Sunday, March 28, 2010

shell games

The torrential rain today meant that my wife and I had to suggest an indoor activity for our house-guests. My wife's sister and four of her kids are here on their spring break. We drove to tourist-friendly Sevier County and were slightly delayed by the last participant in the Knoxville Marathon. One of the cops who stopped traffic confirmed to me that I was watching the final runner cross Henley Street.

Three and a half years ago, my wife and I enjoyed a visit to RainForest Adventures. We thought her young nephews would want to go there too. They liked it, almost as much as I did. Because I'm a fan of tortoises, I tried looking eye-to-eye at one through the glass. Another glanced up at me from the middle of a huddle.

Another visitor bought pellets to feed some Australian pygmy goats. I saw two flightless birds out in the rain but didn't notice their egg until I got home and viewed the photos.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

dam skippy

Take a moment to listen to someone talk about their interests and you may hear about a whole world you have never experienced. Stacey Handel of Garde Bien Spa Salon was bursting with excitement about her daughter's volleyball team. Not only did the Karns High School Lady Beavers (yeah, I know) defeat archrival Farragut to win the Region 2-AAA title but Kelsey Handel was the tournament MVP. On Thursday night, they will host Sullivan South for sectionals.

Like any good sports mom, Stacey takes some photos during the games but finds that they pale in comparison to the professional shots taken by Before You Blink Photography. She told me how several of the fathers of team members video tape the games and then combine the footage into an edited DVD.

In an odd way, what she described reminded me of a dance competition and a dog agility show. Earlier this year, my wife and I watched a bit of the Dance Dimensions Summer Invitational. A professional photographer took photos of the competitors and sells the shots online.

A few years back we wanted to visit with our friend Sandy Weaver but she was competing with some of her Siberian Huskies in an agility trial at Wills Park in Alpharetta. We went to the park and watched the dog show. I remember being impressed by the ingenious woman taking pictures of the dogs and masters as they ran the course.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Fox Chase Farm was festooned with pink on Saturday for the first Ride for the Cure Virginia. It was one of only a few such events in the country and was the most successful. Susan G. Komen For the Cure will receive over $100,000 in proceeds. My friend Maureen, who bought the farm ten years ago, asked me to make announcements before and during the Ride.

The festivities started with the singing of the National Anthem by Angela Knight. She wore all purple with a sash that read "Mrs. Haymarket." She makes appearances on behalf of the Mrs. Virginia organization when she's not performing as a lyric coloratura with the Washington National Opera or singing her own Christian music in concert.

Several breast cancer survivors walked around the outdoor performance arena while Michael Bicoy of the U.S. Army Chorus sang "You'll Never Walk Alone." The hard part of performing that song is making the audience momentarily forget about Jerry Lewis. Bicoy succeeded easily.

One of the riders was Greta Kreuz from WJLA-TV. She took over the emcee role during the catered dinner under a fancy white tent. I sat at a table with Olympian Joe Fargis, who is revered among the Middleburg horse set. The dessert cupcakes were decorated with pink ribbons.

Most of the donations came from the riders and their sponsors. More money was raised with a silent auction set up around the perimeter of the dinner tent. Three celebrities I know donated items to the silent auction. Thanks go to Jimmy Kimmel, Susan Olsen and Richard Cheese. Everyone seemed pleased that the winner of $4000 in the 50/50 raffle was the guy who hauls the manure off the farm each week.

A crew from the PBS show "Equitrekking" shot video and conducted interviews with some of the participants. They posted a three minute story on YouTube.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

just jivin' honey

The elusive deep-fried Oreo almost did it again. Last year I was unable to find one at the Tennessee Valley Fair. I thought I was going to be denied on Friday night too. While leaving the Homer Hamilton Theatre, I saw a sign that plainly said "Deep Fried Oreo's" and should be submitted to The woman in the booth said they had not yet received their Oreos and tried to sell me a funnel cake instead. No thanks.

