To Not Blame Those Sent for Being Sent

via We Veterans Thank You

Two score and four years ago, my uncle returned from the Vietnam War to being ‘cursed, ridiculed’ and possibly assaulted because we blamed the soldiers for our government’s execution of foreign policy.  And I do mean ‘our’ government, since, for better or worse, our government is of, by and for the people.  We did this.  There is no one else we can blame.

In the intervening decades until his retirement in 1998, he returned from other wars to a very different homecoming.  For that, I’m eternally grateful.  By the time he returned from both Gulf Wars, I was no longer in the second grade where I was oblivious and sheltered from world events, but during a time when I had children of my own in grade school whom I wanted safe and sound.

For his service and sacrifice, he has my gratitude.  As do all his contemporary veterans.

War is an unpleasant business. Some wars are necessary; some are not. Regardless, it is terrible to send our sons and daughters to kill or be killed. But, until we learn not to practice war anymore, I’m happy that America has learned not to blame those sent for being sent.

— Col. Ronald Andrea, USAF, Retired


To Serve Quietly (or Not) Against the Dying of the Light

This morning I woke early, as I nearly always do, but with a melancholic mood fogging my mind.  Two Hallmark movies and a cup of hot tea later and I still could not shake the malaise.  I turned off the television and grabbed the closest half-finished book handy and continued my perusal of Cosmic Discoveries with David Levy.  The subtitle for chapter nineteen was a quote I’ve heard many times but which I had never read the original source.  Since the chapter also started with another quote from the same work with a byline to the poet, I decide there’s no time like the present to read the original poem.

My tablet was charging across the room so I grabbed my smartphone and searched on the phrase and poet and got a crazy amount of hits – no surprise.  I read the Wikipedia article first to get some background on the poet and the when and partial why he wrote his now famous and often quoted poem.  Next, I returned to my results (from Wikipedia) and selected the first hit that contained the complete short poem.

I read it three times, because I read somewhere or was told by someone you should always read a poem three times.  I didn’t make it through the third stanza of the first reading before I couldn’t see my screen for the tears.  Damn poets! And at one point in my life I actually aspired to be a poet.  But life pretty much crushed the creativity out of me so I just enjoy those who had more courage than I to pursue their creative spark.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Reading this poem today reminded me of the sometimes quiet, always courageous sacrifices willingly given to us by our military service men and women.  Their continuing fight against the dying of the light allows me, my family, my friends, my acquaintances, my coworkers – all of us living in this great country that is the home of the brave and the land of the free – because of them.

Thank you, veterans, for your service.

Thank you for not going gently into any night and raging against the dying of the light to keep us safe and free.

Thank you.

A Cold Dark Oven

I’m thankful for many things this Thanksgiving.  Oddly, I’m somewhat thankful even for my cold, dark oven.


I’m thankful that I won’t be on my feet for hours today prepping and baking for a family gathering.  For the first time in I don’t know how many years, I will not be basting and roasting a turkey.  I won’t be making more stuffing (I already succumbed last week and made a huge batch of stuffing because I couldn’t help myself). I might not escape baking entirely today, though, as I may break down and make Sticky Buns because it’s a TRADITION!

Continue reading “A Cold Dark Oven”

70s Flashback

No, I’m not having flashbacks to the decade of disco, the oil crisis, feminism, civil rights, etc. I’m talking about autumn-like temperatures in the mid-70s at lunch time here in Kansas City.  I took full advantage of the beautiful weather by walking a couple of blocks to my favorite local Italian restaurant for lunch.

WeatherAfternoon14Aug2013For a comparison, here’s the average temperatures, historically, reported for Kansas City (thanks to the Weather Underground for the stats):

August 14, 2013 Max Temp Min Temp
Normal (KMCI) 88 °F 68 °F
Record (KMCI) 113 °F (1936) 54 °F (2002)
Yesterday 80 °F 66 °F

When I first walked out of my house this morning, I knew something was different.  For starters, the sky was clear.  I felt a bit of a chill in the air, not something I expect to feel in the middle of August during a Kansas summer.  The dashboard information center in the van confirmed temperatures in the lower 60s in the pre-dawn morning air.

PreSunrise14Aug2013I took the above photograph about 20-25 minutes before sunrise this morning.  I can’t take an actual sunrise photo during the work week because the sun is rising at or shortly after 6:30 a.m. Central local time.  By that time, I’m fifteen minutes into my morning commute, picking up the last three of my vanpool riders.  I did drive into a glorious golden orange sun hanging barely above the horizon for a few minutes.  The atmosphere was pretty hazy, so I could look directly at the sun for long periods of time.  I didn’t spy any sunspots though … my eyes are not quite that good.  I’m far-sighted, but not that far-sighted.

