Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Talking Dogs, TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Stories—Wait, What About Talking Dogs?

Acknowledging that we all waste at least an hour a day on social media (mostly Facebook) is the first step to Acceptance. Every time I’m in a long line at a drive-thru is my signal to jump onto Facebook and see what I’m missing.

Then, I’ll power through Instagram and check in on friends and family. And then I’m done. Not a TikTok-er for several reasons.

[Left: Bunny the Sheepadoodle and her Mom, Alexis. Photo credit: Seattle Times]

Trends on social media move quickly and what was once hot stuff cools off faster than we realize. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were all attempting the Walker Hayes “Fancy Like” Applebee’s “1 shake, 2 straws” dance? Then we embraced the arm retract, extend, and point moves to Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon”—you know, “Noise, Noise, when sun go’ downnnn on my side of townnnn” (phonetic Southern accent added for those who need it).

But forget those dance videos—you want to pull up your chair, grab your coffee and meet Bunny, the talking black and white precious sheepadoodle and self-described “conversationalist.” Bunny has an extensive vocabulary, which she announces using her paw to press programmable buttons assembled in her home (both downstairs and upstairs) to communicate with her Mom and Dad.

There are countless one-minute videos of Bunny and her multiple-word sentences formed in conversations with Mom and Dad. Warning—you could lose an hour of your time just watching all of them. She reasons, she announces if she hurts, she asks Mom to take her and her new sidekick, Otter, to the park, or to sit on the couch and “settle” with her, or to go upstairs to sleep (even if Mom isn’t ready to sleep yet).[Photo Credit: Wide Open Pets]

The communication device she is using is a floor-based assembly of buttons. If you remember the 1960s TV show, “Concentration,” you had to remember which numbered covered spaces held matches. Similarly, Bunny has learned to use her talking board to form some fairly reasonable sentences without the use of any articles. She knows which buttons say which words.

There’s science behind all this. You can learn more about the system setup that uses what’s called the Fitzgerald Key of arranging programmable buttons. It’s based on a system called AAC, or augmentative or alternative communication. Bunny’s owner and teacher is a Tacoma, Washington-based artist named Alexis Devine, better known as “Mom.”

About 22 months ago, Alexis began working with Bunny to learn words one-by-one and then how to form brief sentences. Here’s an introductory video that explains the education principles:

Bunny, of course, is a superstar communicator across social media. As of 2020, she had over 3.4 million TikTok followers and more than 300,000 fans on Instagram. Today on Instagram, she has 1,000,000 followers.

Follow her on Facebook at @whataboutbunny or on Instagram at @whataboutbunny.

Now, I’d already lost my heart to a little French bulldog named chatterbox Walter Geoffrey. If you haven’t seen him before, he lives in Austin and rules the roost (there are ‘other’ dogs in the family) in his custom car seat, home, and position in life. He has, of course, two names, because he’s a Texas dog, possibly.

Walter lives in Austin, Texas, and stars on Facebook as “Walter Geoffrey the Frenchie.” Per his owner’s bio on him, he says “I’m just a Frenchie living my best life in Meltdown City at the corner of Unstable and Emotionally.” This little guy has cracked me up for at least a year because he stares right through his owner, backtalks, and grumbles when he doesn’t get his way.

He talks right to the camera and barks with enthusiasm as his owner adds captions. The one-minute videos shared on Facebook (and now TikTok) and they’re a scream because his Mom (Amber who refers to herself as “Bish”) argues with him and offers corrective action recommendation and chastising him for complaining.

Walter Geoffrey melts down if he doesn’t get to go to the park. It would be sad if it weren’t hilarious. Here’s one example:

He’s perfectly serious in his complaining and he’s not exactly content unless he’s allowed a car ride in fancy style (then he’s stylin’ and delightful), but he has a better-behaved little sidekick named Charlotte (Char), who is light brown and not a complainer. It’s the hashtags Bish adds to the posts countering his rants that are especially fun. Walter’s first live, local appearance is coming up Dec. 4th at Barton Creek Mall. His fan club on Facebook has over 580,000 followers.

Let’s face it…all dog lovers believe their fur babies can talk and understand; some of us use buttons and others use words. Communication is about willingness to send a message and have it received, understood, and validated, and to know back that we were heard.

So, you can keep your Walker Hayes “Fancy Like” Applebee’s Dance

And, you can keep your Brooks and Dunn remix (“Noise Noise”) of “Neon Moon”

If you need me, I’ll be online at What About Bunny, catching up on how she is coping with her little pal, Otter, who apparently is learning to talk, too! Two talking dogs may be more than Alexis and Johnny (Mom and Dad) bargained for.

Dog moms (and dads) can get their own programmable buttons here at FluentPet and they offer three levels of kits (Get Started, Basic Vocab, and They Can Talk), but they also offer a Tester Kit ($29.95), all of which are currently available at great savings. Just in time for Hanukkah and Christmas gifts for your gifted and talented pups.

And, if you want them quickly, the Tester Kit is available via Amazon.com also! Oh, and in case you were wondering, cats have been trained to use these buttons, too. Here’s an example of a veterinarian, Kendra, and her cat, Billi, and the buttons.

Just wait until they learn how to FaceTime you or Skype you one day when you’re at work. That day can’t be too far away!

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Grateful: Memories of Music, Football, Basketball, and Friends, Neighbors

Thanksgiving 2021—Last night as I went to sleep I wanted to write something to remember this Thanksgiving by…I fell asleep amidst of sea of memories of present-day loving friends and neighbors as well as those from my earliest childhood…the flood of smiles as I recalled the scenes in my mind gave me restful slumber, until my alarm went off at far-too-early o’clock today.

I’d probably spend the entire day compiling the full list of happy times but I’ll remind myself that dear friends tease the length of my memories, as I remind them I type quickly, but I get their drift. [Left: Two of my 'boys' who are now grown men.]

