Monday, June 30, 2008

Rite of Summer

I am heading to Great American tonight - and I probably won't even see a play.

'Cause that's how I roll.

Baseball is a slow game and for some reason it doesn't keep my attention the way football and basketball do.

Rather, I like going to the games to socialize with my friends, sip on some beer and watch the action on the jumbotron.

I watch the people more than I do the game itself.

I'll try and take some pictures while at the ballpark, providing the bad weather stays away and the evening is a-go.

***** UPDATE ******

I must recant my apathy.

It was a great game last night! The great conversation got in the way of my watching the game - but I was so glad we all stayed for the last play (is that a proper term for baseball?) when Jr. hit his home run, turning around the score and winning it for the home team.

What fun!!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Mojo Is Back

"You're a wonderful person."

It was an odd salutation to offer the hottest man I've talked to in months, but it was a perfect way to wrap up a wonderful evening full of fun, flattery and depth.

The evening got a late start - I had another party to go to in another part of town - so I finally arived to the neighborhood that is home to my South of the Ohio River Bedroom at around 10:30 pm.

Bluegrass Brit and I got to the street party on Monroe and found a hundred people and a cover band on a small, surprisingly well lit stage. Rusty, The Devine Ms. M, G, Zooey, Bluegrass Brit - everyone was there (well, except for Jos, but he is an enigmatic, elusive man, so we don't worry when he's not there), with more than enough beer and smiles to go around for everyone.

I sipped on my chardonnay, trying to catch up to the revelry that had commenced at 5 pm, and chatted with some of Zooey's friends. She reacquainted me with two guys who I met last time we all had rip roaring time in the town once called home by the Mob.

As we exchanged pleasantries, I got a bit of a vibe from one of these two gentlemen - it was more than a sense of something friendly. We were enjoying each other's company, flirting, when the crowd decided to head back to the Jug House. The Guy turned my direction and pulled at an imaginary rope around my waist, saying he wanted to make sure I wasn't too far behind.

We went in for a few cold drinks and a few songs on the juke box and Zooey sweetly insisted I sing along to some of the more karaoke-esque selections on rotation - Janis, Johnny and Cher. The Guy didn't even try to conceal his interest, staring into my eyes and remarking that I looked far younger than my age - I couldn't help but agree that he wore his 45 very well, looking more like 38, what with his tight physique, tanned skin and spiky-gelled 'do.

We all walked back to Zooey's house to sit on the back patio while enjoying some wine and smokes. The Guy gave me a clever tour of all the flora featured on the tiny, postage stamp patio and then wormed his way onto a seat right next to mine under the big, expansive umbrella.

He said my eyes sparkled.

He said I was beautiful.

He said I was brilliant.

I must admit, my Bullshit Meter spiked on occasion while I enjoyed all the flattery, but I can't tell you how wonderful it is to be showered with compliments by a handsome, witty man. I am still walking around with a little swagger.

We talked about life, determination and overcoming adversity and shared a mutual admiration for similar personal philosophies.

Then we walked under the arbor, the last two people to leave the patio and we turned to say goodbye. That's when I offered my truly cheesy and instantly regrettable, "You're a wonderful person."

I don't know how things will be next time I see The Guy. I am sure we will be friendly and polite and otherwise congenial, but I can't say for certain whether the connection will be there again.

To be honest, the whole evening restored some much needed confidence in the 'ol gal.

I guess there's something about a steamy, summer night and the starlight that has a way of encouraging romance.

Dancing In The Street

Some pics from Newport's Monroe Street block party this weekend.

Great friends, good music, and Bluegrass Brit even propositioned the city's most famous chef for a recipe to include in our cookbook.

JR said he's happy to oblige.

Bluegrass Brit and me

G, Bluegrass Brit and B - our clique keeps getting bigger

This is how we roll in the East End.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Touch My Body

He's the brother I never had, nor wanted.

