Saturday, December 26, 2009

If I had a million dollars

When I was still in elementary school, one of the most popular shows on television was a show titled “The Millionaire”, and it aired from January 19, 1955 to June 8, 1960.

The basic idea behind the show was that a mysterious benefactor (John Beresford Tipton) gave away $1,000,000 each week to beneficiaries that would never meet him, and the checks were always delivered by his faithful employee, Michael Anthony.

At the time, $1,000,000 seemed to be unimaginable wealth, but (sad to say) $1,000,000 isn’t what it used to be.

When I worked at CIGNA in the mid 1990’s. I was on track to retire at the age of 65 with $1,000,000 in the bank, and a house that was fully paid for.

And then ..

Life happened.

I no longer own a house, and I have a LOT less than $1,000,000 in the bank, but I’ve also had some life experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

If you’ve ever added up the income shown on the social security statements that you receive every year, you may be shocked at the amount of money that you’ve made so far in your life.

When I totaled my most recent statement, I discovered that I had earned slightly more than $1,250,000 so far during my working career, which (technically) would make me a millionaire. Naturally, the first question that came to mind after I did my tally was “where in the world did all that money go to?”

The brief answer is that all that money was consumed by a comfortable (but not extravagant) lifestyle that supported me and my immediate family..

Was it money well spent?

To a large degree, absolutely.

As I gradually inch closer to retirement, I’ve come to realize that true wealth isn’t measured by how much money that you have in the bank, but by the people that you’ve encountered on your journey through life.

By that measure, I’d have to say that I’m a pretty fortunate guy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


On November 20, my friend Dave put the attached note on his Facebook page:

“Brer Rabbit Molasses on an English Muffin, and a banana, was a good breakfast. How about that for a high fructose corn product elimination?”

At first, it seemed to be an unusual breakfast, but the more that I thought about it, the more sense it made.

A day or so later, I tried some molasses on my pancakes, and I have subsequently had it in my oatmeal a few times. Both combinations were so good that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it before.

Sharon has always uses molasses in her ginger cookies, but I never realized that it had uses other than that.

It also got me wondering, “what exactly IS molasses?”.

When I plugged the term into Google, I discovered that there are LOTS more uses than I previously had imagined:

who do you know that’s slower than molasses in January?

Just for fun, I also plugged “molasses” into YouTube to see what songs popped up and, fiddle dee dee, I found a BUNCH.

Woody Herman’s swing band had a version, Andy Williams did a version for the movie “Judge Roy Bean”, the movie “1776” had a song titled “molasses to rum”, and the groups Radiohead, The Hush Sound, and Mista also did versions.

My favorite version, though, was the fiddle tune performed by the group Bearfoot in Sedona, Arizona, which is one of my favorite cities:

Molasses is a byproduct of the refining of either cane sugar or beet sugar, but some of the countries in the Middle East make it from other foods.

There are three grades of molasses that are made from cane sugar:
(1) Mild, or first molasses
(2) Dark, or second molasses
(3) blackstrap molasses

Blackstrap molasses contains a significant number of vitamins and minerals. It is often sold as a health supplement, and is also used in cattle feed and in other industrial uses.

The process of refining beet sugar results in only one grade of molasses, but also produces intermediate syrups called high green and low green.

Just like the lowly peanut, molasses is used in a variety of ways that few of us realize. It can be made into rum, can be used in the mortar for brickwork, can be used to remove rust, can be used as an alternative fuel in motor vehicles, can be used to treat burns, can be smoked in a water pipe, can be used for fish bait, can be used in gardening, can be used as an iron supplement, and is frequently used in the making of Shoofly pie and brown sugar.

There’s an old saying that nothing is as slow as molasses in January, but there was one point in our nation’s history that just the opposite was true.

On the morning of January 15, 1919, a huge molasses storage tank on the north side of Boston burst, sending a wave of molasses nearly 15 feet high at a speed of 35 miles per hour through the streets of Boston.