I grew up on an “almost” cul se sac in San Antonio, except that it had no circular ending with houses in a horseshoe at the end. It was likely more accurately known as a Dead End street, Dawnview Lane. There were five consecutive streets that dead-ended into a sea of barbed wire fence parallel to our solid chain-link fences creating the barrier between our homes and the cattle and horse or two that were our nearest neighbors on the other side of us. It was the best of country living in the midst of suburban San Antonio and I thought everyone had that scene at there homes, for a while at least.

Country living and country music, though, were two different things. I was, without a doubt, born to live and love for rock music, first the fun pop rock and later, with an appreciation for more intense music. An early concert at the Municipal Auditorium introduced me to what would become “package shows” where 10 different stars of the music on the radio traveled together across the country performing their current radio hits for the “kids” assembled in the audiences, generally for the low ticket price of $3.00 per person.

My first concert was the tour of the Grand Ol’ Opry at which I saw (and got to meet) Skeeter Davis, and that’s a story of its own for another day. It made my entire childhood to do that and I remember how she told me she was really ‘ok’ when she sang “The End of the World” and for me to remember her smiling as she sang it. You’d had to have known my mother for how that came about, but then that was just Mama being a Mama.

Not all of country music appealed to me, but some of it took hold. My ears were fixed on KTSA and KONO with DJs “Cousin Brucie” and “Howard Edwards” introduced me to the latest songs on the pop charts, but I also loved Easy Listening and KITE radio (the AM sister station to the future rock station KEXL on Doubleday Broadcasting) too. For the record “My” Cousin Brucie wasn’t the one of New York fame, Bruce Morrow; it was Bruce Hathaway…there was also Captain K, Sheldon Kosharek, the helicopter pilot who flew the KTSA safety bird.

A U.S. Marines Toys for Tots concert would be another trip to the Municipal Auditorium and on that package show were The Buckinghams, Your entrance fee was a new toy for children as the U.S. Marines took care of the entertainment fee for you.

San Antonio’s own Sunny & the Sunliners,

Archie Bell and the Drells (from Houston, Texas, who dance just as good as they walk!)

and many more.

Even though I was usually listening to Howard Edwards on KONO (dial 86, 86, 86) (“Hey, how you, fair dinkum?”) and then you’d hear the drag races being advertised on KTSA coming up, “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!” you’d just start assimilating the little jingles of the station IDs in your head as part of the songs you loved because they were being brought to you by the DJs (so you thought before you ever knew about A&R guys, promo men, and other unseen forces who helped radio programming along back in the day).

All these memories bring me to my final topic of the morning: football. In just the last year or two, it seems some people have come to discover that deep within the heart of this music lover lies the heart of an abiding sports junkie. On the dead-end street I grew up, all my neighbors had sons except for one, and she was a mean girl.

I remember on Saturday mornings we would all ride bikes or just play in the front yards of our homes until noon, where everyone went in for lunch. When I would come out after lunch, the guys were all gone and stayed that way until after church the next day. I couldn’t figure out where they all went. This went on for about three weeks, until I asked Douglas (one of my five neighbor guys) where they all went to on Saturdays. “We watch football,” he said. “What’s that?” I asked. He explained it was what guys enjoyed doing on Saturdays and Sundays. “Oh,” I answered. “Will you teach me how to watch it?”

He said, “I don’t know much yet, I’m still learning, but my Dad can help us!” So the next day after church, Mom and I were invited and went to their house. The two Moms visited while I was a willing pupil with the boys (Jefferson, Douglas, and Andrew, all named for American leaders) and their dad, Ray. He was a wonderful teacher. It started to make sense. I liked music more but the game was starting to take shape for me and I learned enough watch a few weeks in to understand who the best players were on some teams.

Then the house across the street from me sold, and Susan and Stacy were the two daughters who moved in, and I lost touch with football for a while. They were sweet and fun to play with and we usually played "school." Eventually they moved, and a young Army widow with four daughters moved in, ages 5 to 18, and they were great to play with, too.

My bff Ronnie would ride his bike over from 5 streets away and he taught me how neighbors could fix things around the house. There was always some little thing that needed doing at my house and Ronnie set about early to showing me how easily it could be done (it was when he did it. I was encouraged by his example.) When he got a Mini-bike to ride over on, my rules were that I could ride on it only in the driveway and not the streets.

I followed my rules and he patiently drove me up and down that driveway, then there was a go-cart he had (same rules), and back then the driveways were actually long enough to enjoy the ride. Then Ronnie grew up and played drums professionally in addition to all the other jobs he had; hardest working guy I've ever known! Eventually we all grow up and move away somewhere.

Flash forward to my discovery of professional basketball and professional bowling on TV! I fell in love with basketball because it moved so fast, and the players jumped so high in the air they were like acrobats. And there was nothing more satisfying to watch than a good slam dunk.

I loved the voice of Chris Schenkel as he built suspense for various tournaments. It was all about the voice…and then there was professional golf…and the voice of Jim Nantz. Oh, heavenly days, Jim could read the phone book and I’d want to buy a copy. By Sunday afternoons, I discovered the NFL on CBS and immediately I loved the backstories of players and their pathways to professional football. The Cowboys and Coach Tom Landry became my benchmark to how a professional football team should comport themselves during and after the games. Things have changed “slightly” since those days.

But the good news is those grand old days of the NFL on CBS have been beautifully and carefully preserved by my friend, Rich Podolsky, in his new book, “You Are Looking Live!: How the NFL Today Revolutionized Sports Broadcasting.” This book is exciting, insightful and a perfect behind-the-scenes look at how this groundbreaking show began and transformed through the years.

These days my neighbors are still among the things in life I’m most grateful for. Some live on the same block as I do. Others live just a “few” blocks or states away, but thanks to Facetime, Skype, and other means, we are all “together.”

My 9-yr-old pal Facetimed me two days ago of his own accord. He said, “It’s been too long since we last talked. How are you doing?” I love that boy. And his little brother and his little sister. We discussed important topics (basketball, of course) like the Golden State Warriors. For a 9-yr-old, I’ll bet you’re thinking that he’s all about “I like the so-and-so team because they have a cool mascot.” Nuh-uh. Forget it.

