Monday, December 31, 2012
It was January, time to break out the electric blanket. I went into the third, unfurnished bedroom and swung open the closet doors. Sitting on the top shelf was my old reliable Sunbeam Electric Blanket.
But my eyes focused on something else. Hanging majestically in that same closet was a ladies royal red jacket, made with the finest wool and an elegant silk lining. I lifted the jacket off the hangar and held it in my arms as gently as I would an infant. I slid my hand into the side pocket and found her recipe for enchiladas, along with a grocery list for the ingredients needed to make them. As I read the familiar writing my heart caught in my throat and I lifted the jacket to see if I could pick up the familiar scent of "her" more than a decade since she last wore it.
Before I even realized it I was sitting on the corner of my bed, coat still in hand, and thought back upon a day fifteen years ago. I had driven my mother out to Missouri so that she might celebrate her 75th birthday with her brother. We had taken my wife to Los Angeles International Airport where she would board a flight to visit her mother in Vietnam. My mom and I would then head east, following old Highway 66 as much as possible; the road that ferried our family to California from Oklahoma in 1952. It was my intention to overnight in the tiny community of Prague, Oklahoma where she grew up, and where her youth resided in golden memory.
We arrived in Prague late in the evening and stopped to rest in a nearby motel. But the next morning found us rested, and hungry. We found a wonderful roadside diner that served farm fresh eggs and biscuits and gravy. The coffee was fresh and hot and the waitress was warm so we set out on the road to yesterday in good spirits.
As we drove slowly through my mother's home town she pointed out the old hospital where I was born, the old mill that ground their wheat into flour, and the dry goods store where she once shopped for the rare things that could not be made at home.
"Turn here" she said and we followed the road back out of town. "And turn right here" she ordered and we followed an unpaved country road for a few miles. After a few miles she raised her hand and pointed out an old and abandoned brick school house. "Even after I married I set off from home and walked Bill and Polly back home from this old school", she said.
Soon we came to a crossroads and she again directed me to turn right. I did so and after going a hundred yards or so she bid me "stop". My eyes followed hers as we gazed upon a gate, now shrouded in wild ivy but one could still see a big letter "H" welded into the center of the gate. We then got out of the car and leaned on the old iron gate. "There", she said, pointing again at an old house. "This is where we lived before the war"..."at least momma and papa and the younger kids did", she whispered. She pointed out the fields where Papa share-cropped from the Holman family, and the old smokehouse where Papa smoked the meats that would see them through the winter.
Turning again, she pointed down the road aways. "Down there's the cabin where your Dad and I and Virgil lived." "But we shared a lot of suppers with mama and papa and the rest of the family, right here". As I looked down the road I could almost see a tall lanky dad and a teen age girl, rustling a toddler up the road for a fried chicken supper. We both stared down that road as if we were staring at the ghostly figures of long ago.
The sense of nostalgia was heightened by the quietude that one can only find in the country. Meadowlarks chirped in the nearby trees and the sun was warm on our backs as we dwelled for a time in the "long ago".
We got back in the car and drove down to the site of the old cabin, a home for a young family but now gone. I used the old dirt path adjacent to the cabin to turn the car around. As I headed back the way we had come, traversing the corrugated old country road, made so by pickup trucks carrying chickens or eggs or hay bales through the winter mud. When we reached the old homestead again I stopped to take a second look. I got out of the car, grabbed my instamatic and took a few pics of the old place.
When I got back in the car my mom sat in the passenger seat, a smile on her lips, but her eyes were gazing far into yesterday. "What are you thinking about, mom?". She just smiled and was silent. After coaching her a little she said "thinking about a red coat that I didn't get and never felt better for it".
She told me about a year when the share crop check was enough to buy the bucket of lard and the bags of flour and sugar and still left enough for a much needed winter coat for her. She told me about how she and Dad has set off for town, to cash the check, buy their commodities, and purchase a lovely red woolen coat she had set her eyes upon during the last trip to town. As they passed the old brick school she saw her brother Floyd hustling the two younger kids back home from school. As they passed they tooted the old horn and mom rolled down the window and scolded Floyd for being out in the cold without a jacket. But she could never be mad at him for long, especially these days, as her younger brother would be leaving for the army soon. The war was taking all the young men those days.
Mom and Dad continued down the road and into town. While my dad cashed the share crop check and gassed up the old truck my mom selected the commodities they needed and dad returned and they paid for their purchases. They loaded everything into the back of the truck, except for a package wrapped in brown paper. My mom carried the package on her lap, a smile on her face as they drove back home.
That night Mom and Dad and Virgil again trod down the road to share a supper with family. Mom came in the door carrying that brown package wrapped in twine. She handed it to her brother Floyd. "What's this, sis?' "You won't know if you don't open it", she said. When Floyd opened the package it held a navy blue P-coat. "That'll keep you warm where ever the army sends you", she smiled.
I never found out what my Uncle Floyd said about this kindness but my mom said she herself had never felt as warm.
