When the Frost is on the Punkin’…


“The frost is on the punkin’ and the fodder’s in the shock…”

~James Whitcomb Riley

The mornings have a crispness that heralds the shortened days and chill of winter, but the sun still holds warmth of the aging summer that softens the transition and holds off winter’s grasp for just a while. The blue of the sky is clear and particular to the autumn; it’s a color that is not present at any other time of the year.

Even for an inveterate sun-worshipper such as me, the fall of the year holds something very special. There is something mystical and magic about the fogs that creep along the ground and crawl out of meadows and fields to cross roadways and paths. The smell of campfires, bonfires, and burning leaves on the cool evening air calls to mind the sounds of laughter and chill up the spine from ghost stories told around the fire. The flashing lights of fireflies give way to the sparks rising into the cold night air with the smoke.

I am not a big fan of colder temperatures, and I am certainly not a fan of less sunlight. However, I have to admit that there is something about the autumn that makes me happy.

I think that it is a lot of memory is stored up in the sensory experience of this season we call the fall of the year. The science involved refers to the olfactory bulb and the temporal lobe and hippocampus being all there nestled together, but the truth is that there is just a lot of really fun stuff that happens during this time of the year. The smell of bonfires and leaves burning mixed with the sweet smell of hay just put in the barns and even the scent of curing tobacco hanging from the rafters… these are all smells strongly associated with my childhood and memories of my family, now many of whom are now absent from my life, departing in greater numbers in the last decade to leave very few of us to carry on traditions and remember.

I still revel in listening to ghost stories around a fire while drinking warm cocoa or possibly hot cider. There is a thrill that goes up my spine with a really good spooky tale or a haunted house, wood, or corn maze; and I love the fog that creeps across the low fields and meadows like something out of one of those stories. I love the sun hitting the side of the mountains and illuminating the flames of color off-set by the deep greens of the evergreen conifers native to the southern United States.

Maybe it is true, what they say about the veil being thin at this time of year. It always seems that those people I miss are more frequently in my thoughts. Their memories pop up at various times, sparked by some trigger of my senses. I miss them more. I find myself wanting to share my observations and thoughts and plans. I feel their ghosts around me, but I still feel the gaping absence as well. It is as if I turn my head quickly enough, I can see one of them looking over my shoulder now as I type… but like Orpheus, the shade is gone when I cast my glance behind me.

It is a romantic time. It is a time when the chill in the air and the hint of a goblin coming to get you is an excuse to cuddle closer and sneak off to darkened alcoves. It is a time for laughter, fun, and friends. It is the opportunity to dress up and be someone else entirely for a night (or possibly more often, depending on your social engagements). It is a time for carving jack-o-lanterns and roasting pumpkin seeds and baking and indulging in a few traditional superstitions… just because it is fun to remember.

It is time to make wishes and see omens in nature and visions in the firelight. It is time to heed the owl’s warning and ask for wisdom in dreams. It is time to remember. It is time to reflect. It is time to revel in this “in between” season as the earth relinquishes the warmth of the sun and turns herself back to the darkness and cold until the days grow longer again.

And because James Whitcomb Riley’s are the words and dialect that always come to mind during this time of year, I’ll leave you with a snippet of another of his verses:

An’ little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An’ the lamp-wick sputters, an’ the wind goes woo-oo!
An’ you hear the crickets quit, an’ the moon is gray,
An’ the lightnin’-bugs in dew is all squenched away,–
You better mind yer parunts, an’ yer teachurs fond an’ dear,
An’ churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,
An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you
Ef you

Physical Fit: Oh! There IS a reason for that thingy…


So, my workout journey continues. I’ve experienced my various slips and backslides and general lack of motivation, but on the whole, things have gone pretty well.

I have spoken previously about necessary equipment for the ritual of working out. For the most part, I would say that you can get away with very little in the way of purchases when starting down the road to a more active lifestyle. Provided you have appropriate footwear to provide support (though obviously footwear is not necessary for all forms of exercise), workout apparel that is comfortable (unless of course you belong to a nudist organization and are content with the effects of gravity upon pendulous parts), and… well, honestly that pretty much covers it. You really need nothing else. It is entirely possible to have physical activity for the purpose of health and well-being without a lot of props.

