Traveling On Our Stomach

userpic=levysThey say an army travels on its stomach. We’re traveling as well, so are some articles related to what we eat:

  • 24601. In Les Miserables, Jean Val Jean was punished for stealing a loaf of bread. He should have gone to Italy. The Italians have decided that the hungry should not be punished for stealing small amounts of food. Five years ago, Ukrainian national Roman Ostriakov was homeless in Genoa when he was caught stealing cheese and sausage worth less than $5, the Telegraph reports. He was fined $115 and sentenced to six months in jail in 2015, a sentence that he appealed. On Monday, the Italian Supreme Court ruled in his favor. Their opinion: “People should not be punished if, forced by need, they steal small quantities of food in order to meet the basic requirement of feeding themselves.”
  • Care Packages. One of the ways that soldiers in WWII won over the hearts of the populace was through care packages. Care packages were a vital lifeline for thousands of displaced families in post-World War II Europe. May 11 marks the 70th anniversary of the first delivery. The packages were shipped by CARE, a humanitarian group formed by 22 American aid and religious organizations. The first packages sent to Europe were surplus military rations left over from the war. When those ran out, CARE started putting together its own packages. At first, the boxes came furnished with just the basics — rice, beans, powdered eggs and milk. Soon, CARE started customizing packages to suit regional tastes. There were parcels tailored for Asian palates (with beans, miso and soybean oil), a kosher CARE package delivered to Jewish refugees and an Italian package (which came with spaghetti and assorted spices). NPR has a really interesting article about these packages.
  • Have You Met My Friend Harvey. If you were a traveler, however, your best choice for food was the Harvey House, operated by Fred Harvey. Boing Boing has a pointer to a nice article on this railroad dining empire. This caught my eye because OERM just opened a new Harvey House museum. The article itself is very detailed and quite a good read.
  • Salt of the Earth. Here’s an interesting piece about when to use that fancy, pricy, salt, and when not to do it. For me, I don’t fine-finish that many dishes that I think the fancy stuff is useful… but my wife has a different opinion.
  • Alternatives for What You Crave. One of my migraine groups posted this handy chart, about alternatives for those cravings you get when you have a headache. As a PS for those not familiar with migraines, here’s information on the four phases of a migraine.

Saturday Stew: A Little Bit of Everything

Observation StewNote: In case you missed my posts earlier this week, I had one with a collection of articles related to why I decided to support Hillary Clinton; a collection of articles related to food and diet; and a summary of the shows that I’m planning to see at the upcoming Hollywood Fringe Festival. But now it is Saturday, and I’m staring at the list of links I’ve accumulated over the week… and realizing there’s not a coherent theme buried in there.  You know what that means — it is time to make News Chum Stew!



It’s What’s For Dinner: Mixed-Up News Chum Stew

Observation StewFinally, it is time for the main dish: A hearty news chum stew made up of items that I just couldn’t form up into a coherent (or even incoherent) post. I’ll note the first three are roughly science related:

  • Things That Go Bump in the … Ouch. The title is worrisome enough on its own: “How A Simple Bump Can Cause An Insidious Brain Injury“. The concern here is a kind of brain injury that’s very insidious — a subdural hematoma. These don’t occur with falling off a ladder, slipping and bash your head on the ice, or playing football. Basically — and this can be a problem as you get older — you bump your head. You get a small brain bleed, but below the dura that lines the brain. The bleed creates a very low-pressure ribbon of blood that’s layering on top of the surface of the brain. As that blood starts to pool over days or weeks, it irritates the brain cells. And if the pool’s big enough, it presses on the brain and damages it, much like a tumor. Ouch.
  • It’s better than Progenitorivox. Asprin is indeed a miracle drug, when taken daily. Not only can it help your heart, but it can lower your risk of prostate disease. Men with prostate cancer had almost a 40% lower risk of dying of the disease if they were taking aspirin for cardiovascular protection, a large cohort study showed.
  • At Last My Row Is Complete Again. Those of you with real periodic tables of wood, time to get out your engraving router. The last row of the periodic table has been filled: the final four elements are confirmed. Needless to say, you won’t be able to keep the samples for long. That’s how it goes.
  • Clearing Out the Stash. Lots of useful info here for knitters and crocheters. Here is a list of 10 charities looking for yarn projects, and in that list are links to about 15 more. There’s also Operation Gratitude, which is looking for knitted scarfs for soldiers. Now, go forth and clean out that sewing room. Your non-crafting partners will thank you.
  • High Fashion Religious Scarfs. A couple of related items here. First, Dolce & Gabbana have launched a line of high-fashion hijabs and abaysas (Islamic head scarves). This is actually a big deal, as the purchasing power of this market is high, and this is an untapped area of fashion. In a different religious area, H&M has marketed a scarf that looks very much like a tallit.  This is a bit more in bad taste (although I must admit we once did find a fancy tallit in a thrift store — National Council of Jewish Women, in fact — that was labeled as a scarf). It is so problematic that they have pulled it from sale in Israel.  Just imagine the next conversation: Hey, boss: I’ve got this great idea for a new hat for women.
  • Tongue Tied. Moving from the Hebrew to the Yiddish: Here is a set of Yiddish Tongue Twisters. My favorite? “Schmoozing in the shtetl with a schmutzy sheitel is a shande.”
  • Ikea Games. Mental Floss had a neat article on secrets of Ikea. One is that there are multiple quick routes through the store, both for safety reasons and stocking reasons, and they’re open to the public. But they’re not advertised, so you’ll need a keen eye for secret passageways. Often they take the form of unmarked service doors. But they change them fairly frequently because customers get familiar with the shortcuts and know how to zip through. They change the shortcuts to force people to go around the long way again.
  • Getting a Lyft. I’ve been hearing more and more about Lyft and Uber. I’ve never used them. In LA, Lyft has just been authorized to pick up at LAX. Here’s a report on what it is like to use Lyft at LAX.
  • Ride the Red Cars. It is appropriate that I’m wearing an Orange Empire shirt as I type this. Here’s a retrospective on the decline of the Pacific Electric in Los Angeles. Alas, as usual, the comments go off the rail into conspiracy theories and partisan politics (yes, the removal of PE is Obama’s fault. Right.). Further, no one mentions they are still running at OERM.
  • There are Beans, and there are Beans. The inventor of Jelly Bellies is jonesing for a comeback. His next idea: caffeinated coffee jelly beans. Now that his non-compete has passed, the founder and his business partners have launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $10,000 to launch their Original Coffee House Beans, which will come in flavors such as hot cocoa and peppermint, chai tea, coffee and doughnuts and caffe macchiato. Sounds interesting. Sugar and caffeine in one little pill. Who needs an energy drink.



Mama, mama, forget your pies

userpic=tombstonesIf you can’t figure out why this post is named what it is, you’ll have to read to the end. If you get the connection, I’ve just created an earworm. In any case, this post is a requiem for some things that are nearly or dearly departed:

Oh, right, the title of the post. Take a listen:


Observations on a Festival

userpic=oermWe just got back from this year’s stint volunteering at Orange Empire Railway Museum‘s “Day Out With Thomas” (oh, and if you haven’t gone, and you want to buy tickets… there’s one more weekend, so click here… and buy lots of merch). I thought I would share with you some thoughts that went through my head this festival.

I’ve been doing RailFests since the late 1980s. I’ve seen them be festivals for rail lovers. I’ve seen us run the tracks to capacity. I’ve seen us run into Perris. Since 2001, I’ve seen Thomas and his friends™ join us and pretty much supercede the festivals of yore. In the past, I’ve bemoaned the loss of the old festivals, but this year I realized what the problem is: relationships. I’ve written before with respect to Jewish institutions about the importance these days of building relationships to get an organization to survive. I’ve talked about it with theatres as well: I’ll subscribe to those where I have a relationship with the artistic staff, and feel a relationship to the organization. The RailFests at OERM did that: the people became like family — you supported the organization for the people as well as the mission.

As the museum has grown, it has moved towards the “professional” side. There have been flirtations with professional staff. There have been more policies and procedures visible. There has been less of an outreach and a family nature to the nurturing of the volunteers. This is not a side-effect of Thomas himself — volunteers could have been as easily nurtured under Thomas. I think it is an attitude shift; a professionalization that, while needed, may not have been executed with all the considerations in place.

All is not lost, however. What the museum needs to do is develop some events that will bring back those relationships. My belief would be to bring back the Spring Railfest as it used to be — that is, going to the membership for the volunteers, and not just depending on the local youth (good as they are). Bringing the people back to work together with other members builds those relationships. In the last few years, there have been Spring Railfests, but they’ve been nothing like the old ones — or at least they haven’t had the all out call for volunteers. Further, they haven’t been well publicized to the membership well in advance.