The force of the flood was strong enough to knock a train off its tracks, demolish several buildings, kill 21 people and several horses, and injure 150 additional people:

we’re in for a heap of trouble here, Martha.

On October 15, 2009, a flock of sheep in northern Jordan caught fire and exploded, which made for a very unhappy day for the poor guy who was out there simply tending to his flock.

In the same vein, if you saw a wave of molasses coming towards you at the speed of a locomotive, the rest of the day isn’t going to be very pretty.

The next time you bite into a warm and chewy ginger cookie, your new knowledge will help you to have a better appreciation of the humble brown syrup that was once strong enough to derail a train.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

How the secret decoder ring helped me find the Illinois Prairie Path

When I was a kid, if you sent your name and address to Captain Midnight, along with a wax paper disc from the top of a jar of Ovaltine, you would receive ABSOLUTELY FREE your very own Secret Squadron decoder ring, a Secret Squadron membership card, and the official 12 page instruction manual:

Captain Midnight

If you’ve seen the 1983 movie, A Christmas story, you may remember how excited Ralphie was as he dialed in the special code on his brand new decoder ring:

As you might suspect, the Secret Squadron decoder ring was a pretty successful marketing tool in the days when ALL television shows were in black and white, and most of our communication was by “snail mail”.

Ovaltine started business in Switzerland way back in 1904, where it was known by its original name, Ovomaltine. When it was exported to England in 1909, the name got shortened to Ovaltine, and in 1915, production was started in Villa Park, Illinois for the American market.

When Ovaltine Company first opened their factory in America, they needed a way to make sure their employees could get to and from work safely, no matter the weather, terrain or other issues.

Villa Park was built originally for that reason.

The company used the existing lines of the Chicago, Aurora and Elgin Railroad to transport their employees. Unfortunately, the CA&E ceased to carry passengers in 1957, due to a dramatic drop in ridership stemming from the construction of the Eisenhower Expressway (I-290), and the general increase in use of personal automobiles. The right-of-way was eventually cleaned up and developed into a hiking and bicycling trail known as the Illinois Prairie Path.

The Illinois Prairie Path started operation in the 1960’s, and was the very first “rails to trails” project in the country.

The Ardmore Station is now home to the Chamber of Commerce, and the Villa Avenue Station houses the Villa Park Historical Society. The Ovaltine factory itself was closed in 1988. After several years as a vacant building, it was eventually converted into loft apartments.

When we lived in the western suburbs, I used to take long bike rides on the Illinois Prairie Path on a fairly regular basis, but I’d have to admit that I really can’t remember the last time that I had any Ovaltine.

Although there are several places that you can buy it online, I recently discovered that the Jewel store just up the street carries it.

Naturally, I bought a container of the chocolate variety the other day, and tried it out.


I no longer live anywhere near the Illinois Prairie Path, but if I ever come across an opportunity to bicycle on it again, I’ll be sure to bring some Ovaltine with me.

It just seems to be the proper thing to do.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

the electric cigarette

When I was a kid, power windows and power mirrors on a car seemed frivolous –

but I can’t imagine anyone buying a car without them now.

Electric pencil sharpeners seemed to be the height of stupidity –

until we bought one.

Electric toothbrushes seemed totally unnecessary –

until I got one for Christmas.

When I was in college, Tom Wolfe published a book called The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test. Truth be told, it didn’t have a lot to do with electricity, but it WAS a celebration of a “psychedelic life style”. Being a “child of the 60’s”, the title immediately brought to mind black lights, the fragrance of patchouli, and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.

A movie of the same title is scheduled to be released in 2010.

I recently discovered that people actually spend good money for a thing called “an electric cigarette”.

Although it’s not intended as a smoking cessation device, the electronic cigarette CAN help folks to quit smoking. For those who prefer to continue to smoke, it’s a safer alternative to the nicotine cravings that come with “regular” cigarettes.

To quote the drill sergeants that I grew up with in the National Guard:

“smoke ‘em if you got ‘em”

And to quote Forrest Gump”

“that’s all that I got to say”