, and today, even Dr. Phil had something to say about it.

So, is it the economy? The American Bill of Rights (free speech, right to bear arms, etc.)? A release of pent-up anger from the previous eight years? A feeling of helplessness? Poor upbringing? Lack of empathy? Narcissistic Personality Disorder? Too many ads for prescription drugs on television? Too many reality shows? Too many iPods? Too much of a sense of entitlement? I have no idea, but I will keep an eye on this disturbing trend.

Along those lines, I find the popularity of reality shows that are constantly kicking somebody off also disturbing. Whether it be a singer, a fat person, a chef, a designer, a remodeler, a model, or a Japanese game show contestant, these shows thrive on "Who is going to be ELIMINATED?" They all had to work hard to get there, work hard to stay there, and it seems really cruel to kick them off and then film the horror and sadness on their faces. A person weighing over 300 lbs. should NOT have to "leave the ranch" after only week because he/she did not lose the most weight that week!

On one reality show, there are three men and three women. They have to conduct their entire "getting to know each other" in complete darkness, so they cannot be at all swayed by looks. In the end, all three girls wanted one guy, so he got to meet them "in the light of day." He chose the one he wanted to date, but she did not like him after seeing him, so they both went home empty-handed. Isn't that sweet?

Worst of all is when they make the other contestants "vote someone off." How awful is that? ("Uh, we're all in this together but someone has to go, and it's not going to be me!") On one show, this random group of young people are living in a house together and they make alliances to get rid of someone each week. It's the most cutthroat, horrible show I can imagine.

Wait, there is one worse: "More to Love," a show about twenty overweight women and one large guy whom they all want to date and eventually marry. The very first week, half of them are sent home after a "group date." And these are particularly pathetic women with the "I never had a date in my life" story, even though all are very pretty.

What are we teaching our young people? That it's okay to treat others like this? Where is our social conscience?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Doctor, doctor!

Today I paid my first visit to a regular American civilian doctor. Well, actually, he is a Russian, but he's lived and practiced in the States for a long time, and he was my doctor in 2001-02 when I lived here. I gave him a bottle of Sicilian wine and he told me that you should drink half a bottle of wine every day to increase your life span 10-15 years. OKAY! You gotta like a doctor like that.

I prepared for my visit by writing down the current prescriptions I have from my Navy doctors in Sigonella. This last year, in particular, I felt I had really good doctors and good care. So, this doctor, Dr. Gorachov, looks at the list and says, " Okay, okay, okay, I have no problem with any of these. They are all old treatments, but if they work for you, you can stay with them."

I asked him what he meant by old. He elaborated by telling me that these were all very old drugs, rarely prescribed anymore because they have replaced by newer ones. I became slightly alarmed and explained that it was a military hospital and they probably had a very small pharmacy and selection of drugs.

"But this one," he said, "is too strong. You shouldn't take it this strong or very long. It can ruin your liver." Oh, great! But hopefully the wine will not.

Besides the chat, weigh-in, blood pressure, and lung check, I had an EKG, urine sample, and blood sample taken. I left with a fistful of prescriptions, a free sample of something, orders for two more (routine) tests, and the offer of a flu shot (I passed). My co-pay was twenty dollars. No checks, only cash or credit card. The two assistants who worked with me were from Moldova and Uzbekistan. That's why I love this place.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Ever wonder where that granite countertop came from?

It might be Elberton, Georgia, the self-proclaimed "Granite Capital of the World." I'm not sure if it's more or less famous than the Georgia Guidestones, but you pretty much have to go through it to get to them.

It is a pretty little country town, with just about anything you can think of made out of granite, including the high school football stadium (The Granite Bowl) which remind me of the Greek and Roman ampitheaters of Italy with its stone seating. There are over forty quarries and 150 finishing plants in this little town of under 5,000 people.

It has a lovely town square with the obligatory Confederate soldier monument. The original one, though, had been torn down and buried because the sculptor unknowingly put a Union uniform on it! In fact, it was the commissioning of this very first dubious sculpture that began the quarrying of granite in Elberton in 1898.

There is a granite museum, but, unfortunately, it was not open the day we were there, much to our disappointment. We only got to see a few items on the outside. I was amused by the frequent appearance of the name Oglesby, which also happens to be the town I grew up in in Illinois. Apparently, this was a family name of some influential quarry owners in Elberton as well as a governor of Illinois.

The Top Dawg, "Best Hot Dog Around The Rock Pile," where we wanted to eat lunch, was also closed. It seemed a lot was closed, maybe because it was Labor Day weekend (but it was Saturday!)? We also were unsuccesful in finding even ONE quarry! With forty around, you'd think . . . and we even asked. We did find this Lucy & Desi tombstone, though, made of Elberton granite!

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's curtains for me!

I bought these cute little kitchen curtains in Rosenheim, Germany, over Memorial Day weekend. I particularly wanted the short ones like this because the window has such a great green view with no direct sun and I plan to have breakfast at my Sicilian lava table (also shown) underneath my Sicilian ceramic clock (above). I do need a couple of chairs, though. Still on the lookout.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

My New Athletic Club

Just last week I was bemoaning the cost of the YMCA for winter swimming. I started to think, if I have to pay that much, why not get something closer and nicer, if affordable? I contacted a facility I had driven by a thousand times, just minutes from my house, and they emailed me immediately with an invitation to come in and talk to them, see the facility, etc.

The Athletic Club Northeast is the place. I was met and toured around by a very nice young man and couldn't help but be impressed with the place--immaculately clean, well-equipped, well-staffed, and loaded with classes, groups, instructors, and amenities that I can choose from if I so desire. Most importantly for me, I can swim laps whenever I want!

