Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nudity in the Nation's Capitol

A couple of years ago a brand new Congressman came to town with his family to assume his seat in the House of Representatives. Not long after arriving, he stated how horrified he was by all the naked statuary in the city. He was appalled that his young children and those of other, God-fearing Americans were exposed to such indecency. Christmas day, driving home from my mother's in Southern Maryland, we got caught up in heavy traffic on Constitution Avenue. Glancing up through our sunroof, this is what I beheld. Shocking!!

(click on the picture to get a better view)

Nude men -- and -- women -- together -- with -- their -- privates -- exposed!! Not only that, but they were carved in stone -- on the front of -- a government building!!! Thank goodness they are high enough off the ground that innocent children's eyes cannot behold such subversive matter. Why, there is not even one fig leaf to provide a modicum of modesty! Whatever shall we do?! This sort of thing is to be expected in Rome or Athens, but in Washington, D.C. . . .?!!! ;-}

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Something Special

Last evening I finished reading a book that struck every emotional chord I have and even some I didn't know I had. The Old Mermaid's Tale, by Kathleen Valentine will join my collection of books I know I will reread more than once.

Clair Wagner is the central character in this early 1960s story that plays out into the 1980s. She is a product of her Ohio farm upbringing: sweet, innocent yet outrageously curious and fearless. She can hardly wait to leave her boring, land-locked home for college on the shore of Lake Erie.

The Great Lakes hold many mysteries and inspire superstitions that started with the earliest inhabitants: Native Americans. Many hundreds of ships have gone down in The Lakes leaving haunting, painful legacies. The SS Edmund Fitzgerald was supposedly strong enough to withstand anything the lakes could throw at it, but it, too ended up on the bottom of Lake Superior.

With Lake Erie a firmly, and strongly established part of the story, the author takes her reader into the world of fisherman, sailors and those who love and worry about them. With the opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, ships from around the world now had access to ports in the Great Lakes. Clair is swept into this world not kicking and screaming but with her eyes and arms wide open to whatever adventures it might offer.

Ms Valentine does such a beautiful job of character and situation development that the novel seems more like a biography. It flows naturally and yet still surprises and enlightens. In truth, I am still moved to the point that I need time to process this story; something I haven't felt since reading Cutting for Stone.

Having grown up on the shores of one of Erie's sisters, Lake Michigan, I GET the fascination with and craving to live on the water. I've never sailed on any of the lakes though I have enjoyed day sails on the Chesapeake Bay. I confess that I feel a little intimidated at the idea of going out in anything smaller than an air craft carrier on one of the Great Lakes. Come to think of it, that could be scary, too.

Summers of my youth were spent hanging out at the beach. I remember looking out across the water and watching a training ship from Great Lakes Naval Station, just north of us, being engulfed by black, lightning-streaked storm clouds. My friends and I watched for what seemed a very long time until it reappeared on the other side. Then, the rains started pelting us and lightning strikes became a little too close, so we headed for home.

I do believe that my fascination with this book is not just because of my love for The Lakes. It is a beautifully written love story set in a dangerously beautiful setting during a tumultuous time in American history. It won't surprise me a bit if The Old Mermaid's Tale soon tops best seller lists. It really IS that special!

Monday, December 26, 2011

"Saliva Salutes"

The day after Christmas can be a letdown, but while reading a piece in yesterday's "Washington Post" I no longer have post-Christmas Blues. Maura Judkis wrote a hilarious account of stage actors and their problems making themselves heard in the back rows while controlling slobber. Apparently, it is quite an honor for a lesser actor to be spat upon by a more famous actor. Some of the stories had me choking with laughter. Hope you will enjoy the story, too! Actors drooling over each other’s parts - The Washington Post

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Surprise

This tender, young thing was blossoming outside Mom's cottage today. Several more pretty pink roses seemed determined to survive indefinitely. They were a lovely surprise on Christmas morning.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Fantasy

When I was in grade school, music was an integral part of our curriculum. Come Christmas season, we started rehearsing carols and making decorations for our classrooms, hallways and to take home. Construction paper knew no religion and "Merry Christmas" had not yet been politically corrected to "Happy Holidays."

The first time I saw the cover of a songbook our music teacher handed out, I was smitten with the idea of "the good ole days" and the ways Christmas once was celebrated. The jolly smiles on every face, elegant looking Victorian clothing [despite the 1940s hairstyles] and snow blanketed village made me long to live there and then. There was not one sign of slush, dirty chimney smoke, no broken tree limbs lying across sparking wires or cars waiting to be freed from their driveways. The rosy cheeks, colorful hats, scarves and mittens of carolers made the scene feel altogether cozy.

