Ethics Is Not A Game

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Ethics is not a game. Poor ethical decisions can have tragic results.

My final Master’s program class featured a curriculum called The Ethics Game. My solutions to every ethical dilemma were all deemed by the program as ideal. In the real world, I’ve had to make ethical decisions frequently.

During the game there is no real pressure to make a poor decision. My classmates and I all made appropriate ethical decisions during our capstone course. In the real world, there will be someone who wants you to compromise your ethical standards for the sake of expedience or to make something happen that you know should not be done.

During my Quality Assurance days there were times when someone above or below me wanted a product specification ignored. Usually because the product was overdue to be sent to the customer or next process. In management the pressure was to overlook a rule or safety issue. In sales frequently to offer an unfair price.

Compromising my ethics in Quality or management could put the safety of someone at risk. My solution is usually demanding that the person exerting pressure to compromise ethics to be the signatory authorizing the approval. It’s much easier to demand that someone else to be responsible for a bad outcome. However, when it is their butt on the line most will back down and do the ethical thing.

Tragedy can occur when ethics are compromised.

The memory of what we are doing when significant events, specifically tragedies, get sizzled into our minds. The generation before mine are likely to be able to tell you what they were doing on the day that President Kennedy was shot and killed. For my generation that day is 9/11/2001.

One of those memories for me is also the day that the Challenger space shuttle exploded on Tuesday January 28, 1986. However, the critical day of this event was not the day of the explosion that sent civilian astronaut Christa McAuliffe and 6 professional astronauts to a fiery death. It was on Monday 1/27/1986.

On that day a Morton Thiokol engineer named Allan McDonald whose job, among other things, was to sign off and approve the launch scheduled for the next morning. Allan refused to sign off to approve the launch. There was great pressure being applied to Allan from both NASA and Morton Thiokol management to sign off. Allan accurately believed that the lives of the crew was at too much risk.

Eventually, someone above Allan on the Morton Thiokol food chain signed off against Allan’s better judgement. Challenger launched as scheduled at 11:37 am Eastern Standard Time. 73 seconds into its ascent the craft broke apart and disintegrated as it descended into the Atlantic ocean.

Allan McDonald refused to approve the launch because he believed, correctly, that the overnight temperatures would make the o-rings protecting the booster rocket joints too brittle to keep fuel from escaping the rocket. Fuel escaping around the o-rings ignited in a fiery explosion causing the demise of the craft and its crew.

A weaker person would have to approve the launch. Despite Allan’s correct assertion that the cold overnight temperatures could cause a catastrophic event, the pressure to stay on schedule facilitated a poor ethical decision. Authoritative coercion is difficult to resit.

In the days that followed McDonald easily overcame one more ethical dilemma. During a Presidential Commission review of the tragedy, NASA simply referenced that Morton Thiokol had concerns, but approved the launch. McDonald spoke up and pointed out that the engineering team headed by him did not approve the launch. Allan further stated that an executive at his firm approved the launch against his will.

Morton Thiokol demoted McDonald for exposing this inconvenient truth. McDonald’s ethics and boldness could’ve cost him his job, but it most likely saved more lives down the road. Fixing the root cause of the disaster, o-ring elasticity, was more important to Allan than saving his job.

When the chairman of the Presidential Committee found out about McDonald’s demotion, NASA put pressure on Morton Thiokol to reinstate Allan to his original position. He then headed up the team that re-engineered a new and safer rocket joint.

After his retirement, McDonald became an ethics advocate and spoke to many students and engineers and management about his experience and the importance of ethical leadership.

Why do I write about Allan McDonald and his ethical decisions concerning the tragic Challenger shuttle? I recently read that he died from a fall at the age of 83. I do not want his ethics to die with him.

Ethics should not be a game. In some cases it is life and death. There are few Mulligans in ethical decisions.

As I look back on the year 2020 and forward to 2021 and beyond doing the right thing is forefront in my mind. In my opinion, many of our leaders are not being held responsible for ethics. That is our fault as much as it is theirs. We must hold our leaders and ourselves to a higher standard. That will make us leaders.

Best Laid Plans = Homemade Taco Seasoning

Turkey Tacos With Homemade Seasoning

The pantry and fridge were getting pretty lean, so a grocery run was overdue and happened this morning.

Several local grocers were visited. Two locally owned; Rechek’s Food Pride and Lupita’s Market. Two chains; Aldi and Walmart. Roaming by lettuce at Food Pride for some reason gave me a craving for tacos. Plus I am planning to record a YouTube segment on a homemade Breakfast Burrito this weekend and a mental note was made to buy ingredients for both.

Upon arriving home and after putting away groceries from four different stores I prepared to make taco meat. Only one problem, no taco seasoning in the pantry.

Two options: go back to the store and buy a couple of pouches or make my own. Here’s the recipe that I made up on the fly from ingredients that we had in the spice drawers.

In a small bowl mix the following ingredients:

1 tablespoon chili powder

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon onion powder

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Had we any red pepper flakes I would’ve put 1 teaspoon of that in, but this worked great.

I added this seasoning to 2 pounds of ground and browned turkey meat.

Lunch today was one flour tortilla shell with 1/2 cup taco meat, 1/2 cup shredded lettuce, 1/4 cup shredded Pepper Jack cheese (to make up for no pepper flakes in the seasoning), 2 tablespoons of organic salsa and 2 teaspoons of ranch dressing.

Fold, and eat.

For dinner at work tonight: substitute a handful of tortilla chips and make a taco salad.

Um…Did You…Ah…Notice It Too?!

R Dub reacting to WAY too many vocal pauses in One Mask, Two Mask, Three Masks Yo!

One of the great gifts in today’s plethora of social media outlets and the handy communication tools built into our mobile devices is the ability to receive instant feedback concerning what you say and how it is said.

After posting “One Mask, Two Mask, Three Masks Yo!”; one glaring issue slapped me right in the face. My overuse of verbal pauses bordered on criminal. Technically, any use of verbal pauses that are not scripted is an overuse.

