Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Poetry: New Year's Eve

On this eve the old year ends and
tomorrow a new one comes
A night to have fun with those dear
family, friends and close chums

Room is pulsed with energy
all await the stroke of midnight
When it arrives all will cheer with
hugs, kisses, dances and delight

In the 'morrow there will be
chance for a new path to walk
New Beginnings and rebirth
take action, don't just talk

Another year is over
Yesterday's come to an end
New Year, fresh start, a blank slate
Old mistakes a chance to amend

Monday, November 30, 2015

Why does Rudolph have a shiny nose?


For generations children have been fascinated with Santa's reindeer, especially the beloved Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. While adored by millions, no one has ever known exactly why Rudolph has such a bright and shiny nose. 
However, in 2012 researchers in Norway and the Netherlands set out to find out why from a scientific perspective why a reindeer's nose may glow.

The team of scientists wrote a paper about their findings entitled, "Microcirculatory investigations of nasal mucosa in reindeer Rangifer tarandus (Mammalia, Artiodactyla, Cervidae): Rudolph's nose was overheated."

In order to conclude why Rudolph has a red nose, the team of researchers used a hand-held microscope to examine a variety of nasal linings. This included: Five healthy humans, two reindeer and an individual with a nasal growth, of the non-cancerous type. The scientists used infrared technology to examine participants.

Described as a "tongue-in-cheek" investigation, the scientists found in their experiment that reindeer noses contain a higher number of blood vessels than humans and that the massive amount of exercise they do once a year while flying at rapid speeds also has an impact.
Santa's reindeer are estimated to deliver to 100 million homes and travel about 650 miles (1,000 kilometers) per second, which is no small feat.

The scientists did reportedly admit this study is not conclusive and that Rudolph may have had a cold, a hangover or an infection. (The question begs asking - one can't help but wonder based on testing results, if it is due to the number of blood vessels, why aren't the other eight reindeer sporting shiny red snouts too?)

In December 2013 a group of scientists from Sweden also decided to get to the bottom of this age-old question. They used a thermographic camera to examine things a bit more. Their study can be seen in the video above. 

"Rudolph" is listed as one of the top best-selling secular Christmas songs of all time, only second to "White Christmas". Did you know "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" was originally written in the 1930s? It was later set to music after WWII. While Rudolph and his shiny nose are famous, his origin is lesser known

Friday, November 13, 2015

Avoid being a carjack victim during the holidays

Photo credit: Leigh Goessl
This time of year is often associated with a higher number of crime incidents, primarily associated with theft, whether retail or burglary. However, carjacking is one crime that also tends to increase. 

These tips are important year-round, but being theft-related crime tends to increase over the holidays, during the months of November and December it is a good idea to be more vigilant.

Knowing what to look for in will decrease the chances of your becoming a carjacking victim:
  • Pay close attention to your surroundings.
  • Always be on alert to any activity near your car.
  • Check the inside of your car before entering it.
  • Have keys in your hand as you approach your car.
  • If any suspicious persons are hanging around your car, keep walking.
  • Pay careful attention to people asking questions or handing out flyers, this could be a ruse.
  • Once in your car, lock it immediately.
  • If suspicious strangers are walking on your street, keep driving until they've gone.
Remember, anyone can be a target and carjacking incidents occur both during the day and at night. Experts recommend being alert at ATMs and if another car bumps yours, to keep doors and windows closed until police arrive. Washington, D.C. authorities note a car is replaceable, you are not. If a carjacker threatens you with a gun or other weapon, give up the car.

Carjacking is a very serious crime and, while it is impossible to avoid in some cases, being prepared with information and strategies can help keep you safer. Avoid being a carjack victim.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Poetry: Dreaming of You

I dreamed of you again last night
It caught me so off guard
Awakened me with such a fright
Feeling confused and marred

Images conjured in the mind
Of a place so far away
Timeline mixed up, stars not aligned
Confusion leads astray

In my dreams I keep seeing you
At a place that doesn't exist
Sky is foggy, grass full of dew
You are floating in the mist
tree in fog
Image credit: Leigh G.

