Thursday, February 26, 2004

Are you in the habit of eating out everyday or several times a week?

Reasons for doing so are many. Both my wife and I hated cooking and everything that went along with it - the appliances, the mess and fussing about over recipes, the clean-up, the overall drudgery of it all. We were both busy and didn't like the annoyance of preparing a meal for ourselves after a hard day's work. When our first child arrived, the idea of cooking became even more distasteful since it would be additional drudgery on top of our already fully loaded lives. We justfied eating out easily:

1.Convenience - No dishwashing, no wasted time cooking, you can save on electricity and water bills, you can save all that time spent grocery shopping, you don't have to worry about planning meals each day. I hate cooking.
2.Quality of Life - time sitting in a restaurant is enjoyable, you can catch up on the events of the day, discuss and take stock of your life, food is one of the great pleasures of life and is worth spending money on, choosing restaurants to visit can be an enjoyable hobby, choosing menu-items is fun, I enjoy the company of others while eating out.
3.Money - I bet if you calculate the cost of cooking a really Gourmet meal at home it would be more than what I typically eat at a fine restaurant...and no dishes to wash, I bet the cost of grocery shopping for food added to the additional cost of running the dishwasher and water plus the time lost preparing and cleaning up after the meal would also easily be equivalent or more than eating out for simple meals. I like spending money on eating out - it's one of my hobbies, and I can afford it.

Why all those reasons above are wrong
1.The additional cost of electricity and water usage is miniscule, we're talking pennies per day.
2.The time spent driving to and from a restaurant is very often greater than the time spent preparing and cleaning up after a meal.
3.Even if you eat out for every meal, you still have to visit grocery stores for odds and ends and late night or early morning hunger pangs - the additional time for full all-out grocery shopping is minimal - maybe 15-30minutes extra time spent per week versus maybe 15 minutes at least for a quick shop to stock up if you eat out every meal.
4.You often must spend an hour or more in a restaurant even for a quick meal. The wait for seating, the wait for taking your order, the wait for your food, the time spent actually eating, the wait for your check, the wait to pay for your meal. See #2 above also.
5.You can take stock of your life or have conversations with others (spouse and friends, or even over the phone) while cooking.
6.Cooking can be an enjoyable hobby, actually more so than simply restauranting.
7.Eating out can be a more heightened experience the less you do it. The more you eat out, the more dull, mundane, redundant it becomes.
8.Eating out at even cheap places like taco bell for a small family will add up to about $10,000 in a year if you eat out every meal (theoretically assuming you could eat out 3 times a day at a place as cheap as taco bell every day for an entire year). I've kept up eating out expenses for an entire year, I've easily spent more than $12,000 a year on it and we definitely did NOT eat out every meal nor every day. The typical bill for eating out at an average non-fast-food restaurant is something like $30 for a family of 3 eaters (including 15% tip). Eating well at home costs a family of 3 eaters about $6000 a year in grocery costs. There's really no comparing the two money-wise; home-cooked meals is 50% cheaper.
9.The time spent planning out your meal becomes essentially ~10 seconds once you get the hang of eating at home. We started by having a repertoire of 5 evening meals to eat each day - for instance, we came up with pasta day, pizza day, rice day, soup day, and noodles day. As you can see you have several potential variations on each day. I'm a vegetarian who eats dairy products and occasional eggs (no fish, poultry, beef, pork, seafood meats, or food containing any residue of such). My wife accomodates my vegetarianism and essentially became one herself in doing so. Even so, we are able to find plenty of appetizing recipes and meal plans. What we find is that the evening meal always results in left-over food which we end up eating the next morning or lunchtime; we've found preparation for the evening meal becomes essentially the preparation for the next day's lunch as well - a savings in time and money here too.
10.Restaurant food is some of the most unhealthful toxic concoctions consumable. Since restaurants are mainly concerned about a)their bottom-line, and b)making food appetizing so that you return for another visit, the food you find in restaurants are going to follow one of these strategic pathways. Either they will be laden with fat and calories to help you gorge and proclaim over their delights - and return for seconds, and tell your friends about their ambrosia. Or the food will use the cheapest, shittiest quality of ingredients to allow the restaurant to save on expenses while maximizing their profits. An example of the former strategy would be your typical Olive Garden variant quasi-Italian restaurant, an example of the latter strategy would be your typical streetcorner greasy Italian pizzeria joint. Knowing that a typical middle-aged man weighing about 170lbs should be consuming not much more than 1800 calories a day, one modest meal at Olive Gardens or Macaroni Grill's should easily leave you with twice the calories and several times the healthy fat consumption recommended. This is why Americans are the fattest people in the world - so easy to spot out of a crowd in any other country. Many Americans spend more money dieting than other citizens of the world spend actually eating.

