Thursday, July 30, 2009

Best Exercise Device. EVER.

A few days ago, I was between exercises at the gym when I heard one girl tell another girl in passing, "I wish I had arms like yours."

The second girl said, "Thanks!" and continued with her routine. The first girl may not have known this, but the second girl is a personal trainer. At the time she was approached, she was targeting her triceps with a rather formidable dumbbell. She was really straining and struggling to finish, her last repetition a real challenge.

A couple minutes later, I saw the first girl finishing a set on the chest press machine. Her last repetition was as easy as the ones before it. She was using the absolute minimum weight possible. In other words, she was coasting. She wasn't pushing herself in the slightest, which is kinda the point of working out.

My first thought was: she'll never have the arms she wished for.

But now, I realize the error of my ways.

Behold...the Shake Weight.

Ladies, it's time to work out.

"Dynamic Inertia" never looked so sexy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Friday: Wine + The Grand Marquis - Holy-Field Winery

This Friday night from 6:30-9:30, Holy-Field Winery in Basehor (less than 10 minutes from the Speedway) is hosting the final installment of their summer jazz series with special guests The Grand Marquis!

Where else can you gather, drink wine and listen to a great a vineyard? It should be a great summer night--current forecast for Friday is 83º/63º and sunny.

Who: Everyone
What: Live Music - Grand Marquis
Where: Holyfield Winery
When: July 31 (Friday) 6:30 - 9:30 pm
Why: Because Summer is running out and we need to enjoy it!
The Skinny: You pay $5 entry fee which covers your wine tasting, buy the bottle you like (bottles run about $10-$20), and head outside to the vineyard where they have tables set with ice buckets to chill your wine. However, the tables tend to fill so you will want to bring a travel chair in case we need to make our own space. Sunglasses are a good idea too.
They have catered BBQ with hearty plates for sale, but the line tends to get long so feel free to bring your own picnic. It's kid-friendly, they will have a great time running around the vineyard playing with the other children.

HOLY-FIELD Vineyard & Winery
18807 158th Street
Basehor, Kansas 66007

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ads for Days

Think about this—in your lifetime, how much marketing and advertising have you had to absorb?

It’s a constant fog; the signs, logos, colors, and slogans create visual white noise EVERYWHERE.

We’ve all learned to accept a certain level of invasion by these ads. My computer monitor says “Dell” at the bottom. An email from a vendor ends with his company’s logo and slogan in his autosignature. It’s rare that I will look at one of these more innocuous placements and think, “I really don’t like this company”, or “I would never buy something from them”.

Make a bad decision in your TV ad, however, and you might lose me for life. Here’s my current list, compiled from a couple hours of TV watching this weekend.

1. Most car dealerships. Yeah, it’s cliché, but I have to seriously ask: what in the HELL makes you think your commercial makes me want to buy a car? Your low budget, poorly-sung jingles (Bob Sight Independence Kia…no BS!)? Your claims that you sell more Fords than anyone in town (why does that matter to me)? Your cocky, douchey salesperson in the commercial who is the vinegar-scented embodiment of why everyone hates shopping for a car?

2. Homestead Financial. Yep, 800-Granny-8. My grandmother is not old enough to sound like that crabby broad, but she is not on the list of people I would ask for mortgage advice. Why? She hasn’t shopped for one in nearly 40 years. But that’s beside the point. I’m convinced that the company requested a toll free number, got something random, then looked at their phone to see what they could spell. Once they came up with “Granny”, they decided that would be their whole marketing campaign.
3. Hanes (at least their underwear). They are currently running ads with Michael Jordan and…Charlie Sheen at a country club discussing boxer briefs. The problem? I associate Charlie Sheen with syphilis and therefore don’t want to associate my underwear with his chancres.

4. Nikon. Would anyone buy anything from Ashton Kutcher? I mean, really?

5. Okay, this has more to do with my disappointment in Ben Stein for stooping to this level. He’s an economist who has a personal finance column. I respect the majority of what he has to say. But this is just a cash grab. FreeScore is another in the line of “free” credit report websites. The catch? You have to sign up for monthly monitoring of your credit report, which costs about $10 a month. And it’s a pain in the ass to cancel. It’s disappointing because there is a government-mandated, no-strings-attached, FREE credit report website at I’m sure Ben knows about it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Biting My Tongue

There's a internal conflict that I frequently encounter: I have something on mind that I don't vocalize--even though it chews me up--because I know the long-term consequences of saying something are worse than just getting it off my chest.