Through the fog you seemed so clear
Yet standing far away
Despite distance you felt so near
Amidst those clouds all gray

Tried to reach you to say a word
But then you disappeared
Though I shouted you had not heard
Suddenly you reappeared

Reached for your hand to help me through
Then your likeness promptly faded
Your wings sprouted and then you flew
Visions became more jaded

Swiftly I awake with a start
The dream abruptly ends
Wakeful with thoughts dear to the heart
And hoping someday the heart mends

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Scam alert: $100 Bill on windshield


Scam alert!

As the busy holiday season kicks up in high gear, it is a good idea to watch out for fraud. Not that we shouldn't be on alert for potential scams at any time of the year, but this is the time we tend to be preoccupied. 

A ripe time for schemers to come in to try to take advantage of people.

Last year authorities in Maryland put out a warning to the public. This scam involved placing a $100 bill on car windshields. What happens is a shopper comes of out a store and finds a $100 bill on his or her windshield.

What the scammers are reportedly doing is hoping car owners have unlocked their cars and then get out to see what is on their windshield, leaving the door open. Next, the thieves jump in and take off with the car.

Snopes reported this type of scam as a hoax on its website, noting it has been circulating the web since about 2004. However, as is common with crime, "copycats" could easily be taking what was once a hoax and applying it in real life.

Either way, one can never be too careful. After all, 'tis the season for scams.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

'Tis the season for scams - watch out for these holiday frauds

As Thanksgiving Day arrives in the United States, it is not only the season to be jolly, but the season for scams for the next six weeks. This is a busy time of year. People are shopping, attending parties, and a flurry of other activity.  In other words, people might be distracted, which makes for a perfect scenario for a scammer to hatch a scheme to lure his or her prey.
Mobile with festive decorations
CC0 Image by beahohl / Pixabay

Scams that tend to circulate around the holidays include:
  • Phishing emails offering great deals (a good rule of thumb - if you haven't done business with the company - it's likely a scam).
  • Links on social media offering free or next-to-free goods. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Also many of these links may contain malware or other compromising attributes. If a deal is valid, it will be advertised on the official website or possibly in the media.
  • Fake charities. Schemers try to appeal to the generosity of people creating fake charities or finding other ways to steal money (or identities!). Always verify through a reputable source before giving cash, checks or credit card numbers.
  • Bogus apps. Mobile use is increasing at an incredible rate. Beware of questionable apps and always use official app stores when downloading.
  • "Year in Review" articles. These often contain interesting titles and are used as bait to lure users to click on bad links which may contain malware.
  • Videos. In the past, this has run rampant on Facebook. Watch out for video links that seem sensational or unbelievable.
  • Free gift cards. No company is going to give you a free $100 gift card (and in 2014 this one is going out from multiple "companies", I've received a ton of them myself).
  • Fake delivery notices. In Dec. 2014 the U.S. Federal Trade Commission warned of a fake “delivery failure notification” email scam at a time of year many people are expecting packages. There have also been other emails allegedly coming from popular retailers. 
According to ScamBusters.org, the time frame between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the "busiest" season for scams. 

It's a good idea to be vigilant at all times, 'tis the Season for Scams, be especially careful during the holidays.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Humor: Having dumb moments

Ever have one of those days when nothing seems to go right, and your day is full of those "I should have done this instead" moments? You know the kind, those days when no matter what you say or do, it's wrong. Boy, I hate those days.

Having dumb moments can be frustrating, embarrassing or just plain funny.  Some of the below are mine, some of them of other people I know. 

