Thursday, June 21, 2018

Cars I've Owned and Loved

We bought a new car.  I really didn't want one.  Our old one was fine with me, but it had over 260,000 miles on it and was beginning to show its age.
The problem with age, whether it is humans, animals, or cars, is that aging is costly.  Our aging dogs are keeping the vet in business and the same was true of our mechanic.  It seemed that every week I was taking the car in and saying, "we've got to stop meeting like this."  But, just like any elderly person there was always another part that had to be replaced in our elderly car.  We decided there were some things we could live with, like the driver's side door that no longer opened, but when we received the prognosis that the brakes required another $900 procedure, we decided to release it to automobile heaven.

So, we bought a new car, or a new used car I should say.  We found a 2015 model used car with 5,500 miles .  Eureka!  The days are long gone when I feel the need to impress friends or neighbors with the latest new gadget or car, although that was not the case in my younger days.  Like a lot of us when we were younger, the type of car that we drove was always very important.  In fact, the first car I bought was the only other used car I have every owned.  All the rest have been driven off of the dealer's showroom floor, new. 

My first car was a Dodge Dart,  gold with white leather interior and a push button transmission.  I would never have picked out that car.  My father found it for me shortly after I graduated college when I needed cheap transportation to my first real job.  My father always had a fondness for Chrysler products.  I don't know why.  He was a quality control inspector for Ford for years, which might say something about the quality and reputation of Fords in those days.  He found a good deal on a car that never gave me any problems, but, it was not the car of my dreams.  It wasn't me. 

I drove that Dart for a couple of years while I settled into having a steady paycheck and finally made my way to the Volkswagen dealer to buy my dream car, a yellow VW convertible.  I loved that car, except in the snow.  It got around great, but the top was not air tight.  I would find myself chugging up steep, icy hills  , passing other cars that were spinning out, all the time being  surrounded by snow swirling throughout the interior.
That car was followed by another VW, a red Karmann Ghia convertible, one of the most fun cars I've ever owned.   A guy I worked with convinced me that I needed to sell it to him and as a result, I ended up owning the first Toyota of three.
The Toyotas were followed by two Hondas and then a Saturn, which was followed by a Ford Ranger and then two Volvos, which were purchased not for aesthetics, but because they were safe and reliable cars.  When you get older, safety and reliability become more important than whether or not your car makes a statement.  The last two cars, the Volvos, were also the only automatic transmissions that I ever owned with the exception of that push button Dart.

Our new car is an automatic also, but it is not a concession to age.  I still prefer to drive manual transmissions, but they are becoming impossible to find here in the U.S.  Stick shifts are not only fun to drive, but safer than automatics.  You can't be a lazy driver with a stick shift.  You have to think ahead.  Then there is the challenge of being able to idle at a stop sign on a hill without using the brake.  Automatics don't offer the same opportunity.

Our little old Ford Ranger has a manual transmission and we will probably keep it until we die.  It will keep running until then as it has no electronic parts. There is very little that can go wrong, unlike the cars manufactured today which purposely have computer obsolescence built into them.

Our new car has all of these electronic warning systems, for backing up or monitoring a blind spot.  It has GPS and Wi-Fi, but these luxuries are little more than computers that can go bad at any time and where is the fun in that.  The cars today may be as efficient as a cell phone, but they will never provide the thrill of driving down a deserted two lane highway in the middle of Western Kansas at 100 miles per hour with the top down.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Without Love

It's was a beautiful morning. I was sitting in my garden having a rest after putting in some more plants and then the day was shattered, like so many have been recently, by the news of another school shooting. “When is it going to end?” I asked myself. Everything has changed once again. What I was going to write about no longer seems relevant. The only things that matter now are all the families who have to go through the pain of losing their love ones in such a senseless way.

In a nation like ours, with all the resources that we have available why can't we solve this problem? Have we become so desensitized that we have no desire to hold those to account who are responsible for this madness?

It isn't just the gun manufacturers. It isn't just the mental health community or the social case workers that let people fall through the cracks. It isn't just the media, who in a way glorify the violence and its perpetrators by broadcasting the chaos that they create over and over and over ad infinitum. It isn't just the manufacturers of video games who have created a culture of violence. It isn’t just rap that glorifies violence and an in-your-face lifestyle.

It's all of us, even those who care about our fellow man. It's all of us because we were at rave at each other. It is each one of us thinks we are in the center of the universe and our own well-being is the most important thing.

I think we need a major reassessment of our worth. It doesn't matter how many cars you on or how many square feet your houses are or how fashionably you were dressed or what fine restaurants you've always dined in. We are failing as a society and as individuals if we fail to protect our most precious possession, our children and each other.

