Thursday, May 29, 2008

Greater Love Hath No One

A belated Memorial Day post.

One of the frustrating things to me about communicating with non-veterans is the facility with which the focus turns to, and remains with, horror. Though there are some sad details--the hero, one of them--dies in the beginning, this is about love, and not misery.

Imagine that you arrived in Vietnam four or five days ago, the place the whole world is watching and talking about. After a couple of days drawing gear, you are driven by truck along the infamous, if you are paying attention, and you are, Route 9, which runs parallel to the DMZ about 6 miles South of it. It is dotted with lonely little hilltop outposts, all of which have been the site of at least one ferocious battle, and most often many more than that, in the last year between the Marines and the enemy. You stop at one long enough to join your unit, and go to a bunker in a night position a mile or two to the Southwest where you join another Marine in a two man position, who helps you to settle in. You are scared shitless: literally; you couldn't go if you tried.

You've set up two hours on guard, two off, and just when it's so dark you can't see a thing., there is an enormous flash and boom right in front of you; the concussion lifts you and throws you both violently against the back of your bunker. The veteran Marine is calmly talking you through it: check your body parts, still there? Are you bleeding? Wounded? You both are up now, because, as he explains, the enemy is likely to attack, which is true. There is a firefight until near dawn: killing and being killed. In the intervals, to keep you relaxed, he tells you about his sister back home, whom he loves, and how he's not sure he wants to show you her picture until he knows you're the kind of guy that deserves the favor.

At first light, he shows you how to clean up and prepare to move to the next position. He has baptized you into your unit; he has shown you, the new guy, things you will need to know to make it out alive. As you prepare to move out, a sniper's bullet suddenly kills him. Alive, and a helpful older friend, then dead; you have never seen a person die before. You move towards him, then hesitate, overcome by shock. another of the older members of the unit sees this, and tells you, "Look; last night you needed his help, and he gave it. Now he needs you to get him back home." So you carry his body to your next position, a mile or so; you have been in the field in Vietnam for less than one day, you have, barring being killed or wounded, approximately 390 more to go.

Forty one years later, you're thinking of looking up the guy's sister and telling her how much her brother loved her, and how much you loved him.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Gardens in a pot

OK: enough letting the adorable duo keep the place open (and didn't they do a fine job? A hand for the lads, if you please.); Grandpa Johnie has to write something, and, while awaiting permission for a more serious and belated Memorial Day post, here's some whimsy (without the formidable Miss Vane)

Gardening in a third floor walk up in town long after Osteoarthritis has set in requires ruthless practicality; ya aint gonna grow peas (Southern or those nice lil Yankee things), pole beans, squash, eggplant, lettuces, or much of anything, in fact: not even tomatoes (I've tried: not worth it). You must put your efforts in minimal and minimalist directions; it also helps to have a good greengrocer/ plant seller nearby.

Thus the herb garden under whatever windows are available, or can be made so. This weekend I bought and potted Spring Onions, Chives, Marjoram, Sage, Peppermint and Thyme. (A photo may follow when I learn to load stuff onto the 'puter). For reasons personal to my supplier (he's a recent Widower) Rosemary and some of the others I may usually expect weren't available, so I looked at the stuff outside Whole Paycheck this evening while picking up some Sole for dinner. The Rosemary and Lavender looked OK, but how often (and for what) do I use fresh Oregano (it was Greek, though)? Savory, I haven't seen. What am I leaving out? Basil? Too much hassle for a bunch--maybe for the occasional Marinara, but not for Pesto or other bulk uses. A nice little Bay tree would be lovely.

These are partly rhetorical--brainstorming aloud--and partly an at-large question; what have you grown in pots? Any tricks,or advice you'd share.

Our lines are open and ready to receive your call.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

I Have Two Adorable Grandsons

Peter, 10 years, holds his little brother Carter, 3 days. Aren't they wonderful? And, no, that's not really a question, so make with the "Ooooos and Ahhhhs" already.

Carter Reid born May 13, 2008

Friday, May 16, 2008

Blame Eileen

What Alcoholic Drink Are You?

You Are A Martini
You are the kind of drinker who appreciates a nice hard drink.
And for you, only quality alcohol. You don't waste your time on the cheap stuff.
Obviously, you're usually found with a martini in your hand. But sometimes you mix it up with a gin and tonic.
And you'd never, ever consider one of those flavored martinis. They're hardly a drink!

