Friday, December 17, 2010

Takin' a Barn Break

I haven't forgotten about the Wise Men. They're on their long arduous journey from the far reaches of Parthia to Jerusalem. Meanwhile my research is ongoing, and there will be at least one or two more posts about the Magi before Epiphany - January 6.

Today has been a bleak winter day - and it's not even officially winter yet. The temperature was about 53 degrees this morning and fell steadily all day. This morning I was able to get in some barn time. Time in the barn is therapeutic for me. My life - like everybody else's - is filled with modern appliances, gadgets, computers, etc. These things were unheard of a hundred years ago. But grooming horses, cleaning stalls, and filling hay racks has been going on "since time out of mind," as my grandmother used to say. These kinds of activities serve as a balance to our fast-paced, high tech world.

There was a little biting wind coming out of the north, across the bayou this morning so the big doors on either end of the barn aisle had to stay closed. We usually keep nylon halters on the horses, but we've let them go halterless in the pasture for about two weeks. I thought they might take a dim view of their halters, but all three of them lowered their heads and stood perfectly still while I buckled their halters on.

I tethered them in the aisle, one at a time, next to a rack of hay so they could munch while I groomed them. They're putting on their thick, long winter hair. In the summer they're sleek like satin, but in the winter their coats look like velvet. Grooming horses is satisfying because they don't just tolerate it like a dog or cat does, they seem to enjoy it.

Rocky's long luxurious mane was a tangled mess. A mixture of water and Avon's Skin-So-Soft bath oil makes a good detangler and smells good, too. I sprayed some in Rocky's mane and it didn't take long to get the tangles out.

If the weather is nice and the big doors are open, Fay likes to move around while she's being groomed so she can see what's going on outside. She a nosey little mare. Since the doors were closed today, she wasn't as antsy as she usually is.

Tesoro loves to be brushed between his eyes and under his forelock. He moves his head up and down as I move the brush up and down. He thinks he's helping.

We've had two or three hard freezes this month - unusual for December in Louisiana. Our hard freezes - if we get any at all - usually come in January or February. The grass in the pasture is already brown so we're feeding a lot of hay.

There's no green at all left in the sugar cane fields that were planted in the summer. The freezes have turned everything brown - except for patches of some kind of clover that dot the landscape here and there.

In our mild climate the worst part of winter to me is not so much the cold, it's the bleak brown landscape. They say it's doubtful that Christ was born in December, but I'm glad that's when we celebrate his birth. Winter would be almost too bleak to bear without the cheerfulness of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Mysterious Magi - Part Two

I didn't realize what a deep hole I stepped into with my last post about the Magi. The answers to the questions I raised can't be understood without some background. We're going to have to delve into the Biblical history of ancient Israel and some secular history as well. I'll just hit the highlights. If this stuff interests you as much as it does me, you can always get the whole story with all the fascinating details from the Bible and various other sources.

The Old Testament tells us that God had a special relationship with Abraham and promised, among other things, that Abraham would have many descendants. Abraham's grandson was named Jacob at birth, but his name was later changed to Israel. The Bible uses the two names interchangeably, so the "children of Jacob" and the "children of Israel" are the same people. Jacob had twelve sons - the founders of the twelve tribes of Israel. I guess if you want to get technical there were thirteen tribes because two of Jacob's grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh (the sons of Joseph) were given the status of sons and are often listed in the Bible in place of Joseph.

In 1020 B.C. or thereabouts these tribes united to form the nation of ancient Israel. They stayed united until 931 B.C. All these people were human just like the rest of us, and they didn't always get along. Who can say that they come from a family that never squabbles? Disagreements among the twelve tribes reached a climax in 931 B.C., and ancient Israel divided into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom kept the name Israel and consisted of ten of the twelve tribes. The southern kingdom was called Judah (or Judea) and consisted of the two remaining tribes.

Now don't think that this dividing up was perfect. There were remnants from the ten tribes - especially from the priestly tribe of Levi - that went with Judah. And there were some remnants of the two tribes who went with the northern kingdom of Israel. After this division, the two tribes of Judah (and associated remnants) were called Jews. The ten tribes were called Israelites. Sometimes they were called Ephraim because Ephraim was a prominent tribe among the ten. Sometimes they were called Joseph (remember Joseph was Ephraim's father), but they were never called Jews.

These two kingdoms coexisted side by side geographically. Sometimes they fought with each other. Sometimes they united and fought together against common enemies. But disaster struck in 722 B.C. The Assyrians - the superpower of the day - conquered Israel (the northern ten tribe kingdom) and began carrying its citizens off as slaves. The Israelites who were able to escape did so and avoided slavery. The Book of Esdras in the Apocrypha tells of a large group who fled to a "far country." (II Esdras 13:40-44)

Flavius Josephus (b. 87 A.D), a Jewish historian writing shortly after the time of Christ, said ". . . the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers." Although Josephus was writing 700+ years after Israel fell to Assyria, apparently the whereabouts of this large remnant of the ten tribes of Israel was known.

Steven M. Collins suggests (in his book Parthia: The Forgotten Ancient Superpower and Its Role in Biblical History) that a multitude of members of the ten tribes settled in what came to be called Parthia at the time of Christ. I don't know about you, but Parthia was little more than a blip on the radar screen of my history education. Nevertheless, it was a powerful rival to the Roman Empire.

Collins suggests that the Magi were probably Parthian leaders/priests of Israelite (ten tribe) descent. This is certainly pausible and would answer the first question I raised in the last post - why did the Magi care about a new King of the Jews? They cared because, after all, the Jews (of the two tribes of Judah) were their long separated kin. And since Partia was located around the Caspian Sea - a long way to the east of Jerusalem - Matthew's describing the Wise Men as "Magi from the east" makes perfect sense, too.

Three questions remain to be answered -
Why was all Jerusalem troubled about the arrival of the Magi?
What exactly was the star that the Magi saw?
Why couldn't King Herod and his officials follow the star just as the Magi did?

to be continued - some plausible answers on the way . . .

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Mysterious Magi - Part One

The Wise Men and I go back a long way. Their role in the Christmas story fascinated me as a child, and it still does. You can be a believing Christian and still have questions.  And I have a few questions about the Wise Men.

Matthew tells us in Chapter 2 that after Jesus was born, Wise Men (or Magi) came from the East inquiring about the new King of the Jews and saying they had "seen his star in the East." And they didn't just want to know who this king was. They said they wanted to worship him.

This prompts my first question. Why did these Wise Men care about a new King of the Jews? If the Jews had been a rich powerful nation at that time, it might make sense. You could say the Wise Men were there to curry favor with the rich and powerful. But at that time the Jews were neither a rich nor a powerful nation. They were oppressed by the rich and powerful Roman Empire.

My next question is - what star in the East? A little more information would be appreciated, but apparently the Magi were men of few words.

Now King Herod appears on the scene - Herod, the puppet king that Rome had placed on the throne to rule over the Jews. The Jews weren't happy about having Herod as king, but they couldn't do anything about it so they got along with Herod as well as they could. When Herod heard that the Magi had arrived and were asking about a new king, "he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." (When I was a child I absolutely loved that line - "he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him." Wonder why? Children are hard to figure out sometimes.)

This leads to another question - why was Herod and "all Jerusalem" troubled? Herod was no doubt worried about losing his job to a new king. But why would all Jerusalem - in other words, the Jews - be troubled? Wouldn't they want to see Herod replaced?