I have a degree in Broadcasting, have performed in over a dozen theatrical productions, have announced as a side kick or main voice in countless Beaverland MustSki water-ski shows over the last 10 plus years and have conducted safety training for thousands of working people over a 30 year career.

Committing the public speaking sin of copious verbal pauses is unacceptable. This must be fixed.

By now, you have either switched over to my YouTube Channel or found the February 15th post that I’m referring to and counted the total Ah and Um pauses, or are asking yourself; “What is he rambling on about now?!”

My unofficial count of verbal pauses was 67 during an 8 minute and 25 second video. That’s a cringe-worthy 8 vocal pauses per minute. As a result, while setting up to record “There Are Other Viruses Ya’ Know” I made a conscious effort to eliminate the use of ah and um.

How did I do? There were two lapses in concentration adding up to, unofficially, 8 vocal pauses in the 5 minute and 31 second video. That’s 1.5 verbal pauses per minute. Better, but still unacceptable. We WILL fix this.

In case you are wondering, none of my YouTube videos have been scripted. I assemble the content in my mind, start the video rolling and begin to speak until I think that I’m done. I’m not opposed to scripting, but the goal is for the videos to be a conversation, not a performance. However, if the problem persists, we will try scripting and (gawd forbid) rehearsing it before starting the video.

Feel free to set an over/under and bet on it. Help me be a better me. Not just for me, but for all of us!

Disturbance In The Force: Chapter 5 – Tactical Error #2

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Chapter 5 – Tactical Error #2

Kirk drives east five blocks before turning left onto the highway towards the closest gas station. Traffic on this street is practically nonexistent after midnight most nights and tonight it is completely nonexistent. The absence of lights at their local Kwik Trip is glaring. No light illuminating the marquee, no lights inside of the building and no lights at the pumps, all are turned off.

“Well, I can’t say that I’m surprised by this. But…I was hoping to see prices on the marquee.” Laments Kirk. “Maybe their big store out by Walmart will be open.” Gwen’s attention is not on the gas station. She’s looking down the road noticing silhouettes ahead of them. “There’s a large group walking up there. Is that normal for this late at night?”

It is not unusual to see pedestrians on this street. The sidewalks along this highway are wide. However, most people use this sidewalk during daylight hours. Seeing anyone walking at this time of day is not usual.

“No, it is not normal.” Replies Kirk. “Except early in the statewide lockdowns during the pandemic I saw groups of people walking down Burnett Street on my way home after 1:00am. As things loosened up, the late-night foot traffic stopped.”

Gwen gives Kirk a worried look. Kirk always tells Gwen to trust her instincts when it comes to safety. “Can you bang the car around baby, I don’t like this.” Kirk completes a U-turn at the next intersection and heads south just one block before they would’ve caught up with the group on foot.

“Initially, I thought that the BP downtown would be our best bet for gasoline. That one never seems to be too busy and the self-serve pumps are open 24 hours a day. I should’ve stayed with my original instinct of going there first.” The couple head downtown with cautious apprehension and their heads on a swivel.

The familiar glow of the BP sign is visible for a few blocks before they arrive. Kirk pulls up next to an equally illuminated pump and exits the car. As feared, the price per gallon was much higher than it had been this morning when he topped off his gas tank. $7.959 per gallon! “Wow babe! Almost $8 per gallon! Here goes nothing.”

After inserting his credit card into the KIOSK the card is rejected. The display reads; Error 10000 Undefined error. Contact vendor. The car windows are up so Kirk speaks loudly to Gwen. “Wow! My Gateway Finance card was rejected! Got an undefined error message. I’m supposed to contact Gateway.” Gwen responds. “Do you have another card, or do you want to try mine. It’s a Gateway MasterCard too.” Kirk responds. “I will try another option babe.”

Kirk shakes his head and digs out the Chase VISA card from his billfold. This time his card is accepted. The VISA goes back in his billfold and the MasterCard is slid into is left front pants pocket. After entering their zip code Kirk began the process of filling Gwen’s gas tank. Initially he notices what he thinks is a firefly in the back yard of the property immediately south of the filling station. However, each subsequent appearance of the light was always in the same location. The firefly was not flying. Upon a closer look he realized that the light was the tip of a lit cigar. They were being watched!

Kirk’s heartrate instinctively begins to race as he checks the digital display for how many gallons have been dispensed. Five gallons, that’s at least halfway to topping off Gwen’s gas tank. Kirk squeezed the nozzle hard, as if to insist that the machine dispense gasoline faster than it can perform. One nervous eye stayed on the glowing tip, while the other eye kept an watch on the pump display.

Fixating on whoever is watching him was Kirk’s second tactical error. Suddenly a muffled voice from behind startles Kirk as his head is quickly and belatedly on a swivel once again. “Having trouble with that gas pump mister?” Asks a young man slightly in front of two more young men who are flanking him on both sides. All three are wearing pandemic neck gaiters. The one in the middle who appears to be the leader is wearing a Batman logo mask while the two flanking him are both wearing the familiar green and gold logo of the Packers.

Gwen instinctively covers the display on her phone and quietly dials 911, but the service is not available. Helplessly, she continues in vain to attempt calling the police while watching the interactions between Kirk and their unwanted intruders.

“No.” Replies Kirk. “Everything is under control here. Thanks for asking. All good.” Just then all four men are startled as the tank becomes full and the pump handle that is still in Kirk’s hand snaps back into the off position. The surprised reactions of the intruder’s does not go unnoticed by Kirk. These three are not confident. Whatever they are up to, this is new to them. Which makes them unpredictable and dangerous.

Suddenly Kirk remembers the smoking observer to the south. His mind thinks back to the movie Jurassic Park. The raptors hunted in packs. One raptor would stare down its prey while others would attack without notice from the flank. Was this a set up? Is smoking person the real ringleader? His heartrate begins to surge again. Deep steady breaths begin in an attempt to regain his wits.

