Thursday, January 29, 2009

Icing on the Cake

Here's how the snow looks following last night's icing and a bit of thawing this a.m.. . .

My Dear Mr. President:

As a fellow transplant from Illinois, I feel it is my duty to educate you about the geographical and topographical differences between Northern Illinois and Washington, D.C. I, too thought the Washington Region was full of scardy-cats and driving wimps -- UNTIL -- I tried to navigate Wisconsin Avenue one snowy Sunday. This was years ago and my thinking changed instantly when my Pinto station wagon started sliding sideways back down the hill after I gingerly stopped for a light. Do I need to point out that Northern Illinois is F L A T? Sure, there are plenty of opportunities to slip and slide, even on flat pavement. I took driver's ed. during January in Northern Illinois, so I learned how to put a car into a spin and to correct it. But then, with the introduction of anti-locking brakes, the techniques I learned back then no longer apply. Nevertheless, stopping and starting on an icy incline does not compare with doing the same on flat pavement. Another important factor you need to remember: pavement around here is different than it is in Chicago. Blacktop is smoother and conceals black ice far more effectively than the rough, gravel-infused pavement back home. Next snowy/icy day (if you can escape from your handlers), have a go at driving something other than your armoured-tank-limo around the region. Virginia and Maryland have some high, long hills as does the District. Your girls would no doubt have been safe riding to school in their escorted SUVs, but children walking, riding on buses or being transported by Mom in the family car faced real danger yesterday. I'm thrilled that you and your family are here. Please keep in mind that you now live in an entirely different world -- not always a good thing -- but different. We love our region and don't take kindly to folks putting us down for things they don't yet understand. Living where we do, we're already in a bulls eye as far as terrorists are concerned. Please don't chide us for avoiding preventable injuries. Yours sincerely, A Lady in Foggy Bottom

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

SNOW!

Most of you know I'm a snow-lover, so today's small accumulation is something I've been looking forward to. I also have work to do on my PC. Just had to take a moment to capture the scene reflected in a Van Gogh print I've hung in a convenient spot. Without it and another by Monet hung next to it, my view would be the wall I face -- not inspiring. For those of you who must drive on the expected ice later today, I sympathize. It's no fun walking on ice either. I've done my share of that, walking at least a mile to work every day for 30+ years. Never could decide which is worse: ice and cold or searing heat and humidity. Thankfully, our Springs and Autumns are gorgeous!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Need Advice -- PLEASE!

Being a sucker for cute little birds, for several years I've kept a shallow bowl filled with water for the sparrows that regularly visit our balcony -- year round. This past autumn, I decided enough of them eating my flowers and pooping all over the place and put the water plate away.
I feel incredibly guilty whenever a bunch of sparrows shows up looking for water.
How long do sparrows live and when will they stop coming back? I don't want to go back to poop everywhere and we don't plant flowers just for the birds to eat them, but. . . ..
Any advice will be most welcome!