So today I’m very thankful for mild temperatures, low humidity and beautiful clear skies.

A Bunch of Little Bits Make a Big Whole

Today’s gratitude journal post may be a bit rambly.  I don’t have a cute photo to share.  I’m not feeling extraordinarily witty either (not that I’m ever anything but marginally witty).  Nothing momentous has occurred in the last twenty-four hours in my small sphere of space.  But often it’s the little things that add up to the best moments.

I came home last night to some of the best grilled chicken courtesy of my hubby’s wonderful rub and grilling skills.  Hands down it was hundreds of orders of magnitude better than the barbecued chicken I tried at the baseball game.

After dinner, we hung clingy clear plastic drop cloths in the main bathroom to prep for painting the ceiling.  We managed to complete that task without too many harsh words or bodily harm.

We took the dogs, Lexy and Apollo, on a short walk after sundown.  I could see the almost quarter moon easily, as well as Venus and Saturn (near the moon).  Terry and Lexy headed home early and Apollo and I walked for another twenty minutes.  I didn’t see many children out playing (a couple of teenagers) because school starts this week.  Summer break is over for them.

Terry is taking both dogs to the vet today.  We’re not sure what’s going on with Lexy.  She’s got a spot up near her left shoulder-blade that she keeps trying to scratch.  We’ve treated her for fleas and ticks and inspected her skin.  We gave her a bath.  She’s still scratching that spot.  Terry’s worried she may have been bitten by something.  Lexy will get a pedicure from the vet as well.

We’re also worried about Apollo.  He’s been lethargic lately.  And he has a growth on his back that we’ve had the vet look at before.  Terry wants a needle biopsy done, so poor Apollo will get poked this afternoon.  I can’t remember if he’s getting a pedicure or not like Lexy is.

All of them will get some sort of treat on the trip back home from the vet, probably mini-cheeseburgers.

So, today, and every other day, I’m grateful for my husband.  He’s great at so many things:

  • grilling
  • home improvement
  • pet care
  • being awesome

My life would be empty without him.

Anti-Dog Days of Summer

tbones gameI took the weekend off from my gratitude journal, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a ton of things to be grateful for.

Like most other weekends, I spent all of it with my hubby (shown eyeing me dubiously in the photo at left – I’m famous for my ‘candid camera’ approach to family photography).  We took a break from our home improvement projects to attend my employer’s summer event at the T-bones baseball game Saturday night.

tbones gameA short list of items I’m thankful for from the weekend:

  • free barbecue with free beer (if you drink beer – I had water)
  • free baseball
  • free fireworks
  • unKansas like summer temperatures in the 80s
  • not having to water my lawn (because it’s been raining)

Terry and I enjoyed all of the above, plus a good effort by the T-bones against a team from Fargo, who out hit and out scored them to win by two.  Saw a couple of double plays and a lot of errors that went mysteriously unreported for both teams.  I also enjoyed seeing the blast from baseball days past coaching first base for the T-bones:

tbones game
Frank White #20 coaching 1st for the T-bones

Frank even stopped at the bottom of our section, 109, to sign a few autographs after the game.  Almost made me wish I’d moved down a few rows since most everyone left the game after the seventh inning stretch.

Terry and I stubbornly stayed in our assigned seats until the lights were turned off and the fireworks began, only to discover that you can’t see the fireworks from the stands.  We quickly vacated our section and left through the front gate in time to see most of the fireworks.  We were home before eleven o’clock and I debated staying up to watch the Perseid meteor shower.  I opted for bed.

In hindsight, I should have stayed up as Sunday night/Monday morning, during the peak of the meteor shower, we experienced a vigorous thunderstorm which dumped an inch of rain in less than an hour during my Monday morning commute.  Thankfully, there’s always next year for the Perseids.

Afternoon Delight: Frozen Crumbly Chocolaty Goodness

Mocha Cookie Crumble FrappaccinoFor my first entry in my Gratitude Journal, I want to expound on the joys of frozen mocha cookie crumbly goodness.  For the past couple of months (summertime), this scrumptious treat has been available from Starbucks ~ the Mocha Cookie Crumble Frappaccino.  I took the photo (to the right) yesterday afternoon after making a quick stop between the Country Club Plaza and Crown Center.

Yesterday wasn’t particularly hot, but for the third day in a row, I left work with a persistent headache, possibly related to job/project stress or the weather (low pressure system most of the week).  I don’t like to take any medications if I can avoid it, so when I do get a headache, I reach for chocolate or a caffeinated drink.  In this case, I doubled down with a frozen blended mocha cookie beverage.  My headache vanished before I made it halfway to the bottom.