I rarely get to see Double Platinum since my departure from the TV station (has it been almost three months?!!) - but that doesn't mean I'm not keeping tabs.

Very nice, Smitty. Very nice.

Drinks next week?


ps- thanks to Mrs. Chocolate for the photo!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Nighttime Freak Out

Sometimes I shouldn't be left alone with the thoughts inside my head.

If another person were here tonight, they would help me find the logic and comfort in the situation. But for now I am left with a laptop, access to the internet, and a pulsating pain in my back - and it's literally bringing me to tears.

Let's do an assessment of the situation, shall we?

I've battled the most uncomfortable (and sometimes excruciatingly painful) back pain for about a month now. The pain affects the right side of my lower back. I am not a doctor (nor do I play one on TV) but by careful deduction I determined I am experiencing a problem with a disc and it is affecting my sciatic nerve.

Two months ago I didn't know how to spell the thing. Now I can diagram the path of the sciatic nerve on a cocktail napkin.

But I digress.

I began self medicating with heating pads and ice packs. I bounced back and forth between ibuprofen and acetaminophen. I sought out any opportunity to enjoy a reclined position.

That's when Jos told me I was a big girl and that it was time to get a regular doctor.

I found an internist and made an appointment. She put me on a cocktail of nine Advil and three muscle relaxers a day.

It didn't work.

This week we switched to a steroid, and I am less comfortable than I was on the Advil and muscle relaxers.

And here's where the Freak Out kicks in.

I went to the alergist for an unrelated issue Monday morning (What the hell? I guess you start falling apart in your 30s) and the nurse there warned with express urgency that I "need to get that sciatic nerve thing taken care of immediately or your nerve could die."

I don't really know what the ramifications are involving the atrophy of the sciatic nerve, but I can't imagine it's anything good.

That's when I called the doc, scheduled a new appointment (the countdown is on to next Monday) and we switched to the Barry Bonds steroid prescription.

Here are my concerns:
  • I don't want this nerve to die. I know the internet is not the be-all-to-end-all source of medical information, but I have to believe there's a grain of truth to report there... and everything points to BAD where this dying sciatic nerve thing is concerned.
  • I am not a big fan of surgery, and it looks like that could be the best option if this thing doesn't get taken care of by medication. The closest I've ever come to surgery was the extraction of my wisdom teeth - and that wasn't all that bad.
  • My current employer doesn't offer short term disability, and I haven't been there long enough to have a sizeable chunk of vacation and sick days banked up. I had to take some unpaid days for an unexpected trip in May, but I don't know that I can take any more unpaid days for some unexpected surgery and related recovery.

As you can see, I inherited a bit of Worry Wart from my mother's side of the family.

Surgery is one option that has me more than a bit scared. Who will take care of me through it all?

Why can't I just buy a Hoveround, go to the Grand Canyon, and call it a day?

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Silent Passenger

He drives a hearse for a living.

At least that's what I've surmised while walking by the neighborhood funeral home. I don't know his name, and I've never been able to get a good look at his face but I can tell he's handsome. A thick, beautiful crown of fiery red hair graces the top of his head and he's always dressed well - dark pants or khakis and nice button downs shirts.

In his 20s, he looks like the kind of guy whose company you'd enjoy at the neighborhood watering hole. Instead, his is probably the face that greets you when you want to make the arrangements for your loved one's final resting place.

I have no idea how he spends the rest of his time, but it looks like he lives at the funeral home. Whenever he's able to get away, he drives off in his navy blue Jetta.

Another guy lives and works at the funeral home, too (a brother? a cousin?), but I only seem to remember the red-headed guy. I've walked by that building for over three years - the whole time absentmindedly picking up unremarkable details about the comings and goings there. I remember the time they had a holiday cookout in the parking lot with other family members - complete with a game of toss.

