Monday, May 14, 2018

Escaping the Devices

I am device weary - and artificial environment weary. Every day I say, “Tomorrow I’m going to get outside and away from the devices.” And tomorrow never comes. I’ve squandered the glorious spring days inside, staring at screens of various sizes for various purposes. Now the pleasant spring days are gone, and the heat has set in. It will be in the mid-90s by this afternoon.

After feeding the horses at about 8:00 am and turning them out, I decided that today is the day to spend some time outdoors. Our deck has been adorned with dead plants in pots - casualties of neglect and our frigid winter. Although I’m not prepared to plant anything new at the moment, empty pots look better than plant corpses, so I started the cleaning out process. The big plastic tub on a rolling cart that we bought about a year ago has not served very well for the barn purposes we had in mind, but I think it’s going to be useful as a garden cart - you know, for removing dead corpses.
Rocky, enjoying breakfast
Empty pots
One dead corpse that I almost think deserves a funeral was the little bonsai tree that I paid $50 for two or three years ago. Lesson learned: Don’t buy expensive plants, Jude, because you have animal husbandry, not gardening, in your genes.

Days of freezing temperatures during the winter took their toll on our citrus trees. The satsuma and orange trees survived, but the lemon tree is dead. Removing it will be a project for another day.

I used the cart to haul four plastic lawn chairs to the roadside. They are serviceable chairs, and I imagine somebody will pick them up. I need the space they were taking up to park my gardening cart. I used to imagine family gatherings where we all sit out in the yard and listen to the birds sing. But family gatherings are few and far between - and when they do happen, everybody sits inside, looking at their devices. I am resigned. It’s 21st century life. Maybe I’ll put the croquet set out by the road next.

It’s not too hot yet - only 83 degrees - and there’s a pleasant breeze. The mockingbirds are in fine form this morning - going through their varied repertoire with gusto. I’ve filled the bird bath and watered Jerry’s tomatoes while he helped me prune some of the plants that are still alive.
Jerry's tomatoes
Of course, I’m looking at a screen as I write this post, but at least I’m outside at the picnic table, listening to the birds, watching the horses, and enjoying the ripples that the breeze is making on the deep green surface of the bayou.

It’s almost 11:00 now. Time to get on to the indoor tasks, but my morning outside has been restorative. God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Misplaced Charity

When I was a child, our next door neighbor had a giant chinaberry tree in their backyard. The neighbors had five children, and - since I had no siblings - I had a grand time playing with them and climbing their chinaberry tree.  

The children's mother, Mrs. M, was a great volunteer.  Almost every day, after Mr. M left for work, Mrs. M left to do church work or work for some local charity. In the summer, she left the older children in charge of the younger ones.  I'm not sure what she did with the little ones when the big kids were in school.  At any rate, she was seldom home.  My mother had a good view of the M's backyard from our living room windows.  If Mama hadn't been able to see what was going on, I doubt that I'd have been allowed next door.  

My mother, as well as the other neighbors, often lamented that Mrs. M's children looked like orphans.  Their clothes were seldom clean much less pressed.  Hair went unbrushed. I don't think they knew what a hot meal was.  And, with both parents gone most of the time, they were seldom supervised.  Everybody said the M's children were raising themselves.   Mrs. M may not have been much at discharging her domestic and maternal duties, but she was widely recognized and admired for her charity work.  I suspect that most of the admirers didn't know anything about her home life.

I hadn't thought of Mrs. M in years, and it sounds strange to say that what's going on in Congress right now made me think of her and her poor ragamuffin children.  Some Congressmen and Senators remind me of Mrs. M.  They throw all their support behind illegal immigrants.  They use tax revenue to provide for illegal immigrants.  Listening to their rhetoric, it's clear that they are more concerned about the welfare of illegals than they are about the welfare of native-born Americans or immigrants who are here legally.  Like Mrs. M, they neglect to take care of the people they are responsible for while they work to provide for the ones they're not responsible for.  Mrs. M did her charity work for the accolades she received.  Congressmen and Senators support amnesty for illegal immigrants for the new voting pool it will create.  Mrs. M practiced misplaced charity on a small scale.  Congress practices it on a much larger scale.