Reading between the lines in Matthew's account, I can imagine Herod and all his government officials being in a frenzy about these strange Magi. Herod swung into action and immediately summoned all the Jewish leaders - the chief priests and scribes - and "demanded of them where Christ should be born."

Herod was an Edomite. The Edomites had been converted to Judaism long before Herod was born so he was familiar with the Jewish religion, although he could hardly be called devout. He has been described as a madman who murdered his own family members, but that's another story.   At any rate, he knew that the Jews had been anticipating for centuries the coming of a Messiah, a King, the Christ. If this king had actually been born, Herod wanted to know where.

This wasn't a hard question for the chief priests and scribes, and they answered promptly that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem for so it had been prophesied. They said that out of Bethlehem "shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel." (Matt 2:6) Now don't you imagine that this really ticked Herod off? In so many words, they were telling him that his days as ruler over them just might be numbered. I'll bet Herod dismissed them quickly with a cool air. He probably didn't even offer them anything to drink.

Next we're told that Herod privately summoned the Magi. I think he did it privately because he didn't want the chief priests and scribes to know that he was the least bit worried about this. After all, even a puppet king has his pride. I imagine one of Herod's CIA agents was sent on this mission to round up the Magi. When the Magi arrived at Herod's court, he asked them when the star appeared.  He asked them when the star appeared!

I don't mean to be contentious, but if that star was the big, bright, unusual thing that tradition has led us to believe it was, you'd think Herod or some of his officials would have noticed it. But no, I get the impression that Herod hasn't even seen the star. This is hard to understand. These ancient people didn't have all the things we have that keep us inside at night - TV, Internet, heat, air-conditioning. They paid a lot more attention to the night sky than we do.

Now Herod shows what a crafty, double-crossing fox he was. He kept his cool and told the Magi to "go and search diligently for the young child; and when you have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also."

When the Magi left Herod's court, the star was still in the sky to lead them to Bethlehem. And this begs another question. If the Magi could follow the star to Bethlehem, why did Herod need the Magi to come back and tell him where the child was? Why couldn't Herod or some of his CIA agents follow the star just as well?

You know the rest of the story. The Magi traveled on to Bethlehem where they worshipped the child king and gave him valuable gifts. Since they were Wise Men I suspect that they had already figured out that Herod was not to be trusted. But in case they hadn't sized Herod up correctly, the Bible tells us that they were warned in a dream not to go back to Herod - and they were instructed to take a different route home.  Good idea.  They probably stayed off the main trade route for fear that Herod would send his henchmen after them.

After a certain amount of time passes, Herod realizes that the Magi are not coming back to tell him exactly where Jesus is. He calculates - from the time of the first appearance of the star - that Jesus couldn't be more than two years old. We're told in Matthew 2:16 that Herod was enraged. The wicked king sent out his agents "and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under . . . " I suppose he slept well that night, thinking that surely Jesus was dead.

Little did Herod know that Joseph and Mary had made good use of the wealth the Magi had brought them by packing up and leaving promptly for Egypt.

to be continued . . . a few plausible answers in the next post.

Monday, December 6, 2010

St. Nicholas Day

I remember being told the legend of St. Nicholas when I was a child - about how he tossed bags of money through the window to the daughters of a poor man so that these girls could get married. It was explained that in those days girls had no hope of getting married unless their father could provide a dowry of money or valuable items. This story was way over my head at the time. Walt Disney's Cinderella was at the drive-in theater, and my family and I had been to see it. The Prince was in love with Cinderella, and he didn't seem to care one little bit that Cinderella was poor. I decided the young men in St. Nicholas' day must have been more greedy than romantic.

What wasn't explained to me as a child was that unmarried girls in St. Nicholas' era often ended up being sold as slaves, living a life of prostitution. Of course, I'm just as glad that wasn't explained to me because I was an innocent child of the 1950's and wouldn't have had a clue what it all meant. And if I had somehow figured it out, it certainly would have put a crimp in my romantic Cinderella ideas.

However, the complete explanation does lead to a greater appreciation of St. Nicholas. Because he was willing to share his wealth, these poor girls had a much brighter future.  According to legend, St. Nicholas was very generous with his wealth and preferred to give anonymously.

I can't help contrasting St. Nicholas' method of practicing charity with our methods today. Anonymous giving seems to be a relic of the past. But wait - how can I possibly know that? Anonymous givers are just that - anonymous - so of course, they wouldn't let me or anybody else know what they're giving. OK, for all I know there are a lot of anonymous givers out there. But that doesn't change the fact that there are a lot of givers who are far from anonymous.

There are wealthy celebrities who give a lot and make sure everybody knows they're giving a lot. They often create foundations and put their own name on it - something like The Mickey Mouse Foundation for Underprivileged Mice. I suppose some might say that when celebrities publicize their giving, they encourage other people to give. There may be some truth to that; but I think it's just as possible that the publicized giving that celebrities do might make a lot of ordinary people feel like they're off the hook. Their attitude might be - if there are so many rich people giving so much, surely nothing is expected of me.

Another thing - I think it's possible that publicizing charity might encourage some people to take advantage of an opportunity to get a handout rather than taking advantage of an opportunity to get a job.

Charity is a good thing.  It really is more blessed to give than to receive.  But I think how we give is important.  Apparently St. Nicholas thought so.  That's why he mounted his horse at night, rode by the poor girls' house and tossed the money bags through the window instead of knocking on the front door and presenting the bags in person.   He took the teaching of Jesus to heart.  What did Jesus say about giving?

So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men.  I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.    Matthew 6:2-4

If you want to know more about St. Nicholas Day and how it's celebrated all over the world, check out this interesting website - St. Nicholas Center

Friday, December 3, 2010

Seasonal Rambling

I've finally accepted it - chaos will reign during the first week of Advent.  There are boxes of decorations all over the living room.  The tree is up and decorated, and the Nativity scene is arranged on the buffet in the dining room; but the wreaths and garlands are still in their boxes along with the Santa collection that will eventually be on the kitchen window sill.  The gifts I ordered online have started to arrive so boxes from Amazon are sitting around here and there, waiting to be inspected and wrapped in Christmas paper. 

As we approach Christmas Day, the chaos gradually disappears.  All the decorations get where they're supposed to be, the gifts get wrapped and find their way under the Christmas tree.  Maybe there's some symbolism here.  Our lives are chaotic when our spirits are far removed from God; but as we approach God, our lives straighten out and become more orderly.  At least that's been my experience.

I always like to read a Christmas novel at this time of year. In spite of all the chaos around here, I managed to finish Christmas at Harrington's by Melody Carlson. The story was as good as the picture on the cover - a pretty young woman in a red coat, peering at a Christmas tree in the window of a department store while snow flakes drift down on the sidewalk. It's an inspiring story about redemption and about picking yourself up and starting over when the circumstances tell you to give up.

I have not even started addressing Christmas cards.  I usually have that done before the first of December.  Maybe my knee surgery has something to do with my being behind schedule this year.  The surgery was in August, but it's just in the last month that I've started to feel like I'm getting back to normal. 

We've received three Christmas cards already.  At least some people have it all together this year.  The first card to arrive was from an Australian pen pal.  There's a beautiful snow scene on the front of the card even though it's summer in Australia.  I guess our down-under friends know that a Christmas card with a beach scene and Santa in a red swim suit would look weird to us.  I need to locate one of those Louisiana Christmas cards to send to Australia - you know, a card that shows Santa's sleigh being pulled by eight alligators.

