Monday, November 10, 2014

"Grandma's Rules for Thanksgiving"

Dear Family,
I'm not dead yet. Thanksgiving is still important to me. If being in my Last Will and Testament is important to you, then you might consider being with me for my favorite holiday. . .Thanksgiving.

Last year, that moron, Marshall, fried a turkey in one of those deep-fry contraptions and practically burned the deck off the house. This year, the only peanut oil used to make the meal will be from the secret scoop of peanut butter I add to the carrot soup, and the turkey will be baked in the traditional way... in the oven.

Jonathan, your last new wife was an idiot. You don't arrive at someone's house, at the last minute, on Thanksgiving, needing to use the oven and the stove. Honest to God, I thought you might have learned after two wives - Please... date them longer and save us all the agony of another divorce.

Now, the house rules are slightly different this year because I have decided that 47% of you don't know how to take care of nice things. Paper plates and red Solo cups might be bad for the environment, but I'll be gone soon, and that will be your problem to deal with.

House Rules:
1. The University of Texas no longer plays Texas A&M during Dinner. The television stays off during the meal. Conversation is encouraged.
2. The "no full cans for kids" rule still exists. We are using 2 liter bottles because your children still open a third can before finishing the first two. Parents can fill a child's cup when it is empty. All of the cups have names on them and I'll be paying close attention to refills.
3. Carol, last year we were at Trudy's house and I looked the other way when your Raspberry Cottage Cheese Jell-O salad showed up. This year, if that Jell-O salad comes in the front door with you, it will go right back out the back door with the garbage. Save yourself some time, honey. You've never been a good cook and you shouldn't bring something that wiggles more than you. Buy something from the bakery. Pies are good.
4. Grandmothers give grandchildren cookies and junk food. That is a fact of life. Your children can eat healthy at your home. At my home, they can eat whatever they like as long as they finish it.
5. I cook with bacon, bacon grease and real butter. And, yes, there will be a turkey. That's nothing new. Your being a vegetarian doesn't change the fact that stuffing without turkey broth is like egg salad without eggs. And, yes, the green bean casserole has a little bacon grease in it. That's why it tastes so good. Not eating meat is just not natural. And as far as being healthy... look at me. I've outlived almost everyone I know.
6. Green salad at Thanksgiving is a waste of space.
7. Talking on the cell phone is annoying. Leave them in the car. Try actually talking to each other.
8. I do not like video cameras. There will be 32 people here. I am sure you can capture lots of memories without the camera pointed at me.
9. Being a mother means you have to actually pay attention to your kids. I have nice things and I will not put them away just because your out-of-control children are coming over. Mary, watch your kids, and I'll watch my things.
10. Rhonda, a cat that requires a shot twice a day is a cat that has lived too many lives. I think staying home to care for the cat is your way of letting me know that I have lived too many lives too. I can live with that. Can you? Remember the "Will" is still in limbo.
11. Words mean things. I say what I mean. Let me repeat: ‘You don't need to bring anything’ means you don't need to bring anything. And if I did tell you to bring something, bring it in the quantity I said... not just enough for your family. Really, this doesn't have to be difficult.
12. Dominoes, horseshoes and cards are better than anything that requires a battery or an on/off switch. That was true when you were kids and it's true now that you have kids. Leave the electronic video games at home or in the car.
13. Showing up for Thanksgiving guarantees being remembered at Christmas. Not showing up guarantees a card (maybe) that may or may not be signed.
14. The election is over, so I'll watch what I say about the bastard, and you will do the same. If we all stick to that, we'll have a good time. If not, I'll still have a good time but it will be at your expense.
15. In memory of your Grandfather, the back fridge will be filled with beer. Drink until it is gone. I prefer wine anyway. But one from each family needs to be the designated driver.

I really mean all of the above.

Love You,

Author Unknown

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Hannah Graham et al

As sympathetic as I am with the family and friends of UVA student Hannah Graham, I can’t help but think she was unbelievably foolish. Being a young (under-aged) woman drinking far too much was her first mistake. Walking away from her friends was the next.

At the same age, in 1967, I could have been in the same position IF my roommate and still dear friend hadn’t come looking for me. We were both innocents but decided it would be cool to crash an off-campus party.

When I think back on it, what I’m able to remember terrifies me. Not only was I nearly sexually assaulted at the party, but we had to walk across a multi-lane, highway to get back to our dormitory. Being smashed we could have been flattened under a 16-wheeler!

The desire to experiment with adult behavior is far from new. The rest of us have unintentionally encouraged it by rescinding constraints like age limits and curfews, giving young people more freedoms than they are ready to handle. I can’t tell you how many times I used the excuse of a curfew to end an awkward or scary date.

