That reminds me

An interesting characteristic of our brain is associative memories.

It is throwback Thursday, after all.

I’m refering to the brain’s ability to connect two completely different items or concepts.

Music, for example, has very powerful associative properties. For many of us, hearing a certain song will awaken certain memories, some happy, some sad.

Many songs will remind us of a time in our past when we first heard the song, say a childhood event, or a year in school.

Some songs give us a vague feeling, such as “Sugar, Sugar,” by The Archies gives me a general happy feeling about my chikdhood, whereas others are more specific. When I hear “Snoopy vs. The Red Baron,” I’m back in the Cub Scouts with my friends taking a train down to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry. Some parent had brought an AM radio along and we’d sing to somenof the Top 40 hits.

Another example is, I used to listen to Black Sabbath’s first album while a teenager reading sword and sorcery tales, particularly the Conan stories by Robert E. Howard.

Now, when I listen to Black Sabbath, a feeling comes over me, a mood, if you will, that is similar to reexperiencing the awe and wonder I had back then reading those stories.

So intense is this mood that now I’ll play their music when I’m writing, hoping to capture some of that magic in my own story.

Smells also provide strong associative memories. Maybe a whiff of a certain cologne or perfume will bring back memories of someone out of our past.

Sometimes the association will surprise us because it was unexpected.

For instance, the reason for this rather bland post is because I was making coffee and enjoying the aroma of the freshly ground coffee.

Now I’ve been around the smell of coffee my whole life. There are many decades worth of memories associated with it that I could have recalled.

I could have remembered my time in the Navy, where coffee was figuratively our life’s blood. We drank it nonstop from the moment we awoke until we fell asleep. Our index fingers nearly atrophied into a permanent crook from holding our coffee cups.

On the other hand, because I do drink it regularly, the pleasant scent of coffee doesn’t always trigger any specific memories, it just puts me into a good mood.

Today I was surprised when the coffee scent triggered a memory of my childhood. I was taken back to my parents’ house before they were divorced. Back when I thought my childhood was happy.

Both my parents had coffee in the morning, so our house would fill up with the odor as it was being brewed in an old aluminum electric purculator in our kitchen.

It was similar to the old perculators they’d show in the Maxwell House coffee commercials, like this one:

I remembered that my dad, who, because he drank a lot of coffee, smelled of it. Many people remember the scent of their dad’s calogne. Me, I remember that he smelled like coffee.

My mom had made breakfast and ee were eating at the kitchen table, while my dog, Thor, lay just outside the kitchen doorway watching us. He wasn’t allowed in the kitchen and he stayed obediently on the other side until we came out.

It was an odd associative memory and I thought I’d share.

Have you had any associative memories lately that surprised you?

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Adventures in ADHD – Impulsivity

One characteristic people suffering with ADHD have is impulsivity. We are impulsive! We do things first, then think about it. We don’t consider the consequences of our actions beforehand. In other words, we leap before we look.

We don’t need no stinking beer. We have ADHD!

Long before the phrase, “Dude, hold my beer” came into the vernacular, those of us with ADHD said, “Watch this.” We don’t need alcohol to deaden our self-preservation center. We were born this way.

My childhood was rife with examples of impulsivity, of “Watch this.”

Friend: Bet you can’t jump off the garage roof.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen anyone do a lawn belly flop before.

Friend: Bet you can’t climb to the top of that tree.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! Good thing that big branch stopped you.

Friend: Look at this minibike I made. Wanna try it?

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I forgot to mention it has a high center of gravity and you can’t turn at high speeds.

Friend: Go kick that cat off of our baseball field.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! I’ve never seen a cat that mad, clinging to a person’s leg before. That’s a lot of blood.

Friend: Our dogs are fighting! We’ve got to stop them. Go grab yours.

Me: Watch this. *screams*

Friend: Dude! That’s a pretty deep hole in your wrist.

Anyway, I could go on.

And on.

And on.

But you get the point, impulsivity sucks.

It is also expensive. I become suddenly interested in something, a hobby, or what have you. I read everything there is about it. Join tons of forums so I can talk about my interest with others. And I spend money.

Then I lose interest. And again, impulsivity kicks in and I purge my life of that interest because, of course, “I’ll never be interested in this again.”

My most famous and regretable “I’ll never” was when I threw out all my Silver and Bronze Age comic books when we were moving. I had Captain America #100 through 150. I had Conan the Barbarian #1 through 35. And others. All in the trash. “I’m in my 40s. I don’t need these. I’m not interested in comics any more.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah. You guessed it. Over the last decade or so I’ve been buying them back on eBay.