That said, most people have some form of headphones with appropriate technology to provide background noise of some kind. I am lucky enough to belong to a gym that provides television screens and headphone jacks so that I need not even have my own device. I usually do, though. I’m as attached to my phone as anyone else… and so begins my tale of woe. Well, maybe not so much woe as oh my did anyone see that?!?

Anyone who has jumped on the physical fitness wagon will find themselves bombarded by a variety of “must haves” and “needs” from athletic merchandizers. There are health monitors, gadgets, breathing apparatuses, self-filtering water bottles, attachments for measuring all manner of vital statistics, and of course the clothing and shoe fashions. It is a constant pull of the commercial industries to get your money, and I personally was taking a firm stance to not give into this flagrant display of capitalistic whoredom. I am made of stauncher stuff. I would not be moved (just don’t advertise the stuff on late night television because my will is weak in the wee hours).

One of the silliest devices, in my opinion, was these little holster-like objects that fasten around one’s arm or other appendage and would hold sound production devices or mobile phone. They are frequently made of some neoprene like substance that reminded me, for all the world, of my SCUBA wetsuit. While I didn’t completely dismiss them out of hand, I mostly considered them a vanity for the high fashion conscious workout set. You know the type, the ones with matching outfits made of coordinated spandex and triple digit footwear. I was most decidedly not one of those people, and so, I saw no need to invest in the cute little arm/phone belt that comes in a variety of colors. In fact, I strongly suspected that a lot of people wore them for the sole purpose of showing off their biceps. This was clearly a douch-nozzle or spandex nazi object unworthy of my serious pursuit of better health. I could do very well with my handy phone holster that attaches to my waistband. I certainly did not need to spend my hard-earned wages to be fashionably equipped with my phone holder.

Miscalculation number one: Phones these days, though technology is getting more miniature and compact, are heavy. They respond to gravity much like little talkative paperweights.

Miscalculation number two: Not all workout pants, shorts, or leggings come equipped with drawstrings.

Miscalculation number three: Cardiovascular activity generally involves some bouncing and jarring of the body and all attached items.

And my fourth and final miscalculation: Pants stretch.

You are probably already getting the idea. I think I heard a few snickers back there in the back. One bright and sunny day in the not very distant past, I betook myself to ye ol’ proving grounds for my daily workout. That day, I happened to be sporting one of my purchases that you may recall from an earlier article. This particular pair of leggings was of the cropped variety and was without the drawstring option. They fit well enough when I changed into them. Sadly, the sadists who designed said apparel also decided that a firm elastic waistband was also unnecessary. I believe that this garment was meant to be held up by hopes and magic. Nevertheless, I had attached my trusty holster, put in my earbuds, and mounted my favorite elliptical machine.

I started at a good pace and set the timer for a nice cardio session. About halfway into my run on the elliptical, I noticed that something was happening at around waist level… or rather what should have been waist level and was now slowly creeping towards my groin area.

Now, for those unfamiliar with the equipment known as an elliptical machine, I will tell you that it is a marvelous device for those of us with fragile knees. However, it is also designed to require some attention to technique and has the potential of mayhem if not attending to the poetry of motion associated with the ski-pole like handle movement and pedal like running steps. In other words, taking my hands off to adjust my waistband against the forces of gravity was some high risk behavior. Needs must when the devil drives, and so, I quickly removed one hand from the grips to jerk my waistband back up to its appropriate location and continued in my progress.

I listen to books when I run typically. I must have gotten to an absolutely riveting portion of the narrative because the next sensation to draw my attention was the feeling that my backside was receiving a good deal more breeze than is normal for my appropriate clad posterior, and to my horror I found that I had, in fact, been pants’d by my phone. Yes, ladies and gentleman, the moon (well at least my chunnies) was shining for all the world to see… or at least the poor souls that occupied the elliptical and treadmill rows behind me. Oh the humanity!

And that is how I came to own my very own arm holster… I think it shows off my bicep quite nicely, don’t you?


