Jack and I are sick of tricks

Author: natalie  //  Category: Holidays, Issues, National

Happy Halloween! I hope this finds you all scaring up some fun – even if you don’t officially celebrate. It’s difficult to escape all that surrounds what has become a cauldron filled with a mixed brew of beliefs and customs.

That said an entire industry has been built around the day and people’s enjoyment of fear. To be fair, there is also a whimsical side – adults would rather not be awakened by frightened children – complete with festive thank-goodness-it’s-finally-fall fun.  There’s something for everyone.

Listening to the radio for a few minutes will garner several locations within driving distance where you can pay to enter and enjoy a fearful adrenaline rush. Those venues come with names like Phobia, known for featuring clowns of all things; Screamworld, and of course all the haunteds  . . . woods, houses, etc.  I suppose phobophobiacs, those who have a fear of fear, avoid those. I’ve never attended any, but have heard the scariest parts are often the lines and wait to go through. No thanks.

If you’re one who would rather place your money on actual goods versus an experience, retail data shows Halloween only second to Christmas in home décor and the third largest party day of the year. Those in the business of making a profit off the day are quite spirited by the fact that despite the lagging economy, most of us were in the mood to spend more this year than last Halloween.  

Retailer Steven Silverstein, President of Spirit Halloween costume stores, says sales increase by 30 percent when Halloween falls on a Saturday and that Halloween should be officially moved to the last Saturday in October, regardless of the date. He and like-minded individuals descended on Capitol Hill earlier this month asking Congress to do just that. I can think of other things I want my elected officials working on.

Silverstein’s movement termed “Halloweekend” is currently circulating a petition. He claims “the recession can be ended, jobs created and Halloween will just be more fun”. While a staunch believer in capitalism and free markets, I’m not so sure this could get us out of the mess we’re in. I like his spirit, though – far better than the apparition of our government officials announcing just this week that it appears the recession is over.

Yes, the economy grew at 3.5 percent in the third quarter, ending four straight quarters of contracting economic activity. But . . . and it’s a big BUT . . . that “growth” was spurred by brisk federal spending and government-supported spending on cars and homes.  Think Cash for Clunkers and federal tax credits for first-time homebuyers. Sigh. Those willing to remove the masks are already stating it will be difficult to sustain such a recovery after government support for the programs end. Is it really a treat if we trick ourselves?

On a much lighter note, if you will be hosting trick-or-treaters at your home, be on the lookout for the vampire-costume trend.  We have once again (it goes in waves), due to the popularity of some books and movies, become entranced by vampires. But it’s different this time. They don’t look so scary any more. In fact, they’re quite good-looking and overtly seductive – be careful not to look them in the eyes.

After costumes, it wouldn’t be Halloween without jack-o-lanterns. Have you seen some of the elaborate designs? I’m amazed at what some can do with small tools and too much free time. I mean, it is going to rot. My children bought some rather large pumpkins to carve and plan on scooping out the innards of one and draping it out of the mouth to appear as though Mr. Jack O’Lantern has either a) partaken of too many confectionary delights, or b) spent a little time with me discussing the “end” of the recession. I know just how he feels. Have a Happy Halloween!

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© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Starbooks gets 5 stars

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas

The planets and stars were in proper alignment Tuesday evening at The Whatley Estate, and I took off the evening mom/chef/tutor hat for something I’ve always wanted to do. OK, I must confess. Nothing was aligned. I got dressed and announced I was leaving for an hour. Surprise, confusion, and even a glimmer of panic crossed some otherwise carefree faces. There was no meal cooked, homework had not been done, and showers not taken. Lo and behold, the earth did not stop spinning on its axis.

Sterling Municipal Library’s Starbooks at Starbucks, presented by librarian Jamie Eustace, boasts “Tired of the same old grind? Perk up your routine!” I met with Jamie in previous years in a book club and having now seen her in action reviewing books, I personally guarantee more than your routine will be perked. Her enthusiasm was evident as she reviewed numerous titles shelved at the library. “I just want people to know that the book is alive and well and the library is the perfect place to discover something new!”  She accomplishes that goal and so much more. How’s that for a review of the reviewer?

The program actually started in the summer of 2008. Now that I know what I was missing, I could kick myself for not getting there sooner.  I was notified well ahead of each meeting, but something always stood in the way of going. Since I’m now a bona-fide escape artist, this will be an area where I’ll use my newly-acquired skills.  

I intended on arriving early and learning a little about my co-attendees. Instead, I pulled in to the nearly-full Starbucks parking lot just minutes shy of the 6:30 p.m. start time. Thankfully there were a few vacant chairs awaiting occupation at the outer edge of the gathering, and I didn’t have to enter the dreaded center of the room whereby all eyes would notice the newbie.  Jamie says she usually has about two dozen people at each gathering, and while I didn’t take a head count, that looked about right.