Thus I’m very grateful for the ease with which my headache left and for the incredibly delicious way in which I encouraged its exile.  And also grateful that there are two Starbucks near where I work:  one within walking distance on the Plaza and one on Main Street that I pass twice daily.

No, I don’t give in to temptation and treat myself every day.  Just occasionally … once a month or every other week.  I tried to make up for the extra calories I ingested yesterday by walking Apollo last night.

Reversing My Poles

mid-July moss rose bloom sEach quarter, my employer features a health enhancement challenge that I routinely register for with the best intentions.  Our theme this time around, which is beyond ironic, happens to be stress management.  I laugh every time I log into the intranet log page where I record my goals for this challenge.  My entire department (the ever maligned Information Technology one) is under tremendous pressure right now as we proceed through a merger with another firm.  Since so much of today’s business is transacted using technology, you can imagine the challenges we must overcome to provide a seamless transition for our internal customers.  Hence, my chuckles each time I review the stress-relieving activities I’m supposed to complete each day (a minimum of ten from among these):

  • 7-8 hours of sleep (I’m lucky if I get six, and I usually wake up at least 2-3 times thinking about work projects)
  • Hobby (My favorite hobby is reading, and I do that while driving by listening to audiobooks; my other hobby, amateur astronomy, is frustrated this season with inconvenient cloud cover)
  • Eliminate caffeine (Only if I don’t get a headache while at work … then I reach for a mocha or some other form of chocolate).
  • Exercise (I try to walk the dog for 30 minutes in the evening, if it’s not raining or so muggy that you start sweating the minute you step out the door.  This combos up with more reading of audiobooks because my dog’s not a great conversationalist, except with other dogs)
  • Deep breathing (If you count hyperventilating over some missed deadline or hurdle on a project)
  • Meditate/Quiet Reflection (If you consider being hypnotized by the road during the commute home or the oblivion of dreamless sleep)
  • Unplug from technology (Seriously, you expect me to do that? Only when my battery dies, which won’t happen since I bought a backup battery with my new smartphone back in January)
  • Quality time with a loved one (Renovating our main bathroom with my hubby)
  • Gratitude Journal (I just learned about this today which prompted this blog post)

Thnx4-logo-smallI watched a short video on negative thoughts.  Apparently, on average, I have 60,000 thoughts each day when I’m conscious.  Of those, about 70% will turn up negative.  To counteract that trend, I’m going to try writing a gratitude journal for twenty minutes per day.  I’ve actually done something similar here at this log, back in November 2011, when I wrote a blog post every day on things I was thankful for.  For the purposes of this endeavor, though, I’m going to pretend that I’m starting from scratch.

Starting tomorrow, I will post my first gratitude journal entry here.  Perhaps I will be able to flip from negative to positive before the sun flips its magnetic field.  If it helps let off some stress steam that has built up in me over the last few months, then I’m ready to give it a try.

With a Grateful Heart

Today, I reach the end of my ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ series, but by no means have I reached the end of my blessings.  I barely scratched the surface of all the people, places and things I’m grateful for.  Each morning when I wake up, I’m thankful for my life, my family, my friends, … the list is never ending.

I had grand ideas to post an appeal for world peace in this final entry, beseeching each of us to ‘Just Love’ each other.  And I don’t mean the people who are easy to love, like your family, your spouse, your kids, your friends.  I mean the people who make you boiling mad, who make you foam at the mouth, the stranger (or country or ethnicity or religion or political party … you fill in the blank) that you verbally abuse or berate via status updates.  It’s not enough to wait for them to change or extend the olive branch.  It must start with us.  It must start with you and it must start with me first.

As much as I detest admitting it, the Beatles (and John Lennon in particular) got something right with ‘All You Need is Love.’  Jesus, though, is a hard act to follow:

He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence – and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

Luke 10:27 (The Message)

To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

Luke 6:27 (The Message)

I never said it would be easy (and neither did He).  I can do my small bit to bring about peace and hope in my small corner of the world.

And as we approach the season where we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to such unworthy recipients, I would like to share two final quotes.  The first I consider my ‘life verse’ and refer to it frequently when I need a reminder of where to keep my thoughts and the second is an excerpt from the lyrics of a contemporary Christian hymn that often plays as a soundtrack of thanksgiving for my mindscape.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious – the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Philippians 4:8 (The Message)

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks unto the Holy One
Give thanks because He’s given Jesus Christ, His Son

And now let the weak say, “I am strong”
Let the poor say, “I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us”

Give thanks.