The nozzle is quickly taken out of the tank and returned to the pump. Batman speaks up. “That’s great old man. If you want everything to stay “All Good” you can give me that credit card you just used to buy gas.” He then thrusts his open left hand outward toward Kirk.

Thinking quick, Kirk reaches into his front left pocket and pulls out the Gateway Finance credit card that failed and hands it to Batman. “Here you go.” Batman suddenly gains some confidence, takes the card, and immediately responds. “Very good old man. I’d hate to see you get hurt. Now how about the rest of your wallet. Hand over your money.” After putting the credit card in his back left pocket Batman thrusts his hand toward Kirk again.

“Sorry, friend. I don’t carry cash. Too dangerous at my age. That’s my only form of payment.” Kirk keeps his head on a swivel wary that whoever is behind the cigar to the south may show up to assist the young thugs.

The left flanker nervously speaks up. “Don’t lie to us! We heard you tell whoever is in the car that one of your credit card was denied. Hand over the wallet.”

Kirk tries one more misdirection. “That’s my only card. Sometimes if you clean the magnetic strip the machine will read it. I rubbed it on my back pocket, like this.” He demonstrates rubbing the back-left pocket with his palm.

Right side flanker breaks his silence laughing sarcastically. “This old fart wants to get bloodied up! Hand over your wallet old man!” Lunges at Kirk, then nervously snaps back to his spot in the pecking order when Kirk defensively and instinctively raises a fist.

Looking up and behind him, Kirk points at the light above the pumps. “Okay guys don’t do anything that you may regret later. See that camera up there? It’s a security camera. We are being recorded. We can end this right now; you guys get my card, I don’t get bloody and we all leave here no worse for the wear.”

Batman holds up his right arm as if to tell his flankers to hold back while he thinks for a few seconds. “Nice try mister, but we’re masked. The only thing that will be identified is your beaten and broken body. I will take your wallet now.” This time he glides his open hand toward Kirk.

As feared, a new deep voice booms in from behind Kirk. “Nice evening tonight is it not gentlemen?” To Kirk’s surprise, Batman and the Green Bay flankers are more startled than he is.

Batman’s voice cracks attempting to answer. “Yes, yes it a very nice night. If you don’t mind, we are conducting a business transaction. Move along.”

The booming voice suddenly pulls out a handgun. “I was thinking that the three of you need to move along and leave this couple alone. Now, beat it while you can still do so on your own two feet.”

What Batman did not notice while paralyzed by the sight of the gun that he was staring down, was his flankers who had both begun to back away from his flank. “Okay mister let’s talk about this. I’ve got his credit card. We can go to an ATM and pull out cash to split. How about that mister? Hey! Old man. What’s the PIN for this account?”

“No!” Replies the man with the gun raising his voice for the first time. “You are going to give this man his credit card back and leave.” Pointing behind Batman. “Your friends are smarter than you are.” The flankers are now running north as fast as they can while occasionally glancing backward.

“Okay!” Huffs Batman as he tosses the card on the ground, spins around and hurries to catch up with his entourage.

Kirk briefly and quickly breathes a sigh of relief while wondering if he was taken out of the fire just to land into the frying pan. “Thank you.” Kirk stammers nervously as he bends over to pick up the worthless credit card. Thankfully, danger has passed.

“You are welcome. What are you two doing out this time of day on THIS day of all days without security?” Patting his firearm. Before Kirk has a chance to respond he adds. “Let me give you some advice. I call those jokers The Rubber Knife Gang. When you are dealing with wanna be gangsters, go for the one in charge. It works like a charm. For this crew it was the one wearing the Batman logo. If you challenge him, punch him hard in the nose, then the other two will run just like they did. Next thing you know, he’s turning tail and running too.”

Points toward Gwen. “Never put precious cargo in danger. Now go home. Think about what just happened and learn to protect yourself, and her.”

This brutal honesty was difficult for Kirk to absorb, but he knows that it is truth. Kirk thinks of himself as the Alpha protector of the house. These words hit him like a blow to the gut. The wind has been temporarily taken out of his sails. Speechless he just stares back at the man with the deep voice and gun.

“For a while I thought you were going to talk your way out of this mess. Unfortunately, those boys just aren’t bright enough to reason with. I guess, some days it is better to be lucky than good. Who knows what long term effect this quake is going to have? Even this far away from the quake our resources could get scarce.” Glances at the gas pump. “Look at what happened to the price of a gallon of gas in a little over 12 hours.”

“Next time you might not be so lucky. Next time it might be someone really evil instead of just stupid. Next time there may not be a good guy with a gun to bail you out. You should go home now.” He turns and walks back home into the darkness.

Kirk realizes that the gas cap is still dangling and returns it to the tank neck. After getting back into the car he turns to Gwen and says. “I’m so sorry baby.” Places his right hand on Gwen’s left shoulder. “That was dangerously stupid. I didn’t think people would go rogue this quickly.”

Gwen places her left hand on his right thigh. “Baby, I heard what the man said before he left. He called those kids The Rubber Knife Gang. He’s seen them before. They’ve been rogue a long time. The earthquake didn’t make them go rogue. They were already broken. We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. This could’ve happened yesterday at 1:00 am just as easily. Let’s go home baby. I’m exhausted.”

“He also told me that I have to learn to protect us. I thought I already knew how. I was wrong.” Kirk becomes reflective. “He called himself a good guy with a gun. Before tonight that was just a catchy phrase to me. It has a much deeper meaning suddenly.”

Gwen interrupts. “We’ve talked about firearms in the house Kirk. We agreed that having a gun in the house could be more dangerous than not having one. You hear of people shooting family members every year thinking that they are intruders. When was the last time you shot a gun?”

“When did I last shoot a gun? Wow, almost 40 years ago. Pheasant hunting with my dad and uncle Harold. I shot at two hens. Uncle Harold even yelled “hen!” I was so excited that I just shot. Luckily, I missed them both. The experience soured me on hunting and guns. If I shot at something that I knew should not be shot at, then I could no longer trust my decision making with a gun.”