The obvious solution to American's perpetual fatness is not to spend more money on the after-effects of food, but to spend less money on food itself - to eat less, to prepare your own meals using healthier ingredients, to not obsess over eating so much, to cut out junk food. The oracle answer to "how can I lose weight" has always been and will always be: "Expend more calories than you consume."

The Coke and Pepsi Conspiracy
Another major factor in America's fatness is the consumption of sugary drinks. The world's most valued brand-name is supposedly Coca-cola. Coke and Pepsi ads are ubiquitous, inescapable. We have been brain-washed into believing we need softdrinks to be happy, to survive. Our kids are brain-washed into believing the same. I got my son hooked on soft drinks since he was about 1 year old. He was at the 99% percentile for weight for his age and height at one point, he was "fat" according to the new pediatric BMI indices - he was consuming soft drinks 3-4times a day and these were his sole vehicles for hydration. He would actively avoid water. We completely cut out his soft-drink consumption, allowed him to drink sweetened tea however, and tried to push filtered water whenever possible. Within a year, his weight dropped while he continued to grow and he now appears nearly ideal body weight (though still occasionally begging for a Mellow-yellow). It would be good if he could be weaned completely from sugared drinks, but because of the overwhelmingly healthful benefits of tea, we will probably allow sweet tea. If the new sweetener Splenda was less expensive, we could use this exclusively to sweeten his tea, but for now, regular cane sugar will have to do.

Try watching TV while counting the type of commercials shown. You'll find that a typical 1 hour program would have 15minutes or more of commercials, most of which are in one of a dozen or so categories: pharmaceuticals, financial services products, cars, beer, soft drinks, restaurants, various junk food products. If you watch the commercials during children's programming on Nickelodeon, Disney, or even PBS, you'll find that half or more of the commercials are for junk food, junk cereal, sugared drinks etc. These marketers clearly know what they are doing and are very consciously instituting brain-washing techniques in order to program children of today to become the fat, unthinking junk-consumers of tomorrow. We cut out our cable-TV services to reduce our children's exposure to all this pathologic marketing. We do let our kids watch some TV because I've found that people who grew up watching no TV at all, tend to turn out a bit socially mal-adapted - maybe in a good way, but still.

I'm not totally against junk food either - ice cream, chocolate, candy-bars, potato chips can be the food of the Gods taken in moderation. Sure, it would be great to sit around eating nothing but fruit as snacks, but nobody wants to go insane.

The Mad-Cow Scare, The Avian-Flu Scare, The Hepatitis A from Mexican Green Onions Scare
What I've found is that once we stopped eating out, my fairly anticipated once or twice monthly bouts with diarrhea dissipated. You'll find that it is nearly impossible to avoid some "food poisoning" from restaurant food if you eat out often enough. Most of these are the relatively harmless 4-hour-post-cibum Staphlococcal diarrhea contracted from eating food handled by some nose-picking (or Egads, butt-picking) food-handler in the back kitchen. More seriously you could have some bloody diarrhea from Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter on chicken, eggs, seafood, other meats or vegetables. If you're having a bad day, you get to spend some time in a hospital from a hemorrhagic E.coli contaminated meat or produce. If you're really unlucky you may have to die from eating food with Bacillus cereus growing on it. Since we've stopped restauranting, I've noticed a noticeable absence of sickness from probable food-bourne illnesses. A major benefit to not eating out.

