Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Preparing for Doomsday one candle at a time

“Let’s have a family meeting!” I yelled, repeating verbatim what the Salt Lake City father of six bellowed on the television.

“I’m doing homework, Dad,” came the reply from my two daughters.

“NOW!” I said, struggling to keep panic out of my voice. “A biological terror attack is imminent! Forget homework.”

It was the last line that got them downstairs. “What are we doing?” my youngest asked.

“Yeah, what?” my wife said.

“We are prepping for Doomsday,” I said. “I just saw a family on ‘The Today Show’ doing it. I want to drill just like they did. Kids, grab your guns.”

“We don’t have guns,” my wife reminded me. “We have candles.”

“We don’t need candles,” I said. “We need hazmat suits, night-vision goggles, body armor. WE NEED AN UNDERGROUND SHELTER!”

“Sounds cool,” my youngest replied. “Can I watch The Disney Channel down there?”

“I don’t think so.”

“I’d rather die.”

“Why the sudden interest in practicing these end-of-the-world scenarios?” my wife asked.

“Haven’t you seen ‘Doomsday Preppers?’” I replied, referring to the National Geographic Channel show now in its second season and featuring normal everyday individuals (by their standards) who routinely train for natural or manmade disasters. After seeing one episode, I realized the heavy-duty flashlight I keep by the bed would not be enough to thwart an avian flu pandemic or ash from an impending volcanic eruption. Preppers are ready for these occurrences and more.

Incidentally, if you ever see an adult holding a Super Soaker squirt gun, stay away. It may be filled with homemade pepper spray. One prepper, drilling for the breakdown of social order following an economic collapse, filled the toy with his own recipe and then demonstrated his ability to unload a few rounds directly into the eyeballs of any neighbors who decide to help themselves to his cache of supplies.

“The Griffiths would never do that,” said my wife, referring to our next-door neighbors. “Then again, Bill might come over for a Doomsday beverage. Better keep a corkscrew tied to your belt.”

“This isn’t funny,” I said. “I just took the Doomsday Prepper survey on the National Geographic website. Guess what our score is?”

“I don’t know. What?”

“We wouldn’t last a week. Not without some fortification, surveillance equipment and at least 1,000 rounds of ammo per family member.”

“Christmas is coming,” my wife replied.

“And don’t even get me started about bartering. The survey says we should have extra alcohol, tobacco and silver on hand so we can trade it with our fellow survivors.”

“That’s great, providing everybody who survives a disaster is a drunk with a hacking cough and a penchant for jewelry.”

“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.”

“Look, honey, I appreciate your intentions. And I agree, we probably aren’t as prepared as we should be. But some of this stuff seems a bit, uh, extreme.”

“Besides, Dad, do you really want to live in a world where everybody goes around assaulting each other with hot sauce?” my daughter asked.

“That sounds yucky,” her sister added.

“So what do YOU think we should do?” I asked my wife, a question I inevitably pose whether we’re choosing wallpaper, disciplining the dog and, now, preparing for the end of civilization.

“I think Hurricane Sandy taught us that, even though we live in the Midwest, it wouldn’t hurt to have a case of bottled water, a full gas can, some nonperishable food items and an envelope full of cash nearby. That ought to be enough to keep this family together.”

“What about an underground, battery-powered bunker?”

“We’re not buying a man cave.”

“OK, but if terrorists ever infiltrate our house, remember, I warned you.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll crack their skulls with a candle.”

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The puck stops here: How to convert your wife to golf

I have a message for National Hockey League owners and players who are currently locked in yet another tussle that threatens to wipe out the entire season:

Take all the time you need. The longer the strike, the more time I have to convert my wife to golf.

I am a hockey husband, married to a woman who clothes herself in pricey Patrick Sharp Chicago Blackhawks jerseys, DVRs every Hawks game including the ones she attends in person, and even tunes her satellite radio to a station that devotes all 24 hours of programming to . . . hockey?

It is almost comical to hear those "hockey jocks" as I call them, discuss a sport that doesn't currently exist. A typical exchange goes like this:

"Jacques, if hockey were being played right now, who do you think would be leading the Western Conference in assists?"

"Pierre, that's hard to say. Had the Canucks played the Wild last night, I'm sure Henrik Sedin would have chalked up at least two."

