News from Eureka Springs, Arkansas

Saturday, December 21, 2013

UPYO, or, A Politically Correct Christmas Greeting

 I have had occasion to research teen language for dialogue revisions to my new work of fiction, a romance due out next summer, working title: Love in a Small Town. They talk in shorthand, like OMG, meaning Oh, My God. Hence my addition to the lexicon. I have invented a new response for all you twitters and texters to reply to opinionated tools who want to tell all of us what to think.
     UPYO.  Meaning get out of my face. To all those haters who want to trash Christmas Carols, remove patriotic or religious monuments, denigrate our servicemen by objecting to flag displays, and pick on Duck Dynasty for expressing religious belief, UPYO.
     This country was founded by brave men and women who felt they should be entitled to have an opinion, be heard, and decide on their leaders without minority interference. We've fought several wars defending that notion, so UPYO.
      You want to accuse my four-year-old of sexual predation if he hugs his little sister? UPYO.
      You want to You want to suspend my fourth grader because his half-eaten ham sandwich resembles a gun? UPYO. I could go on, but I'm offering the ultimate in ridiculous . . . a piece of writing I found in my file with no indication of the original author. It expresses how far we've gone to be politically correct about Christmas and how silly we all are behaving in the face of bullying by a few. That's what it is. Adult bullying by trying to outlaw wearing red t-shirts at Christmas. So, UPYO. Enjoy.
                                                         Seasonal Greetings
     Please accept, with no obligation implied or implicit, my best wishes for an environmentally correct, socially conscious celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the parameters of your religious/secular persuasion, or not, for the calendar year of 2014, but not without due respect for the calendar of your choice in other cultures without regard to race, creed, color, origin age, or physical ability, computer platform or sexual reference to the wishee, with an amount of affection and sincerity you might deem appropriate.
    Disclaimer: This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawl. It implies no intent upon the wisher to actually implement any of these good wishes and is void where prohibited by law.
 Merry (00000)mas!  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Thanksgiving Traditions Better Forgotten

I live alone these days. That means I’m no longer in charge of making Thanksgiving Dinner happen, starting two days ahead to prepare, faithfully producing all the expected dishes. I our house, turkey was a must--not negotiable. Pleas for rib roast or duck met deaf ears. One year I had a revolt because the pumpkin pie was souffl├ęd, instead of flat. These days,  I leave that to my grown children and their families.They’re creating their own customs and traditions.
I marvel, everytime I go to the supermarket how modern innovation has made the whole dinner thing simpler. The other day I came across a Holiday Dinner display, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a complete dinner—all the traditional dishes prepared in oven-ready-to-table casseroles, individually priced, ready to heat and eat. I found the inevitable green bean/mushroom soup casserole, sweet potatoes with marshmallows, mashed potatoes, and even cranberry relish in tidy pint servers. There were two kinds of turkey stuffing: cornbread and regular, and even an entirely cooked and ready to serve turkey, vacuumed packed, with giblet gravy in pint containers. Amazing. A trip to the bakery section for pie, and we’re ready to go. Ah, but the feast would never have passed muster in our house.  If I would have tried that, I’d have been sent to my room without supper.
THE RELISH TRAY was missing, a thing that was such a tradition, no  holiday dinner could proceed without it. I don’t know how this got started. I blame it on my mother-in-law. Hopefully this is one of the sillier customs that will not find its way to my children’s tables. 
The thing is, even though nobody ever ate from THE RELISH TRAY because they all hated the stuff on it, it had to be there. Two kinds of olives, pickles, celery sticks, and those pickled crabapples with the stems on, all had to be present and remained untouched throughout the meal. Afterward, during cleanup, I’d carefully sort it out and return all the items to their original containers to be held in the refrigerator until Christmas Dinner, four weeks away. The whole thing would be reassembled and served, except this time, after dinner, everything would go in the garbage and we’d start over next year.
All families have their own "things." I know one family that always serves Ligonberries, although nobody is quite sure what they are, except Swedish.
Sometimes I miss all those little jars in the fridge. At such times, I mix another martini and relax. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and I’m invited out to dinner.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Where Are All The Heroes?