We discussed upcoming team acquisitions and possible trades during and after the season and why he thought ‘x’ was a good decision and why ‘y’ was a useless trade to make because he mostly rode the bench and wasn’t much of a team player. It’s just one reason I love him, we have such intelligent conversations, but I’m the one learning from him. He’s picked up my vast years of knowledge by absorbing ESPN One-on-One documentaries and YouTube videos. And he has been known to correct me (politely) when I’m wrong. He and his little brother and youngest sister are a joy to watch grow up and they bring me love, hugs, and joy.

These days, I have “holiday” cherubs who are special to my heart from two families, older and younger. My older boys came from when I moved in on this block and they were all under the age of 5 and their older sister had started school. Watching them grow up and seeing them at the holidays playing in the yard or showing up at my front door in some new cool Halloween costume (with their friends).

I loved watching them grow up. Today they tower over me, but they’re still “my guys” of whom I’m incredibly proud. Older brother is in Colorado, and next brother just completed his tour of duty in the Navy and next brother is a semester away from his degree in HVAC and welding certifications.

My newest “neighbors” are precious, three in elementary school and one in pre-K (going on 22!), and I’m having fun all over again watching them grow and learn and love each other. I think I’ve found the Fountain of Youth again. Watching the children all get along so beautifully fills me with joy and happiness that is unparalleled.

Of all the things I give thanks for this year, wonderful colleagues at work locally and around the country by e-mail, dear friends around the country who are as close as AT&T and Skype bring us, neighbors whom I adore, and the chance to see happy families grow up loving God and loving life…my cup runneth over.

And now, it's time for the Cowboys to beat the Las Vegas Raiders. I have plenty of work to do while it plays in the background...I'm thankful for Jim Nantz broadcasting today and for Tony Romo telling me what the QB is thinking he'll do next. Some things never change! Happy Thanksgiving to all of you and may you have a day to remember forever, over and over again.

Monday, November 15, 2021

California Outdoor Venues Add Magic to Concert Evenings, but Hidden Beauty Resides in Intimate Concert Settings

Something hit me while watching the Adele music special on CBS tonight, her lovely songs ringing out against the backdrop of a perfect night sky behind LA’s majestic Griffith Observatory.

It reminded me so much of the evening of June 3, 2017, outside the Pasadena City Hall in California. On that evening, three acclaimed vocalists Kiki Ebsen, Valerie Perri, and Christina Saffron, sang the music of Ella Fitzgerald on the occasion of her Centennial, supported by the exquisite Pasadena Symphony POPS Orchestra, led by renowned conductor Larry Blank, backed by the JPL Chorus.

As the sun set on the magnificent California sky, the backlighting of City Hall lighting up the night, it hit me there was magic in the air on both occasions. Just as the sea of colors accompanied Adele on her musical journey of the evening, so too were the residents and visitors enjoying the beauty of exquisite voices as they rang out in the night. When you stare up at the magnificent buildings that hold business by day, there's a feeling of magic at night that's hard to quantify. The band is actually an orchestra, and performers are surrounded by a virtual sea of people who've trained all their lives to perform their instruments who've come together under a gifted musical director whose job it is to create the perfect musical evening.

Singers project their hearts into the lyrics they sing and the harmonies they feel when in a group setting. All the years of training, rehearsal, and practice produce the quiet confidence they have when in front of thousands of people in front of them, and countless others who watch either livestream or some other source later on.

What's it like for these same performers when they sing inside a charming, intimate venue such as Feinstein’s at Vitello’s, as compared to, say, the Hollywood Bowl? It's an entirely different world when audiences have a close, personal view of the performers. Whatever message the performers send can always be received, but in intimate gatherings, there's an even more special feeling of being present as the music is shared that creates memories you carry with you for years.

In the earliest decades of her career, Kiki Ebsen has been that sultry spot-on vocalist that you wanted to have in the studio or on the road with you, bringing her keyboards and her harmonies to whatever you’re doing. Just having her there promotes a sense of calm and security that she’s got your back and the songs you wrote so long ago will remain as new and fresh for their 3500th performance as they did the first year they were new. In fact, the majority of her early career focused on her work as a backing performer. But, as a singer-songwriter with a wealth of diverse compositions, for the past many years now, Kiki has found joy in her work as a solo headliner, backed by musicians she has selected to bring those songs to new life.

For musicians who also write their own songs, they can serve as mentors to other songwriters, as they inspire someone to create their own songs, just the way they did. If there comes a time when your favorite songs cease to be performed for audiences, to some people, it becomes really important to have those special, inspired compositions, the thoughts of their composers lives and souls, be heard as well. For the past six years, Kiki Ebsen has found great success in the reception of her Joni Mitchell Project band as she and her band have performed for years in California. That initiative began simply from realizing that it had been years since Mitchell's compositions had been performed and Kiki's determination to keep her music alive.

But, on Friday, November 19, audiences will be treated to an evening of Kiki Ebsen’s original songs that showcase her creativity and vocal gifts that have defined her talent over the past three decades since she and her band won a national collegiate talent competition and she had the chance to record her first single, “Dreaming” (1986).

At Feinstein’s at Vitello’s in Studio City, Kiki and her band will host “A Night of Original Music,” featuring Grant Geissman, Bernie Dresel, and Steven Lawrence:


Grant is a widely sought-after composer, recording and ensemble artist with several of his own solo projects. Grant was nominated for an Emmy for the theme song of "Two and a Half Men," and his iconic guitar solo in Chuck Mangione's "Feel So Good" has cemented his name in music history. www.grantgeissman.com


Bernie Dresel has performed with multi-Grammy award-winning artists including The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band. He is the drummer you hear on the score of "Whiplash," and you've heard him on dozens of soundtracks in movies and TV. His big band, The BBB performs regularly at numerous venues around the country. www.berniedresel.com


Steve has been a performing musician all of his life. His dad was a sought-after vocalist and choral conductor and his mother was also a musician. Steve carries on the family tradition by playing his red-hot bass guitars. He is a world-class musician with a killer ear and adds his expertise to every song.