Everyone has a dumb moment on occasion, but you know it’s really bad when . . .
  1. You're late leaving for work, scrambling around in a panic looking for your keys and come to find they are firmly grasped in your hand. Even worse is looking for your glasses and then you realize you're wearing them...
  1. Then there is the alarm clock issue. On one of those days you overslept, you race into work half-asleep with a carefully concocted, but great, story to tell your boss. But when you approach the building you find it's locked. You feel a sense of relief that everyone else seems to be late too and savor the moment that – for once – you are actually the first to arrive. Then you remember it's Saturday . . .
  1. What about keeping your car filled with gas? Routine event, right? Piece of cake for most people probably, but not for you. You went to the gas station because your gas gauge was on empty, only to discover when you got there that you'd left your wallet at home. No big deal right? Except you don't have enough gas to go back to grab the cash.
  1. Dinner time is another adventure for you. You get the crock-pot filled and ready to go, turn your dinner on, only to return home hours later to find, while you turned the knob to the "on" position, you never plugged in the pot. Your family also relished in your dumb moment when they realized it was going to be crunchy potatoes and a really rare roast for dinner (I've done this recently!!)
  1. What about the time you spent the morning typing up an important document and got distracted? Instead of hitting save, you closed the document, and out of habit clicked "OK" and lost the proposal that was due to your boss in the morning.
  1. How about the time a terrible thunderstorm blew through and the electric went out. You reached for your cordless phone to call the electric company only to realize you needed your power on in order to call and report the outage. And your cellphone's battery was also dead since you forgot to charge it.
  1. You knew you were really having a dumb moment the day you went to go get the kids from school, picked up the baby, grabbed the cellphone and headed out the door. On a whim you turned around to grab a notebook so you could scribble some ideas down for your latest article while waiting for the bus and, remembering each step to leave the house, locked the door behind you on the way out. As you tried to unlock your car, you were dismayed to find the remote door locks on the car didn't work. You looked down and saw why - your cellphone wasn't exactly successful in unlocking the door. It hit you like a ton of bricks when you remembered you put down your keys to grab the notebook . . . duh! (Years ago - but a true story!!)
  1. Have you ever loaded your groceries into the trunk, placed your keys down so you could grab the last bag? Remember how dumb you felt after you slammed the trunk down leaving your keys inside? You then think it's okay because you have a spare set and then recall the extra key is in the glove compartment. If you thought that was dumb, it's probably best you blocked out the $45 you had to spend on a locksmith (not my dumb moment, but names have been omitted to protect the guilty... )
  1. What about the time you went out in the morning to warm up your car and locked your keys in the running car? (Notice a keys theme here?) 
Everyone has a dumb day once in a while, but you know it's really bad when the local locksmith has your name programmed on his speed dial and keeps a spare set of all your keys.

If you're experiencing these "dumb" mishaps, the best thing to do is laugh it off and hope tomorrow is a better day! After all, it is another opportunity to create some new cherished, but perhaps dumb, moments.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Music: Going from 'Retro' to 'Oldie'

Photo credit: Leigh Goessl
When does music go from "retro" to "oldie"? Is there even a difference between the two? 

I've always likened "retro" as days of yesterday, but not too far back in the past, and  the "oldies" was the stuff from my grandparents' era. 

Now I'm not so sure!

Anyone growing up in the 1970s probably considers the '50s and part of the '60s as "oldies" music. For instance, in the greater New York City area, we had a radio station - 101.1 (CBS-FM) - that played music from earlier eras, making it one of the only radio stations (at least that I was aware of) in the region on the dial to play oldies all day long. 

In my memories, this is mostly Elvis, sock-hop type of stuff, mixed in with "downtheshore" and beach music. 



Fast forward to today and what a shock for me when I traveled up north and tuned into 101.1 FM. They were playing primarily 1980s music with a splash of '70s tunes. This even included hair bands and classic rock mixed in with some soft rock and pop songs. 

A few years back I first heard '80s music referred as "retro", but I guess the time has come where it has officially transitioned into 'oldies' music.  Where do the years go? 