After hearing about that story I immediately knew what I'd be getting my mom for Christmas. Mom had always been hard to buy for. If we gave her a fine set of dishes she'd put them in the china cabinet and continue to use the old mixed matched dishes she had owned for decades. The same thing for silverware. When one rustled through mom's cabinets one would find knives and spoons and forks of a mixed breed. Or they may have had the pleasure of drinking from an old Tinker Air Force base engraved spun aluminum cup that made a glass of milk even colder on a hot summer day. She was never much for fancy dresses; instead preferring her mu-mu's for all occasions.
But, when Christmas came I bought my mother the finest royal red coat I could find. It was wrapped in the finest of wrappings and when I presented that beautiful coat to her that winter I thought I would bust out in tears, so fine, and so appropriate was my gift.
When she got ready to go to the store that weekend she started to slip on her old blue corduroy jacket. As soon as I saw her I insisted she wear the regal coat. She said it was much too nice to wear to the grocery store and I told her that nothing was too fine for her to wear anywhere.
To my delight she did indeed begin wearing it out to the grocery store. Sadly, she didn't get to wear it for too many years before she passed to the reward of the blessed.
So, I sit here today, embracing a coat, and remembering a summer day fifteen years ago, along a country road. Perhaps the spirit of giving is emanating from somewhere up there where meadowlarks sing in peaceful solitude. I now feel a bit ashamed that I haven't given away that lovely coat to someone who would treasure it. I think I'll do just that...and be warmed still again by the gift of giving.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
I apologize in advance but have to say there's a good number of people in the world that would eat a big ole steamy dog turd if it was in fashion. In this country sheepish followers of the latest food fad will just jump right in and eat anything that might make you popular in the "in- crowd."
While Japanese have eaten sushi for years, they ate it because it was something "available" to meet their dietary needs. Then, someone in America decided it was cool to eat raw fish wrapped in seaweed and the "sheep" jumped right in. They made it a staple in their favorite "happy hour" bars and on chic restaurant menus across the country. Sorry, that's just disgusting "me-tooism".
Eating just about any kind of fish is but an exercise in disguising the real taste of the staple itself. Yes, I eat fish because nutritionists say it's packed with all kinds of Omega 3's and life extending nutrients. But, if you ask me if I like fish I'll say no. I like the tartar sauce that goes on top of it. And you faux fish aficionados, please spare me your protestations. If you people really liked the taste of fish you wouldn't need to slather tartar sauce and lemon and pesto and chili powder and garlic and tomato sauce and all manner of "cover up" sauces, to cover up the taste and smell of fish. Yes, you fish lovers are just sheep as well.
And speaking of sheep, here's a question: If lamb tasted so damn good why do you insist on covering up the icky gaminess of lamb with a mint sauce that dominates and cuts the strong taste and odor of your expensive rack of lamb. Get real!
Back to fish; I personally know half a dozen cultures that won't eat a bite of fish until it has rotted and smells to high heaven. When rotten won't suffice they'll pickle the fish to make it even more disgusting. Hook up a lie detector to a Minnesotan and ask him or her if they really like their "lute fisk"....then you'll hear the real truth! Yes, those Swedes up there will stuff it down their gullet at Christmas time because their mothers and fathers and their ancestors ate it and, "after all, it's tradition"...but they really don't like it!
There are all kinds of foods that folks eat just because it's tradition. Asians will pay $50 bucks for a dozen duck eggs that were never allowed to hatch, which are buried in the ground for an extended period so they can get really "ripe". Then they take a special little eating fork, crack the shell and begin partaking of those little duck embryos that have been so lovingly "rotted" for their culinary pleasure.
How about that Japanese blow fish that is so deadly that only chefs who have a PHD in the culinary arts are allowed to be licensed to serve it? Each year a few dozen Japanese die because the chef had a hangover and the accompanying early morning shakes and missed his mark by a tenth of an inch when slicing up that deadly blowfish and the deadly poisoned seeped just a little into the flesh of the fish. They say you're likely to see quite a show as the unfortunate blowfish diner takes that first bite. His head blows up like a party balloon and he turns purple before that first bite of fish reaches his gullet.
So, when you food snobs start thumbing your nose at my Oscar Mayer wiener dog, just keep in mind your palate is every bit as weird as mine. While my Oscar Mayer is comprised of pig snout and gristle at least it has not been sitting in a vat of rotted pickling compound before it reaches my table. And I have the good sense to cook my weenie unlike you and your sushi.
When I grew up we couldn't afford to eat much meat. I was raised on beans and fried potatoes, cole slaw and cornbread, good old fashion pioneer food. So even today I'm not a huge meat eater. But when I do, I don't want it "aged", I don't want it rotted, I don't want it raw, and I damn sure don't want it crawling across the plate toward me!
Friday, December 28, 2012
This is a tale of a washing machine...but really not. It's really about the idiocy and greed of government and how government officials will simply not handle taxpayer money with the same care they might manage their own money. .Let me explain.
Last week my washer went out on me. I went over to Home Depot in Glendale, Arizona and I bought the cheapest washer they had in stock. The washer retails for $324 dollars. But because Home Depot gives a ten percent discount to active and retired military that price was reduced to $305.00 dollars. Then, the city took it's cut of the transaction in assessed sales tax on that cheap washer...the out the door price climbed to $324.00 dollars. That one single sales transaction yielded the city of Glendale $19 bucks and they didn't have to lift a hand to earn it.