Red and I have spoken a handful of words to each other. I think hellos were exchanged one time when I saw him bringing the trash cans back into the garage where they park the hearse. I don't like to make a habit of parking in the funeral home parking lot, but sometimes it's the obvious choice when the bar crowd has infiltrated the neighborhood and street parking is at a premium. One morning I went to move my car out of the lot and noticed a yellow Post-It note stuck to my windshield (and all the other windshields) remarking that the funeral home parking lot is private.

I've never seen a tow truck there.

He doesn't appear to talk much, and I guess that's alright when you work in the business of grieving. I imagine folks in that line of work spend half their time comforting the living (who are mourning and likely at a loss for words), and the other half preparing the remains of those who've left us.

Today I saw my red-headed friend careening into the parking lot, behind the wheel of that Cadillac built for two, and I wondered whether he ever wondered about the souls of those folks he chauffeured around.

Does he talk to those people as he drives them home?

I didn't give much thought to my friend from afar and his choice in profession until I went through my own recent grieving period.

After I returned home from Atlanta, I saw Red at work around the funeral home property, and I wondered whether he was kind to people when they were going through their own personal hell. I was curious to know whether Red was serious 24-7.

I wanted to know how Red coped when he lost someone he loved.

I don't think grief is easy for anyone to handle - no matter how much experience you have helping others cope.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Someday I'll Walk The Line

Romance is a funny thing.

Sometimes passion erupts boldly - a spectacular swell of emotion that has the power to overcome logical thought. This kind of fancy dancy feeling is akin to striking a match - it happens on dance floors, in dimly lit bars and in other settings where common sense tends to go by the wayside.

Frequently - but not always - this kind of passion is fleeting. It leads to a drive that burns so swiftly it is palpable. Sweaty hands, racing heartbeat, dilated pupils - all little signals that lust is in the midst.

And sometimes that's all it is - lust.

Other times, love grows slowly. It's sparked by the same racy feelings found in a smoky bar, but love involves much, much more than slow dancing and hushed whispers. From where I sit, love appears to be a scenario of building blocks - puzzle pieces made of trust, camaraderie, shared beliefs. Determination. Friendship.

John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." Sometimes I think LOVE is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. Love is the vowels between the consonants - it just happens while you begin to live your life (the good times, the bad times, the special moments and the simple) with another soul.

I've been in a romantic state of mind lately.

It's not my fault, really, I've just recently been exposed to several moments celebrating the power of love. A wedding. An anniversary marking four challenging years. An engagement party. An engagement. A young couple watching their own romantic story unfold. I've seen and heard about so many beautiful stories of love lately, and it makes me wonder - why do some relationships last, and others fail?

One of the world's foremost writers on love spent all her days without it. Jane Austen never married because she never found anyone good enough for her. Jane was surrounded by people who encouraged her to marry for money, for reputation, for status. And yet Jane, a woman well beyond her time, was determined to only commit for reasons of true love.

An altruistic thought, many people in modern days fail to subscribe to such a mission. Looks, social connections, salaries and other trappings have a way of worming themselves into the picture - inhibiting a person's heart to blindly see the potential for love.

Even I admit it - I wish I could let my heart lead as I search for my life partner, but my head often gets in the way. I am accustomed to a kind of life that involves specific expectations, goals and philosophies that I know cannot be compromised without greatly diminishing my chance for happiness.

And so I patiently wait for my Mr. Darcy.

Jane Austen would be proud.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Ummm... "Do, Do you got a first aid kit handy?" has got to be the worst first line I've ever heard in a song.

I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Great News

Grieving is a painful thing - especially when it involves the loss of a child.

My sister and brother-in-law lost their seven-month-old baby girl, Maeve, just over a month ago, after a long battle with complications related to Noonan Syndrome. Maeve was born with a laundry list of health problems including several congenital heart defects, lung problems and serious issues involving acid reflux.

Maeve spent the last eight weeks of her life in a hospital crib due to those complications. It was a heart wrenching period that involved eight surgeries (including several open-heart procedures), heart bypass machines and ventilators, chest tubes and two incidences of cardiac arrest - one ultimately fatal.