The second card we received was from a local business, and the third one was from Governor Bobby Jindal.  It's a nice card with a photo of the Governor and his family and a notation that no tax dollars were used in sending these cards out to constituents.  Politicians have to be careful about these things.

I can tell that Teche (the house cat) is annoyed with the Christmas chaos.  Our four foot tree is on his favorite end table - the one by the window where he likes to stretch out.  He has a good view there of the bird feeders in the back yard.  Another favorite spot of his - the coffee table - is littered with boxes.  The striped wing-back chair is full of packing material.  I'm trying to keep the wicker chair clear - that's his favorite napping spot.  If I pile it up, Teche might decide to leave home.

I guess you've noticed that this is a rambling, disjointed post - making it perfectly appropriate for the first week in Advent.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Overflowing with Hope

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. There were seven of us around the table. We ranged in age from thirty-three years old to ninety-four years old. We all have a lot to be thankful for. Good health is by far the greatest blessing of all, and we're all in reasonably good health. We all have a steady income that pays the bills, and that's truly a blessing in these troubled times.

In spite of these blessings, it wasn't long before our after-dinner conversation turned to what's wrong with the world. Our country is fighting two wars and - judging by the current news - could be drawn into a third war if North Korea keeps acting up. We talked about the declining dollar, the volatile stock market, the eroding of personal liberty - new airport security procedures being the latest example. We talked about how civilizations throughout history have all eventually failed, and how ours will no doubt fail sooner or later. Will it happen all of a sudden, or will it happen gradually so that we have time to adjust and prepare? How do you prepare for such a thing? Is it even possible to prepare for it? I don't know about everybody else, but I got up from the table feeling a little bit uneasy.

I had a sleepless spell during the middle of last night and found myself replaying our dinner table conversation. My uneasiness turned to remorse. Why didn't I inject some hope and optimism into that conversation? Surely that should be the role of the elder members of a family - putting things in perspective and sharing hope for the future with the younger ones who will still be here after we, the elders, have exited the stage of life. Christians, of all people, have reason to hope.  Why did I fail to offer some hope for the future? All I could do as I lay in bed pondering all this was to confess my weakness to God, ask for forgiveness and the strength and wisdom to do better.

Most mornings at about ten o'clock, I'm sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. This morning, as usual, I turned to the Daily Office Lectionary in the back of the prayer book to see the Bible readings for today. When I turned to the reading in Romans, I was amazed - not for the first time - at how the Bible speaks to our needs. It so often tells me what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Romans 15:13

That's the wonderful thing about God - he's not stingy! He wants us to "overflow with hope." I like the idea of overflowing with hope. I'm not proud to admit that my hope is sometimes so puny that it just barely keeps me hanging on by the skin of my teeth. But I don't believe  puny hope comes from the Holy Spirit. Puny hope is just me, trying to prop myself up and not doing a very good job of it. I think I'm going to give up my puny hope and trust God for that overflowing hope that comes from the power of the Holy Spirit - hope that will overflow to the younger members of my family - including the new grandbaby who is on the way and will be at the table with us next Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What is a Masterpiece Anyway?

I love words. A particular word may pop up often in something I'm reading or something I'm watching on TV - or even in conversation. Then I start to chew on the word like a dog chews on a bone. If I chew long enough, I usually find that there's more to the word than I first thought. Sometimes I find that there's more to it than the dictionary has to say about it.

Take the word "masterpiece." A masterpiece is one of the very best of whatever it is. It is an example of unusual excellence. A masterpiece of any type - whether art, music, literature, or any other category - cannot exist without a value system. What a heavy metal rock star considers a masterpiece of music may have no value at all for me. In order for it to be a masterpiece to this rock star and other rock music fans, they must have a value system by which they judge music. There must be a reason why they consider this particular piece to be a masterpiece over and above other pieces.

This sparks some questions in my mind. Are there perhaps two kinds of masterpieces - general and specialized? A general masterpiece would be one that is immediately recognized by most of the general population. A specialized masterpiece would be one that can't be appreciated unless the viewer has a certain specialized education. Does this make sense? An engineer may design a superb industrial valve. He and his colleagues may consider it a masterpiece. I could stare at it all day and never see anything but - at best - an interesting-looking hunk of metal. If the engineer explains what this valve can do and suggests that it could somehow be of benefit to me, I may see it in a different light. I may develop a sincere appreciation for it, but I don't believe I would think of it as a masterpiece. It's just too specialized.

When I first laid eyes on Caravaggio's painting of Christ being taken down from the cross, I knew instantly that I was beholding a masterpiece. I will always remember exactly how I felt when this painting caught my attention at the Vatican exhibit at the 1984 World's Fair in New Orleans. No one had to explain it to me. The apostle who stares out of that painting into the eyes of the observer, stared into the depths of my soul and said, "You see, he suffers this for you." This beautiful painting was huge. Am I exaggerating to say it was eight or ten feel tall and at least half that wide? I don't know - but it was big. Its figures seemed to come alive, and I was transported to the foot of the cross. I felt at least some of the sorrow, disappointment, and confusion those men and women felt as they cradled Christ's lifeless body.

After all is said and done, maybe a masterpiece is something that changes you in some way. The change may be small or it may be profound; but if the thing is a masterpiece, you will never be quite the same.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back to the Barn

I'd rather do barn work than house work. I can't explain why. The barn work is not any easier. There's just something about a barn. It has a friendly, homey atmosphere, and that's where I spent this morning.

I gave all three horses a thorough grooming - for the first time since my knee surgery.  They really need a good bath, but I'm not sure I'm up to that yet.  I've decided this knee surgery was a good thing after all.  My recovery is coming along, and I'm getting back to doing some of the things I used to enjoy before my knees got so bad I was always looking for a place to sit down.

Grooming a horse is a satisfying thing because a horse likes being groomed.  As much as I love dogs and cats, I can't say that I ever got the feeling that they enjoy being groomed.  The dogs I've had were never the least bit cooperative when I got out the grooming tools.  And Teche, our cat, will endure being brushed for just so long before he lets you know he's had enough. 

Horses - like people - are built differently.  Tesoro has a skimpy mane, but a thick tail.  Rocky has a long luxurious mane and a not-so-thick tail while Fay's mane and tail are about the same thickness.

Tesoro stands patiently while I brush him, even leaning into the brush somtimes as if to say it's OK for me to brush a little harder.   Rocky's mane is so long it's prone to getting knots and tangles.  Sometimes getting them all brushed out is quite a challenge. 

Both the boys stand pretty still while they're being groomed.  It's another story with Fay.  Fay is the most curious of the three.  She's got to know what's going on, and sometimes that requires changing position.  If she hears a boat passing on the bayou, she must look in that direction.  If she catches a glimpse of the kids across the street jumping on their trampoline, she's got to turn so she can see.  A top-notch horse trainer would say that I shouldn't put up with her moving around, and maybe I shouldn't.  But it's due to curiousity and not for any malicious purpose, so I move with her.  I'm as curious as she is. 

When the grooming was finished, I put hay in the outside racks and turned the horses out in the pasture.  Then I filled the sink in the barn aisle with hot soapy water and let the grooming brushes and tools soak while I cleaned stalls.  Then it was back to the sink to rinse the brushes.  I set them on a stool in the sun to dry.  I don't want to give the impression that I clean grooming tools daily.  I don't clean them often enough, so it was a job that was long overdue.