I enjoyed it so much that I e-mailed Jamie the next morning in hopes that the old book club was still meeting. Sadly, it’s not.  If I get the chance to get in on another one, I will. Book clubs always pull me out of reading ruts, and I end up fascinated by something I would have never given a second look. And then, to hear what other people take away from what they read – that’s fun in my book.

The highlight and disappointment of the evening was one in the same for me: One of the 15 books reviewed was “The Slippery Year” by Melanie Gideon.  Just a few years my senior, she digs into being female and hitting mid-life. I’ve already placed a hold at the library and can’t wait to read it. My disappointment came from the fact that someone else beat me to writing about it. I thought I had the market cornered on that craziness.

All said, it was five-star entertainment in a nice cozy setting – perfect for a little weeknight pick-me-up with the added bonus of leaving with book titles you know won’t be a waste of time.

Jamie will hold another fun-filled hour of what’s hot off the publishing presses at the Starbucks on the I-10 feeder and Garth Rd. on Tuesday, November 17 at 6:30 p.m.  If you’d like more information, or would like to be on the e-mail list to receive reminders of upcoming events you can reach Jamie Eustace at 281-427-7331 ext. 230 or [email protected]

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

There’s an escape from the jacket

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

As a first-born stick-in-the-mud (I’ve mentioned that about myself a time, or maybe two. Can you tell I have a complex?) I take most of what life sends my way far too seriously. While that trait is engrained in every cell of my being, I like to believe I have the capacity for having fun. But I can guarantee I’ll not be the one starting it.

For well over three decades, life moved along with me unbothered by my lack of participation in escapism, which has a variety of definitions, but suffice it to say humans use it to escape reality when reality gets to be a bit much. (Etymologists say the word escapism probably came into usage during the early 1930s while our country was in a very depressed state. I take some comfort in knowing it’s not just current generations needing a break from some harsh realities – not that I consider my life as difficult as those who suffered through The Great Depression.)

There are those who proclaim members of modern society fritter away too much time in activities designed to take one’s mind off necessary stressors – rabid consumerism, food, recreational and pharmaceutical drugs, alcohol, books, television, computers, video games – unplugging vast numbers from real life, making us lazy and highly unproductive.

More and more, I’m seeing the value in anything that lets off some proverbial steam. Of course being a writer requires one to be a reader as well, and I’ve tried going that route, except I prefer non-fiction. It’s like I have some sick need to constantly immerse myself in what is or was actual existence. I suppose human nature dictates that at some point a part of me would revolt. I’m curious to see which side will be victorious. 

I’m learning that the wisest among us are those escapists who have mastered the balance of work and play, using the benefits before becoming overwhelmed – yet another lesson I wished I’d picked up sooner. I’m cutting myself a little slack, though. This wasn’t something I was ready to grasp before living with teenagers.

Since I realized my need for an outlet, I’ve tried to find positive ones. While I’m a lifetime member of the intermittent exerciser club, I started running after school started in August.  It’s a strange thing, too, because I’ve never enjoyed running; it felt awkward and I pictured folks outside laughing as I lumbered along. Just weeks later, I’m feeling more comfortable in my movement and furthermore, don’t care what anybody thinks.

Some days I run like the wind when I have a firm grasp on what’s irritating me at the moment and picture myself running away from it. Other days, visualizing something pleasant in the near distance motivates me to move forward. In either case, before long the pea-sized gland in my brain sends out some pretty powerful stuff: endorphins. I think maybe now I’m addicted.

While under the influence and enjoying a particular escape vision, famous escapologist, Harry Houdini, appeared in my thoughts. He was masterful at getting out of straitjackets, which is where I fear I’m headed more days than not. The good news: Before his death (he died of complications with appendicitis, not performing an escape stunt as has been depicted by Hollywood) he wrote a book that told how he got out. By enlarging his chest and shoulders he created a fair amount of wiggle room before dislocating his shoulders and gaining freedom.  Since reality makes me feel so disjointed lately, I think I may have found my new calling: escape artist. Step right up and enjoy the show!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Swatting builds endurance

Author: natalie  //  Category: Baytown, Texas, It's all about me

I joined the SWAT team this week. Before you start thinking I’ve taken my recent participation in the Citizens Police Academy too far, I assure you it’s not what it may seem. However, I have been asked several times in the past couple of weeks if I’m planning on becoming a police officer. The answer is no. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I hadn’t reached the maximum age to apply. Career changes are on the forefront of my mind lately, and I like to keep my options open.

You’ve no doubt joined the team as well. I refer to the move I constantly make while outdoors and with greater regularity even indoors. Yes, I’m dancing around, slapping, hitting . . . swatting.  After the rain we received, and I’m not complaining because we needed it, the mosquitoes took over. I’ve seen and heard the city trucks out spraying – thankful for it – but I think the little critters have mutated and get a real charge out of flying through the fog of chemicals, straw-like proboscis in the ready position, and poking even the smallest area of exposed flesh. They mock us. For that, I have no reservations over using my brute strength to end their pathetic lives.