A more recent example, but not nearly as costly, was an interest in drawing. I went out and bought some drawing books and several types of drawing pencils. I worked for several months learning how to draw. I could draw a realistic human eye like nobody’s business. I’d like to show some samples, but I purged all my drawings from that period. (Somewhere I have a blog post featuring drawings from high school, if you care to look. Found it.)

Then I lost interest (or found a shiney new interest). After a few years of not drawing, I finally got rid of the books several months ago. I mean, it had been years, right? “I’ll never want to learn how to draw again.”

Me: *screams*

Yeah… Who’d have guessed? I mean, really? I went searching my bookshelves for the drawing books, then realized, oh, yeah. I got rid of them.

Today, I wisely went to the library to check out a couple beginner books on drawing. At least I’m not spending money.

Yes, impulsivity is the reason I’m a jack of all trades, master of none. I learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can, about an interest, but I lose in it before I can master it.

By the way, if you play guitar, I’m thinking of selling my 2008 Gretsch Duo Jet in silver flake. I mean, I haven’t touched it in two years, right? “I’ll never play guitar again.”

Future Me: *screams*

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Friday on my mind

We made it to Friday! Time to party! (Or as I keep thinking a commercial for a local Native American gaming casino says, “Some people like to BUTTAH! all night long.” Yeah, my wife gives me that same look every time I say it, too. “Why would you think she’s saying butter?”) Fine, let’s get to it.

Bad Friday Haiku

Let us hit the streets

The weekend beckons us again

It’s time to buttah!

Coffee, a little bit of Heaven on Earth

My wife and I recently (a month or so ago) found a newly-opened coffee store. But not your ordinary coffee shop that serves beverages, no, this store sells coffee before it’s brewed. It is called, CoffeeIcon. The location used to be the Java Hut –Oh, drink coffee you will– Sorry. And we frequented it infrequently. Then it was gone and the store stood empty for years. 

I forget why we stopped by. Either for the Walgreen’s on the corner and we noticed it in passing (“Stop! Coffee! My precious!”) or we were getting some pizzas from Papa Murphy’s next store. (Funny, but as a kid, I always thought people were saying, “They’re our next store neighbors.”) Anyway, I digress, as usual.

We stopped in and were stunned. Inside there were shelves upon shelves of coffee. Dark roast, medium roast, light roast, flavored coffees, coffees from Africa, South America, everywhere. It was like we’d died and gone to coffee Heaven. 

They have the largest selection of Keurig-style coffee pods I have ever seen. This isn’t your average supermarket selection. This is premium coffees. Coffee that you can sample! Yes, you heard that right. Find a k-cup coffee you’ve never had before? Take it up and they’ll brew it for you. No charge. As in free. 

That’s the best thing ever! Free coffee!

Their selection of brands includes, for example, a nice selection from Twisted Pine, which is a Green Bay Wisconsin roaster that started with their “1265 Breakfast” roast (any guesses what that address is?) and has greatly expanded their offerings. Their “Jamaica Me Crazy” is one of the few flavored coffees I like. Caramel and vanilla flavors blended with a hint of coffee liqueur.

But CoffeeIcon is more than just Keurig cups. They sell beans, as well. In fact, they have a large variety of green beans on the premises and they will roast them to suit your taste and grind it to your preference.

Our most recent visit, I picked up a pound (12 ounces once it’s roasted and ground) of their “Jaquar Espresso” (and I apologize, but I do pronounce it with an X, but I’m working hard to stop), which is an organic blend of several South American varietals. It’s a dark roast, but it’s smooth and delicious. 

The cool thing is, on the bag the barrista wrote the temperature and length of time it was roasted at so the next time I can go in and say, “Could I try it a few degrees cooler this time?”

If you like spicy, get the Marley Coffee “Catch a Fire.” It has natural chili pepper flavor in it. Delish. And yes, that’s Bob Marley’s son, Rohan, who founded it.

They’re online, too, and they ship. Coffee Icon

Running within myself

This morning I experimented running at a pace that allowed me to breathe through my nose the whole time. Usually, I run too fast and I end up gasping through my mouth. I’m not sure if that is beneficial aerobically. But it always leaves me exhausted, almost burned out afterwards. 

Today, I made a concious decision to run slower and I did. Sure, my time was 2-1/2 minutes slower than I had been running for the same distance, but I finished the run still breathing through my nose and actually had enough kick left to sprint to the finish. Usually you can’t tell I’m sprinting because I’m so worn out.

I guess I’ve been pushing myself too hard all this time. I need to slow down in order to build up my aerobic fitness.

Weigh-In Friday

I lost 0.2 pounds. Slow and steady wins the race, right?