It's two parts of my personality colliding. I'm a bit of a ruminator, so thoughts don't simply enter and exit my brain as they normally should...especially when they trigger something in me emotionally. In other words, I have trouble letting shit go.

On the other hand, I'm (usually) sensitive to a fault about how my words could affect others. I can be honest with someone as long as I don't think my honesty would affect my relationship with them. If I feel like it would lead to a grudge on their part, I'd just as soon let it chew me up.

The problem with this, of course, goes back to the first issue--things tend to chew me up, but never spit me out. It leaves me in this perpetual state of unresolved annoyance.

The irony is that I never hold a grudge against someone if they're honest with me. I'd rather hear that they don't like working with me because ____ or even that they don't like me because ____ than for me to be under the wrong impression.

Why the hell can't I just give people a measured but honest version of my thoughts? What the hell am I afraid of?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

No Cash For This Clunker

Now that the house is almost officially sold (we close July 30th), it's time to put some of the proceeds toward actual grownup transportation.

Some background: I've owned only three cars in my life. I've paid less than $12,000 COMBINED for them. I've personally put around 375,000 combined miles on them. I think I've gotten my money's worth, thanks mostly to fortunate car choices and bang-up maintenance with the help of my dad.

Speaking of, Dad bought his first Ford Taurus in about 1996. He must have liked it, because he bought two more shortly thereafter. One of these, a 1994 sandy-bronze colored number, became my second car. It replaced my first--a 1982 Monte Carlo that was beyond pimp--after it developed a bit of a smoking problem.

That first Taurus lasted me almost five years (and 120,000 miles), after which I paid cash for a 1998 Mercury Sable (seen above). Not fancy, not impressive, but reliable as hell. Seven years later and I'm over 240k on the odometer.

At my best count, my immediate family has owned nine Tauri/Sables. We ALL have one right now. It's funny and sick at the same time, because they're great cars mechanically but none of us is necessarily proud of them.

However, as cars reach the end of their lifespan, little shit starts to nickel and dime you. For example, I've got a wheel bearing that's about to go, and the air conditioning has a leak that's not so slow anymore. I had the coolant hoses replaced a few months ago. Normal stuff, but each repair yields a question: how much more money do you put into a car that's not worth any money?

A solution started to materialize. The Car Allowance Rebate System is on the horizon. Known colloquially as "Cash For Clunkers", the program works like this: trade in your car that is a) no more than 25 years old; b) registered and insured to you for at least the past year; and c) gets no more than 18 mpg combined per new EPA standards. You then get $3500 toward a new vehicle if it gets at least 4 mpg more than your clunker, and $4500 if it gets at least 10 mpg more.

I looked up my Sable.

The EPA says it gets 19 mpg.

As in, 1 mpg too many.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Royals Revisionism Part 2, or: How I Learned to Ignore Journey and Stop Believing

Part two of this two-part series is more depressing than the first, but in a way that kinda makes you laugh while shaking your head because you've seen this movie before.

Prediction: Second base will drop off from 2008.
Revised prediction: Yep.
Why: Alberto Callaspo has sprayed the ball around, with a lot more doubles than I expected. But he is an absolute BUTCHER in the field. Can’t run either.

Prediction: Shortstop will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: In defiance of all that is good and holy, somehow it’s not.
Why: Mike Aviles somehow (through Tony Pena, Jr. osmosis?) became, well, Tony Pena, Jr. My guess is that it was another mystery injury, because 27-year-old shortstop should not go from active roster to Tommy John surgery. Ever. TPJ is the worst hitter in the major leagues…last week he got his fifth hit of the season AND fifth error in the same game. The defense has been atrocious, and we’re not even talking about it because the hitting has been so abysmal.

Prediction: Third base will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: It is, but for all the wrong reasons.
Why: Mark Teahen has played there and been reasonably productive—moreso than Alex Gordon was last year. Of course, this is because Gordon is hurt again. Teahen will likely be traded, which means we will get to see if Gordon is going to make something of himself. I’m not holding my breath.