Now, try to imagine how many thousands of sales transactions occur in a single day in Glendale, Arizona's 3rd largest city! Now multiply those thousands of daily sales transactions by 365 days in the year! Truly impressive tax collecting, huh?
Now, if that were the only source of city revenue perhaps I could understand each one of those greedy sales transaction grabs that ultimately puts a real crimp in my wallet. But it never stops there does it boys and girls? Glendale also assesses a fee for any official transaction that occurs in their jurisdiction, fees for building permits, title transfers, and hundreds of other transactions!
Still not enough boys and girls! Glendale gets a healthy cut of your property taxes too! And let's not forget they'll tax you on the gas and electric coming into your home and the gas going into your car's gas tank and they'll tax you to license your dog!
Okay, wow! Glendale must be doing good things with all those taxes, right? Well, let's see. A few years ago Glendale decided they just had to save a failing Hockey franchise, a franchise whose arena was funded by, guess who? Yep...good ole Glendale. But to do so would require their taking a 50% ownership of the team. So Glendale put up tens of millions of taxpayer money to buy a 50% stake in the team. Sadly, the team is still losing money and the city is expected to chip in more millions in an effort to save the money they've already invested in this losing proposition.
Was that a poor decision by Glendale's government leaders? Without a shadow of a doubt. But wait! It gets worse. An Indian tribe owns land in Glendale. They want to build an Indian casino. The project will create tens of thousands of construction jobs and nearly two thousand jobs for Glendale residents to work in the casino. The local government runs a survey and find that 80% of residents approve of having the casino. Glendale nixes the project. When the Indian tribe cite their legal rights to build Glendale takes it to the courts. Each court decision goes against the city as they spend $7 million dollars appealing to higher courts. They continue to lose. Now Glendale has said they'll fund this appeal all the way to the Supreme Court even at the cost of further millions in legal fees! Brilliant, huh?
And then, this week we learn that a bronze statue of firefighters and police is not facing in the right direction (the firefighters are in front, facing outward, while the police are relegated to the rear, facing inward. The city has determined that they must correct this oversight; thus they are allocating $23,000 dollars to rotate the statue 160 degrees! (http://www.kpho.com/story/20387733/glendale-to-spend-23k-to-rotate-outdoor-statue)
So, when I pulled that money out of my wallet the other day, when I wondered why the city needed to jump in and collect a huge hunk of sales tax, my question has been answered. Unlike the rest of us, who must watch how we spend every cent, government, big and small, has no such worries.
Sad. Damned Sad.
Wednesday, December 26, 2012
I've always been a traditionalist for Christmas. Love the big family gatherings with multiple families, a Christmas table groaning under a presentation of Turkey and Ham and all the trimmings, Christmas carols playing in the background.
And, of course, weeks before Christmas, baking cookies and watching almost every Christmas movie ever made.
So here I sat this Christmas, totally alone. Woke up Christmas morning at 2am, watched two complete showings of A Christmas Story on TBS marathon. Had two "unseen this year" Christmas movies on DVD sitting on the shelf, as backup in case the TV schedule failed me.
And all of a sudden I'd had enough saccharine. I got up and brought the box of gifts my daughter, Crystal and her family had sent me for Christmas, all lovely and valued. Most intriguing was the gift from my two granddaughters, Lexy and Roxy; the complete season series of Modern Family for years one, two and three. I accused my daughter of having a memory like an elephant. When I visited them in Florida at Thanksgiving I had said I rarely watch mainstream TV but had caught a part of one episode of Modern Family and thought I might enjoy it.
So, lo and behold, sitting in front of me this morning was three complete seasons of same. I got up, made breakfast for myself, in honor of canine Christmas I scrambled an egg to complement breakfast for my two Chi's, then took a nap.
Woke up from an early morning nap, checked face book status on everyone (quiet today) and then washed up the breakfast dishes and did a load of laundry. Took a call from my other daughter and sat back with the rest of Christmas day laid out before me with little to do and no one to do it with.
I had little to do in the way of meal preparation as I had already planned my Christmas dinner: Stouffer's Turkey Medallion and mashed potato frozen dinner, mixed veggies and cornbread stuffing prepared from a box. Very non traditional for me.
Didn't care to watch the 96th Christmas movie of the season either. Very nontraditional.
So I broke out Volume 1 of Modern Family, a comedy show about an extremely dysfunctional family, one branch being a spring-December marriage, another being two gay guys who've adopted a little Vietnamese girl, and a "near normal" family populated with teens who see their parents as "aliens" and a father figure who tries to "get down" with his kids and ends up only looking silly.
So here I am, eating a TV dinner for Christmas, eating it alone, and watching the most nontraditional American family one can imagine....and I laughed so hard I almost fell out of my chair. Very, very funny comedy. Now I'm hooked!
After seven episodes of Modern Family I thought I'd take a break and clean up after the Christmas meal. So I carried my plastic TV dinner plate to the trash, threw it away, put my fork in the sink, tupperwared the leftover stuffing and veggies and I was done. No more Turkey carcass to carve up and put away, no tryptophan hangover from overeating, no dishes to clean up. Kitchen clean..."hey, I could get used to this!", thought I.