PSA: Scams… Same ol’ song and dance…

So, I know that most of this is old news to anyone with internet, but I found some of it entertaining and some just a bit more concerning. I’ll start with a little game I like to call the “telephone game.”

My phone rang for the umpteenth time in the past few days with the same number that was still unknown to me (209-813-0503, and yes… it has been reported. More on that later…). So, I decided that since they were so very desperate to get in touch with me (but never wanted to leave a message), I would answer. A very heavily accented (I can’t really tell you what the accent is because it changed locals and dialects about five times during the conversation) voice asked if I was the person to whom they were speaking (not in those terms, but you get the idea). The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: Yes, this is.

Caller: This is Kevin [um…yeah, whatever], and I am with the U.S. Government Grass Department…

Me: The what department?

Kevin: The U.S. Government GRNSS department.

Me: Ok, I’m still not getting it. What department is that?

Kevin: The U.S. Governm….

Me: Kevin, yes. I got the whole government part in this, but I am completely unfamiliar with which department that might be. Perhaps we are experiencing a linguistic problem?

Kevin: The GRNSS… G-R-A-N…

Me: Oh! Grants. The grants department. We’re talking about money. I don’t have any. You’ll need to talk to someone else.

Kevin: No, ma’am. I am with the U.S. Govern…

Me: Yep. Gotcha, Kevin, but I don’t have any extra to contribute. The government already took mine, and I gave at the office.

Kevin: *crickets* Um, no. You have qualified to receive $7193 for your own purposes.

Me: What?!? You mean you want to give ME money? That’s how much?

Kevin: $7193.

Me: Ok. So, you gonna mail me a check or something?

Kevin: You have two options to receive the money. You can receive it by bank account, like checking, savings or something. Or you can receive it on plastic card.

Me: Plastic card? Not paper or metal? Ok… so, I definitely want money. How do I get this $7193?

Kevin: I need to verify that it is you.

Me: Ok.

At this point, Kevin proceeded to verify address and phone number. I was a little disturbed by the address portion of the program, but it’s not like it is difficult to Google these things. Once my identity had apparently be verified, we continued.

Kevin: Now, for what purpose would you use this money?

Me: Why?

Kevin: Excuse me? Why what?

Me: Why do you need to know? If I have qualified already, why would I need to explain myself?

Kevin: Um… we… I mean the U.S. Government Grants Department needs to inquire if there is a purpose for the funds dispensed. For repayment of debt? For purchasing a car?

Me: Well, that wouldn’t be much of a car. But, ok. Um… I would probably repay some bills.

Kevin: Repay…some…bills… [as if he is writing it down] Ok… that is all.

Me: Awesome. That was pretty painless. When can I get my money?

Kevin: Ok, how would you like to receive your money? You have two options: Bank account or plastic card.

Me: Oh, I think I would rather you mail the plastic card.

Kevin: *crickets* Um…what?

Me: You are going to mail me some sort of debit card with the money on there, right?

Kevin: Oh, no ma’am. You misunderstood. We put it on your card.

Me: My card? Like a card I have? I don’t have a card. Did you mail it to me?

Kevin: No… um… you have plastic card?

Me: Oh, like a credit card. Oh! I see. Wow, I’m dense. Sorry. No, I don’t think I want to do that. Let’s do the bank account.

Kevin: Ok. What is the account number?

Me: How should I know?

Kevin: Your account number where we will put the money.

Me: How would I know the account number for the account you are opening for me to draw on?

Kevin: [who now thinks that this is possibly the stupidest woman he has tried to con all day] No, your account, ma’am.

Me: Oh, I’m being silly again. You want me to give you my bank account information so that you can wire the money into it, right?

Kevin: [with an audible sigh of relief] Yes, ma’am.

Me: Oh, well that information would be “No”.

Kevin: What?

Me: Wasn’t I clear? Hell no, then. How’s that?

Kevin: But without the information, we cannot give you the money.