"Jacques, I couldn't hypothetically agree more! Let's take a break and then we'll have an exclusive interview with an unemployed Zamboni driver!"

I feel up to the golf conversion challenge after seeing an ad for the PGA of America that seemingly aired during every Ryder Cup commercial break.

A 40-ish man sat in front of his television. His equally 40-ish wife implored him to get off the couch by tossing a golf ball in his line of vision, adding that she was ready to learn the game. The husband sprang from the cushions as if struck by a lightning bolt.

Cut to the two suddenly avid golfers taking a group lesson, simultaneously practicing their putting strokes and playfully needling each other as they discovered their new passion for the links.

"Could that be us someday?" I wondered, thinking of the girl who tried the game on our third date but was basically done with it by our fourth. Nearly 20 years later she still rolls her eyes when I "shhhh" any and all family members, dog included, who dare to breathe loudly near the TV while Ian Poulter, Phil Mickelson or any of the game's finest stand over a four-footer.

"They can't hear you. You do know that, right?" she reminds me.

"This is for the outright lead," I say.

"It's golf. IT'S JUST GOLF," is her frustrated reply before leaving the room.

I still harbor dreams that we can be that couple in the commercial, spending our golden years discovering America via the public courses that dot this nation. We'll arrive for an early afternoon tee time, sneak a well-aged pinot noir into our cart and uncork a second bottle as we end our day in an outdoor Jacuzzi overlooking the 18th green.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First I have to convince her that WATCHING golf can be exciting. My opening argument was simple:

"Golf is always on TV somewhere. Ever heard of golfers going on strike?" I asked her.

"They should strike," she countered. "They should demand wardrobe consultants."

Ouch. Two minutes for roughing.

"They look fine, except for Rickie Fowler," I said.

"Why was this Ryder Cup thing so great?" she asked.

Ahhh, the opening I needed. A flicker of interest on her part. "It was the ultimate golf challenge," I said. "Those guys weren't even playing for money."

"So which guy won?"

"No guy won. Europe won. They played as a team," I said. "The U.S. was winning after fourballs and foursomes, but Europecaught up in singles."

"Wait, they hit FOUR balls? The entire hockey season doesn't last that long."

"They only hit one ball each," I replied. Quickly. "They play with partners. Lowest score wins in fourballs. In foursomes they alternate shots. In singles they don't have partners. It's just one against one. Low score wins."

"When you were watching it, all I saw was a guy in an ugly striped shirt picking up his ball."

"You mean the American?"

"I guess. Did he quit? Hockey players don't quit. They pull the goalie!"

"He didn't quit. He picked up his ball because he had already lost the hole."

"When we were dating, you got mad when I picked up my ball."

"As I recall, you did it in the second fairway."

"Why were you weeping when the Ryder Cup ended?" she asked.

"Because Europe came back and won 14 1/2 to 13 1/2.

"So you get half a point for quitting?"

"No you get half a point for tying."

"They can tie? There's no tying in hockey. They have shootouts. That's what golf needs."

"What do you suggest? Luke Donald hits a tee shot and Bubba Watson stands in the fairway and tries to catch it?"

"I'd watch that."

"There's still golf on TV through December," I said. Just watch it with me. Please? We'll even drink Pinot."

"OK, hand me the remote."

"That's the spirit honey. Wait, what is this?"

"It's Game Six of the Hawks' Stanley Cup victory in 2010. I never get tired of watching it."

"But, but golf is on. Gimme that!"

Ouch. Five minutes for fighting.

Originally posted by Tribune Media Services



Thou Shalt Not Overlike on Facebook

I have always taught my children to look for the good qualities in everybody. Be nice to people, I say. It’s okay to have lots of friends, I add. If you want others to like you, you need to like them, I conclude.

Facebook, however, disagrees.

Just ask Itheria Hutson-Hollins, a 57-year-old, Dallas-based wedding planner who recently concluded a 30-day Facebook ban for, as she explains it, “over-liking” people.

You can’t find a nicer, more likable person than Hutson-Hollins. Her business, Precious Promises Christian Weddings and Beyond, specializes in “Christ-centered weddings and silk florals.” Her LinkedIn page contains a referral calling her “a talented and creative woman of God.”

A computer novice, Hutson-Hollins has only been using the Internet for five years even though she started her business in 1991. She still uses dial-up Internet access. Yet she was savvy enough to recognize the power of social networking and joined Facebook last spring. After establishing a personal page, she created a business page and asked her church friends to “like” it. Those who obliged, and also had business pages, received a like from her in return.