As I've said before, we had no idea my niece was coming into this world with all these challenges until the day she was born. That sweet baby girl was born two weeks early, in a fluster of rush and panic. Maeve scored a one on the Apgar Score in her first seconds of life - minutes later she only climbed up to a four.

Needless to say, my sister and brother-in-law were heart broken and shocked when discovering they learned about Maeve's critical health problems.

Like the time before her death, Maeve spent the first few weeks of life in a hospital. She was at Northside Hospital in Atlanta for three weeks - the whole time doctors poked and prodded her to try and get to the crux of the problem. Eventually an expert questioned Maeve's parents and grandparents about any hereditary problems - any trends and troubles noticed on either side.

And neither parent or grandparent had a clue as to what could be responsible for all the heartache.

Brigid and Steve both come from healthy stock - Brig descending from strong German/Irish people and Steve coming from hardy German/Polish folks. And therein lies a coincidence that medical professionals suspected responsible for Noonan Syndrome.

It turns out Noonan's is occasionally associated with people from Germanic backgrounds - and Brigid and Steve both had ties to the Fatherland.

This suspected conclusion has weighed heavily on the entire family - because any couple with a hereditary link to Noonan Syndrome has a 50% chance of conceiving a child with the illness.

And losing Maeve was a grief no one should ever have to bear once - let alone twice.

Before my niece was even laid to rest, her parents began wondering about the possibilities of having more children. My brother-in-law was determined to get an appointment with the geneticist that was booked up for the next seven months - determined to get the blood work done that would solve a very painful riddle.

Brigid and Steve had their blood work done two weeks after Maeve passed away. A nurse in Atlanta had no idea how precious those vials were as she filled them up with crimson red life and sent them to Baylor.

Today, on their four-year wedding anniversary, Brigid and Steve celebrate the discovery that neither of them are carriers of Noonan Syndrome.

The news opens up so many painful whys. Why did Maeve have to get Noonan Syndrome? Why did her case have to be so severe? Why did Brigid and Steve (and the rest of the family) have to go through such a devastating event?

We we will never know the answers to those questions.

But today, we finally know the answer to one question that threatened the very possibility of a lovely, loving family.

Today, as a young couple in Atlanta celebrates four years of love and heartache, they celebrate a marriage that has already endured more than what some people can handle in 50 years.

They reflect on the many gifts and challenges of time, they honor a life they briefly got to love and live through, and they look forward to the future and the blessings they can embrace with happiness.

Milwaukee Marriage

After days of waiting, here are the pictures from my weekend jaunt to Milwaukee.

KtG and Bling pose before the big event.
KtG and Bling just moments before the bride and groom exchanged vows.

The bride making her grand entrance at the ceremony. Jambroz has never looked so beautiful.

KtG, Quickilver Girl (a friend of the bride and a fellow Cincinnatian) and Bling.

New friends and old friends - all celebrating Jambroz's big wedding.

Me and Jambroz- she later remarked that she thought she was going to get smothered.

Bling's classic kissy-face.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My New Toy

Switch out the brown patent leather for camel colored pebbled leather, and you'd be picturing my newest bag.

I got a GREAT deal on a handbag that I've been mooning over for more than a year...

And a matching wallet to boot.

The Coach gods were smiling on me this weekend.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Half the wedding party is irish

And it reminds me that I need to fix my Claddagh ring!

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Best quotes so far

Said in Milwaukee:

KtG- There is one viable non-ring in this whole place.

Bling to KtG- Don't worry about gum- you're going to be drinking in like 20 seconds.

Bling- Let's keep drinking- I need to get effed up.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

I am so upset. I don't know what to say, other than that journalism is at a great loss.

I just can't believe he died.

May he rest in peace.
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

Still Seems Surreal

Heaven got a special angel one month ago today.

And our world will never be the same.