Give Thanks by Don Moen

* * *

And I wish to thank all of you who stayed with me through this month of blogging.  I assure you I will now return to my regularly scheduled programming, meaning the occasional book or movie review with an occasional odd tidbit tossed in for some added vim and vigor.  I sincerely appreciate that you took the time from your busy lives to peruse my musings.  I pray each and every one of you has a wonderful life and spreads good cheer to all you meet.

Oh, one final suggestion.  I thought I’d share our family tradition (since the mid 90s) of re-watching the Muppet Christmas Carol each year around Christmas time. How can you go wrong with Dicken‘s classic Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, and Muppets?  The music isn’t half bad (I even bought the songbook) and the narrators are always good for a few laughs.  Once Derek, Royna and Rachelle arrive (two before and one after Christmas), we’ll sit down one evening and re-live the ‘good old days’ with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.

So I’ll close with the lyrics to my favorite Muppet Christmas Carol song, written by Paul Williams, called ‘A Thankful Heart‘:

With a thankful heart, with an endless joy
With a growing family, every girl and boy
Will be nephew and niece to me (Nephew and niece to me)
Will bring love, hope and peace to me (Love, hope and peace to me)
Yes and every night will end, and every day will start
With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart

With an open smile and with open doors
I will bid you welcome, what is mine is yours
With a glass raised to toast your health (With a glass raised to toast your health)
And a promise to share the wealth (Promise to share the wealth)
I will sail a friendly course, file a friendly chart
On A sea of love and a thankful heart

Life is like a journey, who knows when it ends?
Yes and if you need to know the measure of a man
You simply count his friends
Stop and look around you, the glory that you see
Is born again each day, don’t let is slip away
How precious life can be

With a thankful heart that is wide awake
I do make this promise, every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise (Used now to sing your praise)
And to beg you to share my days (Beg you to share my days)
With a loving guarantee that even if we part
I will hold you close in a thankful heart

I will hold you close in a thankful heart

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

I realized a couple of weeks ago, when we received our new refrigerator, that I had been neglecting my sourdough starter when I removed the crock from the shelf.   I remembered to feed the starter this morning so that I could bake a loaf of bread this afternoon while a roast cooked in the crockpot.  Since I’m up to my elbows in flour, I thought it fitting to focus my next-to-the-last entry in my ‘Thirty Days of Thankfulness‘ blog posting series on making and baking home-made bread.

I much prefer to bake my own bread.  Yes, I occasionally breakdown and purchase a loaf at the grocery store, but for the most part, I prefer to control all the ingredients and I just adore the smell of fresh baked bread.  Nothing says ‘Welcome Home’ like bread baking in the oven.  My preferred flour, graciously available via my local Dillons grocery store, comes from the King Arthur Flour company.  I live in Kansas, the wheat state, where the prized hard red winter wheat is grown specifically for King Arthur Flour, which based in Vermont since 1790 (KAF is 221 years old, 71 years older than Kansas, which is celebrating it’s 150th birthday this year).  In addition to having my flour shipped back from Vermont (albeit it conveniently by my local grocery store), I do special order yeast (by the pound), toppings and other handy gadgets a couple of times a year.  In fact, I recently took advantage of a free shipping sale to re-stock my pantry.  That’s the kind of spam e-mail I like to receive (and why I specifically opted in for their newsletter and e-mail notifications of specials).  I even ordered my sourdough starter (plus the crock shown above) from KAF, because it’s a descendant of a New England sourdough that has been bubbling away there for over two hundred and fifty years!

Once the sourdough starter bubbled up (three to four hours after feeding), I decided to take the ‘easy route’ today and make a Rustic Sourdough loaf in my bread machine.  The link above includes both a traditional recipe and a bread machine version. I will include the latter in this blog posting:

Rustic Sourdough

1 cup “fed” sourdough starter
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Place the ingredients in the bread pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer.  Select the basic white cycle and desired crust and allow the bread machine to do the rest.

If you prefer to shape and bake the loaf in your oven, then select the dough cycle.  Remove the doug and gently shape it into an oval loaf, placing it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until very puffy, about 1 hour. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.  Spray the loaves with lukewarm water. Make two fairly deep horizontal slashes in each; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.

Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it’s a very deep golden brown. Remove it form the oven, and cool on a rack.

* * *

Besides sourdough, I enjoy making Italian supermarket-style bread, Honey Whole Wheat variations and White Bread (made special for my dad).  For more of my recipes, which are frequently variations on recipes posted at the King Arthur Flour web site, please visit My Bread Baking Epiphanies web page.