Thursday, November 27, 2014

I'm In Love With The Butterball Lady


Every year since 1981 the Butterball Lady has been around to coach turkey newbies on how to best prepare a turkey. And she doesn't even ask if the turkey is Butterball...she just asks a few simple questions; how many pounds, what cooking method you're choosing, and how crispy and brown do you want that turkey breast to be. 
Butterball started out in 1981, hiring 30 Home Economists to answer a telephone hotline for folks cooking their first bird. That staff has now expanded to 100, with each of the staff having a manual at hand to refer to if they can't answer the most exotic of cooking questions. The Butterball lady opens her help line about the first of November and is available throughout the holidays to handle your questions. She always shows up on the Today show during Thanksgiving Week, usually with an uncooked bird and a fully cooked magnificent roasted turkey, just to show you how it's done. When she reaches over to fondle that golden brown breast I have to admit to getting a little excited! (I never tell my wife about this!) 
Well, before the turkey lady came along my Asian wife and I stumbled through Thanksgiving with mishap after mishap. We would just throw the frozen turkey in the oven and crank up the heat and cook it until the outside resembled a sun-browned 85 year old retail heiress from Scottsdale, then take it out, slide it off on a platter, then cut into it only to see blood pouring down the sides and chunks of frozen turkey parts flying all about the the table. Once we didn't bother to remove the string or even the neck and gizzards hiding stealthily in the chest cavity. We might have done okay if we'd just bought a Butterball with that little button that pops out when it's done but we usually opted for "cheap" and took the free turkey our grocer gave you if you purchased a hundred dollars worth of groceries. 
Once I decided we'd have our turkey cooked on a Weber Grill. Of course i didn't bother to read the directions, or even ask how one cooks a 25 pound turkey out on the grill. So I just threw in a 20 pound bag of charcoal, threw a quart of charcoal starter fluid on the briquets and waited for an impressive high wall of flame to blossom, then lower the turkey on to the grill. As the rest of the family began preparing all the pies and side dishes, my ineptitude was beginning to concern them and they began to throw sidelong glances my way as they stared as our turkey, partially blackened began dancing around the grill in sizzling splendor, promising the likelihood that they'd be putting an ugly and undercooked turkey on the family table once again. 
Finally, my wife came out with the phone in her hand and said "call for you". When I put the phone to my ear I heard a nice lady ask "Butterball Kitchens, how can I help you today?" In desperation I described what I was doing to a perfectly good turkey and the nice lady began to calmly "talk me down". She had me take the turkey off the grill before I could do any more damage, then explained how the charcoal briquettes were to be strategically placed around the four points of the grill pan, then allowed to get glowing hot, while keeping the cover on. Butterball Lady then explained how I was to feed the fire with a few briquettes every half hour or so to keep up a consistent grill temperature. Only then did she give me permission to put the turkey back on the grill. 
Happily the turkey was roasted on time for Thanksgiving Dinner and as I carved and served I began to hear oohs and ahhs about how good the turkey was this year! I kept thanking our dinner companions over and over, finally stopping from basking in the glow of triumph when I looked over at my wife and got that "I saved your ass, buster" look that she's so good at.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

We're Getting Better At Saying "Goodbye"


We Americans are getting better at saying "goodbye" in recent years.  Last week here in Phoenix we said goodbye to little Callie Griggs.  Callie was two years old, just old enough to express her wish to live till Christmas.  Suffering from adrenal cancer, her doctors had given her no more than three months.  That was back in September.

Callie's parents wanted to grant her wish...a visit from Santa Claus, opening a bright and shiny gift, and to walk in a winter snow.  So the word spread; first in her neighborhood, then in her home city of Glendale, then to all of Phoenix, and finally to all of Arizona.  

So, last week the wise men came bearing gifts.  People from all over bought gifts; stuffed toys and Christmas goodies, and a Christmas tree, and good spirits, and even a white blanket of snow out on the front lawn.  Callie, possessing the magical strength of a child, let her joy override her great pain and was joyous to celebrate Christmas with so many smiling people. 

Sadly, little Callie died just a few days later.   

We've done this before in Phoenix, so we know how.  We've brought early holidays and birthdays to children with brain cancer, with leukemia, will all manner of deathly ills.  Perhaps we learned it from those folks up in Utah who first brought an early Halloween, and an early Christmas to a little four year old boy who wouldn't live to see Christmas.  No matter, each joyous party is a celebration of life and a denial that death can only mean sadness.

For several decades now America has had their Make A Wish program.  It is our small way to bring some few joyous moments to those who have only precious moments left.  It's a way to say a final goodbye, a way to let our loved ones know that there is still much good in life..."let us show you!"