I attended a ceremony yesterday to honor three Viet Nam War veterans for their service to their country. Fifty years it has taken us to recognize and say ‘thank you’ for what they endured. At their discharge, these three men had simply been handed an envelope, containing at least six medals for service and valor. One veteran recalled that when they got off the plane they were warned to keep a low profile because people might spit on them.
 There was a Purple Heart, which brought a lump to my throat, because I had never seen one and the recipient is profoundly disabled with PTSD and has two service dogs with him at all times. It has only taken fifty years for us to honor their service.
As I sat in that small room in a shopping center in Fayetteville, Arkansas, among some fifty friends who had shown up to honor these men, I listened to their stories and the history of these wars. I’m old enough to remember the Second World War and the ensuing conflicts and, as I listened, I recalled the monstrous acts of brutality perpetrated on our soldiers by the Japanese, the Germans, the Koreans, and the Vietnamese. How could we have forgotten this? The Bataan Death March? The tortures the VC perpetrated? These men haven’t forgotten. The rage is still there.
Why do we react with such outrage to interrogation techniques used at Guantanamo, which are part of the militant Muslim’s culture and expected by them? Indeed, our disgust is, to them, an example of our weakness.
I think it’s time, on this Veteran’s Day, to take another look at what I feel is one of the finest films on the Viet Nam War—Born On The Fourth of July. Tom Cruise earned his acting chops on this one. It is told from the disabled veteran’s point of view and is the story of a young man who bought the whole myth of men proving their courage by fighting for their country, an attitude championed by his parents. He joined up, came home in a wheelchair, and had to deal with the scorn of his fellow countrymen. His scream of rage at the end when he demands to know, “What was it all for?” says it all.
You can rent this film for $2.99 from Amazon Film Library and play it on your Kindle or computer. Let’s give real homage to these veterans of all these thankless wars including Iraq and Afghanistan by remembering. Watch the film.  

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Short Term Memory-Making It Better

There is so much talk about failing memory and symptoms of Alzheimer Memory loss these days that the subject is on every mind. I am an older persons and I’m acutely aware of this. Because my children are instantly suspicious of the slightest sign that Mom might be “losing it,” it being short-term memory. I’m sure they have had the conversation, among themselves, that begins, “What are we going to do about Mom when her mind begins to go?” I’m over eighty and besides forgetting, sometimes, what I have entered a room looking for, I’m sharp as a tack, because I exercise my mind.
After much consideration I’ve become convinced that mental function declines in direct ratio to boredom. If you don’t exercise your mind, challenge yourself with new tasks, and stay current with what is going on, you’ll lose your mental acuity rapidly. I’m a writer. I write novels that deal with subjects new to me because it requires research and much note taking. In the course of the six books I’ve written I’ve explored American history, cattle ranching, Texas Hold’em Poker, and time travel. I know more about whale parasites, drug addiction and ghostly manifestations than I ever want to.
I’m also involved in local government because I’m an elected official, which is a whole new world requiring study. The point of all this is that I exercise my mind constantly and it is in better shape than the rest of me.
But, you are not me and you don’t have this interest. What can the average person, concerned about mental aging, do to stay sharp?
In the thirty years I had a retail store with many daily conversations with customers, I’ve discovered everybody worries about this problem. I discovered one simple thing we all can do to keep short-term memory sharp—work jigsaw puzzles.
Consider the process. First you have to create a system to deal with the various size and shapes of the pieces. I recommend starting with no more than 700 so you won’t get bogged down. I sort according to color and subject—sky, grass, roads, etc. Find all the pieces with straight edges because these are your border pieces and you’ll start with the border.  Keep them in a special place.
By now your brain is working and ready to begin. The reason why jigsaw puzzles work so well is because you have to memorize the shape and size of the whole you want to fill while you look for the shape and color of the piece you need to fill that whole. This requires short-term memory. At first you’ll be slow, but in about three or four days you’re going to see tremendous improvement in the way your eyes see things. 
I recommend painted street scenes or landscapes with some activity or a few people. The Thomas Kincade style puzzles are perfect. They usually have flowers, grass, houses and some people and even though at first glance there seems to be a lot of grass or shrubbery, you’ll notice that the character of the brush strokes changes from one spot to another. Lots of variety is what you need. Stay away from photos of a pizza or monotonous stuff.
Try this for a month and you can stop worrying about aging memory.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Where Have All The Leaders Gone?