She expanded her network to include LinkedIn. She joined four LinkedIn discussion groups. Somebody posted a message stating, “Like me on Facebook and I will like you back.” Other group members jumped in with the same offer, as did Hutson-Hollins. She estimates that she “liked” about 60 people.

That’s when Facebook decided Hutson-Hollins was becoming too friendly.

“All of a sudden, Facebook knocked me off,” Hutson-Hollins wrote me in an email. “I actually thought it was my computer acting up. I logged back on. This time they asked me ‘Answer Security’ questions. (I had to answer several including identify(ing) my personal friends. Yes, they flashed photos of my friends. Good thing they were my church members!!!) So, they let me back in.”

Upon returning to Facebook, Hutson-Hollins posted comments on the business pages of those she wished to like. Then things got really ugly.

“As soon as I wrote my comment, and hit the ‘Like’ button, they knocked me off. This time when I logged in, they told me that I was on a 30-day ban for liking too much, and if I continued they would ban me for life.”

A LIFETIME Facebook ban? Seems a bit harsh for a 42-year member of the Westmont Horeb Missionary Baptist Church.

After chatting with Hutson-Hollins, I began scouring the Internet, attempting to find clarification on the “like” rule. Calling Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., is no help as the company does not offer phone assistance. Ironically it does invite callers to “press one for customer support,” before a recorded voice says, in effect, “we’re just kidding.” It’s like placing an order at the McDonald’s drive thru, pulling around to the window and then being told there are no more fries.

“If you can’t find your answers in a forum, you are out of luck,” Hutson-Hollins said.

Facebook does limit the number of business page “likes” to 5,000, a far cry from the 60 that received Hutson- Hollins’ approval. Facebook may also temporarily block users from sending friend requests if too many go unanswered or are considered unwelcome. It’s all part of the social network’s attempts to cut down on spam. But Hutson-Hollins wasn’t begging for friends. Furthermore, anyone with a dial-up Internet connection is probably not interested in spamming. She was simply being the nice Christian person she is by liking other people’s businesses, a gesture that could generate more business for them.

“I don’t want to like anybody I don’t know,” she said.

Now that her ban has been lifted, Hutson-Hollins is back on Facebook but sparingly. She’s currently channeling all her social network energies into Google Plus, Facebook’s chief rival.

“I will leave the page there because it is a business page and I do want business,” she said of her Facebook involvement. “But I’m no longer liking. Now I just write comments.”

Finally, should anyone at Facebook ever pick up the phone, Hutson-Hollins has a message for them:

“If you want to ban me from your Facebook world, fine. You can’t ban me from Jesus.”


Originally posted by Tribune Media Services

Learning to say good-bye to Honey Boo Boo

Ahhhh, another day is complete. Time to flop down in my easy chair and exercise my mind a bit before going to sleep. What materials should I use tonight? My local newspaper? A magazine specializing in international affairs? A whitepaper written by a prominent scholar and downloaded directly to my iPad?

No, tonight I’m going to make it easy on my eyes, allowing my brain to work harder. Picking up the remote, I scroll through the cable offerings until I arrive at The Learning Channel, also known as TLC. Certainly a TV network with “learning” in the title should provide content that expands my intellect, right? Maybe I’ll be treated to a documentary that explores Italian Renaissance paintings and the artists who created them. Or a professionally staged re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg and a debate between two Civil War historians discussing what might have happened had the South prevailed.

Instead, horrified, I discover The LEARNING Channel delivers Southern culture courtesy of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.”

Suddenly I’ve lost my desire to learn. All I want to do is shield my eyes from everything I see unfolding in front of me. This . . . this . . . thing that passes for a television program, seemingly occupies at least a quarter of The LEARNING Channel’s schedule. Missed Honey Boo Boo at 8 p.m.? Don’t worry, she’s on again at 8:30. And 9. And 9:30. A 6-year old from Georgia and her family have rendered DVRs unnecessary.

“Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” which debuted this summer and, on Aug. 30, garnered more viewers than an insignificant little program called “The Republican National Convention,” follows the exploits of Alana, aka Honey Boo Boo, and her family, headed by “Mama” June as they perform educational (remember, it’s the LEARNING Channel) tasks such as participating in a thrift-store auction and celebrating an anniversary at a cafeteria. During one episode — the only one I could stomach — I learned how to spit tobacco courtesy of June’s significant other, Sugar Bear, and how to toilet-paper a house. That was more than I could take. I switched off the TV for fear that continued viewing would eventually cause me to become too stupid to balance my checkbook, operate a computer or dress myself correctly.

Still, like a bad car accident, I couldn’t avert my eyes. I scrolled to The LEARNING Channel On Demand to find another studious offering entitled “Toddlers & Tiaras,” the show where Alana was discovered. I had heard about “T&T” but, like a colonoscopy, kept avoiding actually partaking in it. Until now.

“Toddlers & Tiaras” focuses on parents who enter their kids in beauty pageants and take credit for their success. It is educational if you have always wanted to learn how to apply spray tan to your child using an air compressor, as one father dutifully did with his wife’s blessing. All the kids in the pageants are referred to as “Miss” or “Mister” and apparently every contest includes at least one kid named Chloe.

I watched long enough to see 6-year-old Miss Jayla crowned “Ultimate Grand Supreme,” which sounds more like a breakfast entree at Denny’s. That was enough. I switched off the TV, grabbed a notepad and began my own educational exercise, namely to sketch out programming for a new network called “The Un-Learning Channel.” Its sole purpose is to make everybody forget what they just watched on The Learning Channel, sort of like the neuralyzer contraption in the “Men in Black” movies.

The first program? “There Goes Honey Boo Boo.” The pilot episode features little Alana being sent off to boarding school and not returning until she is 17. Occasionally the cameras will film her doing schoolwork and receiving instruction on the proper use of toilet paper. An added bonus lets viewers vote on what courses Alana should take each year. Except for English, which is always required. Watch one episode of Miss Boo Boo’s current show and you will see why.

Next up? “Toddlers & Their Tiaras Turn The Tables.” Each week focuses on former pageant kids who enter their parents in a contest designed to reveal which participant has the lowest self-esteem. A panel of psychiatrists act as judges, running the moms and dads through a series of challenges, highlighted by the “How Do YOU Like Being In a Swimsuit?” competition. The children, incidentally, are nowhere to be found. While the parents compete, they go to a secluded playground and learn how to act like normal kids.

Anybody have any other programming ideas? Feel free to email me suggestions. I promise to answer all of them.

Right after I watch “Strange Sex” on, you guessed it, The Learning Channel.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Coping with the ravages of SNOT


I dialed the number with my free hand. Unfortunately, the call didn't kick to voicemail.


"Hello, boss. It's Greg Schwem. I can't come in to work today."

"What's the problem this time, Schwem?"

"I have SNOT."

"We have Kleenex in the office. I'll put a box on your desk. See you at 8."

"No, not snot. SNOT. Social Network Overload Trauma. The doctor says I have all the classic symptoms."

"Such as . . . ?"

"Such as the inability to resist joining any new social network that comes down the pike. I feel like social networks have replaced my gym routine."

"Schwem, what are you saying?"

"Today I did 10 sets of three tweets each without a break."

"Very impressive."

"But I wasn't done. While tweeting with one hand, I was using the other hand to let everybody on Foursquare know that I had just checked in at my home office. Then I sent birthday requests to 37 Facebook friends, wished 29 others a happy birthday, wrote in my Tumblr blog and tweeted some more. Then somebody Klouted me."

"Did you report it to human resources? We have very strict policies about violence in the workplace."

"Nobody hit me, boss. I was invited to join Klout. It keeps track of all my social network feeds. So the more active I am, the higher my Klout score."

"And that's where the trauma part comes in?"

"You're catching on, boss. If I avoid all these new social networks, I'll be a nobody in cyberspace. It's not fair!"

"What do you mean, 'SNOT fair'?"

"I didn't say 'SNOT fair.' I said, 'it's not fair.' Hey, boss, can you hold on a second? My Instagram screen just froze."


"Instagram, boss. It's currently the hottest photo sharing website out there. Facebook bought it for $1 billion. So now, in addition to writing updates on all the networks I just mentioned, I have to constantly take photos and upload them to Instagram so people will like me based on the photos they see. Hold it, HOLD IT, my dog is barking at the mirror."

"Tell him to shut up."