I spy a Monarch!

I saw a Monarch butterfly in our yard the other day. I was happy, but at the same time, quite sad.

I was happy because I’ve always liked Monarchs with their bold orange and black wings and because they are so unusual due to their marvelous migratory pattern, traveling thousands of miles from the U.S. and Canada to central Mexican forests.

As a child, that fact alone facinated me; that this delicate creature could survive an exhausting and hazard-filled flight of over 2,800 miles was simply miraculous. I still have a book from my childhood about it, “The Travels of Monarch X” by Ross E. Hutchins.

But I was sad, too, because seeing a Monarch has become a rare occurance. As a child, I remember them swarming everywhere. They were among the most common of butterflies in the summer.

Now, they are endangered. Pesticides, which are decimating our honey bees, are killing the regal Monarchs as well. They are also suffering from a loss of habitat; Man is encroaching on their winter mountain retreats. And let’s not forget climate change (which, if you’re conservative is easy to do). It too is having a negative effect upon the once proud Monarch.

It’s sad to think that one day our children, and our children’s children will not be able to experience the joy and wonder that is the glorious Monarch.

I think I’ll go read that book tonight. Maybe it’ll uplift me.

#climatechangesucks

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Summer solstice

It’s June 21st, the summer solstice, also known as midsummer. 

As a child, June 21st meant summer vacation was well underway and there was still the rest of June, plus all of July and August before school started up again in September.

That was an eternity.

I have vivid memories of my childhood doing all these wonderful things with my friends, riding our bikes across town to play in the Menomonee River, going to the nearby park to play on the swings, teeter-totters, or play a game of hide-and-go-seek or sandot baseball, climb trees, or throw a frisbee. Going to summer camp or on family vacations to the Wisconsin Dells or down to visit relatives in Kansas. These events seemed to last forever, yet in reality, took place over a few short weeks during summer vacation.

Now, as an adult, I see June 21st as a signal that summer is in full swing. I regard Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer (compared to the meteorological start of summer). There are still three full months to come of decent warm weather, July, August, and September, in which to go to the beach, or enjoy one or more of the many festivals Milwaukee is known for. We just had Pride Fest, Polish Fest, and the Lakefront Festival of the Arts.

Yet to come is Summerfest, the world’s biggest musical festival, Germanfest, Italianfest, Mexicanfest, Africanfest, Wisconsin State Fair, Feast with the Beasts at the Milwaukee County Zoo, and Indian Summer, to name a few and not including every church festival that we have several of nearly every weekend throughout the summer.

Then, on the other hand, there’s the part of me that suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) and that part of me sees June 21st as the beginning of the end of the long days of Sun light. To quote Shakespeare from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, “The true beginning of our end.”

Yesterday and today are the longest days of the year, giving off life sustaining and mood enhancing Vitamin D enriched Sun light.

After today, the days grown shorter, the lush greenery outside begins to fade, and before I know it, nature is hibernating again, the days are gloomy and cloud covered, and I’m in a funk struggling to keep alert and active.

But that’s months away. Let’s focus instead on how beautiful and alive the world is today, June 21st. The trees are spreading their branches, showing off their emerald glory. The sunshine is warm upon our upturned faces. The days are filled with the sounds of singing birds and the nights with chirping crickets.

It’s grilling season. Enjoy the smell of charcoal briquettes and the sound of sizzling meat as you enjoy a cold drink and celebrate the summer solstice.

It is midsummer, a major holiday in Finland, a time for family and friends. As the Finns say, “Go peaceful or go party.”

Today, is the best day of the year. All full of hope and beauty and life.

Get out and enjoy it.

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Let’s play favorites

Do you have a favorite car? One that, over the years, you’ve consciously or even subconsciously, used as the measuring stick by which all other cars are measured?

Mine had been my mom’s 1971 Super Beetle. I learned to drive with that car. It was a four-speed manual and a blast to drive.

1971 Volkswagen Super Beetle

I was a teenager and got my license in my junior year in high school. Many of my classmates, if they had their own cars, drove the muscle cars of the day, complete with jacked-up rear ends and big, wide rear tires, so they looked like funny cars (the race cars, not something to laugh at). 

They drove Pontiac GTOs or Firebirds of various vintage, Chevy Novas, Chevelles, Camaros, as well as 442s, Skylarks, Cudas, Chargers, Challengers, and so on. All tuned so those big V8s would growl and cough and rumble as they drove around John Marshall High School, squeezing tires, to show off for the girls like peacocks waving their colorful tail feathers.

They lived for cars and girls  (queue song).