Charity and concern for others is a good thing, but like all good things, it can be misused and abused.   Charity for others should never mean neglect for those we are responsible for.  1 Timothy 5:8 says, "But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever." Congress should ponder this as they neglect Americans, including our military veterans.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Statue of Liberty & Emma Lazarus

How much do you know about the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus, the author of the famous lines, "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses"?  These lines are from her sonnet, "The New Colossus" which is on a plaque attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty.

The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French people to the United States.  The torch-bearing arm of the statue was on display at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition in 1876.  This display launched fund raising efforts to finance a base for the statue to stand on.

Famous authors of the day, including Emma Lazarus, were asked to write something to be auctioned off to raise money for the base for the Statue of Liberty.  In response to this appeal, Emma Lazarus wrote this poem:

The New Colossus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles.  From her beacon hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient land, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips.  "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
In 1885 the completed Statue of Liberty - the work of French sculptor, Frederic Auguste Bartholdi - arrived in New York Harbor, transported by ship in 214 crates.  The statue was mounted on the impressive base provided by the successful fund raising efforts, and was dedicated in 1886.
Emma Lazarus was born in New York City in 1849 to a non-practicing, non-religious Jewish family.  She became a successful poet, writer, and translator.  She was an adherent to Georgism, a form of communism promoted by economist Henry George (1839-1897).  Some modern feminists believe she was a Lesbian.
A careful reading of Lazarus' poem explains why she is revered by many feminists.  She contrasts the original male Greek Colossus of Rhodes, erected in 280 B.C., with her new female Colossus, the Statue of Liberty.  She describes the original male Colossus as "brazen" and "conquering" while the new female Colossus is benign, maternal, and welcoming.  I doubt that she was grieved by the fact that the original male Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed in an earthquake in 226 B.C.
Emma Lazarus died in 1887, a year after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty.  Many years later, in 1903, a plaque engraved with "The New Colossus" was attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty.  Even after doing quite a bit of research, I have not been able to discover who gave permission for this plaque to be installed.
Since 1903, "The New Colossus" has been widely quoted and is held in such esteem by some that it rivals the Constitution.  To some it has assumed the authority of holy scripture.  It is often quoted by those who promote open borders and unlimited immigration.  It is even used in an attempt to defend illegal immigration. 
Although "The New Colossus" may have great literary value, it is nothing more than a poem among other writings by other authors to be auctioned off to raise money for the base of the Statue of Liberty.  Why this poem, written by a communist as a later addition to the Statue of Liberty, should dictate our immigration policy is beyond understanding.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

On the Trail of Brunswick Stew

I had my first bite of Brunswick Stew about 25 years ago at a local restaurant in Kennesaw, Georgia.  We were on vacation, and I had never so much as heard of Brunswick Stew until then.  It was knock-your-socks-off good!  

I’ve since learned that Brunswick Stew is considered to be quintessentially Southern.  I wondered — how did I grow up in the South and never hear of it?  This prompted me to do some research on the origin and history of Brunswick Stew.  It is murky at best.  Some say it originated in the late 1800s in the town of Brunswick, Georgia.  Others claim is originated in Brunswick County, Virginia, in the early 1800s.  There are also claims that it originated much earlier in Germany, and some say it is of American Indian origin.  

I was born in the southern-most part of West Virginia and grew up in northwestern Florida.  My mother didn’t fix Brunswick Stew, and my Floridian playmates’ mother’s didn’t either.  My school teachers - many of whom were from Alabama - never mentioned Brunswick Stew.  I guess there is nothing too odd about that since I’ve discovered that it’s most popular in Georgia and the eastern parts of the Carolinas and Virginia.  I have Virginian and North Carolinian ancestors, but they were from the mountainous western regions of those states.

Ever since my first taste of this concoction in Kennesaw, Georgia, I’ve been on an off-and-on hunt for Brunswick Stew recipes.  It looks like those who live in the Brunswick Stew part of the South are as emotional about this dish as Cajuns are about gumbo and jambalaya.  There are Brunswick Stew contests and cook-offs and disputes about what ingredients are really authentic.  

