Saturday, August 05, 2006

Guest Blogger: Brent Petersen

Brent Petersen graduated from the University of Illinois - Urbana with a degree in Business Administration. He worked in broadcasting for 15 years including several as Program Director for The Edge, The Beat and The Hawk in Providence, Rhode Island. Currently, Brent is Operations Manager for a fixed wireless Internet Service Provider. That's the former mayor of Providence in the picture with him, Buddy Cianci

Why are you a vegetarian?

By Brent Petersen

Why are you a vegetarian?

I get that question at least once a week (normally, people leave out the implied “Freak” at the end of the question). Multiply that by 52 weeks a year times 15 years times family members who ask every time they see me and the need for a snappy answer is apparent. The best one I have heard is “I am not a vegetarian because I love animals, I am vegetarian because I hate plants.” So, I have appropriated that as my standard response and it generally either disarms people and makes them laugh (good) or shuts them up (better).

The real story is a heartbreaking tale of romance and adventure set in the bustling metropolis of Peoria, Illinois. I lived in Peoria in the late 80’s. Back then Peoria was not the glamour capital it is today. In 1988, Peoria had none of the amenities it has today like a river walk, floating casino, arena football team or Hooter’s. Back then, Peoria was the butt of jokes (What do you call a garbage dump between two rivers? Peoria) and was struggling to bounce back from the Reagan recession. Peoria really wasn’t any different from hundreds of small and mid sized industrial cities in the Midwest. It just had the double curse of being reliant on agriculture (ask Willie Nelson how well farmers did in the 80’s) and manufacturing.

Peoria fun fact: Grandview Drive, which Teddy Roosevelt is said to have called the "world's most beautiful drive", runs through Peoria and Peoria Heights. Radio and TV station WMBD used first letters of each word of that phrase for their call letters.

Peoria is the world headquarters for Caterpillar. In the early 80’s massive layoffs at Cat nearly doomed the city. By the time I got there in 1988, jobs were still scarce, unemployment was still high and you could still occasionally spot the stray “Will the last person to leave Peoria please turn out the lights” bumper sticker on a late model Ford.

Peoria fun fact: both Jack Brickhouse and Dan Fogelberg were from Peoria.

Now back to our story. I rented the top floor of a farm house in Peoria. The old farmer who owned the place had a sizable plot of land where he grew soy beans (mmmmmm tofu) and corn. He also kept some cows on the property to remind him of his dad (I swear that’s what he told me). One hot, muggy summer day (are there any other kind in central Illinois) one of cows came trotting up the driveway as I was cooking up a batch of Sloppy Joes for dinner. He looks up to me with those big cow eyes. Mooooo. I look at him and then down into the pan. I look back up to him and he’s still looking at me. Sorry, buddy. I dumped the ground flesh of my new friend’s brother in the garbage.

It wasn’t easy to completely break the meat habit. In fact, it took a few years to gradually remove red meat, chicken, pork and fish from my diet. The last time I remember knowingly consuming animal flesh was shortly after moving to Rhode Island in the early 90s. It was a shellfish call a Quahog. If you don’t know what a Quahog is, you’re not from Rhode Island and you’re not missing much. Although, the shellfishermen who gather Quahogs (Quahoggers) are the source of much local amusement in Rhode Island. Think of Jeff Foxworthy with a bad Boston accent. “You might be a Quahogger if you have a Quahog rake for regular days and a Quahog rake for holidays.” Guess you would need to know what a Quahog is to get it.

Rhode Island fun fact: The world's largest bug is on the roof of New England Pest Control in Providence. It's a big blue termite, 58 feet long and 928 times actual termite size.

Anyway, in the last 15 years the way our society views vegetarians and what it is like to be a vegetarian has changed greatly. I can’t imagine what it was like in the 60’s or 70’s. The only vegetarians were hippies and the only things available to eat were granola and twigs and berries (mmmm twigs and berries). Today, there are vegetarian gourmet restaurants that will be glad to charge you the same price for a grilled portabella mushroom as you pay for a prime rib at Morton’s.

Walk down the health food aisle of any mega mart and you will be bombarded with meatless products. The names show you how witty vegetarians are: Not Dogs, Fakin Bacon and Tofurky are a few of the products whose names will have you laughing all the way to the checkout line. I don’t eat a lot of these products, but people think that I am an expert on veggie burgers and the like so they will often ask me what I think of them and if they taste like meat.

