Friday, June 29, 2012

America Half Closed

Is the window half open? Or half closed?

 Ha. That title may lead one to think this post is about immigration laws or the health care ruling.
But no. It's the subtitle of this great idea I have for a coffee table book. The working title is
'America from the Passenger Seat' and it would be full of glossy photos taken while my husband drives.
What do you think? Could it be a winner? Could it at least be an excuse to get my husband to drive me somewhere with mountains and oceans outside my passenger window?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Rule the 111th


 George Washington was a great leader and Father of his country and much of it is due to the '110 Rules of Civility’ he wrote down and memorized as a youngster.
Without Rule the 16th, would he have garnered as much admiration?
Do not Puff up the Cheeks, Loll not out the tongue rub the Hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them or keep the Lips too open or too Close.
How necessary were rules the 1st and the 67th and the 44th in dealing with his ragtag, untrained and discouraged army,?
Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
Detract not from others neither be excessive in Commanding.
When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it.
Rule the 82d surely contributed to his sterling character:
Undertake not what you cannot perform but be carefull to keep your promise.

My parents could have expanded this list by almost half again. While I don’t know if my 5’8” father’s ‘Short men should always have good posture’
would have made George’s list, he would certainly have approved of this for the 111th:
‘Hasten the departing guest’  and its understood converse. ‘Hasten to be a departing guest’

Once guests are ready to leave, don’t stand on ceremony. Don’t choose that moment to discuss the role of religion in politics. Graciously say your farewells and wave them on their way.
The converse covers guest behavior– don’t wait till the host is stretching and rubbing his eyes and looking at the clock with mournful eyes before beating a hastily cordial retreat.

My husband and I need work on the 111th. We escort our guests to the door, ready to see them off into the cold night air. We stand inside the door chatting. We lean against the door and fiddle with the doorknob and wriggle our eyebrows at each other and wonder what, short of shoving our guests out the door, could convince them to leave. And then one of the guests, who has also been fiddling with the doorknob and wriggling his eyebrows at his wife, asks, desperation apparent in his voice, “Could we have our coats please?
Rule 112th 'Provide departing guests with their coats’

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In a Norman frame of mind


My parents loved Norman Rockwell. He painted folksy, charming, patriotic pictures. His people were my parents’ kind of people: decent, humorous, God-fearing.
The world he portrayed was the world they wanted to live in.
And they were pretty sure he was a Republican, although this may have been wishful thinking.

Republican, Democrat or flaming secret libertarian– I have no idea. But I grew up enjoying Norman Rockwell and wanting to live in his world and be like his people. He likely helped form many of my prudish sentiments. Bless you Norman.

Yesterday I was a stop-gap babysitter. I would stay with youngsters after Mom left and before Grandma arrived.
They tolerated me and were well-behaved, but I couldn’t hold a candle to Grandma.

This little one decided (as I did when waiting for my sons to come home safely) that watching for the loved one would hasten the arrival.

Although Norman may have added a scruffy pup or Grandpa,  I think he could have had fun with this one.
What do you think for a title. ‘Waiting for Grandma’? Or ‘If I Turn My Back on the Photo-Snapping Sitter Maybe She’ll Go Away’?

Monday, June 25, 2012

The bitter afterburn of Justice

In a chapter titled ‘The Voice of Saruman’ from The Two Towers, a band representing the best of Middle Earth faces the imprisoned, evil-incarnate sorcerer Saruman. He has wreaked untold damage and destroyed countless lives and now, we hope, justice will be served. The good guys are furious and want revenge.
But then Saruman speaks.
And the justice-minded crowd is, in the twinkling of an eye, wracked with pity for the old man. They doubt themselves, their cause and their leaders. Saruman’s voice is working its magic and suddenly justice doesn’t look sweet, merely petty and degrading.

Every time I read that scene I want to shout, “Don’t listen to him! He is destructive and evil and if you let him go he’ll just continue his rampage!” But underneath my bluster is the uneasy feeling that I would be among those moved to misguided and dangerous pity. Necessary Justice can be a bitter pill.