"I will. Right after I snap a quick pic."


"Oh, this one is soooooo cute. I'm sharing it now."

"Why are you doing that?

"So others can post it on their social networks. And everybody will see it came from me."

"Let me guess . . . and then your Klout score goes up?"


"Schwem, turn off your computer, take the batteries out of your camera, disconnect your cellphone and get your butt in here now. We have work to do."

"I'm afraid I can't do that, boss. I'm too far gone. Like I said, it's SNOT."

"It's not what?"


"You just said, 'it's not. . .' What isn't it?"

"No, I said, 'SNOT.' The disease. Remember?"

"I don't even know what we're talking about anymore. Schwem, have you considered therapy?"

"I'm trying, boss. I had my first session last week."

"How did that go?"

"Not well. The doctor asked me to lie on the couch and all I wanted to do was photograph it and upload it to the Home Decor Pinterest board."

"That doesn't sound good. Then what happened?"

"He wanted me to open up about my childhood. So I started telling him about all the years I spent playing Little League. But then I suddenly remembered I didn't include 'baseball' as a skill on my LinkedIn profile. He had to restrain me from grabbing his laptop."

"Did he recommend anything?"

"He suggested an intervention."

"How does that work?"

"It's not going to be pretty. It starts with a bunch of friends getting me in a room and telling me I'm not as popular as I think I am."

"Let me know when that's going to take place. I want in."

"I'll tweet you. It may be one of my last tweets."

"Because . . . ?"

"The doc is going to start me on a steady regimen of de-friending, un-following and dis-liking."

"And then you're cured?"

"There is no cure for SNOT, boss. The best I can hope for is remission. SNOT can reappear at any time. Millions thought they had been cured last year. Then Google Plus showed up."

"Schwem, are you ever coming back to work?"

"I have to boss. I absolutely have to!"

"That's the spirit!"

"If I don't, you'll fire me. And then I will have to change all of my business contact information on Plaxo. As well as Ecademy, Upspring, Focus, Biznik, PartnerUp and Ryze."

"Whatever. How will I know when you're coming back?"

"I dunno. Text? Email? Ping?"

"Tell you what, Schwem. Just come over to my house and knock on my door."

Monday, September 24, 2012

Life Isn't Fair When The Ball Goes Foul


The ball towered off White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez's bat. As it began its descent, the occupant of lower box 123, row 11, seat 6 had only one thought:

"That's headed right at me."

Instead of assuming an outfielder's position -- centering myself under the target, left foot slightly forward and gloved hand outstretched -- I began to inch away. I have long ceased bringing a mitt to baseball games and the idea of bare handing a rock-hard baseball has little appeal when you are a writer and earn a living with your fingers.

Luckily, row 11 was empty, save for myself and my buddy Tom, who had scattered left while I went right. It proved to be a good, if slightly wimpy move on my part. The ball bounced directly where my lap and my nachos had just been, caromed backward through a few outstretched hands and somehow rolled back down under two rows of seats, coming to rest directly in front of me. I snatched it and hoisted it aloft, not because I hoped the TV cameras would give me five seconds of fame, but because I had never actually held a baseball that, just moments ago, was being bandied around by the game's finest.

Then I heard the first voice:

"Give it to the kid!"

Another voice, four rows forward, uttered the same words. And then another, from somewhere behind me. The longer I held the ball, the more selfish I was appearing to strangers who, beers in hand, were quickly forming a jury. What would happen if I ignored them and pocketed the ball? My mind raced back to Sept. 19, 2002, when a goon named William Ligue and his 15-year-old, equally goonish son charged onto U.S. Cellular Field and beat up Kansas City first-base coach Tom Gamboa. Was there another Ligue-like fan in my midst?

I looked at Tom, whose eyes said, "Do something. Fast."

I thought about yelling, "Hey, I have kids at home. Maybe they would like this ball." After all, my 10-year-old daughter sleeps next to a puck flipped her way by Blackhawks star Patrick Kane. But would the fans believe me? Would I have to fish into my wallet and produce snapshots or worse, open the photo app on my Smart Phone, wave it around and say, "See? Here they are." Unfortunately there was no time; the demands had become a chant.


I looked further right and saw "the kid," a boy no more than 3 seated between his parents. I hadn't noticed them earlier, most likely because they had improved their seats in the game's later stages. Haven't we all done that at a sporting event?