A glance at the clock says I've got at least six hours till bed time. What to do now? Back to Modern Family; I'm now addicted to these crazy, "nontraditional" people on a "nontraditional" day of a "nontraditional" Christmas....and it wasn't bad at all...excuse me now, I gotta get back and watch the two gay men spar and the Colombian lady who talks so funny!
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
As the Christmas season approaches we tend to become more introspective. We gently peel away the tender layers of the soul in the present to regard the many complex textures of the past.
And since the strongest memories are usually our fondest, we tend to remember the times of love, happiness, togetherness and contentment. This is especially true during the holiday season when our hearts and minds are attuned in a truly miraculous way, for our souls are able to turn both inward and outward, feel the compelling need to love and cherish the reunion and reaffirmation of family, while becoming more sensitive to the joys or sadness or plight or need of the most casual passerby.
It has often been said that man, at his best, is listening to the voices of his better angels. I certainly believe that to be true. Although I struggle with the precepts of organized religion and intellectually joust with the firm and unyielding biblical doctrine, I know with my heart's certainty that God does indeed exist and that Jesus walked this earth and did indeed try to promote the love and understanding so necessary for peace among men to endure.
And so it is so very fitting that we honor the birth of one of our greatest angels. My belief in angels has become so forcibly strengthened as one and another of my loved ones have passed to that distant shore. But each one of them has cared enough to look back at their loved ones left behind to extend a spiritual sign that all is well and this estrangement is but fleeting; that on some unknown day we shall meet again.
Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus and let us be thankful for this opportunity to once again form the family circle; to talk, to argue, to feast, to laugh, to huddle together in the protective and loving arms of "family".
But let us also celebrate and honor our angels who were once a part of our lives; who, whether we note it or not, are continuing to look over our shoulder and strive to protect us and strengthen us against the fiercest of life's storms. Let us not forget them, in this holiest of seasons...or for all the days of our lives.
As we all navigate life's treacherous waters we should certainly exult in our triumphs and our joys, while recognizing that not all who travel in the fragile vessel of fraternity and family will be there when we reach our final destination. Some of us will succumb to the currents and be swept away long before the completion of the voyage. So give an extra hug to mom or dad or grandma or grandpa; it may be your last chance to do so. Give an extra hug and kiss for your children; ask anyone who has lost a child how dearly would they love to have one last chance to do so.
Let us try to love and honor each other for all the days that remain to us. And let us celebrate those angels who, even now, stand over our shoulder, touch our hearts and souls and make us better than we might ever be.
After all, Tis The Season of Angels.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
The Holly Berry Christmas Tree
It was Christmas, 1956. My dad had not left us yet. As Christmas neared my sister and brother and I began chattering about Christmas trees and Santa Claus. Our dad loudly squashed the idea of a Christmas tree. I can't remember why. Despite our pleadings and my mother's urgings, my dad stood firm.
My dad was working at the time but his earnings often went for some new doo-hicky for his late model pick up truck. As we grew older we were to eventually learn that a new truck took precedence over everything else with my dad. My mom was working at a Chinese restaurant in town, pulling in .50 cents per hour, plus tips, which were meager in our blue-collar little town.
The wonder of Christmas is that kids are more than willing to face the headwinds of reality and continue to wish for presents and Christmas trees. We were no different. My brother and I wished for Roy Rogers six-guns and holsters and my sister pined for a baby doll.
As Christmas neared, and no tree appeared, with no signs of presents, we finally began to accept the reality of a sparse Christmas Eve. As we walked home from school we began peering into the windows of neighbors and admiring their Christmas trees with gaily wrapped presents around the tree.
On Christmas Eve morning arrived we arose excitedly because the local theater was presenting a free Christmas show for the city's children. As we ate our breakfast oatmeal and talked excitedly about the free movies our mother hushed us, reminding us that dad was sleeping because he would be working the swing shift at the cotton mill and was already in a bad mood. We quickly quieted down lest he awake and quash our trip to the movies.
Our mother left for work on the day shift at the China Cafe and cautioned us again to keep quiet until we left for the theater. We played outside and then about noon we set off for the theater. Though we had no hope for a Christmas snow in our central California town, the fog had rolled in and we delighted in walking through the whispery fog. Sounds of traffic seemed dampened by the fog as we crossed the busy highway on our way to the show. As we arrived at the theater the fog was beginning to dissipate and a weak December sun struggled through the clouds. We soon joined an impossibly long line of kids awaiting entry to the theater. The smell of popcorn and chocolate candy permeated the theater lobby as we rushed to claim a seat. For the next four hours we were entertained by a Tom and Jerry cartoon, a Bugs Bunny feature and two westerns; a Gene Autry flick and a Roy Rogers western. As my brother and I watched Roy dispatch the bad guys we lusted after those pearl handled six guns holstered in magnificent leather holsters.
As the final feature ended the theater went dark and we began to rise to leave when all of a sudden we heard the familiar "ho-ho-ho" of Santa! Soon a spotlight shone on the fat jolly fellow on center stage and he carried over his shoulder a substantial royal velvet sack. Santa then beckoned all of us to line up on each side of the aisle and come down to the stage for a treat. As my sister and brother and I lined up we were soon rewarded with a small satchel of candy and nuts.