Prediction: The outfield will be marginally better than 2008.
Revised prediction: It’s not. It’s so, so not.
Why: Coco Crisp is hurt, but he was hitting .228 when he was lost for the season. He ran down all kinds of fly balls, but his arm was so ridiculously weak he makes Johnny Damon look like Jesse Barfield. I can throw harder lefthanded. I’m serious. Mitch Maier, his replacement, is not a major leaguer. Jose Guillen can’t move, still can’t get on base, and has lost his one attribute (power). David DeJesus leads the team in RBI. As the leadoff hitter, where he’s completely miscast. He’s adequate at best in left.

Stuff I couldn’t even have dreamed of predicting:
-The Royals would lose a game when a base hit barreled through a flock of birds in centerfield.

-The Royals, who purportedly wanted to work on plate discipline and drawing walks, still don’t have anyone with more than 29 walks. And that’s Coco Crisp, who has missed 44% of the team’s games. Miguel Olivo has walked 3 times. Three. In 228 plate appearances.

-The Royals, based on a Bill James statistic, have almost had the worst baserunning season since the statistic was first calculated. And it’s a cumulative stat, meaning the Royals have almost become the worst by the All-Star break. Anyone who has watched a game or two can vouch for this, and it’s not just a lack of speed—it’s boneheadedness (a force out at home from right field? Two people doubled off first base on fly outs? In the same game?)

-The Royals are a DREADFUL defensive team, leading the American League in unearned runs allowed (by a lot).
-The Royals once pinch hit Luis Hernandez for Tony Pena, Jr. Later in the game, they pinch hit Tug Hulett for Luis Hernandez. (None of these three should be on a major league roster; somehow the Royals stockpiled them all and are using them in strategic moves during real games.) Their slugging percentage--that's total bases divided by plate appearances--was .370. IF YOU ADDED THEM ALL TOGETHER. As of today, Albert Pujols' slugging percentage is .723. By himself.

-The Royals score no runs because they are a plodding, station-to-station team…who can’t even get to the first station, let alone drive someone in. They play bad defense. They make boneheaded mistakes.
-So they trade their top pitching prospect for a shortstop who can’t run, can’t get on base, can’t keep his head in the game, and can’t play defense.

Prediction: The Royals will finish 80-82.
Revised prediction: The Royals will finish 67-95.
Why: The Royals won 18 of their first 29 games, but it was smoke and mirrors (they weren’t scoring runs then either). And really, it could have been 21 of 29 if not for Farnsworth’s efforts. Yeah. The pitching, while certainly acceptable, came back to Earth. And no one can hit. Or field. Or, god forbid, score from second on a single. They’ve won 19 of their last 59—that’s less than one outta three. My guess is that the rest of the season won’t be THAT bad, but not much better. I predict a .400 winning percentage from here on out, hence my revised prediction.

They are last in the AL in runs scored. They are 10th worst (out of 14) in the AL in runs allowed.

They suck.

As usual.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Royals Revisionism Part 1, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Watch Food Network

We’ve reached the All-Star Break in Major League Baseball, which is traditionally looked at as the halfway point in the season (though it’s a little past that). Since we're waist deep into this wretched, wretched season, it’s a good time to look back at my preseason prognosis for the 2009 Royals, which I wrote about here.

Prediction: Greinke will win 16 games with an ERA in the mid-threes.
Revised Prediction: Greinke will win 16 games with an ERA just under 3.00.
Why: Everyone knows about his remarkable start to the season. Over his last eight games, however, his ERA is 3.95. Nothing wrong with that, except that it’s only good enough for a 2-4 record with this bumbling Royals offense. Does anyone really see him winning more than 6 games in the second half? The huge start will probably keep his ERA under 3, but the Royals’ bats will cost him the Cy Young Award because Roy Halladay will likely have 20 wins when it’s all said and done.