Homeowners, standing on their the cold front porch with their front door wide open, are clearly hosting a party. The grinning carolers sing out while, from within, the warm light from candles and a fire place beckons. As the family welcomes guests into their home, a horse-drawn carriage delivers another. Of course, the horse wears a collar of silvery, jingling bells.

For years that songbook was a fixture on my family's piano. I noted autoharp and guitar chords in it as I took up each instrument. When I finally bought a keyboard after moving out on my own, that book immediately came out of the guitar case and has resided on the keyboard ever since. Having been handled by younger siblings and me, it had taken quite a beating. The cover had come off, but somehow remained with the rest of the book.

Years later and to my great joy, I was loaned a copy of the same book during an event of a women's group I belonged to. The school music teacher who had brought them, gave me information so that I could order a new copy. I ordered enough to give copies to my siblings and Mom, since we had all enjoyed it. The cover and contents were exactly the same as I remembered, but the price had more than doubled in 50 years.

For many years I worked for an organization that "got into my blood." It was known for its impartiality and humanitarian efforts. Embracing the principle of neutrality as I worked with people from around the world and of numerous religious and cultural backgrounds, I neglected Christmas.

Growing older and not having children also influenced my lack of enthusiasm for the old traditions. Digging out this songbook and playing familiar songs is causing me to lose my neutral feelings about the holiday and inspiring a refreshed Christmas Spirit. I've decided not to hold back, so:

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Oh, to be a fly on the wall!

Christopher Hitchens died just in time to cross other-worldly paths with the secretive, odd North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Il. I'd love to witness the fireworks!! Maybe they're sharing a bottle of Kim's favorite cognac -- they both loved booze.

In addition to having a quick, brilliant mind and sharp tongue, Hitchens made as many enemies as he did friends. He used words like boxing gloves. I didn't always agree with his opinions, but he certainly put great effort and thought into expressing them.

He was a devout agnostic, passionate about his beliefs and not the least bit shy about taking on equally rigid religious fanatics. I admired his fighting spirit against huge odds.

Numerous tributes to Christopher Hitchens prove that he had a heart as well as a poison pen. I'm thinking that, privately, his enemies will miss him as much as his friends.

Bottoms Up, Hitch -- wherever you are!

P.S. I just discovered that I was born on the same day as Hitch, but I haven't decided whether or not I'm proud of that coincidence.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

An Evening Stroll

Last evening I took a short, solitary stroll to get some fresh air and fresh perspective. Spouse was still at work, but it would be well past dark before he came home.
Of a dozen pictures I took at the FDR Memorial, this is the only one that came out clearly. It's a bronze version of FDR's pet Fala.
The numerous, artfully designed waterfalls have always been a favorite for many. It reached the point where busloads of daycare kiddies had to be banned from wading in them. Adults (me included) have been known to wade in them on a hot summer's night.
Braille and three dimensional carvings fascinate. The lighting at night brings out peculiar effects in many of them. Some concave carvings appear to be convex and vice versa. Millions of hands have left evidence of touching. My last stop was Capitol Hill. I've always thought Congress's Christmas Tree was prettier than the National Tree on the Ellipse. Drivers are not allowed anywhere near The Hill so I shot this from a block away while freezing off my buttons. I kinda like the squiggly effect. Or maybe that's just an excuse for a poor picture. . . . ;-)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Different Christmas

This season normally is filled with joyful anticipation, meaningful rituals and heart-warming traditions, not pain and sorrow.

For those who loved, admired, and worried about Michael Kentes, 63, the season will forevermore be tarnished by memories of his death.

Michael was one of thousands of American boys drafted into the military to fight the most unpopular war in our history. By a quirk of fate, he even made the cover of National Geographic Magazine. Wearing camo and a black beret, the former Ranger was searching The Wall for the names of buddies who didn't make it back alive.

Thrilled as I am that the war in Iraq is being put to an end, I cannot help but think about all the volunteers in our military now. Unlike draftees sent to Southeast Asia, they made a choice. They are no more or less brave than our guys who were drafted. What sets them apart is their conscious choice to take on America's enemies.