We all happily began walking home with our Christmas treats. Licking peppermint candy canes we were immersed in the pure joy of Christmas. As we neared home the winter sun was giving away to the shadows of evening. As we turned up the drive to our home we saw our mom's car was home and we hurried into the house, each of us bellowing with the tale of a magical Christmas afternoon. Our mom laughed and hugged us and beckoned us into the kitchen. As we came into the kitchen she waved a hand toward a two-foot high "Christmas Tree" perched grandly on a table at the kitchen bay window.
Our eyes shone with delight as we gazed at the beautiful little tree. We oohed and aahed at the little red holly berries which subbed for Christmas tree lights. Bright ropes of popcorn strings ran gaily around the tree and we squealed with delight at the magical apparition of a tree we had little expectation of seeing at Christmas that year.
The magical appearance of a tree now sparked anew our dreams of a visit from Santa. As we ate supper that evening we told mom about the wonderful Christmas show and Santa's visit to the theater. Soon dinner and dishes were done and our mom wrangled us reluctantly to bed.
The next morning we awoke to the scent of morning coffee and mom's traditional cinnamon rolls. We leaped out of bed and ran to the kitchen tree to see if Santa had visited. Our hearts leaped with joy as we looked upon the beautiful Holly Berry tree, now made more lovely by brightly wrapped presents which surrounded it. With mom's blessing we leaped at the presents and madly tore the wrappings to see that Santa had heard our wishes. My brother and I had our six guns and holsters and enough cap ammo to keep the neighbors alert on Christmas Day. Our sister received her lovely baby doll. Throughout that Christmas Day we were joyous and grateful to Santa for such a wonderful Christmas.
The next day I was running around outside, pinging off bad guys with my Roy Rogers guns, when I stopped to look at the Holly Berry bush which grew just outside the kitchen window. I noted a gaping hole in the bush and soon surmised that our "Christmas Tree" arrived only through the good grace of our mother. I turned and went back into the house and walked over to the tree. Peeling back the aluminum foil at the base I saw that mom had planted our "tree" in an old Folgers coffee can. In seeing this, some of the magic had diminished from the Christmas Eve wonder that my eyes had beheld only a couple of days before. Then, intuitively, for that is all an eight year old can understand, I felt a great love for my mom's kindness in giving us a Christmas tree. I went over and gave her a hug which prompted the question "what was that for?" I gave no answer and ran back out to play.
At that tender age, I still credited Santa for my present. But, as the years have gone by, I have thanked my mother for all the gifts she gave us...but, most of all, I have blessed and thanked her for keeping the dreams of childhood alive for another year...and for reminding me that the joy of Christmas is in giving... even when there is so very little to give.
I moved to Phoenix in the summer of 2004. When Christmas time came around that year I began reading about a local lady who moved around Phoenix leaving little silver bells for people to find. She left them on park benches, in the bows of trees, on front doors and anywhere someone might find that bell. The bell was meant to signify love and hope and inspiration and lighten the heart of anyone fortunate enough to come across one of these little symbols of love. I remember people in town were actively going around looking for them.
I had read somewhere that this lady was inspired to do this by a personal kindness extended to her when she was sad and distraught. As I remember the lady was participating in a "Secret Santa" gift exchange. The lady was excited to participate because she loved to see the one who she gifted, and anonymously see that person's reaction to her chosen gift.
Apparently, and sadly, the lady was the only one that day who received no gift at all. While she was joyous at witnessing the joy she brought to the recipient of her gift, she was a bit sad and disappointed that the person who had drawn her name did not even think of sending a note, in the absence of sending a gift.
Then, a few days later she received a small package, accompanied by a note. Within the package was a little silver bell. The gift and the note came from someone who had witnessed her angst and lack of a Secret Santa present. The note said something about wanting her to know that someone cares...and offering her support as a "secret angel".
This small act of kindness prompted our lady to begin spreading hope and love in the form of little silver bells. Those little bells certainly intrigued alot of people around here. I remember one lady approaching me in an Albertson's Supermarket during the Christmas a few years ago. She approached me and said "I'd like to give you a Christmas kiss"...I was taken aback for a few seconds and couldn't voice a response...she then extended her hand and gave me a Hershey's candy kiss. I smiled, took her candy and asked her if she was related to the "Silver Bell lady". She said she didn't know her but knew of her and had found her own way of generating a smile.
A couple of years ago I spent Christmas at my daughter's house in Pennsylvania so didn't hear of the Silver Bell lady that year. No word from her last year either. A few days ago I began googling news of the Silver Bell lady and have found nothing. I just wrote a local newspaper columnist who once did a story on the sweet lady, to ask about her current whereabouts. I fear the Silver Bell lady has passed to a better place.
Better for her, but not for us....we need all the secret angels we can get these days.
Note To my Phoenix readers: If you know what happened to the Silver Bell lady please write and let me know.
Saturday, December 22, 2012
I see the President and his family arrived in Hawaii last night, all set to celebrate Christmas in paradise.