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Updates: May 13th, '08

I'll be out for a few hours (it's almost Noon); SIL at home says "best time: yes!" almost 0900 his time (and his first! He sounds excited!)

See all y'all later.

2:28 PM EDT, three hours ahead of Phoenix. I tried calling the home and Daughter's numbers, which are in "message" mode. SIL and I were probably too excited to remember how we were going to stay in touch. I expect they are in the middle, perhaps at the Birthing Center, and I will hear as soon as there's any news.

3:20 PM

I found my SIL's phone number, and left a message: just afternoon, Phoenix time. Continuing prayers for all.

3:47 pm

don't you just love it when things start to happen a bit, when you've been waiting? SIL just called from the birthing room: pains 2 minutes apart and "growing stronger" (lovely euphemism, isn't it?), 80 % dilated. 1 cm across (10 is max). I read this as systems go and running, though marked by who knows what fear, hope, love? I expect things to begin to hop, (is that a Regionalism?) so there may not be time to share news for a bit from their end. SIL will pass the knowledge of your prayers and support to daughter, who requested them for her struggle.

I'm not sure there's been a final decision on by what name he shall be called.

Anxious: who? Me?

10:12 PM

Daughter just called from Phoenix, , sounding like an old hand, with the new baby crying in the background. Both are fine; he was born about two hours ago: 4:30 Phoenix time.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Department of Dumb Things to Do Inadvertently

While living in Oklahoma c. 1980 for a M. Divinity, I took my United Methodist friends up on an invitation to supper on a weeknight: very casual, en famille. I had taken the car stereo out a day or two before, including the radio, so I was soundless. As I was leaving in late afternoon (Prime Time for these things), my elderly Landlady poked her head out of her side of the house and said, among other things "There's storms brewing this evening.", an entirely common exchange, especially in Spring or Autumn. "Storms" may ALWAYS include tornadoes in this context; " I didna hear yet of none sighted on the ground, but we all know it's possible." I nod and pull out, and within minutes am on a highway (4 lanes, but not Interstate).

There is a village halfway between my origin and my destination: a drive-in, a good sized Roman church, and a very few houses and streets: no traffic lights, but signs that say they'd really like you to slow down a little. As I slow from 60 to maybe 50 on the edge of town, I look once again at the cloud that has formed within the ten or fifteen minutes since I left the house. It forms a diagonal line at approximately 45 degrees from top to ground: sharp and distinct; it appears to have drawn by a ruler: black on one side, sunshine on the other. The first very big and forceful drops hit my windshield. Within a matter of seconds, I am in the village, doing ten miles an hour and reducing my speed further; it is raining so hard I cannot see the hood of my car, but catch glimpses of taillights in front of me. It is not so much a matter of going anywhere, but maintaining one's position as long as one is able; I think "If the windshield isn't destroyed (some of it is clearly big hail by now) I won't stop yet." Then, within a minute or two, the rain and hail are sharply reduced, and I can see a very wet road with limbs here and there, so I proceed carefully to Sam and Sharon's. I can't find Sharon and the kids at the Parsonage or the church next door, but a note saying "Sam, we're in the storm cellar." So where have the Methodists put this storm cellar?

As I continue my search, Sam and his golfing buddy pull up to park in front of the house. He tells me there were tornadoes on the ground, and still are to the SE, as we learn through the static when we join Sharon, the girls, and their next-door neighbor, whose cellar they use. Sam tells me, or we both learn, one of the tornadoes had touched down about 100 meters to our North, and was running parallel to the highway we were on, until it crossed about 1/2 kilometer behind us, removing the roof of the drive-in. Sam and his buddy got out of their car and lay in the ditch, getting soaked, while I drove, oblivious to the larger context.

I had cleaned up after a tornado touched down in a residential area just north of my undergraduate school: volunteers putting a community face on the anti-war (1970) movement. One had destroyed a small part of a small town where my first congregation after Seminary was located. My Oklahoma kinfolks always had a dugout for home canned goods and a quick trip if need be; now I am reminded of scurrying to the bunker outside the hooch when we heard the first "incoming" rounds go off--122mm Katushya rockets--in Vietnam, a once a week occurrence.