Knowing that every living thing has some objective to accomplish on Earth, I asked a question that seems to go unanswered. What exactly is the purpose of the mosquito in the grand scheme of things? I researched tirelessly to provide an answer. (The fact that on most days I’m unable to determine my own purpose beyond providing clean laundry and the restocking of the pantry made the quest laughable, but one never knows when an endeavor may lead to the path of enlightenment.)

The best answer by far was provided by some anonymous soul who posted their wisdom on the internet, “The purpose of the mosquito is to provide humans with the pleasure of scratching that itch!” That has to be it. There was also a whole bunch of scientific mumbo-jumbo. Scientists couldn’t say for certain what role mosquitoes play other than providing a miniscule percentage of a food source for some predatory aquatic animals as well as bats, dragonflies and spiders. They did, however, caution against completely eradicating the species.  I guess that position is understandable in that never solving this problem provides a certain level of job security for researchers and the producers of mosquito repellants.

While investigating, I dug up a few interesting tidbits I didn’t already know. (And people who have conversations with me wonder why I am a repository of useless knowledge.) Mosquitoes pollinate certain grasses, goldenrods, and are the exclusive pollinators for the blunt-leaved bog orchid. I looked those up; they’re as beautiful as the name implies. While they’re not particularly pretty, I’m sure they have a purpose, too.

Old Japanese ghost stories claim mosquitoes are reincarnations of the dead, condemned by the errors of their former lives. In case that causes you to worry you’ll be serving out some time as a blood-sucking pest (which only the females mosquitoes are . . . I won’t go there), you’re safe unless the “errors” in your life include jealousy or greed.  It was unclear in that ancient folklore if one would be reincarnated over and over since the life-span is fairly short – one week for a male, one month for a female – maybe it depended on the degree of jealousy and greed.

 At the end of my little insect journey, I got it. They are here to teach me a few things – specifically patience, tolerance, and endurance for the pesky little things I allow to ruin otherwise nice moments in life. I’ll give it a go as soon as I gear up for battle in the boots, cool SWAT suit, goggles, and helmet. It’s a jungle out there!

© 2009 Natalie Whatley

Lingo is more my game-o

Author: natalie  //  Category: It's all about me

In a recent spate of bingo playing — twice in one month counts when I’d only played twice in the last ten years – I found myself sitting in a room, mind wandering off task as usual, and pondering what started it all.

The company at my table, which included the president (Mike Wadley) and treasurer (Jeff Whatley) of the group hosting the games, were not at all to blame for my lack of enthusiasm. We didn’t converse much because concentrated effort and good listening skills were required – especially when the caller veered from “straight bingo” and had the players trying to form letters and symbols. The tension was thick, and it was always easy to tell when many were getting close as the chatter in the room escalated.

And before anyone gets upset, this was a family event put on by the Bayer Employees Recreation Association and in no way constituted gambling – risking money on a game of chance or to hazard something of value on an uncertain event – which we all know is not legal here in The Great State of Texas.  All I had to do was show up and play; no risk whatsoever save for the sodium in the pizza I couldn’t refuse which caused me to retain about five gallons of water the next day. It wasn’t pretty.

As the second bingo evening wore on and prizes were claimed from the table, the lone non-winner in our family became quite upset, “Bingo, the sport that I stink at!” Which immediately got me questioning whether or not is was a sport.  Technically, the answer is no. But I think we’ve all seen some who take it serious, so I say it all depends on how one plays.

I took it so non-serious that I didn’t even want to yell, “Bingo!” when chance provided me a winning combination. Having everyone in a room looking at me causes what psychologists refer to as an anxiety attack, so I kicked Jeff and had him say it for me. Then I still had to stand in the middle of the room while my card was verified. Talk about stress!   

What we know as the game of bingo today actually originated in 16th-century Italy as the state-run lottery “Lo Giuoco del Lotto D’Italia”, which still runs every Saturday. From Italy the game spread throughout Europe and was popular at carnivals and fairs. The American version came about through toy salesman Edwin Lowe when he learned of the game “beano”, while visiting a carnival on his way to Georgia in 1929.

Being in the toy business, Lowe made some cards and started using the prototypes to play with friends. One lady became so excited over having winning numbers that she jumped up and yelled, “Bingo!” Lowe thought the name was catchy, and it became an instant hit in the states.

Problems arose when Lowe’s original cards had number combinations that repeated too frequently and greatly increased the odds of winning. Great for the players seeking prizes, but not so good for those hosting the games. Lowe fixed the problem with the help of mathematician Carl Leffler, who was able to produce 6,000 cards – each had numbers jumbled in such a way that the chance of winning was small. The very same cards and number combinations are used today.  

Finally, no discussion on the word bingo would be complete unless we also recall the song many of us sang as children. You know . . . “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o. B-I-N-G-O . . .” Just thinking about it brings the vision of toothless smiles on a school bus and the sound of little hands clapping.

At any rate, while I enjoyed the time spent with others, I’ll just sit and observe next time. There was a writer had a job and lingo was more her game-o. Bingo!

 © 2009 Natalie Whatley