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.

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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

I thought this was the 21st century.

Apparently, some of the members of the Virginia Commonwealth’s legislative branch are still living in the 18th century.

With so many intelligent, worldly and sane residents, I wonder how they can elect representatives with very backwards and strange ideas? The latest came from Stephen H. Martin, a Republican from Chesterfield. His reasoning to outlaw abortions is that pregnant women are simply “hosts” for unborn children.

“. . . once a child does exist in your womb [how endearingly archaic a term is that?] I’m not going to assume a right to kill it just because the child’s “host” doesn’t want it.”
That reeks of the belief, disproved by science, that a man planted his seed in a woman, completely unaware that his seed couldn’t produce a human being all by itself. Of course, if a man’s seed didn’t grow, it was the woman’s fault. And, it was her fault if she bore a female rather than a male. Remember Anne Bolyen?

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Twenty one years ago today . . .

. . . my nephew, Zach was born. His mother, my youngest sister Janet, struggled for many hours to deliver her first son, but he refused to cooperate. He seemed reluctant to leave the cozy, quiet spot he had occupied for so many months. A C-section put an end to that and his beautiful self entered our world.

Time flies is so cliché AND so true. Before our eyes, he has transformed from a cuddly, curious little guy into a thoughtful, caring man. He’s still a gifted cuddler/hugger and undeniably handsome. I get the feeling that, like his Dad, he’s not entirely comfortable with his good looks. I think that adds to his appeal.

Seven years after Zach was born, Alex made a scary entry into the world. He had several serious and potentially deadly health issues. He spent his first three months in Children’s National Medical Center, about 60 miles from his family’s home. His mother and I spent many hours and days with him there. In no small part, Janet’s strong will and faith carried Alex through those crucial months.

Alex may have been fragile during his first couple years of life, but Zach was the one on his support team that encouraged him to be a normal little boy. His loving patience and protection of his brother could have easily turned to resentment over all the attention Alex’s precarious health necessitated. It never did.

Zach has become more reserved the older he gets, however there are still ample opportunities for hugging. The marvelous thing about his hugs is that they are sincere and last as long as the huggee wishes. Not many young men are so open to hugging an older, chubby aunt or his forgetful grandmother.

Can you tell that I’m proud of this guy and love him to death? He has given me so many happy memories: flying kites and picnicking at Hains Point, exploring in Rock Creek Park and Roosevelt Island. He, his Mom and I made several memorable visits to the old Capital Childrens’ Museum, too. Alex joined us once and Zach was a perfect guide for his little bro.

So . . .. happy birthday, Zach. I’m so glad you are in my life!

Zach: Alex's official shoe-tier.

Zach: Poppy's official crab pot look-out.

Best buddies with Grammy and Alex

Monday, February 3, 2014

Another good book about the Norman Conquest

As I’ve confessed before, I love reading historical novels. They put a personal spin on events and breathe life into history not found in straight history books. I just finished another I’d like to share.

Handfasted Wife by Carol McGrath tells part of the story surrounding the Norman Invasion made by William the Conquerer in the 1060s. Something I was previously only aware of as an event in ancient history. It took on personal importance when seen through the eyes of a woman who was personally and deeply effected by it.

Handfasting was a traditional way of marrying among the Celts. The man and woman pledged fealty to each other without the interference of clergy or government. In this story, it proved disastrous for the couple.

When William had almost completed his conquest, he decided that the late king’s wife should marry someone loyal to William. Thus the hand fasting was declared null and void and Edith (Elditha Swanneck) lost Harold, her husband and the father of their half dozen children. He became the new King of England and married his predecessor’s widow. He died at the Battle of Hastings and his handfasted wife had to identify his mutilated body while her son was taken hostage.

The behind the scenes machinations to achieve political and logistical goals are fascinating and some times disturbing. However, the novel reveals how fiercely and intelligently noble women fought against the Norman Conquest, nearly derailing it.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Now just hold up . . .