The problem is, laws are not going to change the situation. That's the first thing we talk about, gun laws, all kinds of proposals have been made for how to correct this situation with laws, but none of them are going to make the difference. We have to address the reason behind all of the desperate lives that cause people to think they have no recourse but to lash out at others.

This time, however, the cacophony of protests was dimmed by another unlikely event taking place, the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. For a few hours on Saturday morning, a good portion of the world was transfixed as an American commoner, with one failed marriage behind her, of mixed race, raised by a single black mother, from a family that could be described as dysfunctional at best, vowed before God and the world to love and be faithful to the person who is fifth in line to the throne of England.

Accompanying all of the pomp and circumstance that is a Royal wedding, was a fiery message about love by a very black American Episcopal priest, Bishop Michael Curry taken from the book of Amos in the Bible. His words may have been for Harry and Meghan, but they were words that the whole world needed to hear.

“When love is the way -- unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive, when love is the way, then no child would go to bed hungry in this world ever again. When love is the way we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever flowing brook. When love is the way poverty will become history. When love is the way the earth will become a sanctuary. When love is the way we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more. When love is the way there’s plenty good room, plenty good room for all of God’s children.”

And I would add, when love is the way, we won't have to worry about our children being slaughtered in their classrooms by their peers.

Does it sound too simple? Perhaps yes, but desperate times call for desperate measures and sometimes there is nothing more desperate than love. The words to the old Doobie Brothers hit come to mind: “Without love, where would you be now?” Look around, this is what it looks like without love.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

A Material World

This week we celebrated the birthday of my brother, James, and I am once again reminded of a how in our quest for knowledge, for the latest gadget, for the biggest house on the block, or for the most exotic vacation, we have lost an appreciation for the simple things in life that make our lives the most meaningful.

Our celebration with James was very simple.  James is a simple person.  Many would look at him and think that because of his lack of mental acuity or linguistic skills he is missing something, but the simple truth is more times than not we are the ones that are missing out.

We took cupcakes to Hetlinger for James to share with all the kids there.  I call them kids although I think the correct term these days is “consumers’.    I call them kids because that’s how they appear to me with their simple childlike faith and joyful appreciation of the most elementary of things.
In addition to the cupcakes, we took his favorite things, two helium filled balloons to the party.  He smiled and blushed and it was worth all the money in the world to see him so happy.  He was the big honcho for a few minutes,grinning while everyone sang happy birthday and commenting over and over again on the surprise.

I confess that the idea to take cupcakes down for everyone had never occurred to me before. Unbeknownst to me, several of the kids had previously shared cupcakes or cake on their birthdays and a month or so ago, Chrysanne told my husband that James commented that, "My family would never do that for me."  I don't know if he meant it as a challenge or if that was just the way he saw us, but we had to do something to remedy the situation.

It was worth it.  After the party at Hetlinger, we took James to Casa Ramos for dinner. Going to dinner, especially at Casa Ramos, never gets old for him. They put the Mexican hat on his head and sang the usual birthday serenade and James was thrilled.  A simple celebration, but we left a very happy man off at his apartment and went home completely satisfied.

The society we now find ourselves living in has over-complicated   our lives and as a result has taken the joy out of living.   So many the things that should ease our lives, such as computers and the Internet, have become a burden instead.  Some of us are so caught up in the digital world, in our digital lives, that we ignore the simple pleasures around us.  We take our phones with us everywhere we go, even to dinner.  Can you imagine doing that when you were younger? My mother had a rule, “No books at the dinner table”, which was difficult because we were a family of readers.  I can imagine how difficult the rule of “No cellphones at the dinner table”,would be to enforce now.  They have become an extension of our selves.  How sad and how complicating.

The complications of technology stretch to every part of our lives. This week I finally finished our income taxes. The doing of taxes is not so complicated, it's the effort of getting them filed that was the source of my frustration this week. I spent at least an hour on the phone with the help desk trying to solve a transmission problem. And I was fortunate that in this instance the person I was communicating with spoke the same language which is not always been the case.   

While the help desks may be populated with well-meaning individuals, when there is a significant language barrier it just complicates the issue. I was having problems with an application several weeks ago and it took me three tries to solve the issue.  It was only when I spoke with someone located here in the United States that the issue was resolved.  Sometimes I wish I could go back to the days of a pencil, paper, and adding machine to handle our financial transactions. It was probably more efficient than the means I use now which involves downloading, importing, and  scrolling through endless lists of numbers on the computer screen.