If we don’t want to go back to curfews, parents need to constantly drill into their kids’ heads the dangers out in the world. They need to know that the sweet taste of freedom they enjoy when they first leave home can turn bitter and even deadly. They need the words to avoid being talked into doing something they’re not sure they want to do and to not worry about losing cred when they do. It could be as basic as encouraging them to use you (strict parents) as an excuse.

When my parents first dropped me off at college, my Dad’s advice was to “stay pure.” He and Mom loved me, but that kind of advice just left me wondering!

I hope and pray that Hannah shows up tired, but whole. I also hope that being embarrassed won’t inhibit her from going home.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who Knew?

Between 1971 and 1990, I lived in an 1930s-era apartment house in D.C.’s West End neighborhood. A recent issue of The Washington Post ran an obituary for a former neighbor in that building: David Truong. An accompanying photo prompted a serious case of déjà vu. I remembered his heavy, black framed eye glasses.

Before his arrest in 1978 we occasionally chatted while doing laundry. We remained strangers and never discussed anything important while taking care of a boring chore in our bleak, basement laundry room.

Turns our David Truong was convicted as a spy for the Viet Cong. He had viewed is actions as a personal mission to end the war in his homeland and to improve relations between the U.S. and the now Communist Viet Nam. The courts didn’t agree.

Educated in France and later at Stanford, he had been a respected source of information on Capitol Hill. In 1968, columnist Drew Pearson wrote that David Truong was probably the most effective of all protestors against the Viet Nam conflict.

It makes me a little sad to think he will be remembered as a foreign spy. I think that, in his heart, he was trying to broker peace and restore prosperity in a country devastated by decades of colonialism, dictatorships and warfare. But what do I know.

Monday, June 23, 2014

"The Scarlet Lion"

Elizabeth Chadwick’s novel about the later life of the world’s most famous knight, William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, is exceptionally well written and researched. It reads like an eye-witness account of history.

The 12th and 13th centuries in Europe were filled with spectacular, often excessively violent conquests, political intrigue, promiscuity and conniving. Royals came and went with impunity, often employing imprisonment or murder to retain power. In the guise of mentoring, sons and sometimes daughters of nobles were taken to the royal court as hostages to ensure loyalty.

By means of extraordinary intelligence, patience, and integrity, William Marshal survived service to four English kings, including serving as Regent for nine-year-old Henry after his devious father, King John died. Prince Louis VIII of France, King Phillip’s son, might have succeeded in conquering England during this time if it hadn’t been for William’s brilliant strategy and political dealings.

Even if you’re not into history, “The Scarlet Lion” is an action-packed, emotion-grabbing read. Being based on historical events makes it even more compelling. The behind closed doors material is realistic and moving. The last chapter, William’s death, moved me to tears.

Marshal came from low status and accepted an arranged marriage to a noblewoman of means. Isabelle De Clare was a fascinating woman and was her husband’s sounding board and safe haven. Together they survived some very scary situations, cherished their eight children and held on to properties in England, Wales, Ireland, and Normandy through tumultuous times.

The Scarlet Lion reference comes from Marshal’s coat of arms.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

A Day of Close Calls

Coming home from grocery shopping yesterday, I was grateful to enter the garage in one piece.

There are loads of out of town visitors and probably quite a few from other countries, some touring town in rental cars. Whenever I see an out of state tag, I allow extra space and time for the driver to figure out where he wants to go. However, what happened in a matter of minutes yesterday cannot be excused by ignorance of local laws or confusion.

Crossing Memorial Bridge in the left lane, I narrowly averted a disaster because I always anticipate other drivers doing something I don’t expect. A big family van, filled with a big family, driving in the opposite direction pulled halfway into our lane to avoid the car next to it swerving into it’s lane. The cause? A bike cab cruising in the right lane toward Arlington National Cemetery.

I fully support free enterprise and truly admire these people and their stamina. It can’t be easy pulling two or three people riding behind them up some of our hills. Still, I’m thinking some routes are just not safe for these low-slung, slow “vehicles.”

Earlier in the week, I came across a couple and their young child being biked along in the center lane of Constitution Avenue. They looked terribly vulnerable with cars, buses and trucks zipping by. Though laws prohibit texting or talking on a phone while driving, people still do it. Distracted drivers are dangerous and those bike cabs are flimsy!

The icing on the cake after the bridge incident was a cab driver cutting me off rounding the Lincoln Memorial onto 23rd Street. He then proceeded to swerve in and out of my lane, trying to beat traffic through the intersection. I had already slowed down to let him “do his thing” and was happy to see him disappear up ahead.

Can’t be too careful.

Friday, May 9, 2014

An 8-year-old Martyr

His mother had told him that he was now “man of the house” and, therefore needed “to protect his 12 year old sister.” A few days ago, he tried to do just that and was killed in his attempt.