One less heart beat, however labored or complicated.

One less smile - so innocent, so joyful.

Countless tears - full of desperation, heartbreak and crushing loss.

A family still struggles with Why.

The pictures and screensavers of Maeve are still up -

And they lead to melancholy whistfulness.

But love endures.

Maeve's love endures.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fire Sale

You don't have to be my best friend to know I like to enjoy a beer from time to time.

Readers of my blog know I am a Gal About Town, a chick who likes to visit a variety of watering holes around the Tri-State. Sometimes I am thirsty for a great dirty martini (check out Twist's Deliciously Dirrty - complete with a spicy, salty rim), other times I seek out a chilled pint of beer, beads of condensation running down the icy glass (The Pub at Rookwood Mews has a nice selection of brews).

I am not too choosy about my imbibing, and I have never picked sides in the whole Bud vs. Miller debate. At one time I was a Bud Light girl, then I became a Miller Lite girl. These days, I'll drink whatever's cheaper.

I remember ordering a Budweiser when I was visiting London in October, 2006. I thought it a novelty - taking in an American brew thousands of miles away.

It tasted great.

Budweiser is a long standing symbol of America, but all that could change if St. Louis brew baron Anheuser-Busch decides to sell out to Belgian/Brazilian company InBev in a $46.3 billion deal.

Now, that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

It's an unfortunate combination of elements - a weak dollar, strong international currencies and a sputtering American economy - that is leading to this fire sale on American soil.

Just this week, Anheuser-Busch announced it has signed a deal with a distributor, expanding to Vietnam. For the first time, people in Ho Cho Minh City will be able to sip on the same suds as farmers in the Plains, steel workers in the Rust Belt and fishermen in the Bayou.

I think it's great when an American business opens new doors and delivers the kinds of products people in the U.S. have enjoyed and depended on for years.

I just disagree when those traditional goods are bought out by foreign entities.

What next - Coca Cola changes its classic can to Commie Red?

Sunday, June 08, 2008

My New Favorite Bar

I felt like I lived out a movie moment Friday night.

It was to be a low key happy hour at the Hofbrauhaus - Bluegrass Brit and me, some of her friends and her new beau. A calm way to wind down the work week.

But Bluegrass Brit and I never seem to manage anything low key when it comes to socializing.

After trying the seasonal pilsner, the festivities traveled on to her lovely, restored home in Historic Newport. A few of us decided to crack open a bottle of wine to commemorate BB's looming birthday and her recent acquisition of a stunning magnolia tree.

The crowd multiplied, and before we knew it there were about a dozen revelers on the stone patio, enjoying bottle after bottle of wine and orchestrating the celebratory planting of the previously mentioned magnolia.

Several of the guys did all the grunt work (yours truly took the photos of the occasion) and we cheered and toasted Bluegrass Brit as the clock struck midnight, officially marking the start of her 29th year.

And that's about the time someone mentioned an expedition to Jerry's Jug House.

Just the name sounds seedy, doesn't it?

Somehow, we weren't really put off by the bar's moniker. Instead, curiosity flourished and one of the perpetual instigators in the group was just the firecracker we needed to inspire us to lock up the house and head a few blocks north on Overton. We eventually made it to the official hole-in-the-wall, and I was tickled to find a small gathering of people talking about the virtues of Billy Clyde in a room papered in Wildcat logos.

We dropped a few dollars in the juke box and danced around to Johnny Cash, 80s tunes and Janis Joplin, trading dance partners and wailing along to the words as loud as we could. It was funny, looking back on it, our crowd swept in and swirled around like a whirling dervish, downing Jaeger-bombs and Miller High Life. The scene was like something you'd see in an Australian 90s flick - lots of dancing, lots of singing, lots of laughing and lots of drinking.

Jerry's Jug House looks like a combination dive/package store, what with shelf upon shelf of liquor bottles and potato chips, but the people there are as good as gold and the beer is cold.