Needless to say, this is now one of my more favorite stations to when visiting the greater NYC area (lol).
How did you first feel when the music you listened to as a kid/teen turned into "oldies" tunes?


Saturday, September 12, 2015

Flash fiction: Creeping away from danger

David desperately looked around him as he heard the loud explosions crashing over his head. He wondered how he would ever get out of here. If he could only escape. He made a solemn promise to himself if he got out he would never come back to this place again.

Yet, with each opportunity, he returned.

The first time David came under fire he crawled into a ball and tried to wish it away, but the gory images and crashing noises infiltrated his brain. Despite this, still, he returned. Hoping to emerge with a different outcome each time. But it never happened.

In the past this place had always been compelling to him. It was a destination David visited frequently. Lately, the appeal had turned to fright and the violence was getting out of control. During previous visits David always managed to dodge any dangers, but this time felt trapped with no way out.

He abruptly ducked.

"Oh that was a close one," he thought to himself.

David shuddered at the thundering noises, vivid images and that near miss from just mere moments ago; he crawled to the nearby steps. Slowly, David crept his way out of the immediate danger in the darkness and moved into the light. Once he reached the top he made his way down the corridor until he reached the safe haven he knew to be at the end of the way.

The moonlight danced in and out of vision, but there was enough streaming light to help guide the way to safety. Only a few more steps until he reached his refuge.
David spoke out loud for the first time in what seemed like hours.

As he approached the doorway he whispered, "Mom," then a little louder, "Mom!" 

He was grateful to hear a quick response.

"Mom, I had a nightmare. I dreamed about the video games again. This time it really, really scared me!"

His mom had previously advised him to give up the first person shooter games, but he always went back despite her warnings. She gave him a hug, allowed him to sit. He felt safe again.

"Next time I swear I will stay away from those games and play something else. I mean it this time."

Friday, September 11, 2015

Flash Fiction: A shocking betrayal

All morning Sandy had a nagging feeling. No reason why she felt this way, but she just couldn't shake it. With a deep sigh she turned her attention to happier things.

Tomorrow was her and Jim's 10th anniversary, and they planned to celebrate in style. First, dinner at the swankiest restaurant in town. Jim made reservations a month ago, even getting one of the coveted terrace tables overlooking the city. In the morning, they'd set sail, head down the coast, just the two of them.

Sandy spent the morning packing suitcases and buying food to stock the boat's kitchenette. Jim had left at the crack of dawn to ready the boat for their excursion.

Things had been wonderful lately. That other woman who'd almost shattered their marriage was almost forgotten. It was a shocking betrayal, but they'd spent years healing from Jim's infidelity. Their marriage was now solid. Jim had been the perfect husband since ending the affair, so supportive to her, especially after her beloved aunt died shortly afterward. He'd handled all the finances.

As she bagged the food, brief thoughts of the brunette Jim had been involved with flashed through her mind. Sandy pushed those thoughts away. There was no way Bernadette would occupy even a moment of her thoughts. Not this week. Not this anniversary. The thought of Jim cheating still hurt, but Sandy found forgiveness. Why she was thinking about this now she had no idea. Suddenly the nausea returned.

Sandy was just about finished when she had an impulsive idea. Packing up some cheese and crackers, she grabbed a bottle of wine.

"An impromptu picnic while we ready the boat will be a great way to start our celebration," she said half-aloud.

With a quick glance in the rear view mirror, Sandy smiled at the radiance reflecting back. Yes, life was good. Sandy pulled into the parking lot neighboring the harbor, suddenly feeling sicker. Ignoring the feeling she opened the cabin's door. All was strangely quiet. Where was Jim?

She went inside and pulled the curtain to the sleeping quarters. She couldn't believe her eyes. The wine dropped, shattering.

Bernadette spoke first.

"Jim, what is going on? She wasn't supposed to be here until morning. All these years of planning...what about the inheritance?"

