Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mainlining Magic: Family Take on a Family TV Show

When I started watching the popular TV show Blue Bloods, I never imagined what a cherished family memory this show would eventually stir up for me.

In case you're not familiar with Blue Bloods, here's a snapshot.  The show's title comes from the fact that it depicts a New York Irish-Catholic family that is cops and law enforcement to its core.  Grandpa was police commissioner until he retired; Dad is the current NYC police commissioner; one son was a cop killed in the line of duty; a second son is a chip-on-his-shoulder-for-bad-guys, take-charge homicide detective (married, two pre-adolescent boys); the younger son (still single) is a fairly recent Harvard Law graduate who abandoned the legal profession to become a street cop; and the daughter (divorced, mom of a goody-two-shoes high-school student) is an assistant district attorney (or "ADA").  The program invariably ends over the family’s Sunday dinner, where words of wisdom gleaned from the episode are shared—seasoned with a bit of Catholic faith and tradition—synthesizing life, love, justice, and family.  The show is called Blue Bloods because cops are uniformed in blue, and, for this family, the blue is essentially running in their veins.

Fast-forward to a recent episode in which the ADA-daughter is caught in the line-of-fire in a courtroom drama and taken hostage by the criminal defendant in the case she is prosecuting.  After a lot of scary wrangling, the other unfortunates in the courtroom are set free; but the criminal knows he’s got a goldmine, and he holds the Commissioner’s daughter hostage.  Negotiations progress, with the detective-son taking charge.  As suspense builds, the police prepare to meet the demands of the criminal. A bag of money is collected, a chopper is brought to the courthouse environs, and the detective shows up to deliver the ransom and collect his sister; but he runs into a hitch:  the criminal doesn’t trust anybody and promises, instead, to deliver the sister in Cuba after the chopper lands.   

Detective-brother is not happy but tries to talk his way out of this seemingly unacceptable arrangement (sister is, of course, very attractive, and the criminal is given to leering looks). Nonetheless, brother soon realizes he's out of bargaining chips and negotiations are over. He drops to his knees, presses his hands together, and says, softly, “Dear God, please protect our family.” 

The viewer is touched by the poignancy of the moment but totally surprised when the scene quickly ends with  ADA-sister falling to the ground, detective-brother firing a fatal shot at the criminal, and the siblings running to each other like they were on either end of stretched rubber band suddenly released, embracing in a hug that won’t quit. Cut to the commercial.

Sighs of relief are audible in our livingroom as the commercial plays on our TV.  My husband says something to indicate that he knew things would come out OK, but I pose the question immediately:  How did the ADA know to duck?? Then the answer hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks, but you’ll have to bear with me for a bit longer, so I can give you my context. 

Rewind now to my childhood in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My father was the inveterate entertainer.  His props consisted of a carefully acquired set of those Magic Store tricks that you could pick up for a song.  He used the tricks to regale his numerous children.  These were simple gadgets—like a set of two, three-inch rollers on a plastic stand into the front of which you'd feed a blank piece of paper (as you now feed a dollar bill into a cash machine at the grocery story) and, magically, out the back would rolls a real dollar bill that my dad, always with a straight face, would wave in the air to “dry the ink” before we could touch it and verify its authenticity. These tricks worked like charms, and my father was deft at fooling all of us at least once.  His applause was our amazement;and he beamed as he collected his due before bringing us in as accomplices on the 'magic'.

These gadget-based tricks were fun, but there was one trick that belonged to the entire family; we called it 'The Wizard.'  This was an ingenious card trick that can’t be performed anymore because our culture and technology have made that impossible. In those days, we had a corded telephone, someone was always home, and everyone was in on the trick.  It worked like this:  Imagine that I am the absent family member, I'm about 14 years old attending a pajama party with a gaggle of girlfriends.  I tell them that I know a Wizard who can guess any card they pick from a deck of cards. No one thinks I can do this, but everybody had a deck of playing cards in those days, and it doesn’t take long for someone to choose a random card. 