As quickly as we breezed in to the place, that's how swift we got ourselves together and on the road, destined for Mansion Hill. There, we enjoyed the live rock music and sipped on a few more cold beers and G&Ts before packing it in. I stayed in my South Of The Ohio River Bedroom, forced to pay for the revelry with a splitting headache Saturday morning.

But Jerry's Jug House - I love that place. Can't wait to go back.


I would give anything for one more night of chasing fire flies.

Forget what the calendar says - summertime has arrived in Cincinnati, complete with the 90+ temperatures and air as thick as soup. My full, course hair goes haywire in this kind of weather, becoming a frizzy, kinky mess of spun gold. The strands on the nape of my neck grow damp in the short time it takes to slam my apartment shut and dash out to the car. My blouses and dress pants stick to my skin, wet with beads of perspiration.

I hate suffering through this weather, but it wasn't always that way. In another day in time, the weather was just an afterthought.

Hot days were meant for icy popsicles and lemonade stands. When I was a little, stinky girl of 11 or 12, I lived in bathing suits and tennis shoes. The mix of sun and chlorine would bleach my flaxen blonde and tattoo my face with a streak of brown freckles. Mom would pour us plastic Reds cups full of lemonade and kool-aid, giving us a chance to hydrate in between serious sessions of riding bikes, foraging through the woods and hunting for fossils.

I loved summer.

We'd have to spend about an hour every weekday morning at swim team practice, cranking out lap upon lap upon lap of breast stroke, freestyle, back stroke and butterfly (my worst stroke). After practice, I'd spend an hour in the finished basement, watching Little House on the Prairie and Harper Valley PTA on TBS, then Mom would force us to turn off the TV and go outside and play.

Our motley crew of neighborhood kids would run all day long, hopping from house to house, swing set to swing set, playing different versions of tag, four square. Sometimes a merciful mom would let come in and beat the heat, and we'd play Barbies, dress-up or video games.

We'd play straight through the evening, plotting elaborate rounds of hide-and-seek, ghost in the graveyard, my heart racing and the sweat streaming across my brow, I'd hunt for hiding spots and other hiders. We'd chase lightning bugs with mason jars, holes punched in the metal cap with a nail and hammer.

Those were the best days - and nights - of my life. The biggest stress was whether Mom was going to give us a dollar or two for a treat at the pool snack bar. No homework, no significant chores, no responsibility - just passing the time with tag and ten speeds.

I'd give up my 401k for a chance to go back - just one more time.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Do Not Be Alarmed

I have not disappeared.

I've just escaped to lovely Anderson, Ohio.

This bustling Cincinnati suburb is home for the week while I house sit for two boisterous dogs - Anakin (no, he does not have The Force) and Palmer (yes, he has natural Bengal stripes).

I brought my laptop with me so I could blog, tweet and otherwise stay connected with the WWW - unfortunately I did not snag the home owner's key to take advantage of their wi-fi.

So I am relegated to posting between work duties (shhh...) and visiting the local Panera (man, I love their shortbread cookies).

Some of my comings and goings as of late:

Right now I have a big, blue heating pad on my ass. It turns out the ol' body starts falling apart after 30. First, what metabolism I had finally gave out. Now I am battling a slipped disc and the painful after effect of sciatica. It's painful enough to banish my fabulous shoe collection to the closet. Twice in a row, I've worn to work the same pair of fake snakeskin Isaac Mizrahi for Target flats. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that tomorrow makes day three.

So much for the beautiful Michael Kors, Nine West, and BCBG Girl heels I've got on standby.

As for this sciatica thing - I have never experienced something as painful. Basically, it involves a shooting pain running from my bum, down my right leg, around the back side to the calf and on to the foot. Sometimes my leg feels numb and asleep, other times it feels like someone is gouging my flesh with a hot poker. The pain literally brought me to tears last night, something that surprised me, considering I typically only cry when emotional pain is involved.