We live in a material world and as such, we should expect that our lives have become more complicated, but it is still the simple pleasures that make life worthwhile: watching a robin try to build a nest, picking a bouquet of daffodils,seeing the smoke rise from the burning hills and watching a smile spread across the face of my intellectually challenged brother.  Those are the simple things.  Those are the things that make life worth living.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Beautiful Words

There are very few beautiful words being created on the internet today.  In fact, technology has resulted in very little prose or poetry of worth from a literary standpoint.  Words are created in the mind’s eye, those haunting phrases that whirl around in your mind may make their appearance on paper, coming from the tip of your pen, but they seldom come from two thumbs on a phone.  When you pick up an electronic device, something short-circuits and all that comes out is garbage...tweets, posts that somehow end up being more vulgar than you think of yourself as being, or sarcastic comments that you would hesitate to make in person.

It's too easy to snap at someone electronically.  When you try to put your anger or frustration with pen and paper, it becomes much more civilized.  One may pen critical words, but they always seem to have some humor, some humanity behind them.  The accusation becomes something for consideration, not argument.

The beauty of a good argument has been lost along with any civilized dialog. I gave up watching any of the news channels long ago.  FOX, MSNBC, CNN may differ in their political leanings, but they all have something in common.  They are inundated with pundits who, rather than being able to articulate a rational thought, reduce their arguments to name calling and shouting at the top of their lungs. You could wait through an entire hour-long session for someone to allow the other side to finish their statement. All you see is a yelling match where everyone is trying to make their voice and point heard above the din of competing arguments.  Nothing is gained, nothing is learned except for the knowledge that we have become a bunch of rude loudmouths with no ability to articulate our position in a manner that would challenge our opponents to consider our rationale.

How did we get to the point where we are so impatient that we cannot take the time to listen to the other side?  Or are we just so closed minded that we refuse to learn anything new? 

I attribute some of this to our inability to use the English language as it was intended to be used.  English has a tremendous history of being used to form incredibly beautiful sentences and phrases.  Shakespeare and the King James Bible are two cases in point although, until most recently, even the most common man had the ability to turn a phrase that could capture the imagination.

"Let me not to the marriage of true minds  
Admit impediments. Love is not love  
Which alters when it alteration finds,  
Or bends with the remover to remove:  
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;  
It is the star to every wandering bark,  
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken."   

The decline in language has been hardly perceptible, but somewhere, between the sonnets of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Byron or Keats, the fading popularity of Hallmark cards, and the adoption of the belief that we can express all of our thoughts  and change the world with one sarcastic tweet, we have lost the ability to communicate our thoughts in an articulate fashion.  Our best thoughts have now been reduced to emoji or four letter words.

Lord Byron knew, as did his compatriots, the worth of a well turned phrase as he penned in his satirical poem Don Juan,  “But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think.” –Canto III, stanza 88

Now it seems we are lost in a morass of words.  Words, words, words…but few of them are things of beauty.  They may have the power to frustrate us, to anger us, to drive our great nation to distinction, but do they have the power to make us think?

Only well chosen, beautifully written words have the power to do so.  Whoever finds those words will be able to change the course of the world. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Ranting and Raving

Forgive me if I rant and rave on a subject I've written about before, but I will probably complain about this issue until the day I die.

Spring is here.  The robins have arrived, the crocuses and daffodils are popping up. We are starting to see the smoke from the burning of the Flint Hills. We should be enjoying the nice weather, but here in the midst of all of this newness, comes one of life's biggest irritants and I'm not talking about how my sinuses respond to the burning grass.  It's the other thing that makes all of us miserable this time of year...Daylight-saving time has arrived.

It is the scourge that attends us every year.  I can see no purpose and no advantage, other than the fact that someone in the distant past thought the citizens of this great land would benefit from another hour of daylight in the evening as opposed to the morning hours.  What difference does it make?  We still have only 24 hours in the day and I prefer my daylight in the morning.  While a substantial part of the population may not be morning people, my guess is that they have learned to adjust their internal clock until it gets disrupted each spring.

We just got through the winter hours, but now we're back to walking the dogs in the dark.  I'm sure that they don't understand why one morning they are walking in daylight and the next, they are back to walking in the dark.  They must think we are crazy,and I agree with them. 

Not only is it highly disdained, studies have proved that it is not good for our health.  Every year, it results in depression for hundreds, thousands, or perhaps millions,both when we “spring forward” and “fall back”.