So, to answer your questions: I like most of these fake meat dishes, but they are like junk food as far as fat and nutrition. If you are expecting to lose weight and suddenly become the most desirable person on the planet, just know that Richard Gere is a vegetarian, but so is Danny DeVito.

As for the question of tasting like meat. I think so. Then again, I haven’t had a hamburger in over 15 years, so I might tell you that handful of sawdust bound together with wet newspaper tastes like sirloin. It’s kind of like asking the Pope if he’s a leg or butt man.

There’s your primer on why I’m a vegetarian. As for the next most asked question: Do you mind if I eat meat? No, go right ahead. I’m sure the hormones and feces that you get mixed with the meat will taste delightful. Dig in.

If you'd like to read my previous guest bloggers, click here:

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Half Empty: Our favorite diseases and injuries

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

Our favorite diseases and injuries

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

Remember the good old days when you used to make fun of your dad for all those funny grunts he made when he got up off a chair? Or how about all those carefree hours of laughter you had at the expense of your Uncle Gabe and his ear hair? You were a regular Henny Youngman back then, weren’t you? King of the comedy world.

Now let us ask you a question: How funny is your routine now that you’re blitzkrieging towards middle age?

Thought so.

Well, rapidly aging readers, don't fret. Your good buddies Rick and Dave are going to help you through the aging process a little bit. Obviously, as we get older our body tends to get a few more aches and pains along the way. It’s inevitable. The trick is to find the right aches and pains.

In fact, if you follow our lead, we can make the natural deterioration of your body a semi-pleasant experience. Simply get extremely mild cases of the following diseases and injuries, and your life may actually improve:

Tinnitus –Tinnitus is a constant ringing in the ears. What is the treatment? Sufferers need to sit in a quiet room free of all screaming children. To drown out the ringing, a constant sound in the background is permitted. Sporting events on television work perfectly.

Sleep Apnea – You don’t want to take a long afternoon nap every day, you are medically required to do so.

Jumping Frenchman of Maine – This real (Jumping Frenchman of Maine) disorder is characterized by an unusually extreme “startle reaction” to an unexpected noise or sight. For instance, your in-laws showing up unexpectedly at your door might elicit this extreme response. Perhaps the sight of the $400 pair of shoes your wife just bought might have similar consequences. Treatment options? Your loved ones must avoid any and all changes in your environment.

Hyper-extended elbow- Most orthopedic doctors agree that this is one of the hardest injuries to treat. People can have lingering pain from an injury they had many years ago (did somebody mention painkillers?). All manual labor, like helping your wife’s brother move for the third time in three years, should be avoided.

Compulsive Shopper – I’ll go to the store, honey! Just give me that credit card and whoopee!!!! What do you mean I’m absolutely forbidden to go to the mall?

Alien Hand Syndrome – This is an unusual neurological disorder in which one of the sufferer's hands seems to take on a life of its own. No, I did not intentionally flip off that bus driver; I’m ill. Honey, did I unbutton your shirt again? Darn hand.

Temporary loss of smell – Doctors are baffled as to why many men in their 30’s and 40’s temporarily lose their sense of smell. Equally puzzling is why many of the afflicted have young children in diapers.

Chronic Allergies – Allergies are a nuisance, but an allergic reaction to grass means you can’t mow the lawn. An allergic reaction to cats and/or dogs means you really should spend the next family gathering at Uncle Leo’s house sitting outside by yourself.

Heart Disease – This one’s a bit tricky. Go overboard and things could get ugly. However, many scientists think that deficiency in the vitamins B6, B12 and folate can cause cardiovascular disease. Guess what is rich in B6, B12 and folate……..BEER. Honey can you pick up my prescription at the liquor store on your way home?

Are there any that we’re forgetting? Feel free to send us your favorite disease and injury suggestions, by clicking on the word “comments” below.

We’ll have plenty of time to read them. We’re medically required to spend the rest of the day in our basements.

If you’d like to read previous “Half Empty” columns, click here:

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Suburban Man: Househusband Report Card

By Rick Kaempfer

This month I’m celebrating my third anniversary as a househusband. I’ll admit I was a little scared about what might happen to me or the children when I was placed in charge of the household three years ago, but it’s actually going pretty well so far…knock on wood.