The whole experience makes me believe in the concept of medicinal marijuana. Where is my friend, Woody Harrelson, when you need him?

*** *** *** ***

The twice-daily trek to/from Anderson (I have to let the dogs out at lunch time) is making a dent in what expendable cash I have after all my recent auto repairs. I would consider busing it to the Far East, but somehow I don't think it's as convenient to ride Metro from Beechmont Ave. as it is my fair Oakley.

Besides, why would I want to ride the bus after making such an investment in my sweet Saab?

*** *** *** ***
Obama. Wow.

I'll you from my political soapbox, but did want to reflect on the momentous occasion this nation is celebrating. When I was a little girl, I used to wonder if a woman would ever become president. I was girly version of Alex P. Keaton (my, how things have changed) but was still inspired by Geraldine Ferraro. Years later I wondered whether the White House would ever truly celebrate diversity.

Last night, I went to bed filled with emotion after watching Nightline (when was the last time you heard that?). I was so excited about the hope for opportunity inspired by Senators Obama and Clinton's campaigns.

I am equally enthused about how the months play out leading to November.

*** *** *** ***

Well, I just checked the Doppler and it appears the severe weather is returning to the Tri-State. Dorothy, we're not in Kansas anymore - and that means it's time for KtG to hit the door and head for higher ground.

Next time I'll try to save you from so many parentheses.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What's Going On?

I am feeling the crisis.

Marvin Gaye recorded one of the greatest social anthems of our time - underscoring the message we've got to find a way to bring some understanding here today - a song that is consistently brought up to reflect the tumultuous dynamics of an ever changing society.

Gaye asks a simple question that comes with a litany of complicated answers - much like many of the questions that arise when discussing the tenuous problems burdening the American people today.

Why is the economy sputtering? When will things get better? When will we all be living good again?

I read a million headlines in the papers each day - and they all seem to create a connect-the-dots scenario. Oil prices continue to hit new records on Wall Street. Cincinnati has the nation's third-worst carbon footprint (and my fair Lexington gets the infamous honor as #1).

And our educational system is in trouble, too.

Our children are not getting the tools they need to compete in the global economy. Click here and you'll discover America's students are not as proficient in math as their counterparts in Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland and Germany. But, guess what - we're also behind Canada, Korea, the Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, Poland and Spain. These are the same kids who will someday be joining the workforce, competing with every other worker around the world.

We are a nation in crisis.

Today I filled up my car and winced at the grand total of $67 and change. Mind you, I do not drive an SUV. I drive an economical sedan that gets about 32 miles to the gallon on the interstate. Still, I am seriously considering working in to my schedule a one or two-times-a-week bus routine to offset the economics.

Lean Cuisines are no longer 5-for-$10. Granted, that is not the nation's bellwether for an economic rough patch, but it's MY frame of reference for how things are changing. Produce is a little more expensive - so are beer and milk.

Airline tickets. The fares are enough to induce a heart attack in anyone entertaining the idea of a summer vacation. I know so many people forgoing the big vacation (whether it be by plane/train/automobile) for something local.

The pinch hurts a little more for me right now, considering I've dropped about $1100 in car repairs in the past ten days. I have had to carefully budget the next two weeks to ensure I can still cover my rent and car payment and leave a little something for my insatiable thirst.

President Bush's tax relief was a nice little trick - $600 to help Average Joe buy a big screen TV or tickets to Disney World. More likely, Joe is spending his cash on the utility bills, paying the nice folks at Verizon, and maybe hoping he can order a Bloomin' Onion next time Joe goes to Outback.

I kind of feel like the gesture was akin to putting a Mickey Mouse band-aid on a severed hand.

Our nation needs to examine the root of our struggles and search for ways to make changes there - heading things off at the pass, so to speak.

We are far too reactionary in nature and it will be the detriment to our standard of living if we do not look for ways to make urgent changes for tomorrow.

What's going on, indeed.