“See baby, you knew the answer before I even asked the question. We need to find another way to protect ourselves.”

Kirk attempts to lighten the mood with some humor. “I don’t think we can make a SCRUM board for this problem.” Gwen chuckles, then pauses. “Are you sure? We can brainstorm the problem after some sleep. Who knows? We’re pretty smart and resourceful.”

Kirk chuckles back. “You are probably right baby. I hope you are right. We will bring a better universe to our home.”

After an uneventful ride, they are mercifully back home. Kirk backs Gwen’s car into the garage and shuts the overhead door. Once safely inside the garage, Gwen manually closes the safety latches they installed at the same time a new automatic garage door opener was installed.

Kirk looks over at Gwen. “That was a good investment.” Gwen smiles and follows him into the house.

Gunner is released from his kennel, fed, then let outside for his evening constitutional. The couple make sure that all entries are locked and begin getting ready for bed while Gunner is outside. Gunner gives a muffled ‘woof’ indicating that he is ready to come back in the house and assume his Guard Dog duties for the evening.

Kirk looks at Gunner and declares. “I think Gunner should no longer spend time in a locked kennel while we are gone.” Gwen interrupts. “What if he jumps up on the door or window when we get deliveries?”

“I read that one thing burglars avoid is homes with a dog. That is probably true for Rubber Knife Gangs too. I want people to think twice about messing with our home”

Gwen grins. “Look at you! That’s one item for the SCRUM board already.” Shut your mind off baby. It’s time for bed.”

“I’m going to need a megadose of Melatonin to get to sleep tonight Gwen. This has been one eventful day.”

Gwen opens a pill bottle, gives two to Kirk and keeps two for herself. “Here baby. These are 6 milligrams each. It’s lights out time.” They both swallow their Melatonin from a shared Dixie cup full of water.

Kirk turns on the lights attached to the headboard and shuts off the overhead light. They both settle into bed, adjust CPAP masks over their noses and turn off the headboard lamps. The comforting hiss of the machines begin. Gwen is finally back in their bed and Kirk can get some real sleep as a very long day comes to an end.

A Tale of Two Cities Or Out and About in WI

View of the Milwaukee downtown skyline from the 4th floor at The Iron Horse Hotel.

A Tale of Two Cities may be a bit of a misnomer, or at best artistic license. Beth and I frequently take advantage of our days together by enjoying what we call little adventures. A couple of weekends ago it was a trip to three of Wisconsin’s smallest towns and then this last weekend to Wisconsin’s largest city of Milwaukee.

The effect of COVID19 played a big part in both adventures. However, how different communities handle the effect is quite different.

Our small town adventure started in Markesan, WI for the purpose of purchasing kitchen and cooking items from a local restaurant that was closing down, in part, due to COVID19 occupancy restrictions. We found several items to purchase.

It was a beautiful sunny day, so we decided to extend or mini adventure and head to Rio, WI to visit Johnson’s Sausage Shop for, among other things some chopped smoked bacon. Rio is roughly 40 miles mostly south and a touch west of Markesan. But hey, we love a road tripping together and off to Rio we go!

While exiting the parking lot, the subject of lunch came up. There is a very popular bar and grill between Markesan and Rio that features HUGE grill burgers and Bloody Mary’s. Sounds great, we head south with great expectations. Upon arrival the back entrance parking lot is full of snowmobiles. We park the car street side and open the bar door to reveal a standing room only bar with a festive din that is reminiscent of a college frat party. COVID19 restrictions were not affecting them at all that day.

Two things I’m not a fan of: Long Lines and Long Waits. Neither the town or the business name will be revealed. We simply skipped it and headed to Rio.

Two things that I am a fan of is gregarious business owners and great products & service. That is exactly what to expect at Johnson’s Sausage Shop in Rio, WI. We were in the door no longer than 30 seconds when the owner Chris Johnson walks out of the back with a smile to welcome us. I greet her with a hearty, “Hello Chris!” Chris responds with; “Hi, meet me at the bar we’ve got some new items to sample.”

Chris Johnson and R Dub in the sample bar at Johnson’s Sausage Shop

This small town meat market also has a small liquor store on the south side. Chris is a great suggestive seller and utilizes sampling as a way of selling new items. It works. She’s given us nicknames; Sparky and Princess. To make a long story short, we did buy some of the new items and much more meat than was originally planned. Hint; two of the items were featured in our YouTube video for Bacon Lobster Pasta. Yum!

The lobster bites and crumbled fried bacon in this dish came from Johnson’s Sausage Shop. The milk, cheeses, pasta and Panko bread crumbs came from Rechek’s Food Pride. Shop local!

It was a great adventure and resulted in the acquisition of some new to us cooking devices, some great local food and some new to us potent potables. Mission accomplished.

Fast forward to last weekend. Beth purchased two tickets for standup comedy at The Laughing Tap in Milwaukee. To maximize this adventure a room was reserved at The Iron Horse Hotel and our dog Buddy Girl was reserved for two days at doggie daycare.

We arrived at The Iron Horse at 2:45 pm, 15 minutes prior to check in. A request to check in upon arrival is met with a pleasant young man explaining that the computers are not prepared to accept check ins yet. That’s a new one, but okay. Hunger has set in, so the adventure takes a turn toward a late lunch.

After failing to check in early at the hotel, next stop is across the street at Conejito’s Place on the corner of 6th and West Virginia streets. Conejito’s Place advertises itself as an “Old-School hangout featuring Mexican favorites served on paper plates.”

Conejito’s Place Milwaukee, WI

On a pre-COVID19 Friday afternoon, the place would be packed. Today? Barely 25% capacity, if that. We asked the young woman who waited on us how business had been and how healthy are they. She replied that they are hanging in there, but you could see worry on her face and in her voice. I said I do not like lines or to wait, and we certainly had neither at Conejito’s that Friday afternoon.