Yesterday I decided to try a Brunswick Stew recipe by Jamie Deen that I found on Food Network.  Of all the recipes I’ve tried, I think this one is most like the one I had in Kennesaw.  I used Jack Daniels Original No 7 barbecue sauce which gave it the flavor I was looking for.  But I must tell you that some Brunswick Stew purist take a dim view of using store-bought barbecue sauce. But never mind them.  This recipe makes a dang good Brunswick Stew!  I halved the recipe, and it still nearly filled my favorite five quart pot.  You can find it here:  
Brunswick Stew Recipe

Monday, January 1, 2018

New Year's 2018

By southern Louisiana standards, we are having a frigid New Year's Day.  It was 24 degrees when we got up this morning, and it won't get above 38 today.  Thank heaven we have sun and not rain.

Since Jerry let the three horses out of their stalls this morning they've been sunning themselves on the south side of the barn.  I know why.  The north wind is coming across the bayou, and they are sheltered from it on the south side.  I took pity on them and put some flakes of hay on the south side.  There's a round bale on the north side of the barn under a lean-to, but it’s windy and sunless there.

There weren't as many fireworks in our neighborhood last night as there usually are on a New Year's Eve.  I’m sure the cold made a lot of people decide to stay inside and watch the festivities on TV.  For the first time in a year or two we stayed up until midnight - in our recliners, watching TV, and enjoying the blazing gas logs.  Before we went to bed, we bundled up over our pajamas and went out to the barn to check on the horses.  They didn't seem to be too bothered by the fireworks, so we went to bed.

Suzanne came Saturday and spent the night.  She wanted to get home yesterday afternoon before the temperature plummeted, so I fixed our New Year's meal for lunch yesterday - the traditional pork, cabbage, and black-eyed peas.  We're having the leftovers today.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

An Ethereal Relationship - a short story for our times

May 14, 2030

1:00 pm

My wife, Ethereal, has been missing for three weeks, and now the unthinkable has happened. A policeman - an Officer Savvy - stands at my front door.  He says they think my wife is dead.  He wants me to come to the morgue and identify her body.  I'm stunned.  I realize my iPhone is in my hand.  I put it in the case that's attached to my belt, grab my coat and iPad and follow the policeman to his squad car.  I'm glad he has offered to drive me to the morgue.  I'm in no condition to drive myself.

Officer Savvy is a young guy - just a few years older than I am, I guess.  He seems uncomfortable.  Maybe he hasn't been a policeman long enough to be used to this sort of thing.

When we arrive at the morgue, a detective in plain clothes joins us on our walk down a long hall - Detective Bygone.  He's an older, gray-headed fellow, wearing a neatly pressed suit and speaking with a raspy voice.  Double doors are at the end of the hall, and they grow larger with each step.  We're not half way there, but I stop.  The policeman and the detective keep walking until they realize I'm not behind them.  Then they turn.

"Are you alright?" asks the blue uniform.

"I don't think there's any point in my going in there," I hear myself say with a confidence that seems out of place.

"But Mr. Numbman," the detective says, "we need you to make an identification.  I know this is hard, but . . ."

"I just don't think I'll recognize her," I say.

Officer Savvy tries to reassure me by telling me that my wife is not disfigured in any way.

"Oh, I hadn't thought of that.  No, it's just that I haven't seen her in years."

The policeman and the detective exchange confused looks.

"I didn't know," the detective says slowly, "that you and your wife were estranged.  When you filed the missing persons report, you said that you and Ethereal share a residence."

"We do," I reply, "I mean we did, but we really didn't see much of each other."

"I guess your work must take you out of town a lot?" Officer Savvy suggests.

"No, no. Neither of us is out of town very often." I feel weak, so I sit down in one of the plastic chairs in the hallway.

The detective and the policeman sit down, too.  They seem like kind men, and I think they're beginning to wonder about my sanity.