Marty Cobb, a newly minted 8-year old living in Richmond Virginia, and his beloved, older sister were playing together behind their house when a 16 year old neighbor allegedly attacked his sister. Doing his best to rescue her, his very young life was ended.

Marty was small for his age, having started life prematurely and required  open-heart surgery at just three months. Having turned eight in March, he accepted his “manly responsibilities.”

Single parents have a challenging job; no doubt about that. I am sincerely sorry for this family’s loss. Having admitted that, I do believe that saddling children with adult responsibilities is unfair at least and deadly at worst.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Bread Making

On a cold, very rainy day such as today, there is nothing quite as satisfying as producing a freshly baked loaf of bread. It’s yeasty warmth fills our apartment with a fragrance that takes me back to my childhood.

Mom also made doughnuts once in while, but bread was a fairly regular feature in our house. Of course, there were no fancy bread machines or stand mixers in those days so hand-kneading was the only way. I think I inherited her love of baking because we used to chat together about the delights of kneading bread. That may sound weird, but don’t knock it til you’ve tried it!

Until recently, I thoroughly enjoyed hand-kneading bread to the point that it took on the feel of a newborn baby’s bottom. Cookbooks often employed that description, I think, to make us forget the hard labor of kneading bread for about ten minutes, twice. Nevertheless, making one’s own bread had become something other than drudgery after commercial bakeries started producing it for our grandmothers.

Unlike most other baking projects, if you forget an ingredient such a salt, you can always knead it in once you remember it, so bread making is almost foolproof.

When arthritis in my hands got too painful, I gave in and bought a bread machine -- to make the dough -- that’s all! I still shape the loaf/ves, watch them rise and bake them.

Thinking I was adjusting enough for today’s high humidity, I added a little extra flour before I turned on the machine. When it beeped me to check the consistency of the dough before it was allowed to rise, I realized I hadn’t added nearly enough flour, so sprinkled in more, thinking the machine would incorporate it. I was wrong.

When I returned about a half hour later, there was my fragrant dough rising almost to push open the lid with the added flour undisturbed on the top. That wasn’t supposed to happen.

I unplugged the machine and twisted the pan of dough off its perch. Turning it upside down, the flour fluttered gently onto the counter while the dough stretched from the pan in sinuous strings of magnificence. You want those strings which mean that the dough is alive and holding together. However stretching like that wasn’t good because it indicated the need to knead more flour in so the dough wouldn’t fall in the baking pan resulting in a solid, hard, inedible brick -- very difficult to remove. I know this from experience . . . sigh.

My hands ache a bit, but the pan of dough is enjoying a slow rise in a corner of the kitchen. Before long, it will be gifting me with it’s lovely fragrance and memories of my childhood.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who wouldn't want this kind of job?!

Did you know that the very people who process our federal income taxes at the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) get away with not paying their taxes AND, many of them get nice bonuses despite that?

Yes, indeedy -- millions of tax-payer dollars are given to scofflaws employed by the very agency responsible for catching them. In 2011 it was reported that 3.6 percent of all federal employees owed back taxes to the tune of more than $1,000,000,000. That’s not chump change! [About 8.2 percent of the general population owes back taxes.]

Seems to me that, if you work for the federal government, you should be acutely aware of your obligations to your employers: every man, woman and child in the United States!

Having said all that, I willingly acknowledge that there are far more capable, committed and honest federal employees who don’t deserve any of the bad-mouthing haphazardly aimed at the entire federal system. Either supervision is lax or the unions are too powerful. I think the blame game belongs in those laps.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter

We enjoyed a lovely Easter Sunday and this is how it is ending.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Thoughts on today's milestone/mill stone of a birthday.

A Facebook friend posted this a short time ago.

I'd been somewhat dreading my birthday today,

But this gave me a whole new perspective!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Skeeeeech, bam-bam, spraaaahng, BAM

Above are the sounds I associate with my brief, thankfully infrequent experiences driving large vehicles.

Having grown up during the era of huge family station wagons, I actually preferred small cars. I still do. Nevertheless, during my working life the necessity to drive big vehicles was forced upon me several times.

The first was when I had just turned thirty and was asked to drive all of the officers of the organization that employed me. I’d been to Gettysburg on a family vacation many years before, but not as a driver.

With the officers in tow, we approached the 15 passenger van. They were busy chattering happily together. My knees and teeth started chattering, too. Being that we were all women - them considerably older than me - I decided I could not show my fear and climbed into the driver’s seat.

Pulling away from the hotel, I couldn’t help but whisper a quick prayer that I wouldn’t cause the demise of the entire leadership of the international organization they represented.