I have never before realized how much I take these experiences as "given": for granted; "everybody knows that." Keep living, keep learning.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Friend In Surgery

My friend and Vietnam Comrade, David, started his surgery about an hour ago. He does appreciate the attention of the prayer posse, as do I.

05/ 14 UPDATE

I saw Dave tonight; he says he expects to go home tomorrow, but he's in a lot of pain, and his body is still adjusting to the new, if temporary, regimen. He'd had a good day, then a long nap (medicated), then woke up in considerable pain.

This an Airborne Combat Veteran who was Evaced to Japan wounded; if he says "It hurts; I need something." they better give it to him, or I will be angry.


Tuesday, May 6, 2008

This the Most Sumptious of Feasts: Really.

Since I visit to Syro-Palestine in May, 1997, as news reports echoed with the Israeli Right's support of the undermining--A marvelous, Godde-given, dare I say? opportunity for a multireligious team of loving Archeologists turned Cheap Trick Politics, a banquet (and I've seen others, perhaps more worthy), but to my taste this needs to be in the glorious Mediterranean Spring/ Summer, and with time and beds and food and carrying on for whatever time's needed, on a villa or a few, in city or two: can you imagine, much less use, 23 species of oregano, as on Cyprus?

I was very pleased with Kevin's, the Cathedral Choir's, and our Soloist's Kevin Murray's performance of Vaughn Williams (And Herbert's) Five Mystical Songs early Sunday Evening; perhaps the Heavenly Feast, in this Sillilissima Season of Political Nonsense somehow masques real experience, and therefore politics is on my mind. Which, let no one deliberately misunderstand me and half-grant what I wish, does not mean I want to talk about any aspect of the damned foolishness, nor the ways it's being covered, nor how we managed to end up in such a pickle (I taught that to unwilling Undergrads, who learned something, for eight years; I can bore the best of them. Oh, except model freaks: "Depicting Waterloo at the crucial fifth hour, when ...")

How do we get the political systems to respond to the best, and not the worst, in ourselves?

Come, My Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a feast, as mends its length:
Such a Strength, as Makes a guest

Monday, May 5, 2008

Majestic Duck Leg: My First Cassoulet

I tried a Duck Confit about three weeks or more ago, and decided "WTF?" and started a Cassoulet today. I think encountering Martha Stewart's version in a magazine at the Vets Center was the final straw. It's not that easy to find a recipe; there appear to be roughly as many as there are cooks who make it; the main traditions are associated with three towns in SW France: Toulouse, Carcassone, and Castelnaudary. All consist of white beans cooked with meats: pork, preserved Goose (Carcassone) or Duck (Castelnaudary), and Mutton (Toulouse and Carcassone). Castelnaudary has the Cassole, the earthenware pot it's traditionally made in, from which the name of the dish comes (in Occitan). Some speculate that the pots of beans were made while bread was being baked in the village oven, then placed in the oven as their loaves came out, to cook in the residual heat.

I am grateful for the Internet, the luscious Goddess who passes along traditions I may, and do, connect, in a belated Beltane celebration, for such a delicious grateful attention to beans, broth, and meat over the centuries. After going over a number of recipes, I felt I understood the base: Baked beans with meat: essentials including beans, meats, garlic, and tomato. I do thank my brothers and sisters at the Polish butcher's: servers and customers alike, for revealing themselves through their food.

The stock in which the beans are cooked before being baked is important; I used the Ham butt with Rind, carrot and an onion studded with whole cloves, 1/4 c. tomato sauce, and a bouquet garni of Leek, Thyme, Bay Leaf, and Lovage (celery taste; I grow it) in cheesecloth. I went to the Cathedral Art Show--I missed the Eucharists today--then, coming back around 1:30, cooked the beans for a bit, then went back for Choral Evensong and a Concert of Vaughan Williams's Five Mystical Songs on the Herbert texts which was wonderful, finished the beans and put things together for a slow oven roast in a cast iron Dutch Oven: ham butt and rind; great sausage and hams and veal! And WP's (Whole Paycheck's) version of Andouille, which aint that bad, I hope.

I sampled it before going to bed: late; I believe it lives up to expectations, and look forward to the next few days of seconds.

Friday, May 2, 2008

This Post is NOT About Food (Really)

It's about looking for a butcher shop. Bear with me, vegetarian friends.