We've all heard and read about Mad-Cow, the Bird-flu, Norovirus, and Hepatitis A. Getting Norovirus or HepA might be just a roll of the dice and can be difficult to prevent. Bird-flu is hyped as something you can avoid by not eating poultry from Asian countries - the prognosticated pandemic flu from Avian sources is more likely to spread not bird-to-humans, but humans-to-humans, so avoidance of eating chicken is not going to make a difference in your health. But the variant Creuzfeldt-Jacob disease lurking ominously in many ruminants throughout the world is I believe a potential harbinger of the extinction of mankind. I remember in med school the chief of Pathology used to always handle various formaldehyde-preserved human organs with his bare hands and many of us did the same. He one day casually remarked that we ought to wear gloves even though he didn't - he mentioned the Jacob-Creuzfeldt "viruses," the so-called "slow-viruses" at that time - with latencies of 20-40 years from infection to symptom onset. Such latencies allow large opportunities for the subject to culture out the prions inside his body, and disseminate the disease to others - a perfectly smart, nightmarish behavior by a soul-less disease entity. He mentioned that we know so little about these prions. I noticed that this chief of Pathology always wrote in a tiny, trembling scribble. Within 2 years he retired from the faculty and was rumored to have a type of dementia. Did he have variant Jacob-Creuzfeldt?

One thing I know is that one of the main jobs of a public health servant working for the CDC or NIH or other government department is to prevent panic in the population. It's with this understanding that I read those comforting messages about Mad-Cow Disease issued by the CDC and other branches. In talking with any given scientist working on prions, you'll find many doubts cast on those blandishments issued for public consumption. One major point mentioned always is that you get Mad-Cow Disease from infected cows when you consume the brains, spinal cord, or "beef on-the-bone." The fact is that the prions are present in some numbers in all nerve tissue. The fact is that "nerve tissue" are present throughout the body - in every inch of the body. The fact is therefore that prions are present in every inch of the body of every cow or animal infected with Mad-Cow Disease.

Beef and beef byproducts are found everywhere. Lard, soups, oils, petfoods, bologna, pepperoni, hotdogs, certain candies, gelatins, etc. Milk, cheese, yogurt are also beef byproducts - think about it. Nobody is claiming to have found prions in these products but how carefully are we looking for them though? Do we want to know if they are there? Prions cannot be destroyed by boiling or freezing, they cannot be destroyed with bleach, formaldehyde, or other chemicals. They survive in vaccuums - in fact, they probably arrived on Earth through space aboard an asteroid or meteorite. They are the ultimate survivors, they will inevitably survive all other living beings on Earth now. There is much debate over whether Prions are even alive - they are bits of protein which have the ability to make more of itself - is this reproduction? If so, is reproduction an adequate criteria for life? At which level of contact with the human body are prions transmitted i.e. incorporated? intravascularly, via mucosal linings, via nerve fiber sheaths? We are not sure of these questions yet. With their long latencies and difficulties/expense in diagnosing infections, how do we know that many/most of us are not already infected? Could it be that it's not a matter of whether you are infected but a matter of will you express the symptoms in your lifetime?

With this background my wife has vowed to not eat any more beef if she can help it. She is so addicted to beef that she has often slipped-up and eaten beef since she has stated this last December. Since we humans have only 75 or so years of life, is it even worth agonizing over something that may steal a few decades of our life? In the case of our children, I would say yes. In the case of the potential succession of human generations henceforth, I would also say yes. This could all turn out to be another false bomb-scare. But if it turns out to be a real-life Invasion of the Body Snatchers phenomenon, inexorably crescendo-ing over the years from the first reports of Cannibals with kuru in NewGuinea and sheep with scrapie in Europe, it may very well be time to ring the bells of Armageddon within our foreseeable future. This is an anti-climactic way to end this section, but...this is another reason we are not eating out as much anymore.

why we don't eat out no more

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

My son wanted me to publish his story from school today on this site. It is one of those homework where you have to try to use a bunch of spelling words in it. Here is his story in its entirety. I will post a scanned pic of his actual handwritten one after it later today:

A grumpy old lady

Story February 24, 2004
By Harrison, age 6years, 9months

Once upon a time there was a grumpy old lady that was alone. She was alone because her husband died in the war. But she still had her friends. They knew her anger and lonesomeness but they always had notions to cheer her up but their ideas never worked. That is why somebody mentioned three options. They picked one of the three and told it to her. She had agreed! She started doing it. And for the first time she became happy again.