The kid looked to be in the middle of a serious sugar coma, clutching a licorice rope in one hand and a kelly green squishy baseball in the other. I walked over, tousled his hair and handed him the ball. The crowd cheered. They were happy.

I was not.

"Shouldn't I get to decide what to do with the ball?" I asked Tom. "After all, I caught it."

"Well to be fair, you didn't exactly catch it," Tom replied. "It sort of rolled to you. Besides, what would you have done with it?"

"What's he going to do with it?" I countered. "He'll leave it on his bedroom floor and the dog will be chewing on it the next morning."

"Forget it," Tom said.

"I can't forget it. What kind of message are we sending to kids when we just hand them gifts? He needs to know life isn't that easy."

"So you're saying he should have run over and caught the ball himself? Assuming he took his thumb out of his mouth first."

"All I'm saying is that a baseball game shouldn't come with peer pressure, particularly when the peers are on their fifth Miller Lites," I said.

"You're right," Tom said. "Tell everybody you want the ball back. Walk over to the kid and demand it. I'll film the conversation and we'll split the money when I sell the footage to CNN. You can use your half for medical bills."

"He can have the ball. But mark my words, he's going to turn into another one of those kids who think they are entitled to everything. His parents should have declined my offer. They could have taught him a lesson. I know I've learned one tonight."

"What's that?" Tom said.

"When I win the lottery, I'll never show the winning ticket anywhere near a playground."

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Parents: Have your kids had the photo talk?


Recent news events have made it necessary for me to have yet another Big Talk with my daughters.

Both have had the Sex Talk (my wife thankfully handled that one) and the Stranger Danger Talk (I took that one). But now that my 10-year-old is showing an interest in photography, meaning she has discovered the camera on her iTouch, I am forced to sit her down and have the Photo Talk. And it won't hurt her 15-year-old sister to get a refresher course.

Growing up, I never had the Photo Talk. I received a Kodak Pocket Instamatic for Christmas in 1973 and spent the rest of the day snapping pictures of my relatives when they least expected it. I would creep up behind them clutching the flat, rectangular piece of plastic, shout "HEY!" and snap when they turned around. The flashcube, vital unless you wanted to pay for 24 prints of sheer blackness, exploded in their faces. Yet they never demanded I relinquish the film or the developed prints. Back then, incriminating photos were met with gales of laughter, not lawsuits and cash offers. I never thought to take any of my pictures to school and say, "Here's my Aunt Sophie right after she put on her face cream. Let's start the bidding at 50 bucks."

Today the Photo Talk is vital because, next to a driver's license, cameras are a parent's worst nightmare. Tiny lenses seem to be omnipresent. Got an iPad? You have a camera! Got a cellphone? Congratulations! You have two cameras! Got a new washing machine? I'm certain some manufacturer is currently drawing up plans to insert a lens right above the "rinse" button so we can photograph ourselves while applying stain remover.

Since being introduced to the concept of "point, shoot, upload and share," both my daughters have taken thousands of pictures, including self-portraits of their nostrils, molars, elbows and ear canals. Ironically, these are the same girls who threaten to lock themselves in their rooms for three days if my wife and I dare send out the "dorky" holiday card photo we take each year.

Both girls considered their photographic talents to be harmless -- yet until we had the Photo Talk, neither had heard about the exploits of Alexa Dell and Prince Harry.

Alexa is the 18-year-old daughter of billionaire Michael Dell, who pioneered the idea of selling computers over the Internet and also is credited with inventing exorbitant hold times while technical support calls are rerouted to India. I keep trying to add the latter to Dell's Wikipedia page but so far have yet to succeed.

Reports paint Dell as an intensely private man (never mind that his name is on three PCs and two printers in my house) who spends millions on his family's security detail. Unfortunately for Alexa, her allowance may soon be contributing to the security kitty after she allegedly posted photos on her Twitter account, unaware that the sneaky people who run the social networking behemoth have made sure every picture uploaded to Twitter contains other information. The photographer's exact location, for example. It's called geotagging and although it can be turned off, Alexa apparently never figured out how. Neither did her dad's security team; instead they skipped ahead and disabled Alexa's Twitter account.

The Prince, as everyone knows, was photographed in a Las Vegas hotel suite with his hands placed over jewels one won't see in the Tower of London. The grainy image was taken with a camera phone and within days was on display everywhere except milk cartons. I began the Photo Talk by recounting both episodes and then plowed deeper ahead.