The evening will include songs from her 1994 album, “Red,” as well as songs she also started writing about that same time, which she finished some 20 years later in time to be included on “Fill Me Up” (2020).

Audiences have loved and have favorites among songs on her 2011 album “The Beauty Inside” and they’re part of the evening’s set list.

General Admission Tickets are available for $20 and reservations can be made here. VIP tickets are $35 and include a full set of Kiki’s CDs. The show starts at 8:00pm and doors open at 6:30pm.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Is That Kevin Bacon Six Degrees of Separation for Real? You Tell Me!

Over the weekend, I was thinking about the movie “Footloose,” and all the fun dancing in the movie. I wasn’t quite up to watching the entire movie though, as enduring the period of time between the “adults” fearing pop music and learning to tolerate it is something I just don’t have patience with, not even fast-forwarding through. So, what else to watch?

Of course, during my in-home entertainment programming I’d long ago grown tired of the usual fare on TV. I mean, when the day comes when I won’t even dial up the Hallmark Channel, you know I’m maxxed out on predictable plots, gentle, sweet and kind dialogue, and scenic vistas I have no hope of seeing at least for the foreseeable future.

Fortunately, I went searching for something that would bring a smile and I found two delightful series not on my television but on my computer, streaming their little hearts out. I also discovered several movie titles that had never arrived in my Mayberry metroplex, many of them for the delightful price of FREE, thanks to Amazon Prime.

In my search I encountered an amazing film entitled, “The Last Word,” starring Shirley Maclaine, Amanda Seyfried, Thomas Sadoski, and Tom Everett Scott. It had been out four years without my ever hearing of it, but because I write formal life tributes and memoirs among other projects, I read the plot and just had to rent it ($3.99, very reasonable).

The quick synopsis is that Shirley Maclaine is an older businesswoman who is preparing for the time when she would pass away, having had a few doctors’ appointments and taking natural next steps. She reads regularly the obituaries in her local paper of those she knew through the community and work and begins to blow a gasket as she calls them many names, most important of all—inauthentic.

She takes it upon herself to visit the local paper, introduces herself to the obituary editor, a young woman played by Seyfried, and proceeds to inform her that she got it all wrong about the people she had memorialized, breaking down their faults point for point. Yet, she wants Seyfried to write her obit, now, so she has a chance to review and improve it. The dialogue is hysterical and Maclaine is her best self in the role.

Plot twist number one is when Seyfried interviews several people in town whom Maclaine has recommended would be helpful. Turns out their opinions of her were not as high as she’d expected. Not to ruin the delightful plot, just take my advice, if you’re bored and need a lift, rent or buy the movie, despite what you think the subject matter is. You’ll give lots of things in your life a closer look, and that’s important as well.

After I’d watched the movie, I’d discovered an Easter egg in there that related to The Buckinghams. I was intrigued and started digging around to see if I could discover how that happened. The proverbial “Easter egg” is a “hidden detail left in the film” to be discovered by sharp viewers to discover and be pleased. The Buckinghams’ egg was delightful to me.

Searching the IMDB listing for the movie, I stared and stared until I figured it out. Let’s just say that I discovered a direct connection between someone with a Bacon number of 2 to The Buckinghams, with a Bacon number of 5, or one of the Buckinghams with a Bacon number of 6.

Taking out one of my favorite note cards I started sketching until I found the path between The Buckinghams and Kevin Bacon. I posted it about it in another blog, and if you’d like to read it, click here.

But then I started thinking, surely there had to be other pathways to Kevin Bacon…maybe even with me. Traditionally, the ‘real’ Bacon game relies upon “movies” that Kevin has been in and films that the others in the degrees of separation are in. Having been in videos rather than feature films, I’d be out of luck, so I decided to relax the conditions a bit and let my mind wander. Sometimes this is good.

Didn’t take long to amend the drawing I’d constructed for The Buckinghams and craft one of my own. I don’t have the same connectivity to Kevin the way they do, but I still managed to come up with one. Okay, so it’s what you do when you have nothing in your Suddenlink TIVO queue saved up to watch except "JAG" and "Magnum, PI" reruns and you’re tired of crimefighting.

The drawing, for what it’s worth, follows here.

So, what is my Bacon number, exactly? Say I am Bacon number 6, who works for The Buckinghams (Bacon number 5), and they connect with “Sweet Charity,” the 1968 stage production in Kansas City, MO (Bacon number 4), who then is identified most often with Shirley Maclaine (Bacon number 3), who was in the film “The Last Word” with Amanda Seyfried (Bacon number 2), who was in the film “You Should Have Left” with Kevin Bacon (Bacon number 1). That works. Sort of. No, they’re not all films as the real parlor game uses, but let’s face it, we’re on the fringe of logic anyway and it’s just a game.

What is really the path I thought of, separate of going left on the chart, is to actually look at the fact that we all know my #1 favorite series is (say it with me) “NCIS” (the original, no duplications please). Then, my #2 favorite series was “The West Wing” so let’s call Me (DLW, Bacon number 6), and “The West Wing” (Bacon number 5), and it was of course written by Aaron Sorkin (Bacon number 4) for at least the first four years. Sorkin also created the show, “The Newsroom” (HBO) which launched the national career of Thomas Sadoski (Bacon number 3), actor and Tony nominee, who hails from College Station, Texas.

Now, Sadoski was both in the film “The Last Word” and is married to Amanda Seyfried (Bacon number 2), who in 2020 starred in “You Should Have Left,” with….Number 1 himself, Kevin Bacon. Mission accomplished.

But there were even more paths to Kevin that would not have taken as long. First, if memory serves, as a young man, Thomas studied with and was a part of M.A. Sterling’s Brazos Valley Troupe. Boom. DLW to MAS to TS to AS to KB in just 5 connections.