She was so happy she remarried. The person she married was named James. He was a family doctor and he was the first one to invent James’ marvelous medicine, a potion to help people. It went out like a flash. He was famous for making the potion and other lotions. But people always had questions about it. So one day he showed everybody how to make his marvelous medicine. After showing them he motioned to them not to go yet! “I have to give you something.” Everybody turned their heads and listened. He said, “I need to give you this slip.” On the slip was a recipe so they would remember how to make it. “Use caution with mixing the potion,” James said. Everybody got the recipe and it really helped.

After James got home he thought his wife wasn’t there. He was not sure what action to take now. But then his wife called out from the kitchen. She was kneading the pizza dough. They had pizza, rice and beans for dinner. It was the most delicious dinner they ever had. After eating dinner they agreed to eat the remaining sections of the pizza tomorrow. They lived happily ever eating pizza and making potions.

The End.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Remembrance of Things Past
I just returned from work and am making an entry. I set up my old home page on the roadrunner cablemodem service again. I uploaded some pics from the past few years onto it so I can comment on them here.

"Evocative" means to bring back old memories for me. I like to reminisce, thus I went through some old evocative pictures from our digital files. I first purchased an Olympus 2500c 2.5 megapixel camera back in 2000 or so - it cost me probably about 2 grand - it was a piece of shit camera - slow, grainy, buggy. I got rid of it by giving it to the Salvation Army a couple of years ago. I also scanned some pics since 1997 into low-res digital format so we could have pictures from the time of our son's birth in the computer. So now we have pictures from 1997 til now on harddisk on my wife's computer - neatly laid out thumbnailed files. If time allows, it would be great to scan in every photo we had into the computer.


There are important images which mean more to one personally than it does to others - like pictures of our first car, a 1991 Honda Civic Wagon which we named "Herbie." I purchased the gun-metal colored '91 Civic wagon at Crown Honda in Chapel Hill back in 1991 new.

The Dealership Where Herbie Was Purchased

It cost around $12,000 then but paid a bit over $13,000 with the financing - my dad paid it off for me a year later. It was a great car with just one major handicap - there were no signals to let you know that you left your headlights on - whenever it rained and I ran the headlights, or the headlights were on for whatever reason, I ran the risk of leaving the lights on and draining the batteries. I must have replaced Herbie's batteries at least a half-dozen times.

I called it Herbie since we first met back around 1991. This car became more like a part of the family, or a family pet, than a car to us. Back in 1991 I drove Herbie up into Philadelphia (my college town), then up north to Boston and Vermont to attend the Marlboro music festival and Tanglewood. Herbie helped me drive a friend of my mom's, a long-time violist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, back and forth during that Tanglewood season. My wife and I drove it up to W.Virginia to go rafting down the Gauley River and the New River, sleeping inside it and fogging up the windows by morning. We drove it up North on I-95 going all the way into Maine, then farther, into Fundy National Park and Cape Breton Highlands National Park in Nova Scotia Canada back in 1993. I put a 2.5x4cm dent into Herbie's rear right corner when I backed him into the post of a tentsite at Cape Breton Highlands. I seriously threw my back out sleeping with my foot propped up on the steering wheel at Baxter State Park in Maine.

We drove out West through St.Louis, into Kansas City and Nebraska, camped out in South Dakota - in the Badlands and near Rushmore. We drove further into Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park, seeing the ominous hulking figures of Bison lurching along the roads around midnight. Herbie himself was under attack by a large male Bison near WindCave National Park. Herbie saw the Grand Tetons, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon.