Jerry took the box fans out of the stalls so we can clean them and store them for the winter.  In the summer, when it's 98 degrees, the horses appreciate a little breeze in their stalls.  Well, Rocky and Fay appreciate it.  Tesoro tolerates it, but he lets you know he doesn't like that darn fan by snorting and going to a corner of the stall that doesn't get too much of the breeze from the fan.

Spiders love the barn.  They think we built it for them.  I spent some time brushing down their cobwebs with a broom.  I hate spiders!  I just can't think of anything useful about a spider.  OK, I guess they snare a few mosquitos in their webs - but not enough to put up with cobwebs all over the place.  A wren perched on a rafter and fussed at me while brushed down the cobwebs.  If it was spring, I'd think she must have a nest somewhere in the barn and was afraid it would be knocked down with the cobwebs.   But do wrens nest in the autumn?  I don't know. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Timely Thoughts

Most people have an opinion about the fact that our year is divided between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time. It seems to me that, although a few people don't care one way or the other, most people have a definite preference for one or the other.

I prefer Standard Time. There's something dishonest about Daylight Savings Time. Noon is when the sun is highest in the sky, and calling noon one o'clock in the afternoon is lying - plain and simple. I'm sure there are all sorts of other ways that we humans lie to ourselves for convenience sake - but I'll save them for future posts.

I'm old enough to remember when Daylight Savings Time wasn't a given.  Various forms of daylight time had apparently been tried on a haphazard basis, making The Uniform Time Act of 1966 necessary. It didn't require anyone to observe Daylight Savings Time; but it said that those who want to observe it must all observe it uniformly. Everybody had to change at the same time. That makes sense. Uniformity would have prevented a summer of chaos and confusion in the area of northern Florida where I grew up.

I don't remember the exact year, but it must have been in the 1950s, before the Uniform Time Act was passed. We lived in the rural county - between the city and the Air Force base. One summer the city and the Air Force base went on Daylight Savings Time while the county stayed on Standard Time. This, of course, meant that if you lived in the county and had an appointment in the city, your appointment would be an hour later than what the watch on your arm said. The same thing was true if you lived in the county and had business on the Air Force base.

On the other hand, if you lived in the city or on the Air Force base and had an appointment in the county, your appointment was an hour earlier than the hour your watch displayed. I was just a child at the time, but I remember that the grown-ups grumbled all summer about the confusion. People were always arriving early or late for appointments.

Thank goodness things are more uniform now. Well, sort of. Hawaii and Arizona choose to stay on Standard Time year round even now. Well, almost. The Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona does observe Daylight Savings Time. That's surprising. I would have thought the Native Americans were so in tune with nature that they would be even more repelled by Daylight Savings Time than I am. Sometimes my logic just doesn't hold up.

Of course, modern humans are not the first to tinker with time. The Romans, with their sundial system, couldn't even count on an hour having sixty minutes. The time from sunrise to sunset was divided by twelve, and the time from sunset to sunrise was also divided by twelve; so there were twenty-four hours in a day for the Romans just like there are for us. But in the summer - when there is more daylight than dark - an hour could have as many as seventy-five minutes while an hour during the night could have as little as forty-four minutes. Of course, in the winter when the darkness lasts longer then the daylight, the night hours were longer than the day hours. Comprende? If you want to know more about Roman time-keeping, you can check it out here All I can say is it's surprising that Romans ever got anywhere on time. Maybe they didn't.

All this rambling aside, I'm glad to be back on Standard Time. My body is more in tune with Standard Time, and I find it easier to get up in the morning. My apologies to those of you who prefer Daylight Savings Time.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rocky's Journal - Entry 3

I had a rough weekend.  I've just now recovered enough to write about it.  We missed our Saturday evening feed and our Sunday morning feed.  And - to add insult to injury - we had to spend the night in the triangle pasture.  We've been in the triangle for daytime grazing many times, but this was the first time we ever spent the night over there.  I don't like the triangle at night.  That wooded fence line gives me the creeps.  Anything could be lurking there, just waiting to spring on you - a lion, a tiger, or - more likely, since this is Louisiana - a slimy alligator.

All this trouble and hardship started because of the improvements they're doing on the barn.  Here's a news flash for you - barns are for the convenience of people, not horses.  The people around here didn't like it that it gets muddy in front of the stall doors when it rains.  They can't stand getting mud on their feet.  Of course, mud never bothered any self-respecting horse, but people are persnickety.  So they decided to add on to the overhang above the stall doors.  This involved a lot of beating and banging, welding, setting up scaffolding, moving material in and out of the gates.  They figured we would be in the way in the barn pasture so they decided to lead us over to the triangle.

Going to the triangle means we have to walk across the unfenced backyard.  They always lead Tesoro over to the triangle first.  Then they lead me and Fay over there.  Tesoro always behaves perfectly when they lead him to the triangle.  He ambles across the backyard with his head held high like he's parading in front of a panel of judges.  I think he does it just to make me and Fay look bad. 

So anyway - Saint Tesoro was already in the triangle when they got me and Fay out of our stalls.  I don't remember exactly why or how things got rowdy, but it was Fay's fault.  She was all nervous and started dancing around and going in circles.  And any time Fay gets nervous, I do, too.  I mean - if she's nervous, there must be a reason.  And if there's a reason, shouldn't I get nervous, too?  Then too, it was cool and crisp and we felt kind of frisky.  So we danced and circled all the way across the back yard.  Our people don't like that kind of behavior.  I don't know why it bothers them so much.  It's not like we're trying to run away from them.  But they don't like it. 

We enjoyed grazing all day Saturday in the triangle.  When it was time to go back to the barn in the evening for supper, we all waited at the gate - like we always do.  But nobody came to lead us back to the barn.  Just before dark, they came on the tractor with the bucket loaded with hay.  Jerry threw the bales of hay over the fence for us to eat.  He and Judy talked about how rowdy we had been that morning and said they had decided to let us spend the night in the triangle so they wouldn't have to lead us back the next morning.

I couldn't believe my ears!  Hay is OK, grass is better, but feed is out-of-this-world good!  And soon as they said we were spending the night in the triangle, I knew there wasn't going to be any feed.

It was a miserable night.  Tesoro read me the riot act.  He said he was having to miss his feed because I misbehaved.  I tried to tell him it was all Fay's fault, but he wouldn't listen.  He has a crush on Fay and doesn't think she can ever do anything wrong.  And Fay's lips were sealed.  She wouldn't say a word in my defense.  So I had a pretty rough night what with Tesoro fussing at me and the scary shadows and sounds coming from the fence line.  I sure was glad to see the sun rise Sunday morning.

Well, the overhang extension is all done now except for a few finishing touches.  We're back in the barn pasture - getting our morning and evening feed.  And to think - all that hoopla just to keep people from getting their dainty little feet muddy! 

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Onerous Burden

A cable news station reported recently that an Arizona law that requires voters to prove they are citizens before they are allowed to vote has been struck down by an appeals court.  Supposedly, having to furnish this proof would be an "onerous burden." 

It seems like society's motto has become:  Let's see how complicated we can make simple things.  And seriously - this seems like a simple thing to me.  Either you are a U. S. citizen or you're not.  If you are, you must have something in your possession to prove that you are.  If you're a natural born citizen, you have a birth certificate.  If you are a naturalized citizen, you have some papers to document your citizenship. 