Many will be coming home this month and next. Their families and friends will welcome them with open arms and festive parties. I hope those families and friends will remember that their military "heroes" don't necessarily feel like heroes for simply surviving combat.

The buddies with whom they bonded during the most traumatic experiences will be on their minds. Thoughts of those who were horribly injured or died will come when least expected. Guilt over killing and surviving will also take tolls on their hearts and minds.

As you might imagine, living in Washington, D.C., we are surrounded by military installations, monuments and memorials. They serve as constant reminders of how fortunate we are to live in a free country, protected by devoted, well-trained men and women.

As we enjoy and celebrate the holidays, let's remember our protectors. In my mind, they are members of the "intelligence community," police and fire-fighters as well as members of the military; past and present. Our ability to relax and enjoy depends on their diligence.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Getting Ridiculous

Almost every day a Republican hopeful is quoted saying something completely off the wall. As much as I regret having to name names, Newt Gingrich's antics are getting more absurd and insulting as his popularity grows. Calling Palestinians an "invented people" may be popular among some far-right types, but it is ignorant and insensitive. If he wants to call Palestinians "invented people" he needs to take a closer look at his own homeland. The United States of America is an "invented nation" filled with an "invented people." With the exception of a very few appallingly treated natives, Americans all come from immigrant ancestors. Some of mine came from the British Isles in the 17th and 18th centuries and others arrived in the late 19th century from Norway. Colonists were forced to defend their declaration of independence from Great Britain in both the 18th and 19th centuries. Next year will be the bicentennial of the War of 1812! If a hurricane had not hit the Eastern Seaboard during the burning of Washington, we might still be under British rule. I also believe that the hundreds of thousands of Africans who were dragged away from their families and homelands to be enslaved by the newly invented Americans deserve credit for building our early economy. Their forced sacrifice made the new Americans wealthy enough to think about expanding into the west and north of their newly invented country. Immigrants from Europe and Asia helped build the railroads, highways and other infrastructures most of us now take for granted. Truthfully, it seems to always be the recent immigrants who do the dirty work and hard lifting that keep the rest of us comfortable and well-fed. Still, they dream of joining American Society. Changing the subject slightly, there is often talk about creating new museums in D.C. to honor the contributions made by immigrant groups. I shudder to think how the Mall would look with massive buildings, each dedicated to displaying and explaining the contributions made by Italian-Americans, German-Americans, Lithuanian-Americans, Chilean-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Turkish-Americans, French-Americans, Swedish-Americans, and on and on. The U.S. is filled with proud Americans who embrace and remember their ancestral heritages. Whether religious or cultural, all of us are rightly proud of those wo came before us. Americans are an invented people. Palestinians may also be an invented people, and they have more right to claim their identity than we do because they have existed in Palestine far longer than America has been a nation. So. . . think again, Newt.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Caballo Au Vin"

Such a delicacy has absolutely no appeal for me, but I understand that the USDA is close to hiring inspectors for horse slaughtering plants. In truth, it has never actually banned the consumption of horse meat in this country, but eeuuuw. . .

While it is a well-documented fact that peoples around the world will eat anything from insects to rats and dogs, I was stunned to learn that horse meat is a staple in many countries; China and Mexico among the top consumers.

For others, eating primates is a delicacy, even if it is illegal. In my mind, that somehow equates to eating one of my distant cousins! No can do.

Horses are intelligent animals, sensitive to human needs and moods. Think of all the therapy horses that have enriched and empowered persons with mental and physical challenges. Thank goodness someone thought to try such therapy. Hundreds of thousands have benefited from riding and/or caring for horses.

Dogs and cats are also in-tune with humans. Hospitals and nursing homes have long taken advantage of this priceless ability to help brighten and stabilize patients. Our own troops have been well served by stray dogs and cats they've found amongst the wreckage in the Middle East. Cuddling and caring for a dog or cat that awards such behavior with unconditional love has enabled many to deal with the horrors they've seen without losing their minds. I must admit that I do wear leather shoes and occasionally eat meat. I also take neither for granted. I know what it takes to produce leather and tidy packages of chicken legs and I'm grateful to those who do the dirty work.

It seems to me that fellow mammals like dolphins, elephants and horses that have the capacity to show humans better ways to live our lives should not be eaten by us.

[The picture shows my sister Patty and her family's newest member, Tucker, on perhaps the most traumatic day of his life: when he left his littermates to head to his new home. He seems to have sensed that everything would be OK and that he would be cared for and loved as any member of the family. He was so right!]