I received my first speeding ticket while driving Herbie just outside of Greensboro back in 1994 - an earnest young highway patrolman clocked me going 107mph on I-85. I had to get a lawyer to help me avoid felony speeding charges (cost me $350) - I was on my way from Charlotte to visit my girlfriend in Chapel Hill (my wife now). Herbie moved my wife's belongings to my apartment when we decided to live together during med school. Herbie saw my wife through residency. We mounted a set of Yakima bike racks onto Herbie and went mountain-biking all over NC. Herbie brought our first child home from the hospital for us. Herbie helped move us into our first house back in 1997. Herbie took my wife, me and our first child on his first camping trip to the Great Smoky National Park (Cade's Cove) back in 1997 - Yes, we indeed took a 3 month old camping despite bitter cold nights, ferocious storms, and the danger of bears - probably not a wise choice.

Our Little 3 month-old Sherpa Guide at Cade's Cove in '97

Herbie received a devastating collision when a neighbor of my parents backed up his large truck into the right frontal wheel area back in around 1997. He received a second devastating collision when my old father was driving him home from repairs from that first collision and forgot to look bothways before entering a road in Charlotte. We tried fixing Herbie up the best we could, going to 2 or 3 different independent garages and 2 different Honda dealerships. We drove Herbie around despite rattling brakes and wheels for another 6 years.

I drove Herbie back and forth from Charlotte to Asheville and Asheboro doing locum tenens work over a couple of years. I drove Herbie through thick icy snow without problems in the winter-times. Herbie's air-conditioning freon was going strong during Summertimes to the end of his days. My wife used Herbie to commute for work several years without complaints. With our second baby 2 years ago, we realized that we had not only out-grown Herbie, but he was a clear danger with his rattling brakes and off-aligned wheels. We finally decided to purchase a Honda Pilot to replace Herbie and watched a kindly old man from AAA haul him away for $400 trade-in. We were very sad at his departure and took some final pictures:

Friday, February 20, 2004


Here are my major motivations for publishing this weblog: 1.I plan to take a road trip out West in a few months and would like to have a site to post my journal with pictures etc. 2.I also like the idea of journaling and making it public to lend an air of danger to it. 3.I want to have an outlet for any urges for creativity I may have - something not possible in either my current job or life elsewise.

I live in a small city in central North Carolina. I have been married 9 years to a girl I've been living with for 11 years. We have two children, a 6-1/2 year-old boy in first grade, and a 19 month-old girl. We live in a ~3000 heated square-foot 2-story house with a 1100 unfinished square-foot basement and a 500 unfinished square-foot walk-up attic - we live in a nice middle-class neighborhood of mostly families like us. We own a Honda Pilot and a Honda CRV. We have 3 Dell computers in our home, and too many (6) TVs. We own a mountain of stuff (mostly junk) accumulated over our lifetime. We are among the masses formerly befuddled by affluenza, but now recuperating. My wife and I are what the current health-care climate would label as primary-care providers. We met during a 3rd-year clerkship in medical school, became close friends never intending to marry, but ended up couples-matching into the same University hospital for our residencies, then went ahead and got married during our second-year of medical residencies. After some initial struggles with paying off debts and turbulent health-care job-markets, we are now relatively settled.

We have recently chosen to dramatically alter our lifestyles in order to minimize our consumerism. We have chosen to reduce our work hours voluntarily in order to spend maximum time with each other - my wife actually does not work at all for now and I work 2 days per week. We have eaten out just twice in the past 2 months, whereas we used to eat-out twice a day everyday. We no longer visit malls, shops, or stores just out of boredom. We no longer ruminate over mail-order catalogs - we quickly dispatch them into the rubbish bin. We watch just a couple hours of television per week. We no longer buy toys for our son just because he asks for them. We frequent the public library instead of purchasing books online or in stores. We have completely stopped purchasing any soft-drinks and avoid purchasing junk-foods. We have however elected to keep our son in his private Montessori school for now but are very close to taking him out of private school. We have over the past couple of months been able to reduce our montly expenses by 35-50% by adopting this lifestyle. We have also found that we are actually healthier, happier, and more content with our lives (as well as accrueing money rather than losing it). The impetus for our change in lifestyle originated about 6 or 7 years ago when I first saw the Affluenza documentary on PBS. Over the years, I became more convinced that anti-consumerism was the way to go as we spun-out more-and-more into the suburban-middle-class-American nightmare. I recently re-looked at those PBS affluenza documentaries, read the companion book, and read Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robins' Your Money or Your Life. I finally made the decision along with my wife to embrace this wiser and more frugal lifestyle just 4 months ago.