"You know that pictures on the Internet are there forever, right?"

"We know, Dad."

"And you know if you're doing something illegal or just plain stupid, somebody could be photographing you, right?"

"We know that, too."

"And you know that if someone else in the picture is doing something stupid, you're going to be guilty by association."

"We know, Dad."

"And never get into a car with someone who offers you candy."

"Dad, you're mixing up your Big Talks."


Finally, I posed a question.

"Why do you need to take and share so many photos?"

"Because it's fun," my eldest responded. "Don't you wish you had Facebook or Instagram when you were in school?"

No, but probably because I wore glasses and braces until I was 17. I would have uploaded all photos of myself to my orthodontist and optometrist along with a message: "ARE WE ALMOST DONE?"

Meeting dismissed, my girls left the room. Like the other Big Talks, I can only hope my words remain in their heads forever. Just as I can't stop them from texting while driving, neither can I stop them from taking part in today's Photography Revolution or other dangers that technology hath wrought.

I just wish today's cameras still needed a flashcube to function.

And I wish each cube cost $250.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One husband's plan to cut grocery bills in half


I spent the last two weeks faithfully watching both political conventions and, like previous election years, came away with the same three questions:

Exactly who ARE these people in the audience?

What purpose do they serve other than to hoot and holler every time a speaker says, "transformation"?

Why are they wearing funny hats?

I listened as President Obama and Mitt Romney laid out their plans to cut the deficit, put people back to work and find a nice retirement community for Clint Eastwood. Yet once again, neither candidate unveiled a simple solution that would allow the average American family to save more money by cutting their food bills in half. I have the solution and am happy to share it with either man but so far, my phone remains silent.

I'm not asking Americans to skip meals or eat instant oatmeal three times a day. My plan is far simpler. Ready?

Ladies, stop sending your husbands to the grocery store. The reason? Guys always come home with two of everything.

I am guilty of this reckless spending each time my wife pushes me out the door with a list. Mind you, a wife's grocery list is never specific; there are no numbers anywhere on the paper. My wife never writes that she needs "four tomatoes." Instead, she just scrawls "tomatoes."

And this is where the problems begin.

What husband hasn't returned with bags full of groceries and his nose proudly in the air because, yes, he found every single item -- only to see a disgusted look on his wife's face as she unpacks the goods. The inevitable inquisition follows.

"You bought ONE box of tortellini?"

"Yes, the list said 'tortellini.' There it is."

"How am I supposed to make a tortellini salad with one box? Should I just put a note on the bowl that says, 'No more than three noodles please?'"

"I'm sorry, I did not have average tortellini consumption figures at my disposal."

And with that, the husband sighs heavily, grabs his car keys and returns to the store to buy another box, along with a case of beer since we can NEVER have too much of that item in the house.

Recently we hosted a party for 11 adults and five children. The menu -- and the list -- consisted of hamburgers and Italian sausage. Again, no specific numbers, just the items. Armed with those requests, I ventured to the local grocery store determined to get the most and spend the least.

Once inside, I was confounded by questions that invariably pop into my head when seeing the different numerical packaging of each item. Italian sausage comes in packages of eight, while the sausage rolls I selected are six to a bag. A pound of ground beef should make four hamburgers, but what would I do with the remaining buns in the six-bun package? To make things equal, I'd need 3 pounds of ground beef and two packages of buns.

Then I tried to anticipate each guest's culinary preferences. If they all opted for sausage, would I have enough? If they were burger people, would I have to say, "Get in line first if you want one?" If two trains leave Boston traveling opposite directions at 40 miles per hour . . . OK, stop it!

Besides the ground beef, I returned with 24 sausages and rolls. When the party ended, we were left with enough food to invite everybody back the next morning and have a delicious burger and sausage breakfast. But no tortellini salads; we ran out of that.

Maybe I should have gone to Costco. The "purchase two of everything just to be safe" rule never applies there because that would mean buying 6 pounds of salted cashews as opposed to a 3-pound container. Costco items weigh more than some newborns. I recently bought what passes for a "can" of Costco coffee and am confident I will not live to see its bottom.