"Sandy, you shouldn't have come," Jim said.

Jim reached under the mattress. The last thing Sandy heard was the click of Jim's gun before she turned to flee.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Flash Fiction: Encounter at daybreak



A new day brings new beginnings...

Linda and Patrick's relationship had been a chaotic one from the start. When they met, both had been coming off from tumultuous relationships and each was still filled with baggage from these previous attachments.

It had been 10 years, and Linda was sitting in a coffee shop booth thinking back to that single day.She remembered how they first met at this shop neither one frequented, but both happened to be sitting in on the same morning. The sun hadn't yet risen, and the darkness suited the state of mind both were in on that day.

Despite his gloomy mood, Patrick noticed Linda and grinned. Linda smiled back. She heard a voice, but it took her a few minutes to process what was happening.

"A bit humid out this morning," Patrick had said.

"Just a little," Linda replied, suddenly feeling awkward.

She looked up and there sat Patrick smiling. After a few minutes Linda felt less tongue-tied and conversation flowed easily. The duo talked for hours, until they realized it was already closing in on noon.

"I have to get going," Linda said, remembering an appointment she had and would probably be late for; suddenly not wanting to go.

Patrick eased her hesitance by inviting her for a date for the following Friday evening. She quickly agreed.

It wasn't long before the two became a couple and decided to get married. Soon afterward the chaos began. His ex-wife and her ex-boyfriend continuously caused discord; Patrick had gotten passed over for a promotion and Linda lost her job. The stresses were too much on the relationship and after two years they'd parted ways, eventually getting a divorce.

As the years went by, they never spoke. Linda had moved out of town. Both had wondered "what if" many a time, but neither tried to contact the other.

On a muggy August evening, Linda decided to go for a ride, and ended up driving around all night. Just before daybreak she found herself in front of the same coffee shop she'd ventured into so many years before. Parking the car, she went in, ordered a coffee and shrunk deep into the booth.

Suddenly, the silence was broken.

"A bit humid out this morning", a male voice quietly said. Linda looked up and smiled.

After several hours, Linda and Patrick walked out together into the sunrise, hand-in-hand.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Flash Fiction: Mistakes


Due to their high-powered careers the two had parted ways because they couldn't find a location where they could both work. They'd closed up the apartment in Connecticut to head to their respective new jobs in different cities.

Is it too late to repair a mistake?

Beverly leaned up against the window of the bus taking her from Washington D.C. to New York City. It had been two years since she'd gone back to the northeast. Patrick had no idea she was coming.

Initially, they had vowed to work the distance out, but the 12-hour days were not conducive to a long-distance relationship, and their once-intense closeness began to erode. 
It had been a long time since they'd talked. Beverly even deleted his cellphone number out of her phone. Their last argument had been terrible and regretful words had been said by each of them. With each passing day Beverly knew she'd made a mistake.

After a lot of reflection Beverly decided the money and prestige was not worth this misery. She quit her job and took a much lower profile one in order to try and patch things up with Patrick. Next, she sold the BMW and figured she'd rely on public transportation in the Big Apple; she bought a one-way bus ticket to New York City.

Five hours later Beverly arrived in New York, checked into a hotel and went straight to Patrick's apartment. To her dismay his name was not on the door buzzer. His apartment, #522, was listed with an empty slot.

Beverly sat down on the step and sobbed.

"I waited too long," she said half to herself, half out loud.

Not realizing an hour had passed, Beverly was still perched on the step. An older woman came out of the building and gently asked if she was OK. She couldn't answer at first.
The woman just quietly put her hand on Beverly's shoulder. Between tears Beverly told this kindly stranger the whole story. Suddenly, to Beverly's surprise, the woman gasped and took a step back. Confused, she looked up through tear-streaked eyes.

"I'm sorry dear, I didn't mean to upset you further, but my name is Mrs. O'Brien. I own this building. I know Patrick well. He moved out two days ago after he quit his job on Wall Street to move down to Washington D.C."