And here I’d come with my mom’s Bug. There’s not much you can do to mod a Bug, especially when it’s your mom’s, but I had a friend help me install an 8-track stereo that I could just plug in, then take out when I was done. We used my home stereo’s set of book shelf speakers, which fit perfectly behind the backseat storage area of the car.

So I’d cruise around blasting tunes and to really get attention, I’d pop the clutch and lay down some rubber. I think it caught people’s attention because no one expected a Bug to squeal it’s tires. Sure, the back end would hop and I’m sure I wasn’t doing the transmission or clutch much good, but it would leave about a two or three foot long burnout.

(And if I my younger son, once he has his license, ever pops the clutch in my Fiat 500, he’s grounded for life.)

That Beetle was a fun little car to drive. It had decent excelleration and was quick enough and small enough that you could weave in and out of traffic without any problems.

And it has been my reference car ever since. Whenever I’d test drive another car, I’d mentally compare it to that one. In the end, none even came close. 

I mean, sure, I enjoyed my 1986 Dodge Datona Turbo Z. When the turbo finally kicked in and threw you back into your seat, it was a lot of fun. But otherwise, it was a heavy car, despite its small size and wasn’t very zippy in traffic because of its turbo lag. And shifting always felt clunky until it finally did go clunk.

1986 Dodge Daytona Turbo Z

The two Ford Escorts I had were what would be called basic transportation. One was the body style from the ’80s and the other was the sportier looking version from 1995. They were more utilitarian than fun.

And although our 1996 Pontiac Sunrise served us faithfully for nearly 15 years until it developed a hole in one of the cylinders, I wouldn’t necessarily call it fun to drive either. In fact, it seemed rather heavy, but we always felt safe in it during the winter.

So over 43 years, and at least 14 cars, the memory of that Beetle lived on… until three weeks ago when we bought the 2013 Fiat 500 Lounge.

Queue angelic choir singing “Ohhhhhh!”

Now I have a new favorite car.

Small is the new black.

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A weigh we go!

I’m reaching what for me is a milestone in my weight. 

Me, after my thyroid went wonky

Back in 1999, I blew up like the Michelin Man when my thyroid went on the fritz. Seriously, I have one picture that if I find it shows that is no exaggeration. My skin is white and puffy and you can hardly see my eyes because they’re just slits surrounded by puffy flesh. My lower legs were the worst. They had lost all their hair and were like playdough. You could push in on the flesh and leave a one-and-a-half inch indent that would stay there for quite some time. (Anyone remember the old pulp fiction action hero, The Avenger, who had lost nerve function to his face and could mold it like putty, changing his appearance to that of anyone? It was a little like that.)

I thought I was dying. I was scared.

My doctor ran me through a whole battery of tests to figure out what was wrong — nerve testing for my carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, chiropractors for my severe back pain, blood tests to see why I was cold and tired all the time — which is amusing (now that I look back on it), because we had a ferret who had a thyroid problem and he lost all the hair on his legs, so my wife kept saying it was my thyroid; it took my doctor months to come to the same conclusion!

And my weight shot up because my thyroid wasn’t regulating body functions properly; I was retaining fluids and I was just too damned tired to exercise. This experience has also made me a little less critical of people with weight problems because as with me, it might not be their fault and might be a medical condition.

So since 1999, I’ve been well over 200 pounds. I think I might have peaked close to 250 before I started taking my thyroid medication.

Today, I weighed myself and I’m almost, but not quite, at the point where I’ll drop below 200 pounds. Honestly, I can’t remember when I was below that. Early 1990s when I was still running seriously, before I developed shin splints? 

Now I’m only a couple pounds on the wrong side of 200. Part of me wants to fast just to reach it, but my luck, my body will think it’s experiencing a famine and it will hold onto its fat reserves even more tenaciously. So, no. Fasting isn’t the answer.

I do think I’ll run more often now that I see I’m approaching that marker. Instead of running three times a week, I’ll try to run five. Yesterday was the first time i ran on back-to-back days and i felt good.

Even though i can see 200, I’m nowhere near finished; after 200, I’ll still have at least 15 more pounds to go to reach my goal, but 200 is a great marker indicating my goal is within reach.

Yesterday, for grins, I lugged around a 20 pound barbell. It was exhausting! And I used to carry that, and more, around all the time!

By the way, losing weight is hard. You have to do exhausting aerobic exercises, get your heart rate up, sweat, breath heavy, for at least 20 minutes at a time, every other day preferably, plus you have to watch what you eat, count calories, watch fats, increase fiber, eat more fruits and veggies, and drink a lot of water (not soda or sugary energy drinks), and even then, depending on your.motabolism, you aren’t guaranteed fast results or huge losses.