Friday, January 23, 2009

Then and Now

Emotions during the past weeks have been on a level commensurate with those following a devastating event 40 years ago last April. From disbelieving anguish, horror and anger to immeasurable joy, pride and confidence -- diametrically different, but equal in their strength to move. Anticipating Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, I could not help but reminisce on previous Presidential Inaugurations. None has ever been so joyously anticipated! And coming a day after a holiday that honors the memory of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. -- the timing and symbolism are amazing. Sitting quietly one afternoon, I started to wonder what this week's events might have looked like if Dr. King was still with us. Last Monday would have been just another workday. Tuesday would still have been a significant day because a new administration would be set in motion. I would hope that extra celebration would not have been required simply because an African-American was being sworn-in. Wouldn't it be something if, during the past 40 years Americans had already elected our first African-American president! Why did it take so long to reach this turning point? I think it required the fresh minds of a younger generation who grew up believing that: -- skin color is nothing more than pigmentation; -- intelligence is not dictated by race; -- it's OK and natural for people of differing race, ethnicity, culture, etc. to be attracted to one another. I remember the grave concerns about family values that arose when daycare became popular and, eventually, necessary. -- Mothers were supposed to take care of their own children! -- Strangers could not nurture one's children as well as blood relatives could! -- Exposing young children to others from different backgrounds and cultures would erode family standards established and maintained for generations! -- Children would feel estranged and insecure being separated from their siblings and parents for several hours a day! -- Self-esteem would bottom-out when children didn't get enough attention from (tsk!) paid care-givers! Instead of irreparably damaging children, they learned to cooperate and work in teams. They learned to entertain themselves. They bonded with and looked out for each other. Desegregation, affirmative action (flawed though it be), and equal rights have shaped the younger generation into more fair-minded, socially responsible, environmentally and politically aware people. They are the ones who, despite their gender or race have: -- been allowed and encouraged to partake in nontraditional sports; -- not been shoved in one career direction over another; -- not been stuck with esteem-sucking labels; -- been encouraged to try things formerly reserved for the other gender; -- not been shamed by sexual orientation. Every generation has come along with it's own baggage of ideals and standards. Each previous one worries about the next making a mess out of life as they know it. I think our chances of having a more egalitarian society rests in the hands of the younger generation. IF -- and that's a huge IF -- they can get beyond the wealth factor that continues to separate us. Barack and Michelle Obama have brought fresh air and intelligence back to the White House. Decency and compassion seem to be woven into their very fiber. I hope to see America's humanitarian nature come alive again through their actions and leadership. Tell me I'm not just a dreamer . . .

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Gratuitous Cuteness XII

Cousins Zach and Carolyn enjoyed a bit of down time at their grandparent's house some years ago. Zach is now a handsome, very nearly 16-year old, and Carolyn is a senior at William and Mary. They grow up way too fast!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hail to the Chief!

Minutes ago, this gentle, strong man was sworn-in to the most challenging job our country has to offer. His speech clearly revealed his dignity, intelligence integrity and faith in the American system. It also echoed my strong belief that it will require that WE THE PEOPLE take responsibility for our own actions and inactions. I hope we can make him and ourselves proud. P.S. I also had a chance to thumb my nose -- one last time -- at the Bush party as it flew over the Mall! ;-)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

"Obama's Sunset"

I listened to the speeches made on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial today. CSpan was allowed to broadcast those, but HBO had dibs on all the other stuff. Since we don't get HBO, I sat on our balcony to listen for a while. Little too cold to stay out there for long. Hoards of people are walking up the hill heading home looking very tired and cold. The beautiful, rosy-colored sunset this evening matches my mood thinking about the beginning of Mr. Obama's administration. I am greatly impressed by him and hopeful for our country's future.

Comfort Food

I've been a proponent of comfort foods for as long as I can remember. There is no one to blame for this affection/affliction -- it just is what it is. There's nothing quite like the aroma of beef stew and freshly baked bread on a cold winter evening. To top it off, I've discovered a new favorite dessert [at least for the moment]. It's pecan pie. Since I discovered Trader Joe's frozen pie crusts -- only brand I've found that doesn't contain lard!-- I've rationalized more opportunities to put together a pie. Anyway, the aroma of warm pecans is just too compelling to be ignored! Thaw a pie crust -- or make your own if you're better at it than I am -- and line a 9" deep dish pie plate with it. Make some of those pretty little crimp marks around the edge, or not -- your choice. Evenly spread a generous cup of chopped, toasted pecans over the bottom of the unbaked shell. (Trader Joe's carries the pecans too!) Preheat your oven to 350. In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup sugar, 3 beaten eggs, 1/4 tsp. salt, 2 Tbs. brown sugar, 1 cup light corn syrup (yeah, I know -- it's so bad it's good!) 1 stick melted butter (uh uhn - this is a once-a-year kinda pie), 1/4 tsp vanilla extract. Beat all this to within an inch of it's life then pour over the pecans in your pie crust. The pecans will magically float to the top to make a pretty pie. Bake on the lowest rack in your oven for 50-55 minutes. If the edges of the crust start to get too dark, cover them with strips of aluminum foil. The pie will set-up as it cools. Self-restraint is a requirement when making this pie. It is NOT one you can dig into fresh out of the oven. If you try to cut it before it's completely cooled it will be runny and decidedly not as appetizing. Trust me; your patience will be rewarded! [Note to my blog buddy with gestational diabetes: please forgive me!]