"He didn't tell me much, only that he'd made a huge mistake."

Monday, September 7, 2015

Poetry - Wild and free

butterfly.flowers
Photo credit: Leigh Goessl
All her life she felt trapped
Wanting liberation
Always just out of reach
A desired salvation

Released from the shackles
Feeling free as a bird
 
All ready to embrace life
Her past started to blur

First she ran to the playground
Swung high up on the swings
Danced around a grassy field
Finally free to spread her wings

A chance to start life over
Fresh beginning and new start
Time to live life to the fullest
Her old life she can depart

Her happiness to be found
By living wild and free
For the first time in her life
She's free to be who she wants to be

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Memoirs: The toys I grew up with

Photo credit: Leigh Goessl
Growing up in the 1970s was a lot of fun. In those days we didn't have many bright, flashy, blinking or video-centric games the kids of today play with, but even though our toys were simplistic in nature, we had some pretty nifty toys.

Most of the toys I grew up with were made of durable wood. Our parents didn't have to worry about breakage and replacements over the course of time, and boy could these toys withstand some rough play. A few of these toys are still manufactured today, but they don't seem to be able to compete with the electronics and plastics that fill the toy shelves today. It does make me smile though to see a few retailers bringing back "retro items" in those simple boxes.

It seems like only yesterday my siblings and I used to take our brilliantly colored wooden blocks, augment them with Lincoln Logs for extra finesse, and sit for hours building architectural wonders which grew into small cities. In between tall buildings we developed towers and other structures with our Tinker Toys for additional flair.

I also have warm recollections of going to visit our great-aunt and playing Pick-Up Sticks. In those days, even the Pick-Up Sticks were made of wood; the excitement of concentrating and trying my hardest to grasp a stick without moving the others was always thrilling. I actually found my old set (one of the few toys to escape the donate pile) a few years back and I immediately brought those home. 

Colorforms were another wonderful pastime, I can recall how fun it was to take those sticker-like characters and magically pose them in the scenery; my favorite was "Snoopy", although "Wonder Woman" was pretty neat too. All we needed was that piece of cardboard with those small plastic pieces to create stories and our imaginations took us through all sorts of adventures as we strategically placed our colorforms across the mat.

One of the fondest memories I have is of my best friend and I trekking our Charlie's Angels dolls into the woods and setting up camp. We craftily found ways for our dolls go on fearless adventures, climbing through the dangers of the woods to fight crime and solve mysteries. In our campsite we used fallen leaves as blankets, and we tied twigs together to create cots for them to sleep in between excursions. 

As much as I loved playing with those dolls in the woods, the rustic surroundings weren't exactly glamorous and I desperately dreamed of the Charlie's Angels' Hideaway House. Our family didn't have a lot of money and I knew it was a distant wish. I'll never forget the year that there was a big package under the Christmas tree with my name on it and when I had opened it, it was the Hideaway House! To this day I have no idea how my mother managed to find the money for it. 

Santa does indeed work in mysterious ways. My dolls and I were very happy and proud to have a home to relax in after battling the dangers of the woods.

Today, as I browse through the toy aisles, plastic toys with digital enhancements dominate the shelves. While they have a certain appeal and attraction, they just don't hold the same magnetism the toys of yesteryear did. Kids quickly move on from one electronic fad to the next and modern toys don't hold their attention the way those charming wooden ones held ours.

Before one fad ends, another one has already begun, and last year's "hot" toys are quickly forgotten, the majority of toys today aren't "timeless", although there are a few out there that still exist.

For my son, it was all about the PlayStation then later the XBox, but every so often he'd sit down with his baby sister and play with brightly colored blocks. As I watched them build their own architectural marvels together, I'd sit back and quietly smile. Despite all this wild technology progress happening, some things just don't change.

What were your favorite toys when growing up?