Me: Kevin, sweetie, I believe you are going to give me $7193 about like I think I can go outside right now and fly. This may be news to you, but I don’t give money, social security numbers, or account information to displaced Nigerian princes either, sweat pea. However… I have managed to keep you on this nice phone long enough to pick up environmental information in the background and send the spoof number to the law enforcement registry to try and get a trace…

Kevin: Um… uh… ma’am. I don’t… [CLICK]

Yeah, and that was my entertainment for about 15-20 minutes of my lunch break. This is nothing new, it is just repackaged. What I do find intriguing is that these artists are learning and using new tricks and tales. I liked the U.S. Government Grant flourish. Everyone and their second cousin twice removed have seen the infomercials and ads for how to get unclaimed money from the government. According to all these TV hawkers, the federal government has billions of unclaimed funds that all you have to do is ask… How about not-so-much? While there are a number of programs with money that has been earmarked for programs or assistance, I know not one of them that you don’t at least have to fill out some pretty impressive officially bureaucratic forms or write and actual grant proposal and explanation of what you want to do with the funds to obtain. Which brings me to another new, very nice touch: Kevin asked the purpose to which I would put the funds. This is another confidence booster to the unsuspecting mark. Hearing something like that, you might actually think they were official. I mean, the government is always wanting to know what you are doing, right? Lastly, the genius touch: The amount of the payoff.

This is a tricky part. Cons and scams always rely upon the greed of the mark. They are offering something for nothing or something that is too good to be true. The old email scams had astronomical sums of money involved, and these days, most people are wise to that old story. So, this new twist, they offer a sum that is big enough to be tasty and tempting, but not so big that it is unrealistic. My guess is that it would work on a lot of people, especially with bailout programs and federal student loan forgiveness. It is a new shine on an old scheme.

If you get one of these calls, I would not expect that the number is actually the one to which you were connected. It is most likely spoofed, randomly mapped and projected to your caller ID. It is often a real number. My favorite is when they spoof my own bloody number. That is an absolute riot. I always want to answer those with “It’s done, but there is blood everywhere.” If it isn’t your own number, report it. There are sites where you can report scam number. Also, add your own numbers to the “Do Not Call” list. There is a government (real this time) site for it. I’ll list the sites below.

So, not all scams are at a distance. Believe it or not, there are still some old school charlatans working the old games. There are no new cons.

In my local area, there are a couple of groups doing the old pavement game. This is a pretty standard con, and usually focuses on homeowners of the older variety. A group of workmen approach a home and offer to pave the driveway. Usually, they offer this service for an extremely reasonable amount. They ask for a down payment, maybe $200 and set up to start the job. However, once they set out saw horses and maybe some safety equipment (goggles or hardhats), they notice it is close to lunch… or perhaps they say then need to go buy sealer. They depart, leaving the equipment to make it appear that they have every intention of returning. Voila! They disappear. They’re out maybe $15 worth of materials, and the homeowner is out $200. Occasionally, they actually do some work. Often, it is shoddy or much less than they offered (like oiling the drive, rather than paving it).

With some of the storms and weather we have experienced, another version of the above has cropped up. Again, this type tends to focus on older people in the community. And… as it happened, one of our law enforcement friends got to deal with this type today.

A mature lady answered her door to find a group of men there stating that her roof was damaged and that they were there to fix it. The lady being of more sound mind and will than they were expecting told them that they were not, but as she was outnumbered and a bit threatened, they went up the roof and started working. Our gal wasn’t to be bullied… So, she called 911. The officer responded to watch all of the men scoot up the ladder as fast as they could go.

Um… why would they do that? Wouldn’t they be trapped up there? Not the best exit strategy.

Correct, you are! However, that was not their intention. Apparently the “gentlemen” in question were in possession of what might be perceived, to the casual or not so casual observer, as illegal substances. Yep. They emptied their pockets on the roof. There were any number of interesting packets and items for “recreational” use, and there was about $40. The law enforcement officer asked the guys if all that stuff was theirs (we wouldn’t want them to lose any of their possessions, right?). Strangely enough, they all denied any connection to the items found on the roof. Mrs. Smith (pseudonym) should probably keep an eye on who is using her roof as party central. Anyhow, as no one claimed the substances or the or other items from the rooftop collection and since no damage had been done to the roof, no arrests were made. And Mrs. Smith got $40 out of it. It was on her roof after all.