I know, I know - it's possible that you had your birth certificate or naturalization papers at one time, but you've lost them - or spilled coffee on them - or let the dog chew on them -or accidently lined the bird cage with them - or flushed them down the commode, mistaking them for toilet paper.  If any of these disasters have occurred, you take the initiative to contact the appropriate government agency and get a duplicate document.  Granted - getting this duplicate may take a while.  Government agencies are not known for speedy service.  If you wait until the day before the voter registration deadline to locate your proof of citizenship, you may have to miss voting in an election.  But if you really want to vote, I bet you'll have your act together before the next election rolls around.

And now, let's get to the pertinent question - how is producing this documentation when you register to vote an "onerous burden?" I thought I knew the meaning of "onerous," but I went to the dictionary to be sure.  It gives two definitions.

1.  burdensome, oppressive, or troublesome; causing hardship
2.  having or involving obligations or responsibilities, especially legal ones, that outweigh the advantages

The dictionary gives eight definitions for "burden."  If you want to know all of them, you'll have to go to your own dictionary and look them up.  If looking all this up would be an onerous burden, just take my word for it that the definition that applies in this case is the one that says a burden is "that which is borne with difficulty; an obligation."

Is furnishing a birth certificate or naturalization papers really an oppressive, troublesome act that is borne with difficulty, causing hardship?  Is it an obligation that outweighs its advantages?   Really - honestly - is it that bad?  Is it any worse than showing your driver's license to prove how old you are when you want to buy a fifth of whiskey?  Is it any worse than producing your library card when you want to check out a book?  Is it any worse than whipping out your health insurance card when you go to the doctor?  Have we become such whimps that simple things like these are onerous burdens?

You know what I think an onerous burden is?  I think the blood, tears, sweat, toil, and treasure given by those who founded our nation were onerous burdens.  I think being a combat soldier today in a war zone is an oneous burden.  And isn't it incredible to think that the founders of the nation made extreme sacrifices, and present-day soldiers are - at this very moment - making extreme sacrifices for people back home who think furnishing proof of citizenship in order to vote is an onerous burden!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fidget Pie

I have quite a few English ancestors.  So why didn't any of the traditional English recipes get handed down in our family?  We never had Yorkshire pudding, shepherd's pie, plum pudding, or fidget pie when I was growing up.  French cooking may be applauded by the whole world, but English cooking is often spoken of in less than glowing terms.  Could it be that my English ancestors came to America to escape English cooking - in spite of what the history books say about their wanting to escape religious persecution?  I don't know, but a few years ago I decided to try out some of the traditional English recipes. 

I bought a special pan to make plum pudding - which is a cake, not what we Americans think of as pudding.  To add to the confusion, there are no plums in plum pudding.  English recipes often have names that are not very descriptive.  Maybe it's the English sense of humor.  Anyway, plum pudding is steamed on top of the stove and takes several days to complete from the initial mixing of the batter to the steaming.  I like it, but it's not my all-time favorite dessert.

I've made Yorkshire pudding which is a flour/eggs/milk batter, poured into hot drippings from a roast, and baked in the oven.  Delicious!  I've never made shepherd's pie, but I've had it on two or three occasions at Scottich Highland Game festivals.  It has ranged from OK to pretty good.  Maybe I should bake my own and see if it's any better.

Fidget pie has always been a complete mystery to me.  The origin of the name seems to be lost in the mists of antiquity.  Some think its name may come from the word "fitchett," a slang word for apple, but who really knows?   I googled Fidget Pie recently and found a recipe here  I used a thawed frozen pie shell for the top crust.  Here's the filling recipe:

40g butter (in American lingo that's about 1/2 cup)

3 potatoes, peeled & finely sliced (I didn't peel my red potatoes; and instead of slicing them, I used my mandolin slicer with the julienne attachment.)

2 cooking apples (I used Granny Smiths.)

2 onions, sliced (I chopped mine.)

2 tsp. finely chopped sage (Next time I'll use more sage.)

2 tsp. light muscovado sugar (Never having heard of muscovado sugar, I used brown, unrefined sugar from the local sugar mill.)

2 slices sweetcure gammon (Gammon is English for bacon, I think.  Anyway, that's what I used - a good lean breakfast bacon.  And I used about six slices.  I like bacon.)

150ml (about 1/2 cup) vegetable stock (I think chicken or beef stock would be just as good.  Another Fidget Pie recipe called for apple cider instead of vegetable stock.)

I assembled all this as follows:
(Preheat oven to 350 degrees)  I melted the butter over low heat in a large skillet with straight sides.  I added the potatoes, onions,  apples, and sage; stirring until whatever liquid produced was almost evaporated and everything was partially tender.  I put this mixture in a large, greased pie plate.  I stacked my six slices of bacon and cut them into small pieces.  I put them into the same skillet, separating the pieces, and stirring until brown.  I spread the bacon pieces over the potato/apple/onion mixture in the pie plate.  Then I poured the vegetable stock in and sprinkled the whole mixture with salt and pepper.  I flattened the thawed pastry shell and put it on top of the mixture, pressing the edges down on the pie plate.  I brushed the crust with milk and baked the pie at 350 for 30 minutes.  I reduced the oven temperature to 325 and baked for another 10 minutes until crust was golden brown. 

Jerry and I both agree that this recipe is a keeper!  It's different and delicious!  Jerry confessed that he did quite a bit of "fidgeting" while I was preparing this pie - wondering what he was going to be expected to eat.  Jerry's a Cajun.  I think he's suspicious of anything that's not jambalaya, seafood, or a roux-based stew. 


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Spit Balls - A Dubious Memoir

Judybug at Seven
 Schools aren't like they used to be. Hardly a day goes by that the news channels don't report some sort of school violence - ranging from hair-pulling fights and fist fights to shootings that result in serious injury or death. By comparison my generation was tame. We weren't so violent, but don't think our little hearts were pure.

I had a bit of 1950s savagery in me when I was in the second grade. There was a boy in our class (I'll call him Johnny) who no one liked. I don't know exactly why - but looking back - I think it was because he seemed so perfect, and we got it in our arrogant little heads that he gloried in his perfection and needed to be taken down a notch or two.

The worst crime in our second grade class was throwing spit balls when we thought the teacher wasn't looking. We would tear off little pieces of paper from a notebook, dampen them by putting them in our mouths for a few seconds. Then we would form them into little balls and throw or spit them at our classmates. The teacher saw no humor in spit balls and dealt out punishment to spit-ball-throwers. This activity was sure to get you a spanking.

One day at recess a friend of mine made a suggestion to our little group. He would throw two or three spit balls when the teacher wasn't looking and say that Johnny threw them; and the rest of us would swear to it. Since I thoroughly disliked Johnny, I was a willing participant in this conspiracy. The conspiracy was quite successful, and Johnny was duly punished.

But that wasn't the end of the thing for me. By the time I walked home from school that day, my conscience had me in hand. I thought about what I had done.  I thought about what I had learned in Sunday School - that it was a great sin to lie. Even at my young age I understood the difference in a white lie meant to spare someone's feelings and the more serious "bearing false witness" in order to get someone into undeserved trouble. There was no getting around the fact that what I had done was to bear false witness. I did not sleep well for several nights. I had nightmares. I don't remember worrying that God would punish me (although maybe I should have worried) - it was enough for me to know that God was not pleased with me.