My wife and I soon saw two friends who told us there were DFOs to be had elsewhere in the park. Their group had purchased a deep-fried sampler plate, which included an Oreo, a Snickers bar, a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and a glob of cookie dough. They could have also chosen a fried PB&J Jamz. Our friends agreed with my theory that of all the deep-fried treats, the Oreo is the best because it can take it. The candy bars tend to melt inside the batter. They sent me the following note and one of the pictures that they put on Facebook. I zoomed in for a close-up on the goods.
Here is the picture of the fried candy. Oreos, Snickers, and Reese's were yummy. Fried raw cookie dough was just weird. Cookie dough should either be cooked or raw, but fried raw was a strange no man's land of mushy goo.

I found what I was looking for at a different trailer. In addition to the usual fare food of burgers and hot dogs, they offered deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos. I had a deep-fried Twinkie once. It wasn't worth it because the filling, which is the best part, liquefied and was absorbed into the cake. Four deep-fried Oreos cost $3. I didn't need or want that many, so I convinced the guy to sell me two for $1.50.

The headliner at opening night of the fair was Rick Springfield. I was shocked to learn that he is 60 years old. I remember the time he came to KLOS and serenaded our phone screener Preva. During Friday's concert, Rick told the women in the audience to close their eyes while he changed shirts. A lot of the ladies knew to bring bouquets of roses, which he whipped against his guitar strings, showering rose petals upon the stage. I bet he always makes the salad at his house.

About an hour before the Springfield concert began, my wife and I wandered past a tent where a hypnotist was just starting his show. Terrance B asked everyone to close their eyes and imagine that their left hand held a heavy book while their right hand was tethered to a helium balloon. The book got heavier while the balloon went higher. I wasn't feeling it. My two hands had barely moved by the time Terrance walked by and selected my wife to follow him to the stage. She was one of about 16 people chosen. He made them think they were watching funny, sad and scary movies. A woman seated in the center of the row onstage was put back to sleep by Hypnodog, a border collie that stared her down.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

youngest one in curls

Susan Olsen has co-authored a new book about an oft-overlooked aspect of her "Brady Bunch" years. The skeleton in the Brady closet is "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour." The nine episodes they filmed were, in effect, a spin-off of the "Donny & Marie" show.

"Love to Love You Bradys" is all about the disco-era incarnation of the famous TV family. Susan is making the rounds to publicize the book. She will be on the "Today Show" Monday morning and on "Fox & Friends" Tuesday morning.

Yesterday I recorded an hour long interview with my friend Susan. She and I worked together at the Comedy World Radio Network and have kept in touch ever since. We talked about her Brady siblings, Asperger's Syndrome, kitten rescue, Marshmallow Fluff and more.

You can right click here to download the podcast or click on the play button below to let it stream in your browser. Because I know that not everyone will have time to listen to the full hour, let me tell you exactly where to find the parts that will interest you most.
  • 02:02 - the book and the show
  • 08:34 - what about Ann B. Davis?
  • 10:22 - Fake Jan and Paris Hilton's mother (good stuff)
  • 16:55 - more about the Variety Hour
  • 24:35 - her ex-boyfriend, Pooperman
  • 27:06 - Susan's son Michael and Asperger's
  • 32:19 - what about her Brady siblings?
  • 37:49 - why Maureen and Eve aren't close (don't miss this!)
  • 44:02 - Susan's work with kitten rescues
  • 52:12 - our mutual love of Marshmallow Fluff

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009


The Webster-Kirkwood Times is the very definition of a family newspaper. A typical story might be "Cleaner Stream Thanks to Football Team" or "World War II Statue Dedicated at Jefferson Barracks Park." I enjoyed Mary Bufe's clever column on "swimsuit reform."

You can imagine my surprise when I got to page 20 of this week's issue and saw an article about a dog grooming business with an odd trade name. I know newspaper reporters are not that naïve. They must have known what they were printing. Maybe the business owners are laughing about the joke they perpetrated on the local community. Or could they possible not realize what they've done?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

in an octopus's garden

Turkey Creek felt more like a theme park or aquarium on Monday. I went to an advance screening of "Under the Sea 3D," which opened this morning. The film has already been showing at other IMAX theatres, many of which are located at science museums or aquariums.