Or, let’s try this. As a maturing young adult Thomas acted (stole the stage) in Theatre Company productions where he was known to at least 5 people who I can click on my Facebook page as my pals. Boom. So DLW to any Theatre Company person to TS to AS to Kevin Bacon and that’s just 4 connections. I am certain this is not how the game was meant to be played but don’t stop me when I’m on a sleep-deprived roll, right?

Now to the point of my mission wondering about Kevin Bacon…what was I thinking about him for and how was I trying to figure out ways to reach out to him? Oh yes, I remember it now…I just wanted to ask him if he wouldn’t develop and produce the new feature film “Footloose for Seniors—How to Enjoy Your Old Age at Shady Pines.” I think it would be a winner.

After all, Diane Keaton had a hit in “Poms,” and Ann-Margret and Ellyn Burstyn had a hit with “Queen Bees.” Both were set in sunny, scenic, senior vistas. Well, I’m just thinking a remake of “Footloose--Silver Sneakers” would make a fortune for Kevin, and keep the rest of us limber in our golden years, whenever they might arrive. That’s the trick to staying young, you know…just keep dancing!

Dare you to try and get this song out of your head today! Maybe it’s not such a bad thing. If it makes you smile, just go for it! Cut Footloose, and oh, message to Kevin, “Call me. I'm here all week!”

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Ants Can Smell or Why You Should Never Order Cookies at 3am

To those who know me well, I’ve been keeping what I term “batcave hours,” for several of my writing projects requiring time blocks of uninterrupted concentration. A daily powernap can rejuvenate me, but then I might be wide awake at 2am, even if I’m done for the day. So, when I’m not sleepy, I work some more.

Yesterday, I’d picked up my mail but didn’t read it until midnight. I’d received a lovely card from Tiff’s Treats, reminding me of the joy of warm cookies and the number of ways they could make my life happier. I believed every word on the card. Dear friends had surprised me on my birthday with a Tiff’s extravaganza and there was joy.

Went to Tiff’s Treats website to explore my potential happiness. The first online foray with ordering, I’d chosen three separate small six-packs of cookies to be boxed individually, as I’d planned on dropping off two as gifts today, and of course, I needed some warm cookie joy myself.

But the online ordering system had a glitch and I had to start over. By the 3am time it was now, I must have not seen that I had signed up for an Elite Membership and free delivery for a year with various bonus attributes but the part about the three boxes had not been re-entered.

Stayed up a little longer doing research and then signed off. Some six hours later, the doorbell rang at 11am promptly as planned, and I was delighted to bring the box inside and begin my individual gift prep. But there was just one box.

I e-mailed the store, as they had sent me multiple (4!) text messages and e-mails, each confirming receipt of my order and forthcoming delivery and should I need to reach out to them, here was how. I explained there were not three individual boxes and in checking their records there was nothing on the Special Instructions section. Sleepyhead here had forgotten to re-enter the instructions, but welcome, welcome to me now that I was going to be Elite for the next year.

Elitely, I offered to come get the boxes and they said they’d alert the store. I should not have bothered. I made myself a cup of hot tea, settled in with two cookies, and started to read “The Eagle” online and…when I awoke an hour later, at my desk, in my chair, it was clear that ants can smell. I’d made my way over to the kitchen counter, just in time to see two tiny ants cross over the top of the huge Tiff’s Treats box. My heart sank.

Opened the box and discovered an art farm inside, snacking away on level one of the snickerdoodles…others had made their way down to the M&M level (both were gift intentions)…and I quickly closed the box. They were happy with what was about to be their final meal.

Grabbed a grocery sack, threw the box in, tied it tightly off at the top, and out to the trash can I went. Sigh. Total waste of effort for two warm cookies. Actually thought my troubles were over. Nope.

Seems like the aroma of the warm cookies had remained long after they had been removed from the kitchen, and since ants can smell…they ventured in to search for themselves what fortunes lay ahead of them. I should have known better. Truly.

Tonight, I’d just finished a blog post on my disapproval of the Emmy Awards broadcast and was just about to settle in to write on an entirely different topic when I noticed a light brown shadow in the living room floor under my chair at my second desktop (the dining table). I swear it looked like a perfect square dance circle, about 10 inches in diameter. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was…ants. Sugar ants, pharaoh ants, crazy ants…call them what you will, there they were.

The more I stared the more they panned out in the circle, now about 15 inches in diameter. It reminded me of the June Taylor Dancers on the old Jackie Gleason Show in their symmetry!

Jumping to action, I grabbed the closest agent of death I could find…Glade…a can of Glade, linen scent. And I sprayed the you-know-what out of them. Not that it solved my problem, but it gave me time to stomp on their woozy little selves, having made themselves so at home on my carpet.

I did my fire-and-rain dance true to my Cherokee heritage to obliterate the nasty invaders with the bottoms of my shoes. Then, I grabbed the unused but at-the-ready vacuum cleaner to now whoosh them away in a trapped thick paper bag. Vrooooooooom. Had them up and gone before they knew what had happened to them.

And then I vacuumed some more of the living room that had caused me to roll out the vacuum and place it where I could find it readily when the spirit moved me to vacuum. Replaced the bag, wrapped and sealed the old one, tied it up in a plastic trash bag, inside another trash bag and took it outside to the garbage can. I’m thorough, if not inattentive to what problems with missing weatherstripping at the front door can do. That's on my to-do list to address this week.

The clean linen scent remains, even though the cookies and their happy memory are long gone. I apologize to the two sweet senior friends who had no idea they were going to be surprised today. Just glad I had not reached out to them about it. The surprise was on me.

Now that I’ve vacuumed the entire living room and nearby paths and replaced the old bag with a new one, I feel fairly accomplished over here. This calls for a cookie! Oh wait. Nevermind. Just remember, ants can smell!

Banal 2021 EMMY Awards Show Makes Us Long for the Grand ol' Days of the Big Three Networks

Truly, I gave it a fair shot. For the first year in at least the past five years, I tuned into The EMMY Awards broadcast on CBS on Sunday, September 19, the 73rd consecutive program that honors television’s best and brightest from the preceding year. I lasted exactly 36 minutes before hitting the mute button. Checked back in for the In Memoriam segment, which went well, the best part of the show.