Admittedly, we would have a better world if this spirit of love, of giving, existed for the living as well as the dying.  We could be far better at saying "hello" than we are.  But let's be grateful that we are getting better at saying "goodbye."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Ghostly Gab"


Silas Turnbo was most likely quite a lazy fellow. 150 years ago he traversed Ozark Mountain trails, and old Indian trails, carrying with him a single change of clothes and a journal. The journal would land him a small place in posterity for Silas filled his journals with tales told to him by folks who lived in those Ozark mountains. 
A century and a half before the internet was invented, and before newspapers found their way to the remote mid-western outbacks, the Ozark people were blessed to see Silas coming down the road. In exchange for a meal and a bed for the night, Silas brought the news of what was happening around there and about. And, in bringing the news, he would fill a few pages of his journal with whatever his hosts found worthy of mentioning. After many years of life on the road Silas had filled several journals with a living history of folks in the Ozarks. 
And years after Silas was gone his family retrieved those journals and published them under the title "Turnbo's Tales of The Ozarks". I found old Silas years ago while doing Friend family ancestral searches. Happily, his journal was online and searchable. So, one night, more than a dozen years ago, in Saudi Arabia, the most unlikely of places to be, I found a "searchable" version of Turnbo's Tales and extracted 13 stories about the pioneering Friend family down there in the Ozarks; scraping out a living on their farm and celebrating babies being born and old ones dying, and 4th of July celebrations, and bear and panther hunts, and who fought for the Blue and who fought for the Gray, and all manner of human history in the mid 19th century. 
Like any good story teller, Turnbo would precede his tale with a bit of background. Of the tales about the Friends he would boast of old Captain Charles Friend, friend, neighbor and Continental Army comrade of George Washington, trading his veteran's land grant for a chance to settle in Jefferson's spanking new Louisiana Purchase territory out west. So I learned that old Captain Charles was one of the first pioneers (1807) in the Missouri territory. Already old, Charles brought his wife and a whole passel of sons with him. 
Almost immediately his sons began moving north, up the White River and would settle along its banks at a place they would call Theodosia. And all along that White River some member of the Friend clan would settle and find their names mentioned in other histories, one by a federal cabinet secretary who led an expedition down the river. 
But old Silas's tales were more personal and therefore more endearing to me. I read a tale of my great, great great grandfather being mauled by a buck deer and my ggg grandmother coming to his rescue with an axe. "I never loved her more" said my distant grandfather. Another tale spoke of the tragedy of a distant teenage aunt who would drown in that White River, along with her fiancĂ©, the spring ice breaking up as they tried to walk across, bound for town to pick up the wedding license! From old Silas I puzzled out how my own grandfather acquired the middle name of "Marmaduke", his name honoring a Union General who put up a grand fight at a battle in and around Springfield, Missouri. 
So old Silas may have been lazy, he may have been thinking himself an artful scrounger of meals and a bed back there long ago. He surely could not imagine that his journals would fill hearts with gladness more than a century later; folks who sought our their roots and found them, thanks to old Silas and his Ozark journals.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Saturday Morning Musings


One day, many years ago, my creator mixed up a batch of Swedish, German, Irish and Cherokee Indian...and made me. And I was so fortunate to have been born in America where I could breathe free and dream big. I was free to choose my bride and raise my children in a land that gave them the freedom to dream big too. 
I have a warm home, enough to eat, the freedom to choose my religion and my church, and believe in God or not. I can go to the sink and run myself a glass of clean water to drink and I know that my food supply is cleaner than anyplace else on earth. If I wish, I can get up this morning and drive down to a lovely park; to take a walk, to listen to the birds sing, or just sit on a park bench and rest. 
But sometimes I wake up in the morning and I seem to be all "nerve endings". It's like my antenna has been raised and all of a sudden I can pick up the vibrations of a world full of misery. I know that 3,000 little children will die today simply because they don't have clean drinking water. 
Another 10,000 will die from a communicable disease that could have been prevented with a minimally healthy diet and a vaccine. There are 6.5 billion people living on the earth and half of them will go to bed hungry tonight. Before the clock strikes midnight tonight 10,000 people around the world will have died by violence. 
Unlike the atheist and agnostic, I do not place the blame on God..not even for one minute. God gives us the tools and talents to build a better world and, if we fail, we own that failure. I can't even question the death of innocent little children, or innocents anywhere; who am I to judge whether this world is better than the next? What does man do with all those God given tools and talents? 
Well many do good, many hearts are tender and loving. But, just in the last century, man's wars have killed at least 75 million people! If you can't get your head around the idea of 75 million war victims, narrow it down to just the children! Or if that is too difficult, just imagine those 3,000 children who will die today for want of a clean cup of water. 
And yet, today, there are millions of Americans who cry poverty, even as they enjoy clean water, an abundant array of government benefits, who cry poverty even as they drive a late model car and entertain themselves with gaming systems and big screen television and type gibberish in text code on their smart phones! Fifty years ago 80% of America lived in homes that weren't air conditioned and now if the poorest are without it, some relief agency will come in and install it and subsidize your electric bill to run it! 
And rather than being grateful an impressive number of Americans cry and moan over their lot. Some cry racism in a country that is the finest on earth for accepting diversity! In Africa this week they were killing their enemies, then cooking and eating them for God's sake! 
And we have jobs that go begging because some business is not hiring Gender Studies or Psychology or Women's Studies graduates. Those studies won't get you a welding job, or a manufacturing job, or entry into a science lab or internship in a hospital! And many more are not even seeking jobs...a warm blanket of government benefits has proven more profitable than a job!
And no one seems to realize that our heard working ancestors built this country, and this wealth, by the sweat of their brow and on the strengths of their backs. And we have now spent their inheritance and now live off of a huge government credit card with no spending limits!
Sadly, we have ventured far from the Republic our founding fathers established for us. They pledged their lives to winning us a freedom that has never existed ever on earth before. They wrote a Constitution that for the first time deemed a citizen's rights to be god-given and not guided by the generosity of government. They declared that we all have the same opportunity to achieve happiness but did not guarantee it...that should depend on our own individual efforts. 
During the early days of this Republic America faced enormous struggles. But our creator blessed us because we blessed him. He performed miracle after miracle to bring this nation to life, to bring our freedom to fruition. Perhaps, on July 4th, 1826, God sent us a great message, a warm hand on our shoulder. That was the day that both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson passed on, only hours apart. Perhaps he was letting us know back then that we had done well and would do even better in the coming centuries if we would only continue to embrace Him and the divine document that he inspired.
Our children are not dying by 3,000 per day. Few in America are hungry. But our minds and hearts are being poisoned by sloth and lack of purpose and an abandonment of the principles that caused this country to grow and prosper like none other in the history of man.
God Save America....the last best hope for man on earth.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Sour Puss"