Let’s now suppose that my girlfriend chose the nine of diamonds.  As the girls circle around, I call home; and, when the phone is answered, I politely ask to speak to The Wizard.  This is the cue to the family member who answers and then slowly runs through the names of the card suits “”  As soon as the chosen suit is named, I interrupt with “OK, yes, I’ll hold.”  Then the family member starts naming the numbers on the cards “ace, deuce, three, four...” until I hear the ‘nine’ and interrupt with “One moment, please.” Now, I ceremoniously hand the phone to the person who chose the card, who then hears an eerie voice repeat  “niiiine of diamondsssss, niiiine of diamondsssss...”  until the phone is hung up in amazement and to the amazement of my girlfriends who strain to hear through the receiver.  It worked every time.

Fast-forward, once more, to the episode-ending family dinner on the TV show Blue Bloods.  A family member reveals that the line “Dear God, please protect our family” is the signal to hit the ground in an emergency; and the children learn the secret family code along with na├»ve viewers like my husband.  

But I knew how it worked because, in my family, we’ve got magic running in our veins.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Our Boulder Flood Story

We are in the epicenter of the Boulder Flood of 2013.  We feel very lucky, indeed, as the storm seems to be subsiding (again) at last. There is no basement under our home, which eliminated the primary source for water damage in our area.  We do, however, have a crawlspace in which our furnace sits, so we were not totally free of risk.  So we were somewhat complacentwhen our first scare came on Thursday afternoon.  I noticed water pooling up next to the foundation aside our electric meter on the north side of the house.  There must have been six inches standing there--maybe more, I am not certain.  My ability to estimate was surely hampered by the crisis milieu in which we found ourselves.

We put on our raingear and dashed out.  First, we attempted some futile shoveling and sweeping to remove the water.  Failing at that, we then pulled paving stones from hardscape around the yard and set them where the water was pooling up.  We don't have gutters on that side of the house, which was probably causing this pond to form in a place that was threatening the house.  After setting up our makeshift stonework, we placed two of our 3.5 foot trash bins under the eaves to catch some of the water.  The bins had to be emptied every 20 minutes, if you can believe that.

Feeling a bit more comfortable about the north side of the house, we went back inside to watch the every-increasing river flowing down both sides of the street and up our driveway on the south side of our house. My husband decided that his car--parked on the street right in front of the house--was diverting the water up toward the house.  He wanted to move the car into the driveway.  He went outside to do that but returned five minutes later, saying he could not walk across the 'river' that was spilling onto our property.  It was about 5-feet wide at the gutter, covered the sidewalk, and was now inching its way up the driveway.   Point of reference:  We are less than a block from  overflowing Bear Creek shown here:
Still concerned that we were making matters worse by having his car parked on the street, he asked me to drive him.  From the driveway to the front of our house.  And that's what I did.  And it was frightening.

My husband moved his car past the river and into the driveway and we sandbagged the driveway (with a few bags of compost that I had, left over from gardening during the spring/summer months).  It seemed to help but we weren't positive.

Point of reference #2:  - neighbor carried two blocks by floodwaters coursing down city street.

We felt safer and went back inside, adding another set of wet clothes to the growing piles.

Friday, April 5, 2013



May, 2005

Driving by that first vernal forsythia,
I know I should be on foot for the full rush of this much gold.
Blazing like the fiery peak of love’s first impression,
It shines saffron against a western periwinkle springtime sky.

I regret having none of my own, and vow to set one in before the planting season ends in summer’s inferno blast.

But on the way out and back I am busy, and I remember, too, the quiet green that takes over in two weeks’ time, sooner if we get those winds ―warm Chinook or frigid Sirocco,
Or a hold-over winter storm prematurely tumbles these luscious petals that cannot bear the wet weight of inhospitable snow.