I’d stopped watching what was once my favorite show of all time years ago, due to full boredom and pangs of regret at the (then) state of primetime programming. This year’s show open did manage to eclipse the level of stupidity that has now become its classic benchmark. Virtually everything nominated originated from Hulu, Netflix, Showtime, Peacock, or HBO Max alternate networks.

Ordinarily, Cedric the Entertainer is fine to watch, on Monday night’s laugh-tracked “The Neighborhood,” but he isn’t strong enough to carry the EMMYs. I gave my full attention to the program, but the only broadcast network mentioned was CBS among the nominees.

That and right before every station break, the voice, “Coming up next (a plea for you not to change the channel), so-and-so B-TV star whose name you don’t know,” followed by offstage emcee MC Lyte, saying “This is CBS!” No, it’s not the CBS I used to know and love. Not by a long shot.

Hoping to improve my attitude, I went retro and started YouTube-ing the days when I most adored TV shows, the best of comedy-variety-procedural-dramas across the board.

Do you remember the fun of upcoming season promo spots on all the major networks before each fall began? Especially during the 70s and 80s, the combination of catchy jingles and snippets of your favorite TV stars brought excitement and anticipation, just as they were designed and produced to do. You’d survived eight weeks of summer reruns and a few replacement shows, and now you were ready for renewal, almost in time for back to school.

The campaigns for each of the three primary networks had a theme and primary jingle but they would film three or four individual spots with previews of new shows, happy memories of returning shows, and truly the best of what was yet to come. The jingles were infectious, upbeat, and gave you a sense of genuine excitement for the coming season.

If you’d like to travel back in time with me perhaps you’ll remember and smile at what you see in these memory time capsules about what used to be some of the best reasons to stay at home for a program because we didn’t have access to VCRs back in the best days of the earliest shows.

CBS Is Easy on the Eyes (1973)

CBS—"We’re Looking Good,” #1 (1979)

“You and Me and ABC” — The 1980 ABC Season

NBC’s “NB See Us” (1980)

The welcome-back TV jingles preceding fall season debuts were played so often, whether three-minute, :30, or :15 clips to remind you that fall was guaranteed to turn your world around, if you’d just tune in faithfully.

The local affiliates could cut in their own material to blend in with the national ad, as they did here in Chicago and other cities during the Fall 1983 “CBS We’ve Got The Touch” campaign, a personal favorite.

In 2020, CBS underwent a giant rebranding, mostly to sweep out the memories of the unpleasant reign of…whatever…of former head honcho, Les Moonves. The powers that be hired an ad agency and came up with a more overreaching identity for the network that included all the content it produced for other networks to distribute, some CBS had full or part ownership in and others where they were willing to take a partial risk.

Frankly, the general public doesn’t really care who owns whom, and today, there’s no reason to rush home for live programming (even TV ratings count live plus 3 consecutive days’ viewing in their ratings registry) thanks to various on demand and recorded media streams. But there’s also now less loyalty to a particular network and its family of shows that has impacted the more transient nature of viewing.

Enter then, a new CBS campaign for the 2021 Fall Season, “Feel This Fall,” and it lives up to my expectations. As Jason Lynch of “Adweek” noted, “decades ago, the broadcast networks used to assemble their biggest stars each summer to record elaborate jingle promos to tout their fall lineups. Some four decades later, here we are with CBS’s best offering:

This season, I’m only looking forward to the 19th season of “NCIS,” the debut season of “NCIS: Hawaii” and the return of “CSI: Las Vegas,” and “The Equalizer” as well as “Young Sheldon” and “Blue Bloods” as things I’ll try to watch without recording and I’ll be grateful for those CBS shows. The only other show I’m anticipating off “Big 3” programs is the second half of the first season of “Leverage: Redemption,” the brilliant reboot of “Leverage,” a superb creation by John Rogers and Chris Downey, originally starring Timothy Bottoms. The second half of the show reboot's first season is set to premiere on October 8 on IMDb TV.

Personally, this 2021 coming season is a far stretch from the 20–25 shows I used to wait for in the 1970s with delighted anticipation, but the 300 extra cable channels streaming, flowing, and going along still don’t make viewing fresh content any easier to find. Football and basketball will fill in the blanks nicely. And then this past July, the Hallmark Channel debuted all their upcoming Christmas movies to anticipate so, I’m doing just fine.

PBS is a longtime mainstay for so many viewers, but I’m definitely a record-and-watch-later candidate as I can’t guarantee I’ll be in front of the set at a fixed time these days, a gift from programming teams who now make Live + On Demand + Digital Streaming a real thing for the average household.

Yet, some of my friends do not have cable TV. They don’t have an alternative such as Roku, Amazon Fire, Google Chromecast, YouTube TV, that you can acquire to fight the statewide behemoth Suddenlink. Fortunately, fiber optics, and finally some competition, is in our local future.

There’s still time to search for something I missed the first go-round on the nostalgia channels as well as Amazon Prime Video and IMDB.com. If there’s nothing new I want to see, fortunately, there are retro networks such as Antenna TV, GET TV, COZI TV, the Decades Channel, and others to take me back to Baby Boomer happy days.

Thanks to all the nostalgia channels for keeping many of these programs alive for generations to come to see what it is that used to preoccupy our attention and conversation the next day at school and work. That was CBS. Here's to Fall 2021 bringing back the best in original programming for procedurals and comedies.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Travels Down Memory Lane vs. Diving Down the Rabbit Hole

My trip down memory lane began innocently enough. It was an afternoon of intense work at the computer, where you don’t want to stop what you’re doing for a full break, but instead “lunch” can be a snack from whatever is in the fridge. Peering into the fridge, I scored a yogurt, a pre-saved iced tea and a banana from the counter, so back to work at the computer I went.

If you know me well, you are laughing at me for two reasons, first because I don’t cook, and second because I call my ice box a “fridge,” that is when I’m not calling it an ice box. I rarely use the word refrigerator; mine is in good standing with AARP. Buddy’s Brazos Appliances really does sell quality products. Twenty-one years and holding—thank you Hotpoint. And from there…off I went, diving down a rabbit hole...or two.