Anyone who tells you losing weight is easy or all you need is their magic pill or secret formulation or miracle diet or superfood, tell them to Fuck Off. In fact, punch them in the nose, give them a good kick in the groin, then tell them to Fuck Off. The punch and kick will be good exercise.

Eat right. Drink water. Exercise your ass off.

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There was a time

There was a time when television united us. It was a communal experience. Before that, it was radio.

It was said that back during the peak of radio, on a warm summer evening, a person could walk down the street of any community in America and listen to an entire, uninterrupted episode of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” as it wafted out of the open windows of all the homes.

That’s what I mean by a communal experience. The next day, you could stop anyone on the street and ask, “Did you hear last night’s show?” and strike up a conversation about it.

The same could be said for movies, to a lesser degree. It was a shared experience.

When television took over, it became the dominant form of entertainment and everyone watched Uncle Miltie on “Texaco Star Theater.” They watched “Gunsmoke.” They talked about the Ponderosa and the Cartwright family on “Bonanza.”

All the kids at school talked about “Howdy Doody,” “Captain Kangaroo,” “the Mickey Mouse Club.” Family entertainment included “The Wonderful World of Disney” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom” hosted by Marlin Perkins.

As a child of the 1960s, if I were to run into someone else who also grew up then, no matter what part of America they grew up in, we have television to unite us. Shared communal memories of “Lost in Space,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “My Three Sons,” “Rawhide,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Combat!” “The Addam’s Family,” “The Munsters,” “The Dick Van Dyke Show” and possibly even shows from the 1970s, like “Mary Tyler Moore,” “Carol Burnette,” “Dean Martin,” “All in the Family,” to name a few.

(As a sidebar, the same thing could be applied to music. In the 1960s — and before — music was fairly unified. Pop music was nearly universal. The radio played rock ā€˜nā€™ roll and British Invasion right along side Motown and country. In the space of an hour a person could hear the Beatles, Stones, Troggs, Elvis, Fifth Dimension, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes, Kenny Rodgers, and Johnny Cash. Music was communal until they opened up the FM band, allowing more stations and more splintering of tastes.)

But in the 1970s television began to see a splintering of viewer-ship. Instead of just three major networks on VHF, more independent stations appeared on UHF. HBO started up, beaming into homes via these ugly metal antenna on a few homes. Then, cable started becoming wired into neighborhoods. More channels meant less communal viewing, a splintering of the audience.

Sometimes a show came along that encouraged communal viewing, like “Cheers.” But those were becoming fewer and fewer.

Today there are very few communal shows. Not everyone gets HBO or ShowTime, so although shows like “Game of Thrones” are popular, only a few really see them. Similarly, shows like AMC’s “Mad Men” or the BBC’s “Doctor Who” seems wildly popular, but really only cater to a specialized audience and are hardly universal.

And this situation will only grow more fragmented because today’s younger generation are abandoning cable for web-based services like Netflix and Hulu that cater to their desire to see the shows they want when they want for a lot less than cable charges.

Some will argue choice is a good thing, that we’re not a homogeneous peoples, but a collection of free-thinking individuals able to seek out their own form of entertainment instead of marching lockstep, following the herd.

Which is true. We are all individuals, but we’re also social animals who often seek commonality in order to understand, communicate, and associate. We need to relate to each other and without having a shared communal experience how can we possibly ever understand each other? Television once gave us those shared memories, but those have faded over the last few decades.

When the Internet and the world wide web burst upon the scene, many saw it as a great way to universally connect with people all over the world. It has, but unfortunately, it has also become a catalyst in increasing our distance from each other as more and more sites dedicated to each and every taste imaginable, good or bad, has sprung up. Instead of sharing our lives, we’re becoming more isolated.

The closest we come today to any shared communal thoughts are within politics where people identify themselves as either liberals or conservatives (or independents). And although the people within those groups do share common beliefs, the real problem is the bitter divide between one group and another.

Many people used to see television as a negative influence upon society, but now it appears it was what unified us, brought us together. Without its communal influence, we’ve seen a rise in anger, bitter animosity, and violence. There is a demonization going on and we’ve stopped seeing each other as fellow humans. Instead we’ve reduced each other to a faceless, derogatory name: neocon, libtard, teabagger. We’ve lost the capability to empathize, to care, to share experiences, and without this capacity to see our similarities that television brought to us, the senseless violence of today will only grow worse.

For those of us who grew up on Gene Roddenberry’s “Star Trek” and his futuristic vision of a unified Federation of Planets where all mankind (and most alienkind) lived together in peace and harmony, then the Present, with all its splintered hatred and fragmented ugliness, sucks.

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