I enjoy watching my son go about his life - he is a blue belt in Taekwondo, an activity he has been involved in for over a year now.

He has also been taking piano lessons since last year. He is discouragingly tone-deaf, but I believe strongly in the intellectual invigoration of a music education, and he is doing surprisingly well with music reading. My son also does well with reading, writing, and getting along with other kids - all things to make any parent happy.

I enjoy watching my toddler daughter develop into a human being - she can't really talk yet, but is able to communicate in a rudimentary manner. She is good at walking, running, climbing, yelling, and feeding herself. She can say "mama," "daddy," "eyes," "uh-oh," and "ish," as well as a conglomeration of primitive Ur-words. My son and I have grown fond of calling her "Ish" instead of her given name.

She has a very well-developed, strong, stubborn personality but also can be very gentle and loving. She has a sparse head of hair and can be very entertaining to watch. We humans have evolved to appreciate the rounded and outsized heads, eyes, and cheeks of babies, as well as the endearing clumsiness of a toddling child.

I enjoy reading books, magazines, journals, websites, newspapers. Lately I've been reading Time magazine and Sports Illustrated cover-to-cover weekly. I peruse my local papers weekly, read various news websites daily. I am currently reading The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett. I most recently read for fun a bunch of books about Tea (Okakura's The Book of Tea, Pettigrew's The Tea Companion, etc.), E.Annie Proulx's most recent novel (I thought her worst to date actually) and Andy Rooney's Common Nonsense (aptly named and poorly-written for someone who claims to be a good writer). The best book I've read in the past 12 months? Actually it was Barrie's Peter Pan which I read to my son. This is a surprisingly well-written book full of subtle metaphors about life and sexuality. My wife and I have of course read dozens of books to our kids over the past year - some of our favorites: Pinocchio, Swiss Family Robinson, Roald Dahl's collection. Some books with critical acclaim but very shoddily written and conceived in my opinion: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, Richard Russo's Empire Falls, and unfortunately Carold Shield's last book Unless. The last really fantastic book I remember reading is Carol Shield's Larry's Party. I wish I had time to read all kinds of novels, but because of limited free time, I've chosen to concentrate on award-winners and avoid all pop-trash novels though they can be fun sometimes. I like to read non-fiction too but they are usually pop-trash also - the last fun pop-trash book I read was Goldberg's (Goldman?) BIAS about the news media.

I enjoy watching movies like everybody else. Lately we've been renting videos every few weeks or so instead of purchasing DVDs or going to the theatres and such. There are very, very few good movies out there. It's hard to remember the last decent movie I've seen among the newer ones. One outstanding movie I saw on the TCM channel a few months ago was a silent movie called The Crowd, directed by King Vidor. I also thought the pop-trash movie The Hulk was very exhilarating and entertaining (I screened it by myself to see if my son could see it - I decided he should definitely NOT see it because of the stabbing the mother scene). I thought Tarantino's Kill Bill was absolutely awesome and can't wait for Kill Bill II. I think Quentin Tarantino's movies are absolutely horrible for society - it sustains and feeds the antisocial, druggy, violent American culture - yet, his movies are kick-ass entertaining as hell.

I enjoy keeping aquarium fish and reading about them - I own a small fortune in aquarium books and aquarium paraphernalia - a residue of my erstwhile affluenza.

I enjoy(ed) electronic merchandise - my most recent piece of hardware is the Kyocera 7135 Smartphone with its palm interface which I use at work for it's drugbook and other medical references. I have become addicted to playing solitaire on it during my down-time at work also. I sometimes use the photosuite on it, the MP3 player also. I enjoy making movies of my kids and taking digital pictures also - I have a Sony DCS PC110 which cost me about $2500 4 years ago, and a Canon G2 is my digital camera. I have sworn off drooling over more electronic merchandise including computers. Yet the disease beckons at various times.