For just a few dollars more than the Y, I got enrollment and a monthly fee that was discounted for me based on my teaching career and association with the military. I pay automatically by the month and can cancel at any time. He even gave me some guest passes and a complimentary free massage as well as a free swimming "lesson" to assess my style. Wow! I also got five sessions with a trainer for overall fitness. If this is anywhere as good as I think it will be, I'm going to be one happy camper!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Elbert County "Stonehenge"

You see the strangest things in the middle of nowhere.

Recently, I met my daughter Shana in Elberton, Georgia, to see the famed Georgia Guidestones, or so-called "Stonehenge" of Elbert County. It was equidistant from Augusta and Atlanta, so a perfect place for an American outing.

The Guidestones, it turns out, are quite controversial. Located in the middle of farmfield, seven miles north of town, they consist of five 16-foot upright granite slabs, one in the middle (20,957 lbs.) and four radiating like spokes (42,437 lbs. each), and a capstone. They are arranged in a circle, like Stonehenge. Different slots and holes in the stones mark various celestial events like solstices and so on.

Unlike Stonehenge, however, the four upright spoke-slabs, "Guides to the Age of Reason," are etched in four-inch letters in English, Spanish, Russian, Hebrew, Hindi, Chinese, and Swahili with ten messages to guide mankind, like "Balance personal rights and social duties," "Prize truth, beauty, love, seeking harmony with the infinite," "Be not a cancer on the earth, leave room for nature," and "Let all nations rule internally, resolving external disputes in a world court." You can see them all HERE.

The capstone says, "Let these be Guidestones to an Age of Reason" in Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Babylonian cuneiform, and classical Greek. Hmmm.

Unlike Stonehenge, also, these are not at all old. They were dedicated in 1980. An anonymous person, calling him/herself R.C. Christian, commissioned them to be built here, close to the Granite Capital of the World, Elberton, and at the highest point in the county. No one has been able to discover the builder(s) of the Guidestones.

Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of vandalism/graffitti on the stones. Most of it seems to be done by Christians calling for God to destroy the monument, some by other calling for the destruction of the Christians. And the English slab has some brown sticky stuff thrown all over it. Too bad. This reminds me of the Egyptian temples, like Karnak, with the huge carven pillars. There, too, Christians had defaced the monuments by destroying the faces, feet, and hands of the figures. Some things never change.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

All You Can Eat Shrimp

It was my lucky day because my friends Catherine and Donna invited me to go with them to Red Lobster for Donna's birthday and All You Can Eat Shrimp! This only happens for a short period once a year, but we're all about making it an annual event. Donna and I had the shrimp, shrimp, shrimp, and shrimp, and more shrimp. You could choose from Teriyaki Grilled, Cajun, Coconut, Battered and Fried, and Garlic Scampi. You start with any two and then they bring you more of any kinds you want. We did pretty well--five orders all together for each of us! I amazed myself. The Coconut Fried Shrimp were my favorites. A little vino, Caesar salad, rice, and BASTA! All of this for $16. America is great.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Flu shots on sale

It is amusing to me to see advertisements for flu shots. The first one I saw was alongside the road, just like the yard sales and handyman for rent signs in the yards. "Flu shots $25," it read. For some reason, that struck me as funny. Then I saw the marquee at Walgreen's "$24.99 Flu Shots Here." I wonder if you have to pay tax on that?

Swine flu is taking down the college kids in droves. Emory has them quarantined in a dorm that they had planned to tear down. Georgia Tech has lots of cases. It's always on the news. And some other college had to cancel their football game this weekend because too many players were down with it!

I will take my chances. I don't think I can get the shot, because I have some allergy to raw eggs which are somehow related to the shots. Or they used to be. And my Uncle Pete got a flu shot one morning and dropped dead in the afternoon, right after lunch, in his garden. You think that was a coincidence? I don't. I'm not getting any shots for the flu, sale or not.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger!

Remember that skit from the early days of Saturday Night Live? Although I haven't succumbed yet, the temptation is great. Cheeseburgers are on sale everywhere in America. The ads surround me--in the paper, on TV, on billboards, on the marquees of the fast-food joints themselves.

Part of this is due to the economic downturn. Many businesses are offering more food for less and touting the "Live good, save money" mantra. Two entrees and an appetizer for twenty bucks at Applebee's. Fourteen choices under four dollars at Steak and Shake. Or is that Waffle House? Unlimited shrimp at Red Lobster. But cheeseburgers are everywhere and really cheap.

Five little Krystals, one side, and a drink for five bucks! Two double cheeseburgers for three bucks at Checkers! One dollar cheeseburgers at Burger King and McDonald's! I'm being bombarded by cheeseburgers, and they are looking better and better. I don't care about gourmet burgers or giant burgers; a good old regular fast-food cheeseburger will do. Soon, very soon.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Y is that expensive?

Okay, I have to "get into" this blog and get over the fact that my life is pretty mundane right now. I'm going to try and treat it like I treated Sicily when I was new there. And in some ways, it's a good comparison. I want to get this going and write regularly, whether it's "worthy" or not. Worthy of what? Living for the moment and observation are more important.

The weather has already, unbelievably, turned cool, and my thoughts are turning to "Where in the heck am I going to swim when it's cold?" Swimming is really good; it has done wonders for my bursitis and sciatica. So, I thought (like an American) . . . the YMCA! So, in Googling it, I found at least three fairly close locations. Every one has a pool and lap swimming--perfect. So, I looked at the membership price structure and was shocked. I guess I thought the Y was cheap, something like the old Dickinson House in Oglesby, IL when I was growing up. But no . . . it would $115 to join and $50/ month membership. For a retiree on a fixed income, that seems a bit high! I don't know if I'd qualify for the free "family member of a military member" classification, but it's worth a try. At least I can try out the local Y for seven days for free and see if I like it. Stay tuned.