Jerry Sandusky, defensive coach at Penn State, was accused of molesting countless children and found guilty. The full penalty is a life in prison.
Justice is served.
But there it comes: the smidge of pity I feel for the man who has blighted so many lives.
Why? Why can’t I rejoice in Justice? Is it my weak nature? Can one pitiful specimen of a  cornered old man make me forget the unforgivable number of marred lives?

Is it possibly the uneasy feeling that no one on earth can wield the sword of perfect justice? The realization that the accusers in one case are often the accused in another? Is it that awkward moment when I glimpse myself clearly and realize I no doubt have caused hurt and damage through words and deeds?

Or is it the inadequate balance of Justice? What mathematical formula states: ‘This many years in prison for the horrific act upon each child, this portion of lousy food for the emotional damage to each child, this status of a pariah equals the pain of future generations crippled by each horrific act’?

Justice is often personified as blinded. She can’t let the blindfold slip and be moved by sentimentality. She can’t question what sort of demons Mr. Sandusky has faced since he was a child that may have contributed to a life of preying on children.
Justice can’t be concerned with the bitter aftertaste of punishment when she lifts her sword. She can’t bother with the metaphysical or philosophical limitations of ‘an eye for an eye’ and she can’t be moved with pity.
She may be cold and hard, but that is infinitely preferable to capricious and soft-minded.
Justice, like any strong medicine, can leave a bitter aftertaste.
The only way to avoid the medicine is to keep from the disease in the first place.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Pause that Refreshes

A friend and I went to a lovely public garden recently.  Her camera battery died so I volunteered to take photos of what caught her eye as well as what appealed to me. Between the two of us my little camera was whirring and snipping and focusing the entire morning. Here is a sampling of our collaboration.

Arachnophobics, don't look too close

Bilbo's party tree

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Get the Bitter Out

Wouldn’t ‘Get the Bitter Out’ be a great title for a motivational speech?
Actually it’s a kitchen hint. My mother showed me how to get the bitter out of a cucumber. I showed my husband. He pooh-poohed.
I told him the one time I refused to obey my mother, the cuke tasted bitter. Coincidence, he says.

It remains a source of contention.
Maybe my presentation is wrong. Maybe I SHOULD convince doubters with a bit of peppy persuasion. How’s this:

Friends, has bitterness ever crept into your cucumber? Has it ruined your potato salad? Blighted your veggie tray? Don’t be deceived. Bitterness can lurk in the heart of the loveliest of cukes. It tantalizes and tempts you. It urges you to hurry. HURRY! Wash, slice and eat quickly!
But then–then. The tempter turns bitter on your tongue. It not only tastes bad itself. It makes everything else taste bad.
Don’t let a little bitter go a long way, dear friends.
Let me share how I was able to get the bitter out of my cucumbers.
You can too.
You need to be bold. You need a knife. A sharp knife. Don’t give into ‘grab a butter knife’ lethargy.
Grasp the cucmber firmly in one hand. With zeal and purpose, slice–yes, I said slice–show no mercy! the end off the cuke.
But beheading the veggie isn’t enough! The bitter is still in there, hoping you will quit with the job half done.
SEIZE that end. Clutch the cuke. Rub the end vigorously on the cucumber and see the bitter, unable to resist, become visible.
And then, WASH IT AWAY my friends.
Don’t let a little bitterness contaminate your greens. Be bold and strong and banish it to your septic tank or city waste treatment plant.

And may all your cucumbers be sweet.

Maybe it was  coincidence that the one time I didn’t get the bitter out, the cucumber tasted bad. Maybe the same thing happened to my mother and her mother before her. Maybe I come from a long line of coincidentally cucumbered women.
Maybe. Maybe I won’t get the bitter out of my next cuke. But if it tastes bad I’m feeding it  coincidentally go to my husband.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

This is the 21st century, Beaver.

Prudes need times of refreshing. The world can be a shocking place and, though we are made of strong stuff, sometimes we need to go to our happy place.
A place where dresses are cut no lower than a small hand-span from the chin, where
pants are pulled up within a small hand-span from the bottom rib, where procreation is understood but never codified and demonstrated, where children respect authority and Miss Landers, and Eddie Haskell makes naughtiness look the opposite of tantalizing.