That’s not the only effect on our health.  One scientific study indicated that hospitals report a 24% rise in heart attacks the day Daylight-Saving time begins and a corresponding decrease of 21% on the day that it ends.  Not only is the change a shock to our system, but the effects remain for days.  I know it will be at least another week before my internal clock settles down.  The effect of jet lag when I fly to Europe does not affect me as much as the change in time. 

The most frustrating thing about Day-light Saving time is that I don't know who to hold responsible. I'm guessing that politicians can't change it or they would have done something by now.  It’s not as simple as it sounds. Hawaii does not adopt DST, but then, they have no neighboring states.  Maine has considered abolishing it, but only if Massachusetts and New Hampshire would do so.  Arizona opted out years ago, and just this month, Florida decided to have Daylight saving time all year long.  Confusing? As far as I can tell, everyone hates the change, but it appears it maybe even harder to change the practice. 

Unbelievably, there are those who actually like the change. My question for them is would they be happy if their boss told them they could come in an hour earlier and leave an hour earlier in the summer.  Probably not.  No one likes to get up an hour earlier, especially the 'night owls'who profit from the increased daylight hours.  They may like the lengthened evening hours, but there still is a price to pay.  Nothing is without cost. 

This Monday, as is usual for the day that daylight saving time begins, was not very productive.  The main topic of conversation for everyone at the Senior Center where I was doing taxes, while playing bridge, and during the community chorus rehearsal was how tired we all were.  Everyone was complaining about the lack of sleep and how “off” they felt. 

But, there was a moment Monday evening when one friend commented, “Isn’t it nice to be able to walk about in the evening and still have light?’ and all of a sudden, I was conflicted.  I can work in my garden an hour later.  I have another hour to enjoy the spring weather as I sit on my porch in the evening.  Rather than a chilly daylight hour in the morning, now I can enjoy a warmer hour of daylight after my chores are done. Perhaps instead of losing an hour I have gained an hour. 

We will be going to Ireland in a month.  Once there, in spite of turning my watch forward five hours, I will step off of the plane with renewed vigor and excitement.  Perhaps it is all in my perspective and I have an entire year to enjoy my time until I have something to complain about again.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

February Sadness

This February, my brother would have been sixty-eight.  Would have been, is the operative phrase since it has been thirty years since he was killed.  Killed is the nice word, murdered is the truth.  The other truth is that one never gets over losing someone unexpectedly, graphically and tragically.  Even now, while the pain has lessened, the memories have not.  The slightest thing will remind me of him. 

I keep the manicure set that he gave me for Christmas one year, in my bathroom drawer.  It is worn, some would say falling apart, but it is one of my most precious possessions; one of the few things that I will probably still have until the day I die.  I never take it out without thinking about him.

He was my baby brother and I cannot say that we were that close. In fact, when we were younger, I always accused my mother of playing favorites with him, but that doesn't mitigate the loss.  My mother always said you never expect to outlive your children and in my case I didn't expect to see one of my siblings gone so many years before me. 

I walk down a street in an old neighborhood and I am reminded of him.  I still can hear his voice.  My mind still wonders what might have been if he was not taken away at such a relatively young age.  When he died, he was younger than my father was when he married my mother.  My father at that age had an entire life ahead of him.  My brother did not.

What I have experienced is playing out in families across this nation, over and over and over again.  Since Columbine, many families, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, have been dragged into this reality.  All kicking and screaming, I would assume.  The pain does not end for them and it never will.  The voices of those affected by the mayhem that is consuming our country are crying out; the voices are being multiplied daily it seems and yet there is no response, no solution. 

In the aftermath of the most recent tragedy in Florida, there have been increased threats against our schools, even here in the backwaters of one of the most rural states, but no response has been formulated as to how to end the madness.  The politicians and people of influence, anyone that should be able to present a solution seem paralyzed, with what I don’t know.  Perhaps it is a fear of the NRA. Or, perhaps it’s just because they have never lost a loved one to violence.

I am not afraid of the NRA.  I am not afraid to say what should be said.  That we should make military assault weapons such as the AR-15 available to our citizenry is absurd. The AR-15 is a high-velocity, lethal weapon designed for combat.  They are meant to assault and kill people, not ducks or deer.  The target used for practice with an AR15 is usually the silhouette of a person. They are made to kill people; therefore, people should not be able to purchase them.  What’s even sadder is that we are losing our children, not hardened criminals to weapons designed for war. 

This should be a no-brainer people.  Outlawing assault weapons and bump stocks does not mean that hunters will not be able to hunt.  It just means that deranged youths and adults will not be able to hunt each other and especially our children.