As I explore new recipes, some of the ingredients are getting a little more exotic, from the perspective of a simple country boy like myself (and, no, I didn't go to Harvard, though I have driven through it several times and spent some enjoyable time in its bookstore), such as Garlic pork sausage a la Languedoc. It seemed as if my choices had come to supermarkets (ugh!), a local store which does only Yuppie specialty cuts (Whole Tenderloins, anyone?), and Whole Paycheck. Tofu is looking better than it used to.

Today I ask my friend and greengrocer Mike, who used to work at Yuppie Meats years ago, and he came up with two recommendations: one general and one Polish. New Britain, where the grocer/ farm is, is a small working class (Stanley hand tools) town with a large Polish community. I've had a great meal or two with friends at local restaurants like Krakovia, , so I decided to try to find the butcher shop Mike described.

OK, I get lost a time or two and have to double back, but then I think I've found it: Polish, begins with "N", and on Broad street; I'm the only customer there who orders in English. Good so far, but it doesn't seem to fit Mike's description. With the help of another customer, I order some Kielbasa (tough, right?) but also learn the place I want is about 3-4 blocks further. When I see it, I know it's the right place as I park. It's a small store with a big L-shaped meat case, with six or seven staff behind it and a dozen customers in front. One arm of the "L" is for cured meats, the other for fresh. When my turn comes, I awkwardly apologize for speaking English, and try to describe what I want: cured ham, garlic sausage, fresh pork shoulder. The lady takes me in hand, and in thickly accented, barely discernible English, explains what many of the items are. It is rushed, and getting more so, but she shows me, and answers my questions as best she can, and gives me several samples: some of the best meats I've tasted in many a year.

I have more trouble with the fresh meat side, but one of the other staff jumps in to help, and it is solved quickly. By this time, I'm re-thinking a couple of things I passed up in cured meats the first time, and several customers pitch in to offer comments and suggestions, including the names for "black sausage" and "cured Ham" in Polish.

I basked in, and am now reflecting on, the helpfulness strangers showed, the pride they took in the ways their people had developed, not only simply to feed themselves, but to celebrate the gifts of abundance Godde had given them, and how they had used it. The counter clerk had pointed out how lean the sausage was "No Fat!", and a customer advised "we shouldn't eat this, at our age, but a little is good." and another "This one is good for the heart." "This one you saute with onions, or just slice it and eat it."

I was a stranger, and was welcomed, and taken in, to be shown the things we all delight in here.
The meat was secondary.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Not Only Official, but Reliable

I'm still surprised by how much the climate changes here with a fifty mile trip North; last night Amherst radio was calling for frost warnings. It was noticeably cooler here, but nothing like that.

The Crocuses and Daffodils are gone, and the tulips--red, yellow, even purple--are in full bloom, as are multitudes of flowering trees spreading pink and white all over town. The tree in front has lost its red buds, and is now a bronze color: preparing to leaf. I can no longer see through the tops of Elms and Beeches behind the garage which mark the property line; there are several shades of green, from almost yellow to at least three darker shades, though none so much so as they will be in Summer: all bright, lively, and beautiful.

I've noticed some Forsythia along the highway for a couple of weeks, but it's not yet fully developed. I have a chance to make a progress check later this afternoon. All this means I can start to take the itch to restore my kitchen herbs and maybe a tad more somewhat seriously; my planter's sense has never fully adapted to New England: tomatoes go in the ground on Memorial Day, instead of starting to eat them. I have to keep reminding myself.

All of which brings up the other itch--moving: UGH! Twelve years' worth of HEAVY, mostly junk. Still, living on the first floor and having a real kitchen looks better every year, not to mention enough room for more than one guest at a time AND maybe even a 10 X 20 garden patch of my very own.

And then it gets complicated. New England (Gawd save it!) is expensive, though it does offer a good many amenities which are more scarce elsewhere. And not even grandchildren are reason enough to live full-time in Arizona, even Flag. Nonetheless, the culture I crave is not the dominant one in Connecticut, rather the eddies and sloughs of different drummers, who keep eccentricity alive in out of the way places, and Vermont is too damned cold in Winter. The best answer, for now, may be a return to the small town area around UCONN, in the Northeast part of the state, though I am concerned about getting too far away from active life.

Nutz: it looks as if I'm back to Craigslist.