Whichever candidate wins in November, I'm calling on him to appoint a grocery czar. Sex, race and ethnic heritage are immaterial; he or she simply needs to school the nation's wives in the finer arts of food demands and their other halves into not needlessly emptying the shelves of hot dogs. The savings will be astronomical.

Good thing. Some of those convention hats look awfully expensive.

Monday, September 17, 2012

For all school needs, visit the third house on the left


The first of many knocks occurred last week. I opened the door to see a neighborhood boy wearing a high school football jersey.

"Mr. Schwem, would you like to buy a coupon book to support the Indians? They're only $20."

I dug into my wallet and produced a bill before I even bothered perusing the book's contents. It didn't matter for I knew what was in it: Coupons for restaurants I'd never frequent offering discounts on appetizers I probably shouldn't eat; 50 percent savings on laser hair removal, body waxings, salon appointments and other beauty treatments designed to make me look younger and smoother just in time for the winter heavy coat season; and complimentary admissions to assorted theme parks and arcades that can easily afford to let patrons in for free since they charge double-digit prices for hot dogs.

Ah, yes, the season of school fundraising has returned. It begins the moment the first bus fires up its engine in August and doesn't end until the last notes of Pomp and Circumstance fade from everyone's eardrums. My front foyer is once again a holding area for kids selling not only coupon books but jumbo-size M&M's, thick, lengthy chocolate bars, raffle tickets, scented candles, popcorn tins, cheesecakes and sausage logs. And all of this occurs BEFORE the first Girl Scout, cookie form in hand, finds my house.

In return for my inability to say "no" to any salesperson under 16, I am helping purchase new soccer uniforms, upgrade drama facilities, offer kids the chance to march in the Tournament of Roses parade, and fund myriad other school needs that my taxes apparently don't cover.

This year, I vow not to be such a pushover. No matter how cute the kid is, no matter how well I know his or her parents, and no matter how worthwhile the cause, every budding school-age entrepreneur who approaches my house is going to learn that sales isn't always so easy. Wait, I just heard the doorbell ring.

"Hello, may I help you?"

"Hi, Mr. Schwem, I'm Tim. I'm selling worthless pieces of junk for $100, with all the proceeds going toward speakers for my new car. By the way, my Dad says hi. He's your accountant."

"Here you go Tim. I'll take two!"

OK, bad example. Let's try another one.


"Hello, may I help you?"

"Hi, Mr. Schwem, I'm Emily."

"Do I know you?"

"Um yes. I came to your daughter's birthday party last week."

"Did you bring her a gift?"

"Of course I did."

"How much did it cost?"

"Uh, I don't know. My mom bought it. Probably about 30 dollars."

"So, Mom sent you here to recoup her money, right?"

"No, I'm selling raffle tickets for the school Spanish Club. We're trying to raise enough funds to go to South America next summer and provide several villages with running water. You can also donate a raffle prize if you like."

"Hang on, Emily. I have an old TV in the basement. I was going to sell it at a garage sale but I'm happy to let you have it. It only gets three channels and it has rabbit ears on the top, but it still works, providing you don't mind watching in black and white."

"I don't think we need that. Last year you bought 10 tickets, Mr. Schwem. Remember? You just handed me a blank check and said, 'Fill in the amount. I trust you.'"

"And where did that money go?"

"It helped us build a Habitat for Humanity home in an area devastated by hurricanes in Mexico."

"Can I use the home? Maybe for a week over New Year's?"

"Uh, no, somebody is living in it."

"That doesn't seem fair. By the way, shouldn't you be addressing me in Spanish? The Girl Scouts wear their uniforms when they come to the door."

Se está haciendo de noche y tengo cincuenta casas más para ir.

"What does that mean?"

"It means, 'It's getting dark and I have 50 more houses to go.'"

"OK, Emily, what's the raffle grand prize?"

"Chicago Bears season tickets. And a skybox."

"The Bears stunk last year. What else you got?"

"Second prize is a round of golf at . . ."

"My golf game stinks this year. Next?"

"Every other prize is the satisfaction that comes with knowing you are helping Third World areas have access to basic necessities."

"Does that satisfaction come with a sausage log?"

"Mr. Schwem, do you want to buy a ticket or not?"

"OK, I'll take one. Bend the corner so I'll be sure to win."

"Thanks Mr. Schwem. By the way, I'm also selling magazine subscriptions so the archery team can --"

"Don't push it, Emily."