There was one couple in the back of the dining room with us and 1 person at the bar to our left. As you can see most of the seats have been removed from the stools to assure that seating restrictions are complied with.

What did we order? We shared a meal of one bean and cheese Tostada, one bean and cheese soft shell taco, four cheese and onion enchiladas plus a heaping plate of refried bean and tortilla chips. (First Friday of lent…no meat.) All served on paper plates as advertised. I washed mine down with a lime margarita and a Spotted Cow. Beth enjoyed a strawberry margarita with our meal.

Occupancy rules and restrictions are well documented at the door. Traffic is one way too. This is the entrance only.

Beth and her family have been enjoying Conejito’s Place for decades. Visiting this haunt brings her joy and I make sure that she get to experience that joy every time we can.

After overindulging in Mexican cuisine, we wander back across the street and check in to our room. The computers are now ‘ready’ for check in. We get a room on the 4th floor of this 6 floor hotel. They offered a complimentary cocktail as the room FOBs are handed over. We say yes, of course, thinking that we would get vouchers for one complimentary drink at the beautiful attached bar.

Unfortunately we were handed glasses with some unidentified orange concoction. We were underwhelmed, but as they say…Beggars can’t be choosers…and…Never look a gift horse in the mouth.

The Iron Horse Hotel has several themed rooms. The online description of the room we chose described a beautiful view of Lake Michigan and the surrounding neighborhood. The room we were given faced west, the opposite side of Lake Michigan.

Back down to the lobby we go to request the room we eagerly anticipated enjoying. Thankfully, we checked in early enough to be reassigned a room that lived up to the view that their website described. The rooms are awesome, just be sure to check in early to assure the side of the hotel you desire.

The Hoan Bridge lit up after dark!

Our reason for the weekend was to see standup comedy at the Laughing Tap just 3 blocks south of our hotel. The night’s entertainment featured David Louis. Beth and I were the first patrons to arrive 30 minutes prior to the start of the show. Tables were strategically spaced to assure compliance with COVID19 restrictions.

Seating was limited to 23 seats at the Laughing Tap. If not drinking or laughing, masks were required.

We’re not sure how many people the venue would normally seat, but this night was Sold Out…a mere 23 seats at a cost of a little over $22 each. I was shocked that there was not a 2 drink minimum, but there was not. It was Friday night in Wisconsin, so $8 Old Fashioned drinks were made for each of us. They didn’t skimp on the bourbon. The price tag was too low, so a 50% tip was added.

Old Fashioned whiskey sours, just $8 each!

This was David Louis’ first performance in many months. We purposely didn’t look up any of his YouTube performances. It paid off, the material was current and funny. I think our home crowd at the Beaver Dam Area Community Theatre’s Fine Arts Center would enjoy him. After the show we stopped and talked to him and his companion about playing Beaver Dam next autumn. He’s up for it.

We were the first patrons to arrive at 7:30 pm and the last patrons to leave at 10:00 pm. Sad, they should be open until 2:00 am.

David Louis – headliner at the Laughing Tap April 26, 2021

During the walk back to our hotel we stopped at microbrewery MobCraft Beer. At 10:00 pm, this was the only place still open. ON A FRIDAY NIGHT IN MILWAUKEE WISCONSIN! WTF – old farts like me think that this means Well That’s Fun! We had one beer each and headed up to our hotel room. One hour of TV later and we are both sound asleep.

Saturday morning we were looking forward to some great coffee and a great artisan breakfast at any of the many wonderful small cafes or restaurants in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, they were all completely reserved unless we wanted to be on the stand by lists for an hour or more. Logistical advice – make reservations 24 hours in advance in this neighborhood of Milwaukee.

We settled for some great comfort food and coffee at my favorite diner in Milwaukee. Miss Katie’s Diner on the corner of 19th and Clybourn just west and south of the Marquette University campus. Thankfully, this Milwaukee landmark appears to be doing great.

It was fascinating to see how different communities and different businesses in each area is dealing with the virus. I pray that most of them ride this storm out. We need them as much as they need us.

How About A Hug?

In a earlier post and in my novel I state that part of our daily regimen is taking melatonin tablets. Melatonin is a hormone that our pineal gland secrets when we are exposed to darkness. This natural hormone helps us to fall asleep. Unfortunately, as we age the body secretes less and less melatonin. This is why falling asleep becomes more difficult as we age. Supplemental melatonin can speed up the process of falling asleep by up to 6 minutes according to a 2017 Sleep Medicine Review.

We take 5 mg immediately before lights out. If the lights are not out within 15 minutes of taking the pill, it may not trigger sleep.

By now you may be asking what melatonin has to do with hugging. Well…melatonin has nothing to do with hugging. So..what’s my point?

Great question. Hormones are the point. Different glands in the body release many different kinds of hormones and they all have different functions.

Originally I wanted to entitle the post How To Make A Hormone. It’s an old, juvenile and bad joke that teeters on dirty and offensive. So, I changed the title.

COVID19 related changes and mandates have resulted in increasing depression and suicide. Reduced production of 4 ‘happy’ hormones could have a huge influence on COVID19 related mental health issues.

The hormones that I refer to are endorphins, dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Most of us are familiar with endorphins. The pituitary gland secretes endorphins when we exercise. Endorphins are a natural opioid that reduces the pain that physical exercise can have on the body. It is our bodies way given us a natural ‘high’. People that normally exercise on a regular basis and suddenly stop miss the endorphin high. COVID19 mandates closed most gym and sent ‘unessential’ employees home to work which expanded the number of couch potatoes and reduced the production of endorphins for many.

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Dopamine is produced by the brain and released when the brain is anticipating a reward for an action. Dopamine is released when we accomplish a task, and when anything enjoyable happens to us like going out for an evening, having great food. For some it may be the released when they shop, for others when they have sex, for many it is chocolate. Basically, we get a dopamine rush whenever anything we enjoy happens to us. There have been no live attended entertainment, movie theaters have been mostly closed, sporting arenas mostly empty, restaurants at 25% capacity, events cancelled everywhere. Many enjoyable stimulants have been nonexistent. Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol can elicit dopamine too, abuse is on the rise thanks to COVID19…

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Serotonin is a hormone released through the digestive system that stabilizes our emotions and moods, regulates our ability to…well…poop, tells us when to wake up, and tells our blood when to clot. Serotonin levels are increased when we perform good deeds. Fortunately, we can do for others at all times in our lives.