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Do Not Talk Down to a Sick Lady!

I hate it when people talk down to me. This sensitivity started before the women's movement when men at parties would answer a question I had asked to my male companion, not even acknowledging my presence! AARG!! As I mentioned in an earlier post, I've had a seriously sore throat this week. I've had no fever, just been tired and unable to swallow without wincing in pain. After 5 days of this, I decided to try one of the new "urgent care" centers housed in a local drugstore. I dragged myself out of my comfy robe and into clothes and make-up and headed out into the cold. The one good thing about this experience was that I had no wait. While the nurse-practitioner, or whatever she was, waited I signed-in using their pain-in-the-butt computer touch screen. In an overly cheery voice, she announced that I had been there before -- DUH!! Got my flu shot there months ago. Then she went on to explain ALL ABOUT the mini-clinic before ascertaining why I was there. OK -- I can understand she's required to schpeel from the big binder notebook on the desk in front of her. But the amount of superfluous information really got on my nerves. THEN she needed my health history and names of all my prescriptions. . .! When she finally finished her fill-in-the-blanks-computer-enhanced-questioning, she asked me why I had come in, I explained about my sore throat and what I had been doing to treat it. I wanted to make sure I didn't have strep or something worse. Now I know that most public information is aimed at people with a 5th grade education. All I can figure is that this woman was accustomed to explaining things to cranky little kids. After this teeth-grinding session she decided to take my temp and blood pressure -- great timing! Not only was I riled from being treated like a little kid, the cuff came dangerously close to splitting my upper arm wide open! Of course this opened the door to yet another lecture about hypertension - which I do not have. When she finally got around to looking at my throat, she chastised me for not "stretching and opening the back of my throat" so that she could see it more clearly. She had me stand up, approach a small mirror on a closet door and practice "stretching the back of my throat." I mentioned tongue depressors, but that went nowhere. In what should have taken maybe 15 minutes, I spent well over half an hour being preached at. She said antibiotics wouldn't help if it was a viral infection [I knew that!], so treating the pain was the only alternative. Fine. She then searched her big binder to see if Lidocaine could be prescribed, but wouldn't you know it -- it wasn't in the big binder! She twiddled on her computer a few more times only to come to the conclusion that OTC Cepacol was what I needed. I could hardly wait to pay the fee and get out of there! Of course this process, too, was agonizingly stretched-out to the point where I crawled into my car and just sat there, trying to gather enough energy and composure to drive my sick butt back home. There's gotta be a better way!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Burning With Curiosity

I'll get to the burning and curiosity shortly. First, however, I must provide some background to put my story into context. Child labor was an accepted part of life when and where I grew up during the 50s and 60s. It was usually in the form of watching one's younger siblings while Mom took laundry to the basement. Or, it might be running three blocks to our little neighborhood store to pick up a loaf of bread. As we got older, my older brother and I were responsible for washing and drying dinner dishes -- a task we both hated. A kind of OK chore was going to every room in the house to collect waste paper and adding it to the large, kitchen trash can. Then you got the box of big, wooden kitchen matches and headed out to the far back yard to burn it. [The smell of one of those matches being lit still reminds me of birthday candles, too. You could usually light all of them on just one match.] I wasn't crazy about trash-burning-duty in the winter, but one dark and starry evening is still vivid in memory. Rushing out to the far back yard, I angrily snatched-up pieces of paper that fell out of the can, but eventually dumped it all into the burning barrel. Holding a mitten in my teeth, I struck the match and lit the fire. Happily there was no wind to blow it out nor snow to dampen the fire. I hurriedly put the match box back in my pocket and the mitten back on my hand and gazed into the fire. That was a bonus of burning the trash -- hypnosis by fire! Living in the far suburbs, there were no bright lights to obliterate the night sky. As the fire was blazing away, my eyes followed glowing ashes as they headed toward the sky. Then I noticed one star moving slowly in a straight line. Must be Sputnik. Then it did something Sputnik did not do -- it made a right angle turn and sped off. Being an imaginative type, I decided that some intergalactic visitor had mistaken my trash fire for a signal fire. Once he/she/it figured out that it was just a trash fire, it took off. I don't remember mentioning it to anyone else. During those days, if someone saw a flying saucer he was nothing more than a crackpot. These days, however, I think we're just a tad less skeptical.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Another Beauty, eh?