I recall, as well, the comfortable quiet unremarkable verdure that lasts all summer
And into autumn,
Like love worn dull with the passage of too much time and too many quarrels.
And I decide, once again, to pass them up and wait instead for awesome clusters of the purest yellow to surprise me with their intense glory as I ride past my neighbor’s homestead, come next April.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dear President Benson

Thanks for letting University of Colorado alumni and students know your opinion on the recent Marijuana legislation passed by the voters and how it's effects should be limited on our campus. Sounds like a most reasonable approach. I think pot should be treated like alcohol [and guns] on campus --  students must be 21 years of age to come under the new Am. 64 (just like the laws on guns and alcohol), so it shouldn't be too difficult.  (Indeed, what a clever ploy to permit guns in a specific dormitory, which basically blows the 'concealed' part of 'concealed carry' law for anyone who chooses that dorm! And, by analogy, might you be considering designating a Pot Dorm??)

Seriously, President, Benson, do you think you might have overstated the case just a tad when you put your $1B figure on the cost to the University of Am 64??  When you address the alumni community, in particular, I think you may want to do a more careful job of calculating--lest it look like you are politicizing the fact that you are a disgruntled loser on this issue.   What about off-setting the value of  the loss of productive lives and opportunity caused by an unjust, minority-focused War on Drugs? And the cost of running so many people through an expensive 'justice' system for what are essentially victimless crimes or health issues?

You are, however, undoubtedly correct in stating that that is a conversation that needs to continue, as Jared Polis has also noted.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Post-Mortem for the GOP

The Fox pundits had lots of chances in the past to point to the GOP's demographic shortcomings that they now say cost them the election. If the party (or Fox) had actually used pollsters for their intended purpose instead of for propaganda, they'd have known what would happen.

I am wondering whether some of the country's ultra-wealthy will want to take a different tack in terms of how they use their $$ in campaigns.  There is a distinct irony here in all these folks spending all this money to protect their financial interests through the political system where they actually lost billions. Wrong investment strategy.

Ridiculous Talking Point Award goes to:  "Romney was better than his campaign"  (first heard from the mouth of Chris Robling, half of Chicago's WGN Political Duo). Romney was IN CHARGE of his campaign. It was HIS campaign, HIS hires.  What if he'd been elected and all you could say about him was that he was better than his 'Administration'? Puh-leeze.

The idea--thrown out in the President's acceptance speech--that Obama would want to sit down and talk with Romney is probably only about being gracious.  The unsuccessful GOP challenger landed his party's nomination essentially by default, after the ultra-conservatives were discredited one-by-one. I can't be the only one who doesn't see him as wielding any power in the party now. But seriously, based on the chameleon-like policy changes that marked his campaign, wouldn't we be surprised if Romney took any kind of leadership role in marshalling the GOP back to its center?  Or in anything?  Heck, he'd have to move to a new state to get even a senate seat... Well, maybe he'd like to live in Utah.  Looks like could win there.

Many are predicting the GOP will regroup or become even further marginalized, but regrouping toward the center has not been the GOP's strength since before Reagan. They have created a monster that many of us wish they'd dismantle, but perhaps if this election means anything, it means that if they don't dismantle, they will lose their voice. If you missed the stunned faces of  Sarah P and [some white guy in a suit] on Fox going on and on about their worn-out, racist-based, 'real American' saw, you can see it here via Jon Stewart's show.   Regrouping may not happen very soon.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Buzzword Bingo for Presidential Debate No. 2

Buzzword Bingo for Presidential Debate No. 2

Want to watch tonight's Obama-Romney debate, but still put-off by the last one?  Are you an Adult ADHD suffer whose afraid of going bananas before the 90 minutes are up? Solution:  Fidget around with Buzzword Bingo!

Here's the card for this one, folks.


Buzzword Bingo - Presidential Debate Redux

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Buzzword-Bingo for Veep Debate 2012

For the next debate, Vice President Joe Biden will debate GOP veep-hopeful and self-styled Budget Analyst for America Paul Ryan .

 To prevent lapses into boredom in the upcoming election debate series, here's a Bingo card you can use against all the expected buzzwords -- which is why I call it Buzzword Bingo.

  Enjoy!  And if you have suggestions for improvement, we'd love to hear them.

Buzzword Bingo - Veeps Debate 2012


Friday, September 7, 2012

I'd like to congratulate University of Colorado President Bruce Benson on his thoughtful essay entitled "Is College Worth It?" -- but I feel constrained to comment on one of the opening statements of that essay supporting the value of a college education:  "Many advocate an increasing focus on trade schools or community colleges, or no college at all."