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Oxytocin is the hormone that I think has been most effected by COVID19 and was the catalyst for choosing the cover picture for this post. Oxytocin is produced by the pituitary gland in the hypothalamus when we engage in human touch. It is most important between a new born baby and mother when breastfeeding. It creates a sense of trust and relationship building. However, we can’t underestimate the damage to our psyche when we are told,thanks to COVID19 that we can no longer hug, shake hands or even be within 6 feet of people that we do not live with.

We are social creatures that crave human contact. Breaking bread, congregating and enjoying the company of more than those we live with. Getting back to normal and producing these important feel good hormones is needed and soon.

Disturbance In The Force: Chapter 4 – We’ve Got This

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Chapter 4 – We’ve Got This

“Yes, we should go over the spreadsheets. Oh! I did forget to do something! First, we need to make sure the portable solar generator is charged. If my memory serves me well, the display read 90% charged during the last inspection. It shouldn’t take too long to completely charge it. Hopefully we will not need back up power, but…better safe than sorry.”

Kirk enters the Mother-In-Law bedroom and exits carrying a small orange box in his left hand. It is shaped somewhat like a boom box with a carrying bar molded in on the top. In his right hand is a charging cable designed to plug into a 120-volt wall socket. Kirk plugs the unit in next to the smart speaker.

“92% charge, this should not take too long. The spreadsheets are in a three-ring binder by the front door. Before we review the spreadsheet, are you hungry? I have not eaten since Gunner woke me up a little after 9 o’clock.”

“I’m hungry too.” Replies Gwen. “You were pretty wound up when I got home, I’m glad you settled down enough to notice your hunger. You don’t eat when you’re worked up. How did you calm down?”

“Calming down started after you got home safely. Then we heard from our loved ones and friends. That helped greatly too. Finally, after our home walk through, knowing that we can get by for a few weeks on what is in the house is giving me a sense of calm and security. The next thing I know…hunger!”

Kirk switches gears. “OK, here are my thoughts on food. Tell me what you think. I fire up the Weber grill and cook two nice big stuffed pork chops that I just bought today. Pop open a couple bottles of beer as an appetizer while we prepare and cook some food. Then, cut up and broil some red peppers, sweet onions, organic potatoes, and cauliflower. Sound like a winner?”

“Sounds great!” Says Gwen. “…and we go over the spreadsheet while we dine?”

“Yes, we can look at the spreadsheet while we eat. Let’s call it a working dinner.” Replies Kirk. “I will uncork a bottle of Cabernet too. The beer is for prep work, but those pork chops will need wine.” Gwen grins back approvingly.

Kirk heads to the garage fridge, grabs an IPA for Gwen and a wheat brew for himself. Pops the caps off, heads back into the house and hands Gwen her beer. Gwen rewards his efforts with a kiss. He then heads to the patio with Gunner at his heel to load old newspaper under his charcoal chimney, fills the chimney with briquettes, set the chimney on top of the Weber grate and lights the newspaper on fire.

For the first time since the quake Kirk feels almost normal, the events of the day have faded into the back of his mind. He had heard that when disaster happens one should do something normal to put one’s mind at ease. Lighting his barbecue grill was the first normal chore he’d done since taking a shower. His second normal act was to give some relaxed attention to the wheat beer in his left hand and scratch behind Gunner’s ears with his right hand.

Gwen begins preheating the oven, washes and cuts up the veggies. A cookie sheet is covered with aluminum foil and oiled. The veggies are spread evenly atop the foil, sorted by veggie type, coated with EVOO then sprinkled with rosemary and seasoned salt.

Kirk gets lost in his thoughts on the patio watching the coals heat up while sipping on his beer. Suddenly, he remembers that Gwen is inside preparing the veggies and wanders in to see if she needs any assistance. At the very least it is time to season the pork chops and put them on the griddle.

“How are we doing baby? Can I help you with anything?” Asks Kirk. “The coals are hot and ready to cook, but I need to season the chops first.” Entering the kitchen, sees her IPA bottle is empty. “Oh! My beer is empty too. Want another one?”

Gwen is way ahead of him. “No more beer thanks, I’m looking forward to the wine. Veggie prep is covered baby. The oven is preheated, let me know when I can put them in. Baking time should be 20 minutes, cook 10 minutes, turn them, and cook ten more. The meat is on the counter, but I wasn’t sure how it should be seasoned.”

“We’ll keep it simple tonight. Sprinkle some kosher salt and cracked pepper on both sides. I’m off to char some meat!.” Kirk grabs the salt and pepper grinders and the tray of meat and his favorite barbecue tongs, then heads back outside to cook the chops. “Go ahead and put the veggies in the oven. Twenty minutes is plenty of time to grill the chops.”

Once back on the patio, Kirk seasons both chops on one side, and places the seasoned side down on top of the hottest part of the grill. The distinctive sizzling sound of meat charring pleases Kirk in a very primitive way. The coal pile is strategically located on one side of the grill. Kirk intuitively begins a 4-minute technique that has become ritual.

Meat is placed on the hot side of the grill to char in the natural juices of the meat, then finished on indirect heat to a perfect interior temperature depending upon what type of meat is being cooked.

Season the exposed side of the meat. Twist 45 degrees in one minute. Flip one minute later. Twist again in one minute. One minute more and the meat is now completely seared and is moved to the indirect side of the grill.

This four-minute ritual has been Kirk’s barbecue routine for years. The only variation is how long to cook indirectly after the first four-minute char is completed. Tonight, the pork chops are cooked eight additional minutes on indirect heat until the perfect internal temperature is reached.