I wish I could say that I confessed to the teacher and restored Johnny's reputation, but I didn't. I was seven years old, and I guess my character wasn't that well developed. But what I did do was make up my mind to never do such a thing again. I had learned that whatever short-lived pleasure I might get from this kind of behavior wasn't worth the toll my conscience would take.

Remembering this incident brings two questions to mind. How did we progress from spit balls to shootings? And is personal conscience a thing of the past?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Reading Preferences

Works of non-fiction are important.  Who can deny it?   They supply us with practical knowledge.   From time to time we all need to know how to do something - like fix a leaky pipe or plant a garden or repair a toilet. 

Non-fiction satisfies our curiosity.  Some people enjoy reading the latest scoop about their favorite celebrities.  Non-fiction feeds our intellect which is why some like to read historical works or the latest scientific discoveries. 

I'm addicted to reading all the latest books about current politics.  Apparently I like to scare myself - you know, the way some people like to scare themselves by watching horror movies or riding roller coasters.  The fact that flawed, fallible politicians make ill advised decisions that eventually effect the everyday lives of everybody in the country is heady stuff.

As important as non-fiction is, it seems to me that a reading life confined to non-fiction alone is like a desert where facts rise up like buttes in a wasteland without warmth or humanness or domesticity.   My mind may require non-fiction, but my soul and my imagination demand fiction. 

But fiction is a broad classification, and I like a certain kind of fiction.  I don't want to read disturbing, unnerving fiction.  Reality is disturbing and unnerving enough.  My soul wants to be soothed and consoled. 

I like books about big families whose members are good enough to be endearing, but imperfect enough to be real.   I like books that supply a lot of domestic details.  I'm not a bit bored when I read about how the dishes are stored in the kitchen, how the sun strikes the diningroom table at an odd angle, or how the linens in the closet smell like lavender.

I get attached to characters - so much so that sometimes when I finish a book, I feel something akin to grief at having to leave the characters who have become real friends to me. 

Two or three years ago I chose a book from the fiction shelves at Barnes & Noble because I loved the cover - a watercolor picture of a quaint village.  Yes, I am prone to judging books by their covers - a bad habit that can lead to disappointment. 

But this book - An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor - did not disappoint.  It's set in Northern Ireland in the 1960s.  I immediately felt a kinship to the characters - the well established Dr. O'Reilly with a personality like Rooster Cogburn (as portrayed by John Wayne in the movie by that name); Barry Laverty, Dr. O'Reilly's optimistic young assistant; Mrs. Kincaid, the bustling housekeeper; and a train of interesting patients from the village who show up with various ailments.  Dr. O'Reilly and Dr. Laverty make regular house calls to patients who live in the rural areas outside the village.  These travels are always interesting and often humorous.  Needless to say, it was sad to finish this book and leave all my friends in the village of Ballybucklebo behind.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I was at Barnes & Noble - in the fiction department again.  After reading two political books, one after the other, I needed some soul nourishment.   I was about to give up and leave empty handed when I saw what turned out to be a sequel to An Irish Country Doctor.  It's called An Irish Country Village.  I bought it, and I'm immersed once more in the life of Dr. O'Reilly and associates.  The best news of all is that there is a third book, An Irish Country Christmas.  So it looks like I'll be able to finish out the year with my Ballybucklebo friends.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Autumn on the Bayou

Spider Lily

Autumn has arrived in southern Louisiana. We’ve had several days of cool temperatures and low humidity. Unfortunately, we’re so desperate for rain that a statewide burn ban has been issued. So much for fall campfires. Even so, the glorious fall weather is welcome after the hot, humid summer.

Country roads have become corridors that wend their way through tall green sugar cane. We took a ride down an unpaved cane field lane recently just to hear the wind blowing through the leaves.  Wind blowing through a cane field sounds like the rustling of taffeta skirts, and my vivid imagination conjures up a picture of a grand ballroom - one where Scarlett O'Hara might have danced.

October skies in our part of the world are usually a clear slate blue with no clouds at all – a contrast to our summer skies with their beautiful fluffy white clouds.

Spider lilies are putting out their orange blooms on tall stems minus any leaves. That’s the way spider lilies are – the green leaves come in the spring, the blooms in the fall.

The harvest moon made its appearance toward the end of September, rising large and silvery, early in the evening. In the old days, before my time and before modern farming equipment made harvesting fast and efficient, the farm hands could continue harvest work into the night by the light of a harvest moon.

The hay stall in our barn is stacked full of bales of fall hay. I don’t know who likes the sweet smell best – me or the horses. Probably me. I think the horses prefer spring hay because it has clover mixed in with the grasses.

I’ve just taken a stroll around the back yard. The satsuma tree is loaded with fruit, and I see that some of them are already beginning to turn from green to orange. Sweet juicy satsumas - another one of the perks of autumn.

Autumn also brings the return of the grackles - those raucous black birds whose tail feathers appear to be attached at an odd angle.  They usually arrive in large flocks, stay a day or two, and then move on to other destinations.  They're certainly not song birds.  Their repertoire of croaks and screeches makes me think of squeaking rusty hinges.  Their best feature is their irridescent feathers.  When the sun strikes them they shine in purple and green jewel tones.

For many years the sound of acorns falling on our metal roof was music to my ears.  It meant that fall was upon us - the oppresive summer heat was past.  After Hurricane Gustav in 2008, we decided to remove the oak tree that rained its acorns down our roof.  We had seen what oak trees had done to some of our neighbors' houses during the storm.  We were lucky to have escaped damage to our house, but decided a large oak just a few feet from the house was a risk we didn't want to continue to take.  It was a sad day when they cut the oak down.  During hurricane season I'm glad it's not there, but I miss it this time of year.  But when you live on the same spot of ground for forty-some years, you can't expect everything to stay the same.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Feeling Like Rip Van Winkle

Rip Van Winkle fell asleep under a tree one day and woke up twenty years later to find that his world had changed a bit.  I didn't fall asleep under a tree, but the after-effects of knee surgery have rendered me only semi-functional for almost a month.  Now that I'm off the heavy-duty pain medication, I'm trying to catch up on things that have been neglected. 

Could it be that a month in our fast-paced modern world is equivalent to twenty years in Rip's slower paced 19th century world?  Maybe not, but it's amazing what can pile up in a 21st century month.  I had hundreds of junk e-mails to be deleted from computer, netbook, and iPhone. 

There was a mountain of postal mail - almost all of it destined for the trash can.  I'm not a radical tree-hugging environmentalist, but I think all this junk mail is a terrible waste of natural resources.  But then I guess the design, printing, and delivery of junk mail provides a lot of jobs.

Why do upscale mail-order companies produce a new catalog every week?  The merchandise is always the same and the prices seldom vary.  But every week there's a newly designed catalog.  No wonder their prices are outrageous - they've got to pay for those slick publications.

Why do charitable organizations send you a letter, asking for a donation, with a dime or nickel attached to the letter?  Is this the unspoken message: "You're going to feel guilty if you keep our coin, so assuage your guilt by sending us $20.00 - or better still, $200.00."  I put these coins, along with my pocket change, in a charity piggy bank to be donated to someone or some organization at Christmas.

Do politicians know that all those flyers they have printed up go straight to the trash can as soon as their backs are turned? 