Touring the battlefield was one thing; it was pretty much wide open. Getting to the battlefield was quite another thing. Teeny-tiny, narrow lanes with old houses and humongous, over-hanging trees were an obstacle course I hadn’t expected. What seemed like mere inches between my monstrous vehicle and approaching cars forced me to drive close to the edge of the lane, thus rubbing shoulders with low-hanging limbs and branches -- skeeeeech. Thankfully, no one seemed to notice and there was no visible damage to the van, but phew!!

March just about anywhere you go in the U.S. tends to be extremely windy. My next job, also in D.C., required occasionally driving company cars to branch offices in all four city quadrants, usually in nice little cars.

It was just my luck that on a day that necessitated me to drive from lower Northwest to upper Northeast D.C. the only vehicle available was another 15 passenger van; this one with no seats. It was like driving a Quonset hut on wheels across town in city traffic during a hurricane.

Bam-bam, spraaahwng, BAM! I enjoy swaying to and fro in a hammock, but not in a two-ton moving vehicle! The noise was terrifying as I thought the old thing was going to start losing parts. And let us not forget the effect of Spring potholes! Rhode Island Avenue was like a bomb-pocked terrain. It was impossible to avoid every chasm and steel plate.

A few years later, not only was I a facilitator and trainer for a week-long teen leadership conference, but I had to drive another big-ole-van full of teenagers from D.C. to St. Mary’s College in southern Maryland. The kids were no problem, but the lead driver had a lead foot and I didn’t know where I was going.

To be honest, I wouldn’t have missed these experiences. I love to drive and once I mastered driving those behemoth vehicles it boosted my self-confidence -- that and my faith in a supreme power that watches out for us fools.

Monday, April 7, 2014

I must confess . . .

. . . I've been neglecting my blog.

I discovered I was missing a lot of family news and photos because I wasn't on Facebook.  A loss of privacy had been preventing me from joing "social media" sites.  However, considering recent news stories, I probably don't have much privacy left anyway!

Since joining, I've been very pleasantly surprised about how many childhood friends I've been able to reconnect with.  A guy from my home town started a page where we could share memories of living there.  "Kids" I haven't seen in 50 years are sharing stories about their lives since way back when.

Family members who live all across the country now seem much closer.  Getting reaquainted with them has also introduced me to a whole new generation on our family tree!

I think the inventors of Facebook thought that young people would be the majority of users.  However, I'm dicovering that plenty of Baby Boomers and more mature types are making good use of the site.  It may not be for every one, but . . .

Boomers rock!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What did they expect?

The latest embarrassment caused by U.S. Secret Service agents in Amsterdam did not surprise me. Yes, drinking to the point of passing out in a hotel hallway is embarrassing and inappropriate behavior for any adult.  But, I ask again: what did they expect?

When you specifically hire people who are big, strong, fighting men highly trained in the skills to stop an assault on or draw fire away from America’s leadership, the testosterone is bound to leak and trigger behavior unbecoming of a federal employee.

I’m not saying I approve of their drunken behavior. What I am saying is that it should not come as a surprise.

These guys, and I assume they are all guys in this case, are on high alert for long hours and must sleep when the opportunity presents itself. After being on high alert, it takes time to get adrenalin levels closer to normal. Add to that their already elevated levels of testosterone and you got trouble.

Many cops have substance abuse problems, I believe, because of similar pressures. They need to stay hyper-alert on duty, but when they go off-duty it’s hard to let that go. Their friends and families want them to be their “normal” selves and to enjoy life while they’re still wired to defend and protect.

I don’t know if people with these kinds of jobs go through regular debriefings. Perhaps psychologically-retuned methods of debriefing could speed up recovery from everyday tensions that go with these jobs. Would meditation be laughed-off by these macho guys?

I clearly have no training in mental health care, but there just has to be a better way than drinking oneself into oblivion or paying for sex after every shift.

[Shame on me -- I just thought about Woody Allen’s film, “Sleeper” and one of the distinctive house’s special features.]

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Get a life, CNN!

Speculation and sensationalism seem to be all CNN is interested in most of the time.  There is so much more going on in the world and the U.S.A. that there should be no shortage of stories CNN could report.

Instead, they are fixated on the disappeared Malaysian Air jet.  OK, it's a hugely mysterious, dreadful event, but I don't want to be reminded of it every minute with more speculation than actual news-worthy information.  Repeating dramatic footage of grieving people is overkill at worst and distasteful and insensitive at best.  Since most of them do not speak English, it's the equivalent of sticking a mic in their faces and asking them how they feel, something CNN reporters are seldom reluctant to do.

Come on, CNN!!  Can't you report on something more relevant and current and wait for real information to be revealed rather than regurgitating the same stuff over and over gain?!

P.S.  I confess that my husband is a news junky and I leave the room soon after he tunes-in CNN.