I don't begrudge the President an occasional vacation; it's a tough job and I'm sure the President needs time to relax.
I just wish the President and his family would spend a little more time in the White House and less time on the road. The Congressional Budget Office issued their routine press release on the cost of the President's Christmas vacation. The CBO says it'll cost taxpayers $4 million dollars this week. When these vacations are in Europe they are supposedly three times that amount.
Last summer someone in the political opposition dug out the CBO numbers on the President's vacation costs since he entered office in January 2009. The numbers were frightening as we learned that Obama and family had run up $100,000,000 per year each year he's been in office. Pardon me if I think that's just a bit extravagant.
Since I can't get my arms around the $100,000,000 annual number I just broke down numbers that I can understand. Having learned from the IRS that there are approximately 50 million taxpayers remaining to pay all the many program costs, I just took my individual tax assessment that would be applicable to Obama's vacations. I came up with the fact that I'm paying $2.00 each year to cover Obama's vacations.
Now, while that may not sound a lot, keep in mind that I'm on a fixed pension and $2.00 is meaningful to me. I shop at the .99 Cents Only stores by necessity. I can get an egg slicer and a tube of hemorrhoid creme for .99 cents each.
I have studied and rejected many of the tenets of organized religion. The history of the Christian church is a mixed history. While it has promoted peace and harmony at times, it has also worked hand in hand with despots in order to secure and maintain their own allocated powers over man. One only need look at the period from 500 to 1300 AD when many of the papal proved to be as greedy and corrupt and immoral as the royal despots. Even in our modern era many churches are all too willing to condemn the tenets of an alternative religion, in some cases for simply minor variances in religious beliefs or practices.
So does that mean I reject my God, my "creator?" Absolutely not. I simply don't believe any mortal has all the answers as to what God seeks from us. Instead, I believe that our creator instills in us a moral compass that, when we follow it, will always let us know when we are acting in variance to God's wishes.
And now, I come to Christmas. While many reject all facets of religious belief I believe Christmas is a celebration of a great man who walked the earth 2,000 years ago. A man who spoke softly and treated all he met with a compassion never seen by anyone before or since. A man who lived only 33 years, yet left a legacy of blessings and a philosophy of life that has endured more than 2,000 years. One may argue about whether or not Jesus is the son of God; that's fair. However, we know indeed that Jesus walked this earth and left only words of love and forgiveness. And since we are all children of our creator what does it matter whether we believe Jesus held a special place in the heart of our creator? Do we not know that the life of Jesus is certainly deserving of a celebration of his birth?
And so, despite, and not because of the church, each of us worship according to what is in our hearts. Until our creator touches our hearts no mortal has the power to alter what dwells so deeply in our own hearts.
We are further blessed by some of history's greatest prose poets. And Luke 1-20 offers man the most lovely chronicles of Christ's birth. As I sit in church year after year and listen to Luke's recounting of a joyful birth, of stealth, of discovery, of the concept of man's "re-birth", the elegance of those words envelop me like a warm blanket on a cold night. Read these words for yourself and note the beauty and elegance:
1And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)
3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
Readers, these words, in 20 simple lines, reflect "real hope and change". Each year, as I read them, or hear them recited, my heart softens and my soul warms with the notion that man will ultimately seek "the good", and that Jesus Christ was the finest example of "the good". A man who deserves our praise, a man who offered a philosophy for treating well ourselves and others and is worthy of celebration in these holiest of days.
Friday, December 21, 2012
For My Granddaughter, Foxy Roxy, Who Wins All Our Races
Andy the Antelope was oh so very small
When he stood with other antelope you saw him not at all
But children loved little Andy cause he was small like them
They would race with little Andy and mostly they would win
Little Andy loved the children, he could look them in the eye
They petted little Andy and issued happy sighs
But little Andy wanted "bigness"; like the other antelope
So often he would sadly walk around and mope
One day Andy found a magic garden full of wonderful things to eat
lettuce and cabbages and tomatoes, such sweet and tasty treats
Then Andy ate a cantaloupe, rind and seeds and all
The seeds soon sprouted and Andy grew to 30 feet tall
From that day on Andy was the fastest antelope around
He towered over the others and could barely see the ground!
All the other antelope came barely to Andy's knees
While Andy rose so high he could pluck apples from the trees
Soon Andy was the pride of the entire antelope herd
For he could pluck them apples in numbers so absurd!
But the children missed little Andy and craned their necks to see
"Come back" little Andy, oh please, oh please, oh please!
Big Andy missed the children too, for they treated him so sweet
And he soon knew that being tall is really not so neat
He learned that looking into the eyes of children brings such happiness
And when you're "big", you begin to see less and less and less
So off to the magic garden Andy went once more
Ate lots of "baby carrots" and "baby spinach" galore
Then he lay down and slept in a bed of "baby yams"
And woke up hours later and he was small again
Once again Andy ran and played with kids so very small
He was oh so happy that he was no longer tall
Andy learned it's much more fun to play with little kids
He loved playing with the little ones so that's just what he did!
Thursday, December 20, 2012
One Of My Christmas Favorites
One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one's cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty- seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.
There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.
In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name "Mr. James Dillingham Young."