Maybe my out-of-commission month can't really be compared to Rip Van Winkle's twenty years, but I doubt if it's an exaggeration to say that I get more mail in a month than Rip got in twenty years.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Me, My Knee, and Feline Therapy

I had knee replacement surgery three weeks ago.  During my three day hospital stay the nurses brought me various pills at regular intervals.  Of course, I had some discomfort; but for the most part I wondered what all the hooplah about knee surgery was all about.  The classes I had attended in preparation for the event had emphasized that knee surgery is a BIG DEAL.  I reclined on my hospital bed - under the influence of powerful pain medication - and decided everybody had exaggerated.   "Knee surgery is a piece of cake," I mused.

The first night at home was a nomadic affair.  My husband and I assessed all the beds in the house to see where we thought I'd be the most comfortable.  We decided our bed was too high.  The Futon in the front bedroom was too low.  The four-poster bed in the guest room seemed to be just right.  Thinking it to be the perfect Goldilocks "just right" solution, I tried to get comfortable on a pile of pillows.  It didn't take me long to discover that - even with all the pillows - I wasn't elevated enough.  My nose stopped up and I couldn't breathe. 

I moved to the recliner in the front bedroom.  I found a reasonably comfortable position for my poor knee.  It seemed to be a little more demanding than it was in the hospital.  Even so, I went sound asleep.   I woke up about two hours later, wondering why my face felt like a block of ice.  I figured out that the recliner is positioned right where the air-conditioning vent blows a steady blast of cold air.  This is Louisiana, not Montana, so I don't have a supply of ski masks at hand - and I wasn't about to turn the air-conditioning off.  I had no choice but to relocate.

Jerry helped me up.  All of a sudden my knee has become a real issue.  It's very picky about how I move it.  We gather up pillows, throws, water bottle, medicine, lip balm, and God knows what else.  I grab hold of my walker and struggle down the hall to the livingroom recliner where I'm finally able to get as comfortable as my knee would let me get.  Jerry went to sleep on the couch.

I had no idea a cat could wake you up from a sound sleep just by looking at you.  Under normal circumstances Teche, our big black and white cat, is confined to the livingroom-kitchen area of the house at night while we occupy the bedroom part of the house.  Teche is not used to his territory being invaded at night.  Several times I woke up to discover my favorite feline, sitting on the arm of my recliner, with his nose about three inches from mine - giving me an intense stare.  I thought his look plainly said, "You DO know that something is WRONG with you?!"  I'm still grateful that he made no attempt to get on my lap and spread himself out over my incision.  I don't know why he didn't recline on my lap because, heaven knows, he's a dedicated lap cat.  I'm always amazed by the savviness of animals.  Apparently Teche knows that my lap is unfit,  and he is content - even now - to visit me from his position on the arm of the chair.

We continue to spend most nights in the livingroom.  Teche has adjusted to this new arrangement.  But his brand of cat therapy includes getting the people up by 6:30 a.m.  He's not happy until the curtains are open, the lights are on, and the coffee's brewing.  "They can sleep in my part of the house," he thinks, "but they'll do it on my time schedule."

I came home from the hospital on a Friday.  The official physical therapist came on Monday morning - a perfectly harmless-looking young woman with a pleasant, perky demeanor.  I've come to realize that therapists are many-layered people.  Don't be fooled for one minute by that harmless facade.  Over the last two weeks she has made me do things that I wouldn't do to a perfectly good knee - let alone one that that has been cut into.  I wonder about her memory.  At times she seems to forget that my left knee has suffered recent violence at the hands of the surgeon.  She acts like we're simply carrying out an exercise program to strengthen perfectly good knees.

On two occasions I barely saw her out the front door before having a crying meltdown - declaring loudly to my husband that, not only is knee surgery a BIG DEAL, it's a MISTAKE! ------- But today, I'm optimistic.  Therapy seems to be getting a little easier.  I got through another day of it and lived to tell about it.  I'm able to get around the house pretty good without my walker.  This morning I cleaned the kitchen and walked around the house, picking up various out-of-place items that had accumulated on the kitchen bar.  It occurred to me that I could not have done these tasks before surgery without having to have several sitting-down breaks. 

So maybe all this therapy is paying off.  Maybe knee surgery is not a mistake after all.  We'll see.  The jury is still out.  There will probably be more crying meltdowns in the future, but somehow I think maybe the worst is over.  Just maybe.  Now, let's see - is it time for a pain pill?

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Hat - A Memoir

Why is it that some long past, trivial events stand out in bold relief in our memories while more important matters sometimes fade into obscurity? I don’t know the answer. When youth left me so did most of the answers.  In mid-life I’m left only with examples to wonder about - like one golden, sunny day that I sat in a boat with my mother and father and a friend of theirs named Joe. I was a little thing - two and a half or three - according to my mother. It’s the absolute earliest memory that I can mine from the archives in my head.

I don’t remember preparing for that little voyage out in the bay, and I don’t remember coming home from it. But I do remember Joe’s hat. It went overboard at some point. I don’t know if he dropped it in the water or if the wind blew it off; but I can still see it clearly in the glistening water, moving rapidly away from us, getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I remember somebody remarked that it was gone.

I wasn’t greatly disturbed that Joe had lost his hat, but I knew that something remarkable had happened. The fact that Joe’s hat could be on his head one minute and gone forever the next was an amazing thing. But more amazing than that was the fact that retrieving that hat was completely beyond the ability of any one of those three grown-ups in the boat with me. They had been gods right up until the moment when Joe’s hat began to fade in the distance - gone forever. I don't remember being frightened by this event, but - as little as I was - I knew that it meant something.  I knew that it had somehow changed my life.

In telling this tale, I wonder if I’ve found an answer. Maybe these "trivial" events that establish themselves as permanent fixtures in our memories are not trivial at all. Maybe they are the only events that are important to our eternal selves - to that part of us that will never die. And just maybe some of the things that we think are so important don’t matter much after all.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A Conservative Reads Obama

I'm a conservative - a traditionalist - and so my political philosophy does not coincide with President Obama's.  But it never hurts to know something about the background of the man in the White House no matter who he is.

Most presidents write about themselves after they've left office.  Obama wrote of himself before taking office, giving us an opportunity to learn about his background early on. 

I was surprised at the size of Dreams From My Father - 400+ pages - since Obama was only in his thirties when he wrote it.  But I like thick books so I ploughed in.  It's well written and interesting, reading like a novel.

Shortly after Obama was born, his black Kenyan father had to choose between two college scholarships.  One was to Harvard, and one to another prestigious university.  The non-Harvard scholarship not only paid tuition, but would have paid living expenses for the family of three.  The Harvard scholarship only paid tuition.  Obama's white American mother was in favor of the one that paid living expenses as well as tuition.  As I read this, I sympathized with her.  That would seem to be the sensible choice for a family man.  But Obama's father told her he couldn't pass up a Harvard education, and so he abandoned her and the infant Barack so he could pursue this education without being burdened with a family.

Obama's early childhood was spent in Indonesia with his mother and Indonesian stepfather - she had remarried by this time.  The stepfather's religion was a mixture of Islam and local religious superstitution.  Eventually the marriage failed, and Obama, his mother, and his baby half-sister returned to Hawaii where Obama's maternal grandparents lived.

By this time Obama was ten or twelve years old.  His white grandfather sometimes took him along on visits to his favorite barroom that had pornographic posters on the wall and was frequented by pimps and prostitutes.  According to Obama, his grandfather was usually the only white man in the bar.

