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.