As for Thomas: From what I saw, attendance was lower this year. I don’t know if the popularity of the little blue engine is declining under Mattel ownership, if it is economic clime, or there was just a big lack of publicity to draw people in. Whatever the reason, it needs to be analyzed so that it can be corrected next year. We also need to make sure that we’re not solely depending on Thomas for operations funding — this is where the Spring Railfest comes in. Popularity of children’s icons are limited — where are the Rugrats today — and there needs to be plans for when Thomas is replaced with the next big thing.

There’s also the question of when trains themselves will be passe. They won’t be passe for those who rode them or the generation thereafter … but today’s kids, who have never grown up with the old passenger train. A museum of those evokes no nostalgia. Perhaps there will be museums of the high-speed trains of the future. There needs to be something forward looking — something that will encourage trains as transportation in the future.

One last word: There were a bunch of kids helping today from the California Military Institute in Perris. These young adults were remarkable — polite, eager to work, eager to learn, eager to help. Their instructors and supervisors should be proud of how they are raising these children, and I look forward to good things from them. I spoke to a number of them who were helping me on the cars, and they all of strong educational plans. Well done, CMI.


Life as a Theme Park

userpic=eticketToday’s news chum brings together a collection of stories related by… well, they all struck me as having some connection with a theme park or similar attraction:

Lastly, to continue yesterday’s post about the joke’s just writing themselves… Yesterday, I cited an article with the headline “Why Did The Chicken Lose Its Penis?” because the responses that came from the headline just seemed to write themselves. If you went to the link, the comments gave a lot of them (such as “Because its pecker is on the other end”). Here are three more headlines that caught my eye:

I expect to see most of these showing up on “Wait Wait” in the coming weeks.



“Hey, Come Back!” – Reflections on a Railfest

Those words “Hey, come back!” were yelled by a young visitor this morning as the Thomas Train passed the “A” gate going south to Mapes, before it returned back to the platform to pick up another load of passengers. Those words amused me at the time, but they really reflect quite a bit about this year’s Day Out With Thomas railfest at Orange Empire Railway Museum (don’t worry if you missed it this weekend–you can still get tickets for tomorrow (11/12) or next weekend to visit my best bud Tommy).

  • Hey, Come Back! One thing a Day Out with Tommy makes you realize is how real Thomas the Tank Engine is for really young children. As adults, we forget how real these programs can be, and these kids love these characters. That said, they forget about these characters without exposure, and attendance sure seemed down this weekend from the first years of Thomas. I forget if Thomas the Tank Engine is still on local stations. If it is, I’m wondering if HIT Entertainment is pricing themselves out of the market in this economy.
  • Hey, Come Back! Of course, the best way to cement an image is a child’s mind is marketing, and HIT knows that well. In fact, they know it better than well since they have been bought by Mattel, and are now a division of Fisher Price. Our young patrons were wandering around with loads of Thomas-branded stuff… and I began to wonder what will happen to it all. Will the third-world countries that end up with the Thomas stuff after the kids outgrow and donate it know anything about an imaginary train engine on an English island? Are we just creating more and more stuff to fill landfills… and what message is that teaching our children?
  • Hey, Come Back! As a museum, one thing we hope is that these children… and their parents… come back to the museum. Yet surprisingly the museum gift shop was closed this weekend. I heard two different reasons: one was lack of staff; the other was objections from HIT to selling non-Thomas merch. Irrespective of the reason, there was no place for visitors to pick up material to remind them of their visit to Orange Empire, and to encourage them to come back and visit when Tommy isn’t there. It also upset me because I wanted to pick up my Red Cars/Yellow Cars calendar (which is supposedly available, but doesn’t appear to be anywhere on the Museum website). If we want to get people to come back to OERM, we need to show them that OERM is more than just Thomas.
  • Hey, Come Back! One thing that needs to come back is the family feeling that used to be at Railfest. Thomas is a family event, but it doesn’t strengthen the museum family. The current Thomas event depends on a diverse group of volunteers from museum members to local ROTC and military school students. I’m grateful for them, but I miss the old days. In the old days (pre-Thomas) we had railfests where the collection of the museum was the point of the celebration. We drew in those in the community that loved trains for being trains, not for being entertainment. We also drew in our members to volunteer — year after year. We built community in Town Hall, sharing the numbers, going out to dinner afterwards. Members that are part of a family want to support that family through thick and thin. We’re not building that — and we need to build it. I’m not sure what the answer is–there is a Spring Railfest, but it doesn’t get the advance publicity, it doesn’t draw in the crowds, nor does it depend on the membership to run it. It also isn’t the big affair, with the track running to capacity and then some, with the museum’s trains. Perhaps restoring the Spring Railfest to its former glory might help a lot. Something is needed to get the members coming back.
  • Hey, Come Back–Not! I should note that I’m not asking everything from the past to come back. I understand completely the new business focus of the museum. In order to succeed long term, the museum must have the proper focus, must protect the grounds, and protect itself. It must watch expenditures and ensure efficient and safe operations. However, in doing this, the museum most also preserve what makes it special–and that’s more than just the equipment sitting in the yard. It is the people that make OERM special.