The "Dillingham" had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called "Jim" and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.
Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn't go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling--something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.
There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pierglass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.
Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.
Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim's gold watch that had been his father's and his grandfather's. The other was Della's hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty's jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.
So now Della's beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.
On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.
Where she stopped the sign read: "Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds." One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the "Sofronie."
"Will you buy my hair?" asked Della.
"I buy hair," said Madame. "Take yer hat off and let's have a sight at the looks of it."
Down rippled the brown cascade.
"Twenty dollars," said Madame, lifting the mass with a practised hand.
"Give it to me quick," said Della.
Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim's present.
She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation--as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim's. It was like him. Quietness and value--the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.
When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends--a mammoth task.
Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.
"If Jim doesn't kill me," she said to herself, "before he takes a second look at me, he'll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do--oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty- seven cents?"
At 7 o'clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.
Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit for saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: "Please God, make him think I am still pretty."
The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two--and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.
Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.
Della wriggled off the table and went for him.
"Jim, darling," she cried, "don't look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn't have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It'll grow out again--you won't mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!' Jim, and let's be happy. You don't know what a nice-- what a beautiful, nice gift I've got for you."
"You've cut off your hair?" asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.
"Cut it off and sold it," said Della. "Don't you like me just as well, anyhow? I'm me without my hair, ain't I?"
Jim looked about the room curiously.
"You say your hair is gone?" he said, with an air almost of idiocy.
"You needn't look for it," said Della. "It's sold, I tell you--sold and gone, too. It's Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered," she went on with sudden serious sweetness, "but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?"
Out of his trance Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year--what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.
Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.
"Don't make any mistake, Dell," he said, "about me. I don't think there's anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you'll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first."
White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.
For there lay The Combs--the set of combs, side and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoise shell, with jewelled rims--just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.
But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: "My hair grows so fast, Jim!"
And them Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, "Oh, oh!"
Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.
"Isn't it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You'll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it."
Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head and smiled.
"Dell," said he, "let's put our Christmas presents away and keep 'em a while. They're too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on."
The magi, as you know, were wise men--wonderfully wise men--who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012
On my other blog I once wrote of consumer products and services that I have found to be "Excellent". This year has proved to be no different. It is so refreshing to find excellence in a world that seems so readily willing to accept mediocrity. So, here's the products and services I've found to worthy of note during the last year.
1) Reynold's Slow Cooker Liners: These slow cooker liners are simply wonderful! I've found myself choosing not to use my heavy old stoneware slow cooker because of the hefty difficulty of cleaning it afterwards. When I did use it I was almost forced to let it soak in dish soap overnight in order to assure I could get all the hard coated food residue off of it. Then, one morning I found a coupon in the paper which offered a dollar off a box of slow cooker liners by Reynolds. The next time I was at the store I had them on my list and tried them out. They're great! You just put one of these liners into your slow cooker, put in your ingredients and close the lid! When you're finished you spoon out the beans or stew or whatever you're cooking, discard the liner, and put you're sparkling clean slow cooker back in the cabinet! With coupon the box cost me .59 cents and it is well worth it!
2) Again, with Reynolds! Reynolds Nonstick Aluminum Foil. Works great! Makes me wonder why they even continue making the old kind! I bake cookies, biscuits, fish, meatloaf and a roast and never have to spray a pan; I just place the food in a Reynolds non stick aluminum lined pan and never have food sticking to the bottom of the pan. Magic!
3) Stouffer's Frozen Foods. Stouffers has always offered high quality frozen food but, recently I noticed they have revamped their frozen dinner offerings and reconstituted some of their recipes. And Stouffers delivers! Their meatloaf dinners taste like homemade, the gravy is not that gummy stuff offered in other frozen dinners they give you enough to actually fill you up! My daughter and son-in-law swear by Stouffers lasagna; it's on their dinner menu often as they both work long days. But my new all time Stouffers favorite is the Turkey Breast Medallions with Stuffing and Mashed Potatoes. The turkey is high grade Turkey breast (not reconstituted pap like other frozen meals), the stuffing tastes as good as what I've eaten during family holiday meals and the turkey gravy adds a tasty touch! In fact, being alone this Christmas, I've already got my Stouffers Turkey Medallion dinner in the freezer for my Christmas dinner!
4) Pippin Deep Dish Apple Pie ( $3.98 per pie and Available only in Walmart) These pies are wonderful; not too sweet, pleasantly tart, and the crust is light and flaky but still holds up to a pie packed full of pippin apples that the makers swear are picked fresh, sliced and immediately baked into these fantastic pies!
5) Zappo's: I just discovered this online retailer of shoes and clothes. My "laze around"..and even my casual "go out" pants are Nike Dri-Fit Woven Running Pants. They are loose, warm and comfortable. I've been wearing these pants for fifteen years and a pair usually lasts ten years of wash and wearing. However, lately I've been having a problem finding the exact type of Nike pants I wear. Some of the Nike pants lines are too thin or too thick and bulky to my liking. Last week I ran the gauntlet of retail stores most likely to carry these pants. Couldn't find them. Then I googled them on line and found Zappo's. And found my pants! And A pleasant surprise! Zappo's was selling my favorite pants for 30% less than anywhere else on the internet, with no sales tax and free one day shipping!