Hotpoint…that brand has been around almost as long as my old Sears Kenmore “Commander” tank vacuum. More on that later. Remember the old Hotpoint TV commercials during the very earliest days of tv spots? Remember who was Happy Hotpoint?

Here’s Happy Hotpoint herself, the dancing elf of all appliances, Mary Tyler Moore, in her earliest role of national prominence. From there, her dancing skills would find uses throughout the rest of her acting career as Laura Petrie and Mary Richards.

Safely sliding down the rabbit hole, I remember a great snack I used to enjoy as a child, when I went to see my Great Aunt Emma.

Known for her ability to save, save, and save some more, she lived a superbly careful life without debt as an early widow who had no college education or prior work experience before marrying my Uncle Mitchell, a painter by trade. She used her skills as a seamstress to find a job at the St. Anthony Hotel (back then, they hand-repaired linens and uniforms, etc.) After we picked her up from work on Saturday, we’d go for brunch at Sea Island in San Antonio, a favorite place that was as good as it was affordable.

Then, we’d go to Kresge, over in North Star Mall, to stock up on a few items for the week that she’d select. As though it was 55 years ago all over again, there would be a Dak canned ham, at the time running for about $1.88. At home she already had the magic combo awaiting me for my evening snack as I watched TV and all the grownups talked and chatted in the kitchen.

Where was I going with this? Oh, the Dak canned ham. Ah yes. So, this fine product came to us from Denmark, and the vacuum sealed container could be breached using the small aluminum key that was affixed to the outside of the container. I felt very grown up at age eight, when Great Aunt Emma allowed me to be the key-bearer and open the ham. Adults have a wonderful habit of encouraging children and saying, “Good job!” to affirm the contribution of the youngsters as they make progress in household chores.

The menu was Uneeda Biscuits, Falfurrias Sweet Cream Butter, Homemade bread and butter pickles, and ice water. If you’ve never dined this high on the hog before, allow me to explain what you missed. Uneeda biscuits were an early offering of the National Biscuit Company, eventually Nabisco.

Uneeda biscuits had substance, thickness, proper taste, and just a tad of salt (although they sold the unsalted version as well). Their thickness is perfect because if you put a small amount of butter on a knife and apply it to a standard premium saltine cracker, the pressure will break it. Maybe that’s too much fuss over a cracker, but if you never had one…To this day I have not been able to find anything that comes close.

Falfurrias butter came from Falfurrias, Texas, and they're a Texas product since 1909, and it used to come in more spreadable tubs, but at least the butter sticks are still available today. They focused their marketing all over Texas, Louisiana, and into Oklahoma, and they have a tremendous market for their irresistable, tasty product.

The pickles were from a kitchen of a lady down the hall from my great aunt, as she lived in the apartment complex of rooms over the old Pep Boys garage downtown, with close proximity to take the bus to and from work. If her pickles ran out, Vlasic's bread-and-butter pickles would be great, or Del Monte sweet gherkins. Mmm. For those of you who enjoyed buying a dill pickle at the theatres to last you the entire movie, God bless you, but I am not in that group. At home, our popcorn was Jiffy Pop or made in our own 5-quart pan the hard way (not-so-jiffy). Premicrowaves, we all did just fine, I think.

The Dak ham purchase at Kresge’s in the Mall also started another rabbit trail…Kresge’s was the same as the Kress stores in various malls across San Antonio, if memory serves, and then ultimately S. S. Kresge founded K-Mart and after inventing the blue light special, off and running they went for many years. Then, a little business called Fed Mart opened in San Antonio and one even found its way to College Station.

By 1974, College Station’s property was being seen as valuable so a California investor managed a good deal price on the property and built a bowling alley there and a strip center for various other businesses. Once it was confirmed that President George H. W. Bush (41) would be bringing a Presidential Library to town, the bowling alley had gone kaput, and was sitting there essentially vacant. Someone had the bright idea of using that property as a storage facility for the materials that could be transported from DC up here until the library was actually constructed, again if memory serves. Nice donation of vacant property, too.

Once the Library was up and running eventually the property was sold and now Republic Steakhouse and Primrose Path now occupy the space, featuring tapas, wine and cocktails. I felt like I was from Hooterville when I asked restaurant expert Mike Green what a tapas was…or were…and he kindly said, “tapas, you know, tapas, little items you get to eat along with drinking your wine and cocktails.” I said, “Oh, snacks. I get it, snacks.” Of course the word in Spanish means small plates…it’s sophisticated cuisine. I’ll have to confess that I’m new to tapas and I have yet to patronize the place, although I’m delighted to have many friends who rave about the ambiance. Another rabbit hole, oops.

Now, I got tremendous affirmation from my mother for my vacuuming skills, and frankly, I was worth every amount praise she could muster, because my dad was responsible for the purchase and delivery of the Kenmore “Commander” horizontal canister vacuum. There were two different hose attachments (for the couch and other chairs), a brush attachment (for the curtains), and then the major vacuum piece itself with the rollers for the floors.

The Kenmore Commander weighed about 40 lbs all told, and at the time, I weighed right at 60 lbs, give or take a few. I lugged that thing all through the house, wanting to contribute to housework because I knew Mom worked hard from 8 to 5 and I wanted to make her to-do list shrink as much as I could. I also got a little stepstool and did the dishes each night, and foreshadowing a future interest in chemistry, I started exploring mixing different sink cleansers in the effort to have the most sparkling sink in the city. No, I didn't have any gaseous or toxic accidents. Guess I really was born to be a chemist. Sort of.

I blush at my early aspirations for greatness, but you have to dream big when you’re a kid if you want to make something out of yourself in this lifetime. Morning breakfast was a good place to start. Butter Krust bread was a hit in my home, and the billboard on Broadway Ave. gave me a reason to smile.