Prediction: Starting pitching will be marginally better than in 2008.
Revised prediction: It’s about the same, even with Greinke’s performance.
Why: Gil Meche has been inconsistent, thanks in part to manager Trey Hillman’s passive-aggressive handling of him. Brian Bannister has been a pleasant surprise, but you never know when he’s going to go out and just get POUNDED. Luke Hochevar is erratic as can be. And the others (Davies, Ponson, Chen) are a joke at this point.

Prediction: Relief pitching will be marginally worse than 2008.
Revised prediction: It will be noticeably worse.
Why: In yet another medical mystery, Joakim Soria spent part of the year in arm soreness limbo. Hillman said Soria wasn’t hurt; then he said he was but was strategically keeping it a secret. He’s back and effective, but that’s where it ends. Kyle Farnsworth is a head case, and everyone else can become a gas can at any point. Juan Cruz especially hasn’t lived up to expectations. We pretty much have to pray for 8 innings and give it to Soria.

Now it gets ugly.

Prediction: Catchers 2009 = Catchers 2008.
Revised prediction: Yeah, pretty much.
Why: Miguel Olivo leads the team in home runs. He also has a .267 OBP because he’s never seen a pitch he didn’t like. He strikes out over 1/3 of the time he steps to the plate; this is because all you have to do is throw a slider that starts on the outside half of the plate and sweeps away. I’m serious—every damn time. He’s like freaking Pedro Cerrano from Major League*. John Buck is a Caucasian Olivo, the difference being Olivo has no glove and Buck has no arm.

*It’s really cool that Dennis Haysbert, who played Cerrano, went on to play President David Palmer in 24 and is now the Allstate spokesperson. It very bad drink Jobu’s rum.

Prediction: First base/DH will have significantly better numbers than 2008.
Revised prediction: Not so much.
Why: As Billy Butler starts to hit a bunch of doubles and show himself as a serviceable bat (NOT a #3 hitter), Jacobs basically hits every hundredth pitch about 6 miles. Seriously, these are TITANIC blasts; he just doesn’t get to many pitches. Neither of them has major-league skill in fielding, running, or baseball IQ.
I'll get to the rest of this lost season later.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Schlafly Brewmaster Dinner @ McCoy's

Last night, we went to the Schlafly Brewmaster Dinner at McCoy's. These dinners take place monthly; the premise is to enjoy the ways that beer and food can complement each other.

Those who didn’t attend missed out in a BIG way. We were thoroughly impressed by every dish and glass they put in front of us.

They closed the Foundry off to the public; the 60-or-so dinner attendees had the entire place to ourselves. We were fortunate enough to be seated at the “Brewmaster’s Table”. Steven Hale, the brewmaster at Schlafly, was highly informative and entertaining. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below to get your kilt and Karate Kid soundtrack fix. (Yes, he was wearing the kilt last night.)

The beers were all special-release-type brews. For the Kansas Citians among us, they would be analogous to Boulevard’s Smokestack series—big flavors, big bottles, big alcohol content. The first two beers (Biere de Garde and Grand Cru) came in at 7.5% and 9% respectively; the Tripel, Quadrupel, Barrel-Aged Imperial Stout and Oak-Aged Barleywine all carried double-digit ABVs. And yes, you could tell at the end of the night.

I had a hard time picking a favorite, because they were all nice representations of their respective styles. I think the winner at the end (for me, at least) was the Stout. Huge in flavor but not totally overwhelmed by the bourbon notes (which can ruin it for me). The rich chocolate flavors just amplified all that was good about the beer.

The food didn’t just complement the beer—it was delicious. This was a full-on six-course gourmet meal: seared salmon with blackberries; flatbread with prosciutto, gorgonzola and arugula; cassoulet with duck sausage; a flourless chocolate torte with caramel ice cream and sea salt brittle; and a dried fruit beggar’s purse made of phyllo. Add the beer pairings (which basically carry the punch and cost of wine), and the meal was an absolute steal at $40.

The only thing I would have changed would be to flip the order of the two dessert courses. The stout was so big on the palate that we lost some of the subtleties of the barleywine that came out afterward.

I would go on raving about this, but it’s easier to take a look at what I’m talking about. Go to McCoy's blog for photos, menus, course descriptions, beer descriptions, etc. Next month will be a Latin-themed dinner, followed by a barbecue/smoked beers theme in September.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

McCoy's 12th Anniversary Dubbel, Plus a Good Read

We both had some work to do last night, but the last two weeks have been hectic and we really just wanted to have some beer.