6) Apple: After going through 8 or ten Microsoft Windows-clogged PC's, after suffering blue screens and "fatal errors" and long boot up times, and silly program failures I finally decided to tell Bill Gates to go to hell. I paid twice the price of a cheap PC and bought an IMAC. It has now been 13 months since I became an IMAC owner and my computer woes are at last behind me. My MAC has wonderful features like "going to sleep" and not having to be turned off and booted up...just a few taps on my keyboard and my MAC is ready for action. I do my word processing with a $20 dollar Apple program called "Pages" that will convert my work to Word if I need to talk to the "heathens", I no longer have an ugly CPU box to worry about...just a simple, light, beautifully designed monitory/processor with wireless keyboard and mouse that always works flawlessly. And Apple is often accused of "snooty pricing" but Apple always gives me ten percent off anything I buy from them just by showing my retired military ID card.
7) Amazon: Amazon is always my first stop when I'm looking to buy something. Chances are they'll beat anyone else's price and their customer service continues to be the best in retail. I rely on Amazon to keep my Amazon Kindle supplied with my book favorites and free books. Since Amazon is now folding like a cheap paper plates to more and more states who wish to collect sales tax, the jury is out as to whether Amazon remains the low price leader. We shall see. But for now I'm always amazed at the breadth of Amazon's product offerings and their ability to steadily please tens of millions of the world's customer base.
8) Fry's Food Store (Kroger Grocery Chain). My local Fry's Food Store remains my favorite place to shop. They have the best customer service I've ever seen in a food store, they offer ten percent off to seniors over 55 on their monthly senior day, they consistently beat out Walmart on pricing, and more than half the time, their sales pricing beats out my local military commissary.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
When we lost a son thirteen years ago my wife and I could find no solace or comfort or peace. Most of all we could find no rational excuse for the loss of a child. My wife had little problem turning to her church since her relationship with her God was on a sound basis. With no where else to turn I too turned to the church. We attended a religious memorial along with other parents who've lost children. I accompanied my wife to church each Sunday in the next few weeks, hoping that God's reason for taking my son far too early would be made known to me and give me some sense of peace.
Sadly, attending church didn't work for me. The mass seemed ritualistic, mechanistic and the words of the sermons fell on my heart like a cold rain. And so, for many, many years the only comfort I could find was just a tiny easing of the ache in my heart. Those who have lost children will tell you that your sense of life joy is never the same, no matter what you or anyone else does. But, after the first year or two the ache is not as severe. Yes, there are times when our loss comes back like a massive life storm and renders you weak and shaking, but that too shall pass.
Now we must witness a massacre of little innocent children in a community previously deemed one of the safest in our nation. These kindergarteners and first graders were awaiting the arrival of Santa Claus in mere days. Now they will never live to find out that Santa Claus is but a spirit in the hearts of those who loved them. Their parents are devastated, beyond hope or solace or comfort. They will walk around like automatons, frozen in shock and unable to come to terms with the violent and tragic death of innocents.
They will stare at presents already wrapped under the tree, just waiting for their sweet children to open them on Christmas morning. Those young voices will not be there to sing the songs at the school's Winter Carnival; their young voices are silenced forever.
Those children will never again 'trick or treat' on Halloween, sing a Christmas song, or bring home a gold star for a book report. There will be no first dates, senior proms or graduations. So much has been taken from those poor families.
Now, some people, who do not believe in a "creator", or God, will argue that if God existed he would never permit the death of innocent young children. Tragedies such as these are an "atheist's dream", for it arms them with solid but horrible truths about a God that would allow children to suffer from cancer, or be gunned down by a mad man on a Christmas season morning.
Having lived through the loss of a child, I can only offer this. In the intervening years since the death of my son I have forgiven my creator and readily acknowledge that I still don't have the answer for such tragedy, or why lives play out the way they do.
Buddhists will tell you that those little children who lost their lives yesterday were souls in heaven long before they entered this world in the wombs of their mothers; and that it is entirely possible that these unborn souls both knew and agreed to their fate long before they are delivered to this chaotic world. Buddhists call that sacrifice a "honing" or "refining" of the soul, meant for even better rewards in a better place.
I find that explanation as reasonable as any other, and the fact that I can still have faith, and an open mind about life's fates are indications that my soul has healed enough for me to go on.
The parents of the twenty innocent children who lost their lives yesterday cannot fathom this explanation. The loss is simply too devastating, the wounds too raw, the hurt beyond comprehension and only time will ease their pain.
As for myself, while I don't have the answers as to why we experience such loss, I've learned not to condemn God, or my creator, for such tragedy. It is a "poor" person indeed who gives our creator no credit for life's blessings, while assessing blame for a pre-conceived "all powerful" God, who would allow the sickness and death of young innocents.
But I've learned enough, and had enough signals from my dear ones who've passed, that our creator exists. But, until we ourselves pass over, we will have to have faith in one who brings us life, with all its joy and pain.
My only prayer is that time will ease the pain of those families who are suffering so much now. May they someday find peace and comfort and may the blessings of life continue to enrich their souls.