. . . do we really want to create a martyr? Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is up for the death penalty. He and his now-deceased brother carried out a heinous attack on innocent civilians. I don’t question that he must be punished for that.

However, to like-minded young terrorists-in-the-making, Tsarnaev is already a hero. If he is put to death for his heroic deeds, he instantly becomes a martyr.

Radical Islamists already have no problem blowing themselves up. They believe that such sacrifice guarantees their welcome into heaven as heroes.

Wouldn’t we be playing into the extremists’ hands if we take Tsarnaev’s life? Of course, it will be done humanely because Americans are always humane, right? His execution at our hands accomplishes a terrorist’s ultimate goal: to die a martyr.

On the other hand, if he remains in prison for the remainder of his life, he will live a pretty good life: sheltered, clothed, fed regularly, entertained, free education and health care, etc. A far better existence than that of hundreds of thousands of refugees and our own homeless people.

So what is the answer? Hard labor.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Abortion With a Bicycle Pump

“Bicycle pump abortions would be an ideal birth control method in developing countries, according to a young Australian doctor.” Vacuum extraction using this method, developed in Eastern Europe for “lunch-hour abortions” costs considerably less than electric machines specifically designed for abortion.

Now that you’re gasping in disbelief as I did when I came across the newspaper clipping, I will elaborate.

During the early 1970s my architect-dad was asked to travel to Malaysia in connection with a World Bank birth control program. Apparently his expertise in hospital design and construction was needed.

Dad died six years ago and we are still sorting through work related documents he saved; and he saved a lot! He accumulated several newspaper clippings while in Kuala Lampur and its surrounds. The clipping to which I referred above was stapled with several more. A more humorous, but unkind clipping told of a contractor who was building a posh new development in Milan. It happened to be in a neighborhood where prostitutes had long plied their trade. Being that this would distract potential buyers, he decided to take action.

Renting a helicopter one night, he circled overhead and dropped “bombs” filled with indelible ink onto the women. He claimed to have tried coming to an agreement with the streetwalkers, but the neighborhood was a prime spot for picking up wealthy patrons. When he failed at negotiating, he threatened to use fire crackers next time. Forty years later, who knows how it all played out.

My point in rehashing these old news stories is to illustrate how minds used to work to the detriment of women. I can only hope that abortion is no longer considered a birth control method in developing countries and that bicycle pumps are used only to refill flat tires.

The things that were done to women in the name of expediency and cost-effectiveness were horrifying and must never be repeated. Having said that, I do support a woman’s right to choose but for the sake of compassion not convenience.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Sloe Gin Balls

Several years ago my older brother and his wife were coming to visit. I knew what he liked to drink, but had no clue about her tastes. Told that she liked sloe gin fizzes, I scrambled to the liquor store to buy supplies.

What did she choose to drink? -- ginger ale. I’m not one to force booze on anyone because I hardly touch it myself. As I handed her a glass of ginger ale, I started wondering what I could do with the sloe gin. Today it came to me.

For Christmas I usually make Jack Daniel’s Balls. [I know, yuck it up all you want.] This time around I decided to use the sloe gin instead of bourbon.

The recipe is incredibly simple.

2 cups finely crushed vanilla cookies (I use Nilla Wafers)
6 oz. chocolate chips
1/2 cup sugar
3 Tbs. light corn syrup
1/3 cup bourbon or sloe gin
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

I crush the cookies in a food processor. Noisy, but easier. You can also do it in a zipping plastic bag with a rolling pin. Melt the chips in a medium sized microwavable bowl for about 40 seconds then remove and stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add the sugar and corn syrup. Tip: I squirt a bit of nonstick spray in the measuring spoon to make the syrup slide out and not stick. Add the booze, nuts and crumbs. Mix together then roll into walnut sized balls and roll in confectioner’s sugar. I did not use nuts this time because I didn’t have any and they turned out well.

As is true with women, these improve with aging in an air tight container. [No, don’t put your woman in an air tight container. She likes to breathe and move about.]

Happy January 2nd!