Though my tonsils are working overtime and I feel generally crappy, I just couldn't pass-up sharing this evening's gorgeous sunset with you all!

Friday, January 9, 2009

It's Just ONE Day!

A recent piece in the Washington Post reported on a few people living in our region who plan to get out of town before and during the upcoming inauguration. One lives in Penn Quarter downtown. I can understand his wish to get away because he'll likely have difficulty even getting his car out of his garage. Then there's the family in Fairfax Station, Virginia. Surely few if any of the expected thousands of buses will be grid-locked in front of their house. Yes, it will be hard getting around certain areas that day, but surely not impossible in the suburbs. Why panic? Some Old Virginians are riled because personal vehicles will not be allowed to cross any of the bridges into the District on 1/20. They see it as a slap in the face to the former heart of the Confederacy. Come on, people -- this is not a North/South thing! It's about security and avoiding chaos. Marylanders won't have it any easier than Virginians getting into and out of the town. The usual dearth of parking in the District will be exponentially worse. None of us wants to turn bridges, highways and streets into parking lots. As happens with any big event, there will be emergencies requiring ambulances, so let's leave room for them. Let us also remember that both Maryland and Virginia ceded land to form the District of Columbia. Virginia took back it's share which, incidentally, contains two major Potomac bridges. Was that a slap in the face to D.C. ? If those arguments fail to sway prevailing thought, consider the plight of those who live in the District of Columbia. IF we live in restricted area and normally park on neighborhood streets, we'll have to locate space elsewhere. IF someone living in the restricted areas wants to walk her dog, she cannot carry bottled water. Inconveniences; not a personal affront. D.C. residents have had worse messes to contend with. Remember when farmers from around the country drove their tractors into town to protest agricultural prices? They tore up our beloved National Mall and created mayhem for commuters, including pedestrians like myself. In the end, the farmers helped clear city streets following a snow storm and helped to repair the Lawn. Well before the farmers' arrival, tents sheltering occupants of 1968's Resurrection City protest were removed from the Mall. These strong, passionate souls had to contend with inches deep mud, dreadful weather and harassment. The Civil Rights Act and movement itself were strengthened by this brave act of civil disobedience. Of course residents were inconvenienced, but that goes along with living here. Rolling Thunder brings noise, choking air pollution and gridlock to our little burg every year. But oh, what a sight and sound -- Memorial Day wouldn't be the same without them! Just as every American has the right to petition our government, every American has the right to witness history in the making. If someone is so desirous of standing for hours in the cold to be a part of it, there are ways other than driving a private auto into the city to do that. As thrilled as I am about President-elect Obama's inauguration, I'm staying home, here in Foggy Bottom, to watch it on TV. When I was younger I stood, frozen in my boots, to catch a glimpse of new presidents. Spouse and I may walk over to the White House as the parade brings the Obama's that way. Maybe not. . . Planning ahead is really all that's necessary. Oh, and remember -- wear comfortable shoes and layers of clothing if you plan to attend. Unlike a surprise attack such as 9/11, inaugural events are well planned, organized and secure. We know well in advance where we cannot drive and what restrictions are placed on things we can carry into restricted areas. Nothing mysterious or panic-inducing there. It's just one day.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Is It Genocide?!