What's a guy to do?

Go to the Foundry, of course. There's beer there, as you may know. What you may not know is that the Foundry also has WiFi.

Their 12th anniversary beer, an abbey-style dubbel was on tap. If you're a fan of the style, don't miss this one! It is superb. The caramelly finish will bring a smile to your face. But don't let the smoothness fool you--it packs a punch.

(Unfortunately, we just missed the aged release of their 11th anniversary Triple snooze, you lose I guess.)

Totally unrelated, but Joe Posnanski wrote an article about Andy Roddick that's really about all of us who have ever aspired to be great. Long read, but totally worth it.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Transition

Okay, I’m back from the DL, retroactive to June 27th. That was Moving Day.

And it was a hell of a weekend--highs and lows galore.

We’ll start on Saturday. The movers arrived a little after 8am. We answered their questions and gave them a little direction before I headed to QuikTrip to buy us all some hydration. You may recall that it was ridiculously hot and humid two Saturdays ago, and I was incredibly thankful that we made the decision to hire help. Of course, their job was made that much more difficult by Time Warner Cable's ineptitude because the movers couldn't get their truck into the driveway (they did not move the "temporary" cable they installed years ago during the internet installation debacle, instead clipping the one that wasn't in the way at all--another story for another time, but I just wanted to make the point that I hate Time Warner).

At 9:15am, I got a call from ReMax’s central operator saying an agent wanted to do a second showing on our house. I told them no because we were moving; I don’t know how impressive the house would look with all the doors open and boxes strewn all over. A few minutes later, MY agent called back and said we really need to show it because the party was REALLY interested. I asked if they could reschedule for late this afternoon. He’d let us know.

My mom called from the new house to let me know they’d delivered the washer and dryer (at the very end of the 2-hour window, of course). I called my agent back for an update; he said the potential buyers probably couldn’t reschedule, but they’re checking.

The movers loaded up the truck, and we found out all our stuff wouldn’t quite fit. It was a little disappointing, but not too big a deal—we’re moving all of 15 minutes away. Packing complete, I went to the new house while my fiancee cleaned the place up a bit in case the showing happened.

I directed the movers where to put things for a bit, then the Dish guy arrived. I have had Dish network for 5 years and LOVE it. The prices almost never change and I rarely have the reception issues the cable companies always try to scare you with. However, he said he couldn’t install it without running a wire all the way around the outside of the house. That didn’t sound too appealing; are you sure there isn’t another way?

I talked to my agent again, talked to my fiancee again. The agent said the buyers couldn’t make the afternoon showing…but they submitted an offer. Really? Wow. Put that over there. No, Dish guy, I’m not running a wire around the house I just bought. Baby, you don’t understand—I mean all the way around the back of the house. It’ll be ugly; even the tech is saying so. Yes, Mr. Agent, come on over to show me the offer. Okay; this looks pretty good, but I won’t make any decisions until after I eat because it’s 3pm and I haven’t eaten all day and I'm exhausted.

And that was just Saturday. Sunday was mostly unpacking and picking up a few more necessities from our now-former house. Seeing the place made us sad, because WE made that house what it is. There are so many memories there, and so much of our sweat equity there. The flooring, the garden…it was US. We cried a lot, wondering if we made too hasty of a decision.

Monday, I signed the contract on the old house at work. We close July 30th. I thought we’d have more time… I had to shut my office door when I was done because I broke down again.

Shortly after that I found out about Chris. I had to leave work. Then I got a voice mail from my agent, congratulating me because the buyers agreed to the minor changes in the counteroffer.

Everything was final. That hit both of us really hard. We know in our heads that we made a sound decision in every way. But the new place doesn’t feel like home yet. It feels like we’re living in someone else’s house. As a good friend put it, we need to buy some paint and head to IKEA soon (m.v. and Bull, get your order forms ready).

That said, we’re starting to adapt. It’s getting better. Yesterday, we walked out our front door…down an actual sidewalk…through a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood where people actually made eye contact AND smiled…to a nice, well-kept park.

That was a first for us. I think we can get used to that.