The filmmakers spent thousands of hours underwater to get 40 minutes of footage, most of which seemed to be about cuttlefish. The "masters of camouflage" were screen hogs. The only thing I really knew about cuttlefish prior to this was that my sister had a parakeet named Gladstone who gnawed on a cuttlebone.

There were some shots of cute sea lions and a cameo by a great white shark but it was the sea snakes and the eels that stole the show, partly because they got the best musical score while they were briefly on screen. One kid starting crying when a frogfish ate a smaller fish that had just escaped another predator.

The obligatory global warming message was palatable. Jim Carrey's voiceover was the medicine and the pretty pictures were the spoonful of sugar. Not so pleasant was the cover version of the Ringo Starr song used for the film's close. Betsy Pickle and Wayne Bledsoe, who were seated in the same row as me, both expressed their dislike of the song as we were leaving the theatre.

According to Fandango, tickets for "Under the Sea 3D" cost $14.75, the same as for "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: The IMAX Experience." Perhaps they can justify the price because the 40-minute fish movie is longer than the 12-minute 3D portion of "Harry Potter." When Harry arrives at the Burrow, three red symbols appear on screen telling you to remove your 3D glasses for the remaining 141 minutes.

Despite the crying kid, "Under the Sea" is intended to be a family film. Oddly the showtimes for Wednesday and Thursday are 11:20 a.m., 12:45 p.m. and 2:10 p.m. Maybe they forgot that school started Monday in Knox County. I suppose they could be going after the field trip crowd.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

feast of the consumption

Even though Michele Silva has taken herself off the air and gone into sales, I was happy to continue my tradition of posing for a photo with her at Feast with the Beasts. She was sampling some foods with Beth Haynes, who was nice enough to have her picture made with me again (and again). My wife and I also enjoyed another visit with former WBIR reporter Jim Ragonese and his wife Jaime. We last saw them at an event I think of as "indoor Feast with the Beasts."

The most interesting thing that I saw at the annual fundraiser for the Knoxville Zoo was a woman in a leafy costume on stilts. My best guess is that she was dressed as kudzu. We watched her make several graceful moves. There's probably a ballet dancer or gymnast under that green makeup.

I could have used a zoo map to help me find some of the food booths that we heard about from other party goers. The ribs at Texas Roadhouse had completely fallen off the bone, as usual. Someone said to be sure to go to The Crown & Goose for raw oysters.

The "homemade" turkey and cranberry sandwiches at Kroger featured the Martha Stewart-like tip of the day. They used pretzel sticks as toothpicks to hold the sandwich together. By the way, somebody should tell the people who put together Kroger's current advertising campaign that a truly homemade TV commercial would look more like a YouTube video and less like Terry Gilliam's style of animation

My wife thought her piece of alligator from Bayou Bay Seafood House was too tough and too spicy however mine was just right. I normally don't like to eat reptiles because I am such a fan of them when they are alive. On the other hand, a cake shaped like a turtle would be perfect for me. The folks from Mango Cakes were auctioning off a sweet tortoise. They said it was a copy of a groom's cake they had made recently. Unfortunately it's pose reminded me of my beloved pet Mo after he had died but before I had him preserved.

One of the people we chatted with was a popular local Twitterer who goes by the name The Fool Monty. He and his wife warned that the gumbo at New Orleans on the River was very spicy, which made me want to try it all the more. They said the Cajun food was in a booth just past The Carousel. I was surprised that particular bar was represented at the event and wondered what they were serving. Turns out Monty meant a real carousel.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A recent movie reminded me of the trip that is responsible for my quest to visit all fifty states. My wife and I saw "The Proposal" after it had been out for a couple of weeks. I really liked it and was pleasantly surprised that the trailer didn't give too much away. Most of the film is set in Sitka, Alaska, although the credits indicate that it was actually filmed in Massachusetts. The beautiful mountains in the background were added by a special effects company in Boston.

When my mother and my sister invited me to meet them in Anchorage, I had nothing but time on my hands. The Comedy World Radio Network had gone bankrupt and I had not yet landed my first job in Knoxville. I arranged my flights from Burbank to Anchorage with a 24 hour layover in Seattle so I could visit my friend Bean and his wife Donna.