Kirk returns to the kitchen with their finished pork chops and sees that the table is already set. Gwen has three spreadsheets on the table. At 14” by 11” Kirk amusingly thinks that the spreadsheets look like oversized placemats. Unable to keep this thought to himself Kirk says. “Are those spread sheets or oversized placemats?” They laugh. One of Gwen’s strengths is being a great organizer. Tonight’s working dinner will be enjoyable, but there will be a serious tone. Joking will keep it fun. At the end of the meal, knowing that they have thought of as many contingency plans as needed is important. The task was taken seriously, and their diligence will pay off later.

“Mmm, that smells wonderful!” Purrs Gwen. Kirk responds, “The smell of rosemary is permeating throughout the house. I can’t wait to dig in!” Gwen and Kirk fill their plates, the wine is uncorked, poured into stemmed wine glasses and the couple sit down for food, conversation, and planning.

Gunner who is still on the deck just behind the patio door senses that Gwen and Kirk will dine soon gives a halfhearted “woof” signaling Kirk to let him in. Once inside, Gunner curls up on his favorite rug less than six feet from the dining room table.

Finally, seated, and ready, the couple touch glasses and toast each other prior to digging into the feast and say in unison. “To us.” Each sip from the glasses and take a bite of pork, dressing and then sample each veggie simultaneously expressing their approval with low guttural moans of culinary delight. “This is superb Kirk, thank you!” Kirk responds in kind. “You did the hard work baby; I just charred the meat and drank beer. The veggies taste great. The rosemary really brings out some great flavors.” They toast each other’s mutual appreciation and culinary talent then turn to the large sorted spreadsheets.

The impetus to begin stocking up on critical daily items was the COVID19 pandemic of 2020. Slowly building up supplies of available nonperishable foods that they like to and frequently do eat. Additionally, they began to buy extra personal items like toilet paper, cleaning supplies and over the counter medications like pain reliever and cold remedies. The process was not one of panic and huge buys, but a methodical venture of picking up one extra item when replacing items as they are were needed and landed on the shopping list.

Quantities evolved as time passed. At first a week’s worth of emergency foods and personal items was the goal. When the one-week goal was reached they set new surplus supply goals. Within a few months the surplus supply was estimated at six months. Content in the feeling that a 6-month supply of basic supplies was adequate they discontinued buying extra items. Perceiving themselves in a safe place while the world’s suppliers adjusted to manufacturing, distributing, and selling goods during social distancing and enhanced hygiene safety processes.

Safety, as it turned out was a perception. In February of 2021 their preparation for disasters was put on steroids.

February 21, 2021 produced an unexpected snowstorm and arctic temperatures that brought the state of Texas to its knees. The storm knocked out the state’s standalone power grid leaving 3.4 million Texans without power for nearly a week in frigid temperatures. The unheard of extended below zero temperatures exacerbated their inability to heating homes via municipal utility means. A perfect storm caused, at a minimum, massive inconvenience for citizens that were not accustomed to or prepared for cold weather. A lack of snow removal equipment and a general lack of driving acumen on snow and ice caused an inability to travel via automobile.

People began to perish due to exposure. Unsafe attempts to keep warm resulted in house fires that claimed lives. There was a run on grocery stores and shelves soon emptied out leaving unprepared families without the means to feed themselves. A massive number of unprepared and under trained people in the great state of Texas, known for their rugged individualism and pioneering spirit, became dependent upon emergency agencies and the generosity of charitable people and organizations just to survive.

“Gwen?! Have you seen what is happening in Texas? Texas is experiencing the same winter weather that we are, including below zero temps! Their power grid is not designed for extreme cold. The entire grid went down leaving 3.4 million people without power! They are reporting exposure deaths and empty grocery shelves. What if this happens here in Wisconsin? We need to rethink our emergency needs.” Gwen is stunned by this news. “What?! Are you sure That does not seem possible?”

Kirk calls up several YouTube stories covering the disaster in Texas. After watching a few stories from different networks, the couple agree that more drastic measures are needed to prepare for a grid down situation like what was happening in Texas. Keeping track of needs and assembled goods required organization and planning.

FEMA’s www.ready.gov/kit was a good start. However, FEMA recommended collecting a 3-day supply of essentials that included; 3 gallons of water for each person, food for 3 days, a NOAA weather radio that runs on solar/battery/crank power, flashlights, whistles, dust masks, plastic sheeting and duct tape, moist towelettes, manual hand tools, a manual can opener, local maps, and mobile phone chargers.

While over 3 million Texans were without power for roughly 3 days, panic buying created food shortages that lasted much longer. As a result, the Gage’s consulted many private sources and came up with a more extensive list that make up what they hope is at least a six-month supply of essentials.

Organization was divided into categories that they called modules with the following labels: Clothing, Cooking, Fire, First Aid, Food, Hygiene, Personal, PPE, Tactical, and Water. Each module was further divided into sub modules. Several matching and stack-able storage containers were purchased and filled. Eventually, they were comfortable that they could not only survive but thrive in a grid down situation.

“Wow, I am full!” Says Kirk, while picking up the spread sheets. “OK baby, where should we start?” Gwen hesitates for a few seconds to ponder the options. “If we lose the grid like they did in Texas, perhaps we should start with bushcraft items and Bug Out items. Second, how about reviewing use by dates for items that expire.”

Kirk agrees. “That is the order that I was thinking too. You know my thoughts on bugging out and utilizing bushcraft to survive. This home represents safety and security. Bugging out is the last option in my playbook. We’ve invested a great deal of time, energy and resources to bug in when the grid goes down or society collapses around us. That’s my first and strongest option.”

Gwen nods. “True, but as you are fond of saying; “Hope for the best and plan for the worst.” She points at the crack in the ceiling above them. “What if the result of this quake or, God forbid, aftershocks compromise our natural gas lines or electrical system? If the home is no longer safe, we may have to find alternate shelter and bug out.”