Prudes need times of refreshing. They can leave it to Beaver to provide it.
But, this prude has learned to her sorrow that the shocking world will have its way and intrude even into June Cleaver’s kitchen.

Those of you with DVR’s, (is that right? DVR’s?) that cut out commercials have no idea what those of us without them go through.
(Let me interject here that prudish sensibilities feel somewhat obliged to watch commercials and support the economic status of capitalism and the free world.)

But prudish sensibilities have trouble making the jump from a program that won’t even show a toilet in the bathroom, to a commercial for bladder control.
In the midst of admiring, with Eddie, the ‘lovely dress, Mrs. Cleaver’ we breakaway to an ad for a new ‘comedy’ with women wearing necklines that reach a small hand-span from the bottom rib and discussing in detail their act of procreation with somebody-or-other.

Just as Ward reaches a crucial point in his deliberations about how to be a just and principled father, a commercial airs explaining how to sue the pants off drug companies/medical parts makers by calling a certain firm of attorneys.
(These commercials have the added  drawback of listing in detail symptoms that would lead one to contact the attorneys. I have all of them. Even the ones for faulty hip replacement or because I worked in an asbestos factory in the 1940’s.)

But prudes are always cautiously optimistic.
I know life in 1950’s America is not as idyllic as portrayed on ‘Leave it to Beaver.’ I did see ‘Grease’ after all.
But that also makes me hope that life in 2012 America is not as crass, self-serving and unchaste as it appears on the commercials.
Or maybe I just get a DVR.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Cautionary Tale

When our boys were young they won a pair of goldfish from some festival.
I come from a long line of goldfish assassins–no one on either side of my family had managed to do anything with fish except saute, fry or grill them– but I was determined that these goldfish would live their full length of days and die of nothing more severe than old age.

Attached to the Baggie which provided temporary housing for the fish was a card with directions for care and feeding. My husband and I followed them diligently, aware that two fragile lives depended on two humans with fish-killing in their genetic makeup.

The card emphasized that we shouldn’t under or over feed them.
And insisted on clean water. Clean, clean clean. Before letting it sit to room temperature
we needed to boil all impurities out of our unwholesome, foul tap water. You know, the stuff with which we hydrated our children.

We did a great job. Mutt and Jeff (or whatever we called them) were up to the ripe old age of two weeks. The were sleek because we didn’t overfeed them, but nothing to suggest emaciation. Through their sparkling water we could view them and they could watch us.  Life was good on both sides of the goldfish bowl.

We had a long weekend away.  We trusted a neighbor to feed Mutt and Jeff but not to change the water. We returned late at night. My husband hauled in 3 drowsy boys and luggage for 5 and I attended to the fish. I boiled the water and put it in a jug on the counter to cool faster, then went to clean cracker crumbs from the minivan and push a toothbrush across the teeth of my sleeping sons.

My husband called me into the kitchen. He pointed at a jubilant Mutt and Jeff, cavorting wildly in their fresh, clean water.
“Look honey. They must really like that pure water!”
I was just going to grab my camera when we noticed a change in Mutt, or possibly Jeff. He (possibly she) did a final loop-de-loop, flipped onto his (or her) back and floated gently to the surface. The remaining fish followed suit. Where seconds earlier my husband and I had been enjoying the antics of healthy, highly motivated goldfish, we were how looking at a deathbed.

No, we were looking at the scene of a murder. I stuck my finger in to try to prod Mutt and Jeff back alive, pulled it out immediately and stared accusingly at my husband. The chief executioner.
“This water is boiling hot!”
He stared back at me. Assistant executioner.
“But you never put the water in the jug till it’s cooled!”

Now we know. Fish do not engage in aerobic exercise unless they are being boiled alive. We thought you should know too.

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Lake House

Vacation houses should look different than my house and vacation views should be unlike my views and vacation duties and pastimes should not be like my duties and pastimes.
This past week fulfilled the criteria perfectly.

One other criterion:
Every vacation is made better when the ones I love are part of the view.