"Mr. Numbman, you said you haven't seen your wife in years.  How can you be in the same house with someone everyday and not see them?" says Detective Bygone.

"Well, you know," I begin to explain, "we watched TV every night. And we both did things on our iPads."

"You mean you did these things in separate rooms?"  Neither of these men seem to understand.

"No, we were always in the same room.  We just didn't look at each other," I say.

"But surely you did other things sometimes," the policeman says, "like - maybe - eating out together?"

"Of course, of course.  We ate out often, but we always had something to check on our iPhones, and - well, we just didn't notice each other much."

"You had no personal communication?" the detective asks in disbelief.

"Well, sure. We had personal communication.  We texted each other.  We posted on Facebook.  We even sent each other personal messages on Facebook. Sometimes we even talked on the phone."

I'm feeling a little indignant at their suggestion that Ethereal and I didn't have any personal communication.  We communicated all the time.  We just never looked at each other.  Why is that so hard for these men to understand?  Maybe the detective is too old, but Officer Savvy ought to understand.

"Anyway," I go on, "you can see why there's no way I can identify my wife."

There's a long pause, and then the policeman says, "Wait right here."

He and the detective go into a room that opens off the hallway.  They close the door.  I can hear the low buzz of conversation, but can't make out what they're saying.  The policeman is doing most of the talking.  There's an occasional grunt from the detective. They're coming back out in the hall now.

"Look here, Mr. Numbman," says Detective Bygone, "Officer Savvy here found your wife's photograph on her Facebook page.  He's got it right here on his phone.  You, me, and Officer Savvy are going to go in there where your wife is.  We'd like you to look at the woman lying in there on the table, and then look at the picture on Officer Savvy's phone, and see if you can make an identification based on the photo.  You know - maybe it will jog your memory.  You must have known what your wife looked like at some time in the past."

2:30 pm

The double doors close behind us as we walk back into the hall.  Truth be told, I'm a little embarrassed that I needed a photo to come to the conclusion that the woman lying on that table is not my wife.  But I console myself, knowing that if I were lying on that table, Ethereal would need a photo to identify me.

"Mr. Numbman, we're going to continue to look for your wife, and when we find her, I hope to God you'll look at her," says Detective Bygone. I don't appreciate his superior tone.

Officer Savvy smiles.  My phone rings as we're shaking hands.

"Gotta get this," I say with urgency. "It might be important."

"Yeah," says Detective Bygone, "maybe it's your wife."




Monday, November 6, 2017

Amid Fiery Beasts

Our ancestor, King David, was not sentimental about lions.  He was a shepherd in his youth, and had engaged in close combat with lions when they threatened his sheep.  If a lion rose up against him, he grabbed hold of its mane and struck it until it was dead.  (1 Samuel 17:34-36)

Later in life David spent years as a warrior.  No doubt his experience with vicious lions caused him to describe his enemies as lions.  In Psalm 57 he says, "My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts — the children of man whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords."

Yesterday as I drove home from church, my daughter called my cell phone and asked if I had heard about the massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I had not.  I listened in horror as she told me what had happened.  Like most of America, I can't stop thinking about it.  Twenty-six people killed and more than twenty wounded by a 26 year old man with a gun - during a church service.  The youngest killed was an 18 month old baby, the oldest a 77 year old.  Among the dead are six year old children and a young woman who was eight months pregnant.  

I don't know what to say.  What can be said?  Terror increases in frequency.  When 9/11 happened, we had the audacity to hope it would be the last attack, but they just keep coming.  They vary in method and scale, but they are horrifyingly persistent. Nobody thinks that yesterday was the last terror attack.  Like David, we are becoming well acquainted with fiery beasts — the children of men.  The beasts are among us, and safety - even in a church - is not guaranteed.

We can speculate about what causes human beings to commit these heinous acts - mental illness, an abusive childhood, drugs, post traumatic stress disorder - but the fact is that evil stalks our world.  It always has.  David was as weary of war as we are of terror.  No wonder he cried out, "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!  Let your glory be over all the earth!"  Amen and amen.  May Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Come quickly, Lord Jesus!