Kirk tops off their wine glasses and the couple start a new SCRUM Board. This board lists items that need to be collected for a potential bug out scenario, where the items are currently located, what packaging containers are needed, who will be responsible for each item, and where the best location for them is. Just in case a quick departure becomes a necessity.

Once the new SCRUM Board is constructed and mutual agreement is met, Kirk and Gwen begin a vital scavenger hunt. Gunner is unsure who to help and logs double steps alternating between Gwen and Kirk as they all work. Finding and collecting items didn’t take long. Organization and lists payed dividends. Bug out items were all relocated to the fireplace room.

Kirk is suddenly serious. “It’s time to put our quality control hats on. Now is the time to discover which items still work and which do not work, before we need each item. If it runs on batteries, lets change batteries out now. If it is chargeable, lets recharge the batteries. If it runs on propane, let’s make sure it will ignite. We need to make sure all of the two way radios are on the same channel.”

Next on the agenda was finding soon to expire foods. The spread sheet was helpful in enumerating which foods would expire first, however, they didn’t organize the food totes based upon Use By dates. It took more time than expected to locate the foods that needed to be consumed first. This was the first tactical error that the Gage’s made preparing for the worst. Unfortunately, it will not be the last or the worst.

Still wearing his serious face, Kirk suggests. “We currently have foods segregated by type of food. Perhaps the ‘consume first’ foods should be in the same tote?” Nodding, Gwen adds. “Agreed.” She now grins. “I know! The tote will be labeled Eat Us First.” Chuckling Kirk smiles for the first time in a while. “Good one babe. Make it so.” Kirk kisses Gwen and looks for an empty tote.

Kirk finds an empty tote large enough to hold the precious cargo and the couple use construction paper dividers to separate food types within the tote. Kirk places the tote in a prominent place of storage for easy access if fresh food is sparse for an extended time.

Gwen, Kirk and Gunner head back to the reading room to hear what Alexa and YouTube have for news updates. Death tolls continue to rise, looting and unrest are being reported in St. Louis now that the dark of night has set in. The Governor of Missouri has asked for additional troops to be deployed in hot spots around the metro.

Gwen points to the solar power station. The battery level read 100%. Kirk unplugs the unit and it is put back. A place for most everything and most everything in its place.

Kirk glances at the clock on his iPhone that reads 12:27am. “Look at the time! It is tomorrow already. Let’s go see if we can find some gasoline for your car.”

Gwen’s eyes open a bit. “Do you think we will find any?” Kirk takes Gwen’s hand. “Like you are fond of saying; “Bring the universe to us.” I say yes, we will find gasoline tonight.” Gwen kisses Kirk. “Gunner, kennel.” Gunner trots into his kennel, circles and lays down on his bed while Kirk latches the gate.

Kirk and Gwen back out of the garage and onto the street in search of gasoline for sale.

Fine Dining Mac N Cheese…or…5 Cheese Bacon and Lobster Pasta

Shortly after downloading my first video into a WordPress blog, Beth sent a congratulatory text. I thanked her and responded that I may need to hire a videographer. She asked who I had in mind…my response, of course was her.

Welcome my new combination sous chef and videographer Beth for this blog post. The raw footage looked great, but when I converted the footage to iMovie, we lost a few inches off of the top of my head! Ope!!! I’m posting it anyway!

Today we alter a Sam The Cooking Guy recipe. Sam calls it Bacon & Lobster Mac N Cheese. However, we think Sam is underselling this awesome dish. So we not only altered the recipe, we changed the name to 5 Cheese Bacon & Lobster Pasta. Macaroni is not part of Sam’s or R Dub’s recipe. We are using rigatoni noodles because this pasta has a huge hole that will allow that wonderful 5 cheese sauce to completely cover both the outside of and inside of each pasta shell.

Prep Time 10 minutes

Stove-top Time 20 minutes

Bake Time 20 minutes

Here are the ingredients:

16 oz rigatoni pasta

2 lobster tails

1/2 pound chopped bacon

1 cup Panko Bread Crumbs

1/2 cup stick butter

2 cups milk

2 tbs vermouth

8 oz shredded pepper jack and sharp cheddar cheese

8 oz cream cheese

6 oz shredded Gruyère cheese

3 oz shredded Parmesan cheese

2 tbs Old Bay spice

Salt and Pepper to taste

1 tbs minced garlic

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook rigatoni pasta at a boil for 4 minutes, take off heat and set aside.

Fry bacon to medium crispy, remove from heat and set aside.

Crack lobster tails in half, remove meat, cut into bite sized pieces. Saute in 3 tbs of butter for one minute, add 1 tbs minced garlic, salt and pepper to taste and saute for an additional 1 minute. Take off heat and set aside .

Saute Panko bread crumbs and 2 tbs Old Bay seasoning in 3 tbs butter until golden brown and crunchy.

In 4 quart stock pot combine 2 cups milk, 2 tbs of vermouth, 8 oz shredded pepper-jack & cheddar cheese, 8 oz of cream cheese, 6 oz shredded Gruyère cheese, 3 oz of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste and stir at medium heat until it is a cream melt.

Place a 4 quart dutch oven in the preheated oven to warm up.

Blend in 2/3 of fried bacon, lobster bites into cheese sauce. Make sure to blend thoroughly to assure that each noodle is coated inside and outside with cheese and the the meat is distributed evenly throughout the dish.

Take dutch oven out of oven, transfer the contents of the stock pot to the dutch oven. Sprinkle remaining bacon bits and the crispy Panko bread crumbs evenly atop the dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

One Mask, Two Mask, Three Masks Yo!

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My January 30 post “A Filter By Any Other Name” was a popular one. Shortly after posting it, Dr. Fauci floated a now popular sentiment that if one mask is good, two must be better. Soon the CDC released unspecified testing that two masks are indeed better than one.

Here’s a quick video showing the masks available and what they are are good for. My expertise? 30 years in the Personal Protection Equipment business, specifically respiratory protection at 3M and Honeywell.