It seems that every week (if not more frequently), I read or hear about some newly concocted method attempting to target unsuspecting people for money. Part of it is probably that we are in difficult times, and not everyone bears up under hardship to the credit of their character. However, another part of it is that the public, in general, is more vulnerable, precisely because we are in such difficult times. Everyone is struggling, financially, emotionally, and we’ve lost hope that good things will come. We are all vulnerable to the desire to have some of the burden lifted from our shoulders. Now, most, still retain enough cynicism and intellect to know that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is, but there is always that next wave of cons, scams, and schemes designed to overcome that natural cynicism and wariness. So, beware the predators out there. Be careful with your personal information, and say hello to “Kevin” for me.

Report The Call – http://www.reportthecall.com

Federal Trade Commission – http://consumer.ftc.gov

Do Not Call Registry – http://www.donotcall.gov

The Stars Are Stacked Against You Girl, Get Back In Bed*

There are certain things in this life that appear to be universal. For instance, it’s a bad idea to let someone you just met pick your tattoo after a night of tequila shots. Bartenders want all Journey songs removed from jukeboxes and karaoke lists. No one looks like a Mensa member with a flat-billed, oversized baseball cap turned to the side. Legos are deadly when stepped on in the dark. And if I have planned to get into the office earlier than usual, I am guaranteed to forget everything, including my wardrobe in various steps making me at least ten minutes later than my usual arrival.

I had one of those mornings. You know the kind. The kind or morning that indicated apparently my subconscious and the universe had a meeting and decided that they did not want me to leave my home. I forgot everything but my pants, and not all at once. It was piecemeal. Get to the car…and, I forgot that folder. Run upstairs and grab the folder only to remember that I left my briefcase on the couch. Remember the keys to the car were left in a pants pocket now in the laundry pile… And manage to get all the way to the stop sign at the end of your neighborhood to realize that I left my coffee in its go-cup on the counter.

Yes, of course I turned around to get it. Did you really want me driving in morning rush traffic in a caffeine deficit?

Speaking of traffic, apparently to have instant idiots on the roadways, just add water. No lie. It is astounding how many people think that they have some sort of magical shielding on their small, compact vehicle that will somehow, miraculously prevent them doing an impression of a trash compacted soda can while they whip it out (yes, I said it like that on purpose) in front of the semi barreling along at 55 miles per hour. This favored risk-taking behavior seems to occur with a much higher prevalence when rain has fallen increasing braking distance by a relative factor of how much friction is decreased by rain mixed with oil and other mechanical fluids coating the asphalt surface.

After the harrowing experience of morning traffic, I finally arrived at the office to find that the pushers of all things technical and software related had run an update on the network that my comp had to catch up with, and I was threatened with my life if I did so much as breathe hard while the warning was on the screen. I sat, hardly daring to glance away, should the technology gods perceive that I had not adhered to their admonitions and corrupted my entire workspace. Finally, a new window appeared indicating that my computer would reboot in 60, 59, 58… or I could Reboot Now. Gratefully, I clicked the reboot now… AND… Just kidding, WRONG ANSWER! The BSOD, the “blue screen of death” for those who are unfamiliar with the acronym. Heaving a ponderous sigh… I shut down the computer and sat momentarily staring at the darkened screen. I sent out a plea to the universe. As I pushed the power button and waited expectantly to see if the computer would behave, I told myself that should it fail to do so, I would take it as a sign that today was a bust and I should just go back to bed.

I’m not sure if it was a benevolent higher power looking after my work ethic and taking pity on me or some more maleficent entity that said, “Nay, you must endure the rest of your day, limping along in anxiety about your data and reports…” but the computer came back readily. So, no day off for me with the excuse of technology SNAFUs or Mercury in retrograde. However, on days like this, I really would love to be able to hit the reset button and get a Mulligan, but what the hell! I might get lucky today.

*Thanks to Mary Chapin Carpenter , “I Feel Lucky” 1992