My mother had a Sony Mavica camera at the time. Before the trip, I bought a package of 3.5 inch disks to use as "film" in case I saw a moose. The only moose I saw was a baby at the Big Game Alaska Wildlife Center, which now has the more politically correct name Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. I remember buying two Christmas ornaments in their gift shop.

We saw some animals in their natural habitat during a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords. The ship sailed past some cool-looking glaciers, pardon the pun, and a Dall's porpoise swam alongside.

The best part of the vacation was a Denali (that's Mt. McKinley to the non-Alaskans) "flightseeing trip" aboard a Talkeetna Air Taxi. The little Cessna landed on a glacier with a good view of the mountain. We got out of the plane and walked around. I used the opportunity to eat the "portable birthday cake" that my wife and kids had put in my luggage.

I didn't know it at the time, but on the way to Talkeetna, we passed right by Wasilla. Unfortunately, it is not possible to see Russia from there, no matter what Tina Fey says.

By the time I got home, I had been to 25 states, including the two hardest-to-reach ones. I set a personal goal to visit the rest within ten years. When my wife and kids were ready to move from California to Tennessee, we routed our trip mostly along I-70 instead of I-40 so I could add Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri and Kentucky to my list. As you probably know, my current tally is 43 down, 7 to go.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

bear marketing

As the bear trainer went through his act, it occurred to me that if I told the same jokes three times a day and didn't get laughs, I would change my jokes. Not so at Clark's Trading Post in Lincoln, New Hampshire. Early in the routine, one of the bears opens a mailbox. The trainer, one of the Clarks, wonders if the mailbox will contain another AOL disc or Publisher's Clearing House entry. AOL disc? Really?

Other than the patter, the bear show was enjoyable. The black bears raised a flag, dunked a basketball, rode on a swing and more. One of the bears rode a Segway around the ring as a promotion for the Segway rides available at the other end of the property. My family and I headed that way so I could finally get a chance to ride one myself. It was fun and I would have liked to stay on it longer than my allotted three minutes.

Before departing the 42nd state on my to do list, we paused for a swim at Weirs Beach on beautiful Lake Winnipesaukee.

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Monday, July 06, 2009

green mountains

Number 41 in my ongoing quest to visit all fifty states is... Vermont.

First stop was Sugarbush Farm, a working maple syrup farm. They also sell locally made cheese, which they age and package right there on the farm. The free tour includes samples of fourteen cheeses and four maple syrups. A few farm animals are on display for the kids to feed. I saw a suggestion box for visitors to come up with a name for a female calf. In honor of Rev. Spooner, I submitted "Booger Shush."

To get to and from Sugarbush, we crossed the Taftsville covered bridge. On the way to Waterbury, we stopped to see the beautiful Quechee Gorge.

Everything I had read about the Ben & Jerry's factory tour said it was a disappointment but we went anyway. It was as lame as promised, if not more so. The so-called tour gives you less information than half an episode of "Unwrapped." The real reason to take the $3 tour is for the "free" scoop at the end. We went into the tasting room and found we had no choice of flavors. We were stuck with a white ice cream that had peppermint-infused chocolate chunks. It might have seemed better if they hadn't worked us up to try one of the new flavors like Mission to Marzipan. I couldn't even buy a cone of Mission to Marzipan at the Scoop Shop outside. It was only available in pints.

I always heard that Ben & Jerry had very strong political views. However I was surprised that they leaned so far to the left that the video presentation on the tour didn't even identify which president awarded them with a plaque as U.S. Small Business Persons of the Year in 1988. The video showed a close-up of somebody holding the plaque. Why not zoom out and show Ben & Jerry standing there with Ronald Reagan? At least the video did mention that Ben & Jerry sold their company to Unilever and no longer have anything to do with it. How capitalistic of them. Speaking of Ronald Reagan, I thought of him later when we drove past the Berlin Mall. Get it?

After dessert, we had some dinner in The Lounge at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe. The three of us were able to each get a salad and then split an order of wiener schnitzel with spätzle. As you can see, it's a veal cutlet not a hot dog franchise.

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