I enjoy taking long (4-5 mile) walks with my wife through our city parks when the weather permits. I enjoy even more talking walks through national parks but vacation time is hard to use this way with 2 young kids. My wife and I have visited and camped at these national parks over the past 10 years: Big Bend National Park in Texas, Shenandoah NP in Va, Great Smoky NP, Yosemite NP and Kings Canyon NP and Sequoiah NP in CA, Mt.Rainier NP in WA, Grand Canyon NP in AZ, Petrified Forest NP in AZ, Bryce Canyon NP, Zion NP, Arches NP in UT, Grand Teton NP and Yellowstone NP in WY, Badlands NP and WindCave NP in SD, Fundy NP and Cape Breton Highlands NP in NS. Before our kids came, we used to be semi-avid mountain bikers and our most memorable biking trip was on the Tsali Trail in the NC mountains back in the early '90s.

I used to think I enjoyed travelling. My wife and I took a European trip to Paris, Florence, Venice, Milan, Luzern back in '96 and had a blast. We've been on one Royal Caribbean cruise to Jamaica, Bahamas, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel and had our fill with that decadent fat-tourist activity. I also went to Europe after my college graduation and visited all over Germany West (and East at that time), Austria, Italy, France, Holland, Switzerland. My conclusion is that travelling can be enriching and fascinating but after the first couple of days in any new location, ennui sets in quickly and you just want to get the hell out of there and back home. Places I'd like to visit before I die: Glacier NP in MT, Alaska and the Canadian Yukon, New Zealand, Kyoto and Tokyo, Patagonia, London and Thomas Hardy country, Sweden. If I don't get to visit any of these places before I die, I can live with that.

I'm planning on taking the family out West across Kentucky toward Kansas City, then up northwest into South Dakota, Wyoming, and to North Dakota before returning across Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, W.Va. This could occur at the earliest in June 2004 - it would cost us thousands of dollars in combined unearned income + expenses. This is a very affluenza thing to do but the itch to do a road trip is unbearable. I recently saw Ken Burns film about Horatio Nelson Jackson's automobile trip from San Francisco to Vermont back in 1904 (the very first transcontinental crossing). It put that urge to meander across the vast plains of the American Midwest back in me. Along the way I was planning to visit the various roadside Kitsch like the competing World's Largest Balls of Twine in KS and MN and the Spam Museum, and the Corn Palace, and Wall Drug, and the Giant Muffler Men etc. We wanted to show our son Badland's National Park and the last remaing herds of American Bison in the Dakotas. We also wanted to do some camping again. I'll post notes and pictures from such a trip here if we decide to do it. I saw Jack Nicholson's recent movie About Schmidt and I think this movie along with that HN Jackson story on PBS really got me into a roadtrip again. It's interesting how a compulsion to do something seems to be always a Multi-Step Process (like promoting the development of Cancer). About Schmidt made me think about the old movie Lost in America with Albert Brooks - my wife and I, 5-6 years ago, seriously considered selling everything we had and purchasing an RV to live in full-time. I read an RV life-style book, I researched RV life and technicalities. I investigated the expenses and the hardships of such a life. In the end, I met up with a man who owned such an RV and lived in it. When I visited his rather luxurious vehicle, I was hit with the stench of his bathroom. It seemed the smell of bowel movements and liquid wastes permeates your RV no matter how well you try to clean your plumbing. The typical environs of an RV park are rural ghetto - mostly destitute families living on the outskirts of shabby towns adjacent to major highways. The dumping stations of the typical RV park were rancid cesspools harboring unmentionable diseases requiring the donning of and frequent sterilization of Level-4 infection-control outfits in order to dump out your own black and brown waters. The Canyonlands vistas you always see in Winnebago ads are a brief fugue-state - in real life, you couldn't live day-to-day for sustained periods in such national parks due to excessive costs. Thus the rural ghettos of the highway RV park. I decided to abandon my idea of becoming an RV-lifer about 4 years ago.