A schoolmate of mine about five years ahead of me was the model young lady for the famous character they used for years. The adorable blonde in the gingham dress was my friend, and her inside was as beautiful as her outside is. She and all four of her siblings had the most exquisite mother who could easily make Princess Grace look dowdy. Fortunately, all the children resembled their mom.

Butter Krust also gave out plentiful amounts of new #2 specially coated, smooth pencils and brown paper bookcovers to all of us, and a bakery tour each year kept all of us happy.

San Antonio was also home to Lone Star Brewery and Pearl Brewery, and schoolchildren loved being able to take the tour of the brewery, not with the hops and the process in mind, but for the complimentary root beer at the end of the tour. Just like Brenham's little Blue Bell Creamery not 30 miles away from here.

Things we remember. In the 1960s, a fellow graduate of my school became CEO of the brewery. Today, Pearl Brewery has been refashioned into a destination center with fabulous restaurants and a fun venue, Jazz, TX, where you can hear the best in live jazz. Word to the wise: Look for the Steve Soares Trio at least once a month at Jazz, TX, as the leader is Doris, my high school classmate's, husband.

Back to breakfast. There was Carnation Instant Breakfast for those on the run, Eggo ("Let go my Eggo!") Waffles, and much later down the road, Kellogg's Pop Tarts. Tang also made a snappy breakfast drink. Malt-O-Meal was a solid breakfast on a cold morning, too.

Afternoon snacks could be milk with Nesquick powder stirred in. Strawberry was a go-to flavor for me.

Speaking of dairy delights, Knowlton Milk was still delivered to the house in the 60s and a dear relative of mine used to drive one of the trucks. The Knowlton Creamery was also down the street from our school.

Our unique school that ran from grades 1-12 (later, K-12) was a series of old Victorian homes in San Antonio's historic district, where they had been remade into classrooms. Many of us had no idea what other school rooms looked like for years until it was time for driver's ed. We were in the middle of downtown San Antonio and so almost all of us were driven to school, and many took one of several school parents' station wagons to arrive for the day. Others would ride the city buses each day. One rarely thought at the time about the sacrifices our parents made back then to afford for us to obtain a special educational experience. I did, but I had plenty of time to think and reflect on "old days." Even back then, I enjoyed the concept of reminiscing.

One other special evening treat might be a scoop of ice cream from the Carnation Ice Cream Shop on San Pedro. They had more than 50 flavors, advertising that fact if only to irritate Baskin Robbins. There was a "Tower of the Americas" sundae, named in time for the Hemisfair '68 year-long San Antonio celebration. The sundae had 48 scoops of ice cream, syrups, whipped cream, and cherries. It was pricey back then even, probably about $20 or more, but if you could eat the whole thing, it was free to you. I only had one classmate who won their sundae that way and his metabolism caused him to gain zero pounds after that one episode, or ever, in his lifetime. Doubt he ate it a second time.

As I grew older, I recall the joy of discovering General Foods Instant Flavored Coffees—what a joy. Just fill your tea kettle with water and heat until it sings and then pour your cup and add two teaspoons of the powdered mix and presto, a delightful, tasty beverage to enjoy.

Now, what’s the perfect treat to go with?

Mom’s and my favorite tapas was 2 Stella D’oro cookies. Remember those? With the colors of the flag of Italy atop the packaging, each pack had 10 or 12 cookies and for $2.19 at Handy-Andy, you couldn’t beat them! I was Skyping with a dear friend the other day, lamenting that I couldn't find any of these "old-timey" cookies I used to love. She remembered them, when I said their name aloud! I brightened up. Someone remembered the same cookie I did! Then she countered with, "I never liked them." All I could do was laugh for three minutes. It wasn't a buzz-kill but her comedic time was perfect. Meanwhile...

I was delighted to see that Amazon could get them for me, especially since I have not seen them in any local grocery stores in at least 10 years. This time, they’re about $6.00 per package, but you can’t beat a walk down memory lane, so what the hey?

Speaking of grocery stores, I certainly do miss the trading stamps that a store would bonus for having grocery brand loyalty and frequency of shopping. Remember double stamp day? I don’t know where you grew up but we had TV stamps, the abbreviation for Top Value at Handy-Andy, then Texas Gold for HEB, and S&H Green Stamps for Piggly-Wiggly and selected Sinclair Shamrock gas stations (and you’d get a lovely Libbey glass and stamps with your gas that they pumped for you).

The duty of collecting stamps and pasting them in the various books and saving/organizing those books to keep an eye on the catalog to see what might be a future worthy prize to redeem was always fun. I won’t say that they exclusive items, but they certainly were not junk either.

Back to the road trip and the little Styrofoam ice chest for $1.99 or $.99 if there was a sale at the store, the reason you filled up your coolers with your own snacks was to avoid some of the temptations from the road. Take for example, Stuckey’s. Road trips with my grandmother and Aunt Sharon going from San Antonio to Houston or Galveston were not complete without Grandma reading each sign Stuckey’s had posted along the old highway every. darned. mile.

Not until I saw Billy Crystal and the actor who played his father in “Forget Paris” could I appreciate that sometimes people, when they are looking for something to say as a space filler, choose to read billboard or recite familiar jingles (“You asked for it, you got it, Toyota.”) and it’s quite charming, particularly when they’re no longer with you and you want to find something to recall to make you smile again.

Which reminds me…we took Grandma to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor when she and Aunt Sharon came to town, and they had two entertainers: Bob on the player piano and Curly on the banjo. Saturday nights would assure you a good affordable pizza, free refills on sodas and music courtesy and Bob and Curly.

Sometimes the patrons enjoyed singing and Bob and Curly would back them (not just anyone, you had to have some chops before they’d let you have the stage). And the music and singing along could get a little loud at times. One evening when we were on the way home, Grandma said, “Gosh I really enjoyed going to Shookey’s with you girls!” Aw, how sweet.

Today is another day, the 1st of September, and with a new month comes a clean slate. Maybe I’ll work a little harder at keeping a few tapas in the fridge. Or then again, Sonic has happy hour from 2-4 pm every day. Rabbit, rabbit!