Obama's mother was a hard worker and - to her credit - did everything in her power to see that he got a good education.  I don't think she ever stopped loving Obama's father in spite of the fact that he had abandoned her and their baby.  She built him up to be a hero to the young Barack.

Obama's college days were spent in the company of "politically active blacks, foreign students, Chicanos, Marxist professors, structural feminists, and punk rock performance poets."  Socialism and black liberation theology were significant influences.  Since my knowledge of black liberation theology was scanty, I decided to do some research.  According to James Cone, a prominent black liberation theologian, this belief system includes - among other things - the belief that white people owe black people a lot; and if they (white people) want redemption, they must make material restitution.  This is a far cry from traditional Christianity.

Although Obama's community organizing in Chicago produced some small victories for the black community, I got the impression that the black communities in Chicago weren't much different after Obama left than they were before he arrived.  The people he dealt with while he was there were interesting.  They ranged from hard-working blacks with moderate views to radical black nationalists.  They all spent a lot of time discussing "black self-hatred," the unjust past, and their inability to move beyond it.  The idea that the answers to their problems lie in black unity seemed to prevail.  One of Obama's associates - a black teacher who led a mentorship program in Chicago's public schools said, "I teach them that Africans are a communal people."

Obama tells about his close friendship with Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a black liberation theologian; and he (Obama) praises the Black Value System that Rev. Wright's church adopted.  This value system is described as "articles of faith no less than belief in the Resurrection."

Obama traveled to Kenya and spent time getting to know his father's family.  His father is dead by this time.  His older sister, Auma, fills him in on the family history.  I thought this was the most interesting part of the book, and I found myself really liking some of Obama's Kenyan relatives.

Dreams From My Father was well worth reading.  It explains the development of Obama's collectivist, socialist views.  In light of the information he gives in this book, it is understandable that he wants to fundamentally transform America into a country that differs substantially from its roots of individual and personal liberty. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rocky's Journal - Entry 2

This is the second entry in Rocky's journal.  His journal is dedicated to all animal lovers who like to indulge in attributing human traits to our furry and feathered friends. Although it's fanciful, it's not fiction. The events are real - just from Rocky's point of view. My apologies to readers who think this sort of thing is silly.

The vet was out here again last week.  I hung my head over the stall door and watched as the Doc and the two vet students who came with her examined Tesoro's back left foot.  When the vet came about three weeks ago, it was his front right foot.  He got lame in the back foot just a day or two after getting over the front foot.

They poked and pinched his hoof while he stood there eating hay - an extra ration, I might add, that Fay and I won't get.  But they thought he wouldn't mind being poked so much if he had something to munch on. 

After the poking was over, they decided to walk him around out in the pasture to see how his back foot behaved - and sure 'nuff, it behaved like a lame foot.  I could have told them that.  Then they brought him back in the barn aisle and decided to give him some shots - something called a nerve block.  At this point I decided not to begrudge him that little bit of extra hay.  After a few minutes, they said his hoof was numb and they took him for another walk in the pasture.  And guess what?  No lameness.  I think all this was to prove that the problem was in the hoof and not further up in his leg bones. 

Next they hauled the portable x-ray machine out of the vet's truck.  And poor old Tesoro got another shot -  a sedative so they could get him to put his two back feet on wooden blocks.  He sure looked silly with his back feet on blocks that made his rear end higher than his front end.  But he was so woozy he didn't care.  He didn't even feel like eating hay.

The vet seemed to be happy with the x-rays since they showed an abscess and not laminitis.  I didn't think it was anything too serious since I hadn't noticed any vultures circling the pasture - no more than the one or two regulars that are always patroling the neighborhood, looking for something to eat.  I'm glad I'm a horse and not a vulture.  It's a lot easier to find grass than it is to find old dead things.

They tied a plastic bag with Epsom salt water in it around Tesoro's foot and soaked it for a few minutes.  Then they put some of that slimy green paste on the bottom of his hoof and put a homemade boot on it.  This homemade boot is - you'll never guess - a disposable baby diaper - complete with cartoon characters printed on it!  I'll swear, I couldn't help snickering when I saw it.  Then they wrapped the diaper in shiny silver tape and, I have to admit, it looks right spiffy.

An hour after the vet left, Tesoro was over his wooziness so Jerry let us out in the pasture.  And - can you believe it! - we weren't out there five minutes before Tesoro came toward me and Fay at a good clip to run us off our patch of grass.  Sometimes I wonder if he doesn't fake these foot problems just for the attention. 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Artist Trading Cards

It's amazing how you can rock along with your normal routine life and suddenly stumble on something that you didn't know existed.  The internet, of course, is a fantastic place to stumble on new things.  Like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, I've recently fallen into the world of Artist Trading Cards.  And believe me - it's a well populated world.  There are enough websites and YouTube videos about Artist Trading Cards to keep you busy for hours on end.  There are websites that facilitate the trading of ATCs.  There are websites that sell ATC supplies - boxes and albums for storage, plastic sleeves for protection,  and rotating stands for displaying.

The only firm rules about Artist Trading Cards - often referred to as ATCs - is that they must be 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches and must be traded, not sold. (There's a way around the "not sold" rule - more about that later.) Any medium can be used to create an ATC - paint, ink, chalk, colored pencils, rubber stamps, collage elements, etc.  Some ATCs are made of fabric and stitching.  Some have three dimensional features. 

I had lots of fun this morning creating the ATC pictured above.  The lighthouse scene is a rubber stamped image that I colored with watercolor pencils.  The sky was "painted" by dabbing a sponge on a blue rubber stamp pad and then dabbing the sponge lightly onto the sky area.  The water at the bottom of the card is a torn piece of aqua-colored paper.  The torn, ragged edge of the paper conveniently looks like surf pounding the rocks at the base of the lighthouse.  The pretty young miss was cut from the glossy cover of a mail-order catalog and glued onto the card with a glue stick.  I wasn't happy that the young lady was glossy and the rest of the card wasn't.  I remedied this by using a small artist brush to apply a thin coat of matte gel medium to the dear girl.  I'm pleased with the result.   As Dee Gruenig, the queen of rubber stamping, often says about her own creations, "It's so cute, I can hardly stand it!"  Is it really art?  I don't know, but it sure is fun!

I've created four or five ATCs in the last two weeks.  I have to confess that I like them so much, I'm not sure I want to part with them.  They may never be traded.  I've ordered a couple of ATC boxes for storing my creations.  Maybe when I've made enough of them, I'll be willing to part with some of them.   I think the only reason great artists are able to part with their work is that they are confident they can produce more good work.  When you're an iffy artist like I am, you're never sure you can pull it off again.

Now, back to the "not sold" rule.  It appears to me that if you want to sell your little works of art, you just call them ACEOs.  I'll bet you didn't know there's a whole 'nother world of ACEOs - Art Card Editions & Originals.  There's brisk commerce in the ACEO world - just search for ACEOs on E-Bay and you'll see what I mean.

Whether you call them ATCs or ACEOs, creating these little works of art is a lot of fun.  It's an inexpensive hobby, requiring few supplies.  If you're on a tight budget, you can cut your cards from cereal boxes.  If you want your cards to be a little more sophisticated, 100# Bristol board is perfect.  It's sold in tablets at Michael's and Hobby Lobby and is not too expensive.  Old magazines and catalogs are great sources for collage elements. 

One of the best features of this hobby is that an ATC is a small project that can be completed in one sitting.  And I imagine if I ever decide to trade some of my ATCs, I will probably make some new friends.