In three years we will have a Presidential Election choosing the person who will take our country through the next four years.  This election will test our resolve to take back the personal freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution, presently usurped by a greedy and corrupt government, and restore the rest of the world’s increasing conviction that our democracy, based on the stunning idea that governments shall exist by permission of the people, to be governed by the people, for the people, is destined to fail.
We must succeed in this task, but how do we determine which candidate is a true leader and which ones are the manufactured product of self-interested political hacks lusting for the power and money, and prestige victory will bring them?
The possible answer is in the most unlikely place—The Psalms of David, found in the New Testament. If you’ve read my book, Accidental Alien you’re aware I am not a fan of organized religions as practiced today, but lately, in an attempt to understand how this vast schism between Muslim and Christian has happened, I’ve been reading works by religious scholars and gained some perspective.
Among those recognized as prophets, and there are many, I’ve found a blueprint for the perfect leader in the writings David, one of the five prophets generally recognized by Western religions.  The others are Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad.
I’m referring to the 23rd Psalm, an achingly beautiful hymn of devotion. If it is paraphrased to take out any religious references that might color our reception, it gives us the profile of the perfect leader. Hopefully you won’t resent my presumption while I give you my interpretation, inserting “leader” in place of references to the Lord.
The leader is my shepherd; I shall not want
            To a true leader, the welfare of his people, their comfort and their needs, is always paramount to his own. He does not lead for personal gain of wealth or power, or for fame. His motivation is to do what is best for his people.
 He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.
            He imparts a sense of security. He instills faith that all will be well.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness
            He has a strong ethical, moral code and a personal belief system that follows the code of The Ten Commandments.
Though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
            There will be many times during the Presidency when the country will be facing danger from her enemies. He will face these trials with courage, resolve, and complete confidence that, after listening to the will of the people, he will make the right decisions that will reassure his followers.
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
            The Office of President of the United States confers great powers. A true leader never hesitates to show his muscle to the world to ensure the safety and well-being of his people. Although not given to impulse or rash actions, he will be willing do whatever it takes.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
            Our chosen leader willingly expresses his devotion to the ideals that gave birth to this government. He is proud of his country and exhibits his devotion to the ideals of our Founding Fathers, proclaiming as often as necessary his belief in the Constitution of the United States and his determination to preserve the idea of a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Therefore, surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives.
            How can we possibly know if that is the character of a Presidential Candidate? If you’ve read my blog, “Aftermath,” about my take on the incompetence of the campaign advisors in the last election, you’ll realize you have to be able to see the real man underneath the cunning of his advisors and ferret out the true character of the person. He must have a record that demonstrates the values we demand.
His words must demonstrate an allegiance to democracy instead of the socialist “government takes all” philosophy of the present leader. In his past history he must have demonstrated successful leadership that shows the devotion of his followers. That is a tall order, but the survival of our way of life depends on you to determine the facts and make the right decision.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Mock Apple Pie and Desperation Cake

The day has finally arrived when my new western romance is on the press and due for release September 1. Though it has been a month since my last blog, and the world is full of harrowing events that deserve examination, the event calls for something lighter. Writing any novel takes the author on many journeys of research. Maddie called for more than most. One chapter involved an old fashioned  barbecue to celebrate Abe's sixteenth birthday. The entire town of Peachville pitched in, everybody bringing a food dish. I wanted to have old recipes that had been in families for years and that sent me browsing through my collection left over from the days I wrote a cooking column for a newspaper. I'll share a couple of them with you.
The first is Mock Apple Pie, a creation that is at least as old as 1940. It's an invention of the Ritz Cracker people.Though called "apple pie," it doesn't have any apples and was all the rage in the 40s--something like "Green Bean Casserole," which is a must at Thanksgiving. Start with a baked pie crust. Crumple 36 Ritz crackers into the crust. In a saucepan boil 2 cups sugar, 2 cups water, 2tsp. cream of tartar for 15 min. Add 2 tblsp. lemon juice, grated rind of 1 lemon, some butter and cinnamon. Cool. When cool, pour syrup over crackers.

Desperation Cake. The story is this was created by a cook on payday. The cupboard was bare and no money to shop, so this is a dessert made from almost nothing. Beat one egg and a half cup sugar. Add 1 cup flour mixed with 1 tsp. baking powder and 1/4 tsp. salt. Then add 1/4 cup milk, 3 tblsp. melted butter and 1 tsp. vanilla. Bake in a greased and floured  11" x 7" pan in preheated 350 degree oven 25 minutes. Serve with any syrup or crushed fruit.

Okay, one more. Chocolate Gravy.  This is one Maddie, who is from New York, never heard of, but is a Southern favorite, served with biscuits. She becomes acquainted with this along with sweet tea and Jalapeno Corn Bread. Melt 2 tablsp. shortening in skillet. Add 2 heaping tblsp. flour and heat until golden brown. In a mixing bowl combine 1 cup sugar, 4 tblsp. cocoa, 2 cups milk, 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Pour into skillet mixture and cook until thick. Serve over hot biscuits.
Go to my website to read more about Maddie's Choice.