I still treasure the friends I have at the museum, and I come back because of those people. But I want to make new friends, and to have the visit with them make it worth the gas and hotel room to get out there. I encourage everyone to go out to Perris and visit the museum–whether or not Thomas is there. I hope you’ll find it a special place.



A Visitor’s View of Spring Railfest

Today I did something unusual. I went to a rail festival at Orange Empire Railway Museum.

Perhaps I should explain why this was unusual. After all, we’ve been members at Orange Empire since the late 1980s. We’ve been volunteering at rail festivals for years. What’s so odd about going to a rail festival? What’s unusual about this time is that I went as a visitor. No volunteer assignments. Parked in the main lot, and came in the main gate. So I’d like to share my impressions with you… as a visitor, and as a long time member.

We’ve been coming to Orange Empire since perhaps 1986 or 1987. I think we joined in 1988. We’ve seen the museum grow from a dusty, volunteer run hodgepodge with old equipment boneyards everywhere to a professional, well-laid-out volunteer run facility. Coming in, you go past lovely ticket booths (ex-Disneyland, if I recall correctly) down a nicely landscaped path to the heart of the museum. Signage directs you to the lawn where there was food and entertainment, or to the trains where you could ride trolleycars, the nicely restored diesel train, or the steam train. You could also wander through the car houses seeing old cars.

Now, I should note that this was the Spring Rail Festival. Thomas had left the bulding. That meant we didn’t have the craziness… or the crowds… of Thomas. If I had to guess, there were perhaps 500-750 people there. It wasn’t crowded at all.

If you’re the type that craves adventure rides, this isn’t for you. If you want adventure, go up the road to the March ARB air show. If anything, this Spring Rail Festival struck me as old-fashioned, turn-of-the-century entertainment. You could sit in the park, listen to bluegrass bands, and have lunch. You could ride trains. You could experience a slower pace. For me, it was just what I needed: to sit at a picnic table and listen to a pretty good bluegrass cover band; to sit on a park bench, feel the breeze, and just relax. To have some wonderful BBQ pizza. To take a day at a slower pace. To relax.

What is wasn’t, however, was the Spring Rail Festival of old. There weren’t the crowds. This wasn’t an old-style fest where we were running three diesels every 20 minutes and a steam train and the Irish tram and the Carhouse 4 shuttle. It wasn’t crowds and crowds of people waiting in line in Perris. Perhaps those days are gone: where crowds are drawn just to see the trains. The crowds come out for a media sensation (“Thomas”); they don’t come out for a day in the park. Looking back on it, I guess that’s just OK. Things change over time.

However, there was something missing… and it wasn’t the crowds. It was the people. Let me explain… with the old festivals, the same people showed up and volunteered, and the members of the museum became a family. You got to know people and to care about people. Since Thomas (and the deprecation of the Spring Rail Festival into a lower-tempo affair), the volunteer nature has changed. There’s no camaraderie in the Thomas crew, because there are so many non-museum members volunteering (Civil Air Patrol, the nearby military school). The volunteer contingent for Spring is low, so not all are called. With this, we’ve lost the family nature of the museum. Perhaps this is a side effect of the organization growing both bigger and older, but it is a loss. There needs to be a community event that needs volunteers, that are drawn exclusively from the membership, that has organized outings for dinner afterwards. Perhaps there needs to be organized activities for members in various geographic areas. Something to build up the friendships and relationships that used to be there.

But perhaps that is just me reflecting on the past. From my point of view, it was a wonderfully relaxing day. Who cares that I had websites to update, shopping to do, and laundry loads to process. I took a day to relax, and I needed it. Next will be going back up to temple for a talk by Rabbi Gershom Sizomu on the Abayudaya Jews of Uganda.

Music: Better Day (Dolly Parton): The Sacrifice