If you asked me three years ago to give an estimate of the percentage of work I did around the house when I still worked, I honestly thought I was doing about 40% of the household chores. After being at home full time for awhile, I have revised that estimate downward slightly…to about zero percent. As it turns out, when I worked, my only actual contribution to the house was my paycheck.

Now that Bridget and I have switched roles, I’ve been incrementally moving that percentage up from zero, but I’m still nowhere near my wife’s previous 100%. There are two good reasons for that: Rick and Bridget. There are some things that she simply won’t allow me to do, and some things that I simply refuse to do.

Let me give you a few examples.


I can handle the discipline…although I’m not exactly using textbook techniques. I can handle the homework…although I’ve got maybe one more year before the math is beyond me. I can handle illnesses…although I still pray that nobody vomits unless Bridget is home. I even potty-trained Sean all by myself—and that’s a minor miracle. However, I will never, and I have never taken the boys to the mall by myself. I hear mothers talking about taking their kids to the mall all the time, and I think…On purpose? You’ve got to be kidding me. Never, ever, ever. Not gonna happen.


The boys and I clean up the house from top to bottom every Friday. We tidy, sweep, dust, vacuum, and scrub. Everything in the house looks wonderful on Friday night when the wife comes home from work. Everything, that is, except for the bathrooms. We are forbidden from cleaning the bathrooms. Apparently, our idea of clean isn’t the same as hers.


I cook breakfast, lunch, and dinner every single weekday. This is my favorite job—and I’ve really gotten into it. I have about two dozen recipes I rotate, depending on my mood. The one thing I won’t do, however, is pick the fat off the chicken. That’s one of my lingering psychological problems caused by working at Brown’s Chicken when I was in high school. I know it’s weird, but if Bridget wants me to cook chicken, she has to pre-pick the fat.


I can do it, but apparently not very well. If something is white—I’m not allowed to touch it. Luckily, after the first few times I did laundry, we don’t have much of anything that is still white, so it’s not really an issue.


I’ve gotten quite good at grocery shopping. I usually plan out my menu for the week before I go to the store, and then I zip in and out of the aisles getting exactly what I need. I draw the shopping line, however, at Wal-Mart. The aisles are too small, the store is too crowded, and the departments make no sense to me. (The pets are right next to the pharmaceuticals?) The place actually gives me the creeps.

Report Card

I asked Bridget to grade me in the five main househusband categories to see how I was doing after three years on the job. She pretended she didn’t hear me at first, but finally relented and gave me her assessment.

She gave me a B+ in child care and cooking, a B- in cleaning and laundry, and a C in shopping. (That’s better than most of my college report cards.) Then I asked her the big question: What percentage of the overall housework do I do now? She thought about that one for a long time, and after giving it a great deal of thought, finally replied: “I’d say about 70%.”


That’s better than I thought. Considering that the only things standing between me and the 100% ideal are vomit, chicken fat, dirty toilets, shopping malls, bleach, and Wal-Mart, I’ll take it.

70% is still a passing grade, right?

If you'd like to read previous Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, July 30, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Best Festival in Indiana

I wrote short little pieces about the best festivals in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (as chosen by the readers of SHORE MAGAZINE). You can see the online version of this magazine at Last week, I focused on Michigan. This week, it's Indiana.

(From the July 2006 issue)

Tied for Best Festival in Indiana: Pierogi Fest & Valparaiso Popcorn Festival

Pierogi Festival, Whiting, Indiana (July 28-30)

Pierogi Fest in Whiting Indiana is a food festival you’ll never forget. With “more pierogi than they have in Warsaw,” and virtually every other kind of ethnic and American food, you’re guaranteed to leave the festival with a full stomach. But it’s not just the great food and the “perfect for the atmosphere” polka music; it’s the unbridled spirit of fun that attracts such devoted fans. Wacky appearances by Mr. Pierogi, and the International Polka Parade on 119th Street (that you have to see to believe), makes Pierogi Fest one of a kind.

“It’s definitely the best,” according to Shore reader Roman Sawczak.

Actually, it’s tied for the best, with...

Valparaiso Popcorn Festival, Valparaiso, Indiana

Another one of a kind event is the Popcorn Festival in Valparaiso, featuring the nation’s only popcorn parade. This festival was started in 1979 as a salute to Valparaiso’s very own Orville Redenbacher. Popcorn Fest is held every year the Saturday after Labor Day (this year it will be September 9th), and draws between 60-75,000 attendees to downtown Valparaiso.