'Community colleges' should not be placed in the same category as 'high school'.  Many lower income families use community college as a stepping stone to the more expensive four-year universities and colleges. I see the  US president's efforts to make it possible for more Americans to attend community colleges as well-placed and supportive of CU's broader educational mission.

Community colleges are not 'anti-higher-education,' they are part of higher education.

Whereas there is a misguided attack on higher education in the public dialogue, I think CU should see community colleges as its ally in countering this attack, for all the reasons stated in President Benson's essay.
                                                           * * *

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Hospital 'Lobby' Takes on New Meaning

If you're over the age of 50, you probably know that AARP specializes in warning seniors about scams that can end up costing them their life savings. Perhaps AARP should be letting you in on what seems to be a scam run by your local hospital--one that affects not only seniors, but others, too.

I recently checked the cost of some potentially life-saving heart/stroke prevention ultrasound tests. A carotid artery screening that costs $60 at a non-hospital company (one of the traveling health test companies - Lifeline Screening, Inc., in this case), goes for (I hope you are sitting down) $1,931 at Boulder Community Hospital's Imaging Department. The aortic aneurism ultrasound screen, also $60 at the non-hospital company, is billed at $995 by BCH.

This seems off the charts to me and a highly non-transparent way of dealing with the problem of who pays the costs, who has insurance, how much insurance rates are, and all that flows from that.

Understandably, I couldn't remain silent when I spoke to the scheduler who quoted me the figures, so I gave her the $60 price at Lifeline. She rather graciously but somewhat edgily said "I don't set the prices, I just schedule tests." She also said she didn't know what the insurance company would pay, but those were the 'asking' rates. She was trying to assure me that no one really pays these rates. I wasn't convinced.

I feel like something is very wrong here. And I suspect it stems from the hospital lobby. Not the one at the entrance to the hospital, either; no-- the one at the entrance to the halls of Congress.

I'm aware, from some prior price-checking on MRIs and other tests (also huge discrepancies, though nothing like the carotid artery ultrasound noted above), that the hospital benefits from some special Congressional legislation [read: SPECIAL INTERESTS] that allows them to recoup extra costs and charge more money for the same services as a non-hospital health-care provider, for some policy reasons that don't quite pass the smell test. And, based on the Camera's recent story about rural hospitals struggling and urban hospitals reporting strong profits, I think the policy should perhaps be tweaked for the rural hospitals, but for the others, it's less clear that the policy should be continued.

Perhaps some healthy competition will change this, but I don't understand it and it doesn't seem right to me. People should definitely be aware of the lower-price options if they (and their doctor) decide such tests will be conducive to their good health---when I think of it---to avoid the possible heart attack they might suffer when they are quoted the hospital's prices!

I know these hospital rates are charged but often negotiated and that those who pay these rates are subsidizing folks who can't pay, but this doesn't seem right if the practice contributes to costs and premiums continually rising; and, more importantly, people should know they have options before they choose to have their tests at the hospital, regardless of whether they are uninsured, have high-deductible insurance or whatever.

Lastly, why is it more democratic for sick people to subsidize poor sick people, rather than having the costs transparent and subsidized by all (i.e., like the la single-payer healthcare systems in Canada and Europe)?

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mid-December ecumenical wishes

I offer my favorite winter holiday poem as a gift to anyone who happens upon this page. The poet is a dear friend who loves words almost as much as she cares for friends and family.

Perhaps you'll agree that these lines capture the joys and warmth of the winter holidays. If I were Garrison Keillor, I'd read this one aloud.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year

Mid-December, 1998

Our two wise cats stay close to home,
Content to let the sun's rays roam
Over their somnolent forms,
Hunt dust-bunnies, play 'catch-the-comb.'
The sun retreats at half past four,
The chipmunks chatter at our door.
The moles break into squirrel's store,
The crows berate them: "Nevermore!"
And as the darkness wends its way
In your direction, come what may,
We hope your heart and home are bright
As star and lamp on miracle nights.

Rebecca Ritke