I will admit that there are other aspects to the problem that need to be addressed as well.  The internet has made violence much more acceptable.  Our youth are becoming increasingly addicted to violent computer games.  Social media has become the center of social interaction, creating individuals who cannot cope with the real world.  Recent studies report that one in five teenagers has experienced depression. We have a generation that is growing up without the parental involvement that ensures that children emerge as healthy adults.  As a result, there are a lot of deranged individuals roaming around that need to be under psychiatric care.  There are many societal issues that need to be addressed, but none of them mitigate the fact that there must be a ban on assault weapons.

My brother was not killed by a gun.  He was beaten by a couple of thugs and then left to drown.  My anger for guns does not proceed from anything more than empathy for those who have lost a family member, with an entire life ahead of them, to senseless violence.  It has to end.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Eating Well

I love to cook, but I have not always felt that way.   I come from a family of great cooks on my mother’s side and as a child was somewhat intimidated, so I chose not to try.  When I graduated from college, I had yet to even boil water.  I was content to subsist on the fruits of everyone’s labor while reading Betty Crocker, the only cookbook my mother possessed.

Not that she and her sisters, or my grandmother needed a cookbook.  For most of the women of their generation, cooking was just something one did.  Especially the old farm girls.  Cooking for them was a necessity, but they were blessed with the freshest fruits, vegetables, dairy, poultry, and meat available, so it was hard to screw up.  The one thing they did not have were the gadgets and appliances that we have today.  There were no Cuisinarts or blenders.  Chopping was done by hand with metal grinders and shredders for grinding meat or shredding vegetables. 

Being German, we ate a lot of sauerkraut.  Canning sauerkraut was a family affair.  One or two kraut cutters might be utilized to shred the cabbage while someone else packed the big pottery crocks and added the salt.  Several weeks later, they would return to put the finished product up in canning jars which would last through the winter. 

The cellars were full of all sorts of canned fruits and vegetables.  There were canned peaches, spiced peaches, spiced crab apples, canned cherries, and plums.  There were also jellies:  grape, strawberry, raspberry, apple, and orange marmalade.  There were canned gooseberries for pie in the winter and jars of homemade mincemeat. 

My grandmother never bought dairy products.  She made her own butter, buttermilk, cream, and cheese. She ground her own cornmeal and had her own bee hives for honey.  The only foods I recall her buying were flour, sugar, coffee, vinegar, peanut butter and the occasional orange or banana.  Oh, did we eat well whenever we visited her.  There was always fresh baked bread, with fresh butter and homemade jelly along with fresh milk.  What more could one want.

We did not grow up eating candy bars and chips or drinking sodas.  Those were occasional treats but were not part of our daily diet.  We ate what was available and that is what the women in my family cooked and baked with.  My mother and her sisters inherited my grandmother’s gardening gene, so we grew up eating anything they grew which included a lot of vegetables and dishes that most city people didn’t know of in those day:  stewed okra, eggplant pancakes, corn fritters, tomato pudding and raspberry custard pie;  dishes you would not find on the table of any of our neighbors were some of my favorites.  We also feasted on pork ribs with sauerkraut and dumplings, homemade chicken and noodles, and all sorts of breads, cakes, cookies and especially pies. 

There was always some kind of fruit or custard pie at my grandmothers and my mother took that skill a bit further.  She became so proficient at baking pies that it wasn’t unusual for her to get up after a meal while the rest of us were still eating and ask us what kind of pie we would like.  She would then whip out the flour and Crisco and within an hour or so, we would have a pie fresh from the oven.  Her apple pies were a masterpiece, but my favorites were her cream pies.  Banana, coconut, chocolate, or lemon, all piled high with meringue that I have yet to master. 

When we lived in New Jersey, I finally mastered the art of making pie crust.  Without my mother for over nine years, I was dependent on my own ability to bake.  For over a year, every Sunday afternoon, I would bake a pie.  There were some disasters at first, but I finally perfected the skill of making a perfect pie crust, something that still serves me well, but which I seldom put into practice anymore.

Like everyone else, I have been taken in by all the gadgets, appliances, and new techniques of cooking to the detriment of really good food.  Our kitchens are filled with Cuisinarts, spiralizers, flash fryers, rice cookers, and hundreds of cookbooks, but we are not very good cooks.  We try to impress people with the look of our food, but most of us are too far from the source for it to be very delicious.  The farm-to-table movement may give us a glimpse of what real eating might look like, but as long as the majority of our produce and meat is grown with pesticides or antibiotics, we will not be eating healthy and our bodies will bear the brunt of what we have available to eat.