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.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Return of the Honkers


During the past few nights, I have been awakened by flocks of Canada Geese flying over. They make quite a racket. It’s as if they’re all backseat drivers.

Lying in bed, trying to get back to sleep, my imagination kicks in -- putting a grin on my face and further delaying my return to sleep.

The goose at the head of the V (I’ll call him Ralph) has to be frustrated out of his mind with all the jabbering behind him.

Goose Millie: Hey, Ralph, ya gotta turn a little more east.

Goose Stuart: No Ralph. If you turn too far east, we’ll end up running into the Government Printing Office. We’re heading for Constitution Gardens, right?

Goose Ralph: Na, we’re heading for the Tidal Basin. It’s tradition.

Goose Judy: Hey, guys -- we have to make a pit stop. Remember, some of us are ready to pop eggs!

Goose Annie: Why not stop at Constitution Gardens? There’s plenty of stuff to eat there. Besides, the tourists love to see us there and feed us popcorn and bread.

Goose Gilbert: I don’t care what the tourists like, but we have been flying for a long time and need a rest. Let’s stop on the lawn at the Federal Reserve.

Goose Simone: Yeah, Ralph -- we’re sick and tired of following you everywhere with no concern for the distaff side.

Goose Ralph: Ok, Simone, you come up here and take the lead! See how long you last leading this bunch of complainers. I can see ahead and there are white caps on the Tidal Basin, so we’ll detour to Constitution Gardens. Are you all happy now?!

Honk, honk, honk, honky tonk, honk .   .    .   ......

 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The "Domino Theory" Rides Again


Back in the 1950s and 60s this theory was used to justify our involvement in conflicts involving other nations. I associate it most strongly with President Eisenhower who worried about Asian nations falling into communism like a row of tumbling domino pieces. Corruption of ancient values played a role in tipping nations off ethical paths.

Right now, it would appear that Vladimir Putin and his Russian buddies are trying to reconstitute the old Soviet Union; one country at a time. It started with Georgia and Chechnya, relatively small fish in the scheme of things. Ukraine is a big fish with strong manufacturing and food production capacities important to the region.

Once Putin saw that his invasions of Georgia and Chechnya didn’t rile the rest of the world enough to get involved, he decided on a bigger goal. Sadly, the president of Ukraine was a Putin-puppet and readily turned-over the reins.

In no way do I suggest that the U.S. should send G.I.s into Ukraine or Crimea even though Putin thumbs his nose at our diplomatic efforts. He really could not care less what we think about his actions. Besides, whenever the U.S. has supported insurgencies in other countries, they have turned around and bitten our collective posterior. Supporting Iraq’s former dictator Saddam Hussein against Iran and Afghan rebels (Taliban) against the Russians are just two examples.

Are we still so afraid of communism and the Iron Curtain that we have to react every time Putin throws his weight around? I think it’s dreadful that Ukraine's civilians and military are taking a beating. It reminds me of the atrocities in Serbia and Croatia not so long ago. Still, the U.S. is stretched way too thin trying to police the world.

The United Nations is oxymoronic [not sure that’s a word but it works] because member nations seldom are united on anything. The U.S. is its main financier yet is outweighed in the Security Council by nations that contribute far less. Regardless, it should be the U.N., not the U.S. that stands up against Russian intrusion. Diplomacy has its place, but it’s time for member nations to roll up their sleeves and go after the bullies. Strength in numbers is the only way to stop bullying before the bullies get too sure of themselves.

Unlike some believe, the United Nations does not have it’s own army. It depends on member nations volunteering their troops for U.N. peace-keeping missions. I believe there is a chance that a U.N. mission to Ukraine and Crimea might halt the conflict before it gets really ugly.