When my mood is this sour I know I should just stay home, drink shots of pickle juice and crawl back into bed.  But I didn't.  So I found myself standing in the checkout at a Sprout's Health Food Store.  For those of you not familiar with Sprouts the place is a haven for health nuts.  A quarter of the store space is taken up with thousands of vitamins and herb blends that will strengthen your heart, give a sixty year old man impressive erections or insure a smooth and steady bowel movement.   Organic eggs, organic meat and soy milk products take up another quarter of the store.  I just frequent the store because the veggies and fruits are cheap.

But the problem with going into this store is that you are surrounded by eighty and ninety year old people who live on alfalfa sprouts and kale and haven't had a single bite of ground round pass their lips since 1968.  When feeling devilish they might party on an ounce of salmon or raw sushi, but nothing else shall slow their quest to achieve centenarian status.  

I've my own thoughts about how long I want to live.  When I was younger and sassier I loved to cite the often offered saw that death from a massive coronary while between the legs of a 21 year old would be the ideal way to go.  Now, with far less piss and vinegar, I'd settle for a nice quick heart attack in the middle of sleep.  I do not want to live so long that someone is coming in daily to change my diaper and chew my food for me.  

But today, in the most sour of moods, I'm swimming in a sea of octogenarian health food nuts here in the Sprouts store.  Sadly, the alfalfa sprouts and kale has done nothing to preserve the mind so too many of the old ones walk around in a mental fog, a spring in their step while the spring in their mind has already sprung.  

The lady in front of me at the checkout is one of them.  She's got a bag of steel cut oats, a single banana and a quart of prune juice.  Her cash register total is $5.87.  She waits until the cashier has bagged her goods in the environmentally appropriate cloth bag before she even begins to think about paying for her purchases.  So, as the cashier announces the total and stands waiting, the old lady, seemingly startled that reimbursement is required, finally begins digging into her purse to retrieve her coin purse.  And I'm waiting.  The old lady takes an interminable period of time to drag five one dollar bills out the coin purse, then pauses and stares into the coin bag to assess whether she has enough change to avoid proffering a paper dollar.  She pulls out a quarter and stares at it longingly, perhaps contemplating the date on the coin and pondering if that was some good year in her long life.  She then reluctantly places the quarter on the counter and begins fishing for more change.  Another quarter magically appears and she repeats the grudging sacrifice and finally places it too down on the counter.  She then puts her purse down and begins digging into it and finally retrieves a pair of reading glasses.  She dons the glasses and begins again the slow dig for more change.  She then begins the quest to rid herself of the smallest change in her coin purse.  Her bony fingers begin seeking out all available nickels.  She's got enough five cent pieces to bring her up to .80 cents, at which time she begins pinching the little coin purse for pennies.  By this time my carton of milk has begun sweating down the sides and my pound of ground sirloin is warming nicely.  The old lady is still checking the dates on her pennies before surrendering them and now even the cashier is sighing hard enough to send her bangs flitting about her forehead.  

At last, the transaction completed, the cashier offers remote thanks and begins dropping the coins into their various slots in the cash drawer.  But the elderly customer is not yet done; she is now complaining that last weeks kale went bad on her too early.  The cashier asks if she'd like to talk to the manager whom she's sure will replace, gratis, any defective kale the old lady had suffered to buy.  By this time I'm right on the edge of saying something really nasty.  Thankfully,  Ms. Penny Pincher purses her lips, declines the offer and walks out with her oats and banana and prune juice.

I quickly pay for my purchases and vow to go home and beat my little dogs, just for giggles.