Is it possible that we are witnessing another genocide -- in Gaza?! How else to explain the horrors suffered by civilians at the hands of Israeli forces? The Geneva Conventions, of which Israel is a signatory, expressly forbid abandoning wounded and sick civilians as well as combatants. Ambulances have been blocked on their missions, forcing the wounded -- many of them children and their mothers -- to suffer unimaginable pain, anguish and preventable deaths. In a truly extraordinary move, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent (ICRC) broke it's own confidentiality rules. Normally, it would only share complaints and concerns with the offending party. The situation is so dire, however, that ICRC found it necessary to publicly air the facts. It's appalling to think that a nation who's forebears included survivors of the Holocaust are inflicting the same sort of atrocities on their neighbors. BOTH Israelis and Palestinians have the right to exist. Whether they call the Supreme Being God, Allah, Yahweh or any other name, they are bound by His commandments and the laws of Man. I have to wonder if the mothers of children on both sides of this conflict support it. The fighting is no longer confined to distant battlefields. It's being waged in their own neighborhoods and homes. Revenge is perhaps the worst characteristic in mankind. It is hardwired into many cultures and precludes forgiveness and peace. If only some peace-broker could convince all parties to choose a stopping point for revenge from whence all previous affronts and crimes would be forgiven and forgotten. We need to find a way to make waging peace as profitable as waging war. The savings in human life, natural and manmade resources would be huge. Who knows; repurposing all those resources might bring about cures for diseases.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Woman

"Whatever you give a woman, she will make greater.
If you give her sperm, she'll give you a baby.
If you give her a house, she'll give you a home.
If you give her groceries, she'll give you a meal.
If you give her a smile, she'll give you her heart.
She multiplies and enlarges what is given to her.
So, if you give her any crap, be ready to receive a ton of shit."
I received this from an old pal today. On this gloomy, rainy day, it was just what I needed. Hope it tickles your funny bone, too. ;-)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

What the hell do you say?!

A friend I'd had since before kindergarten faced the worst sort of tragedy a couple of weeks before Christmas. I'll call her "Pam." Her mother called my mother with the news that Pam's son had taken his life. He was only 25. When she went to Germany as an exchange student during our senior year in high school, and a year later my family moved 800 miles away from our home town, we lost touch. Pam stayed in Germany and I've stayed in D.C. The first and last time I saw her since that time was at our 40th high school reunion the summer of '07. She briefly mentioned that "Josh" had been battling depression for much of his life. She'd been supporting his efforts to overcome it and seemed hopeful. It took me a week to work up the courage to phone her in Germany. I couldn't imagine how she was handling the devastation of losing her only child! I stumbled through awkward condolences. She ended up having to reassure me that my lack of expression was OK and that she appreciated my call. I felt like a total dolt when I hung up. Why couldn't I think of something supportive to say? Depression is something most everyone suffers at some point or another. Heaven knows I'm familiar with it. A combination of cowardice and innate optimism stopped me from acting on it. Meds that correct an imbalance in my brain finally have done the trick. Why hadn't meds saved Josh? I have experienced nothing remotely close to this tragedy. I have no children, so I can only imagine the gaping hole Pam must be feeling in the center of her being. To have struggled trying to help her son through so many painful years only to lose the battle. . . !! What they hell do you say?

Friday, January 2, 2009

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Bailout Missing Player: Big Oil

Big Oil has made big bucks thanks to gas-guzzling Big Three vehicles. It has maintained and increased profits throughout the economic crisis. Why is Big Oil not part of the Big Three bail-out? Corporations that are dependent on each other should be throwing their weight behind their economic partners. If they weren't in cahoots before the crisis, perhaps they need to cooperate now. Synergism is not a dirty word. Oil reserves will run out. Suppliers and users of oil need to work together to develop alternatives to the current situation. Is this something regulators can handle? Ethics don't seem to be a corporate strong point these days.