Category Archives: Holidays

Finding Life

I’m sure that over the past ten years I’ve mentioned this—at least once or twice, if not more.

We’re having a Thanksgiving potluck at work on Friday. I usually contribute jambalaya, but this time I decided to bake bread—sourdough bread. In the 19th century, during the gold rush, someone discovered that there were microbes in the air near San Francisco that would not only leaven bread, but also give it a crisp crust and a savory almost sour flavor. Sourdough has been popular ever since, to the point that we don’t even realize that it is routinely overpriced.

For a while it was claimed (and maybe even believed) that you could only make sourdough in the climate conditions found in the Bay Area. Fortunately, that’s not true.

I bought a sourdough “kit,” which included dried sourdough starter (which included some of the lactobacilli that make the magic happen), a crock for storing starter, and a book of recipes. That was in 1982, and I’ve kept it going ever since. This has not always been easy, especially with a few deployments taking me out of the home scene.

Nevertheless, the starter has lived long and prospered. Today it was combined with flour and water to make the “sponge,” the first step in making sourdough bread. As I write this, the  lactobacilli should have everything under their control. I have already returned  a cup of sponge to the crock to be the starter for the next batch and carefully placed the crock in the back of the refrigerator.

I’ve added more flour, water , and salt to the mixture, and tomorrow it will be formed into loaves and baked. I will literally “break bread” with my coworkers.

I see sourdough the way I view wine and cheese; it is what it is because we combine living organisms with the hand of man. Wheat is alive, we harvest it, and it dies, but when we add yeast–or better yet, sourdough starter, it lives again and morphs into something new and better. Then we share it, which is another living thing.

I’m told that there’s an old Russian saying, “Where there’s food, their’s life. Where there’s life, there’s hope.” You may not agree with their politics, but you must give Russian philosophers their due.

Pass the bread, wine, and cheese. Share life.

P.S. Most of this was typed one-handed because Alex the parrot claimed the other hand as her perch.

Labor Day

According to the US Department of Labor, Labor Day was first celebrated in New York City in 1882, although there is some disagreement as to whether the machinists’ union or the carpenters’ union can claim credit. It was a municipal holiday, and other cities were invited to follow suit. After 23 states recognized it in 1894, the US Congress passed legislation making it a national holiday.

As one trained in management, it was repeatedly pointed out to us in college that the real job of management is to remove the roadblocks that prevent workers from being productive. Except in very small businesses, managers and owners produce no products nor do they provide services to the customer. Everybody’s paycheck comes from the efforts of the workers.

In many ways, we seem to have forgotten that and tend to believe that the people in the big offices and the expensive suits are the producers. Meetings don’t generate revenue. PowerPoint slides, slickly bound and printed reports, consume a lot of resources, but belong solely to the Expense side of the ledger.

Even as automation takes over many jobs, reports are that the demand for workers is increasing. The workers may perform different functions, but they are still critical to the process, no matter how much the elites may wish to believe otherwise.

Today there are many industries that produce nothing. Instead they move money around, mix it up, and in so doing make a profit. Some of this “profit” is virtual—it exists on paper, but may never translate into cash. Other profits occur when money is moved from one owner to another; this is a transfer—profit means that there is more, not that we’ve moved it around.

We are becoming a banking and finance nation, which is one of the places where a nation moves when it ceases to be great. The great nations of only a few centuries ago—The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, France, Great Britain, etc. are only a shadow of their former selves.

So, to those of you who build, grow, design, or otherwise create, thank you. It’s your day—enjoy.

Memorial Day

Graves at Arlington on Memorial Day.JPG

 

I don’t celebrate Memorial Day.

I do cook out and consider it to be the summer season and I enjoy the three-day weekend, but celebration brings to mind happier events. I do not wish people a “Happy Memorial Day.” Instead I observe Memorial Day as a day of remembrance, when we honor those who gave, in Abraham Lincoln’s words, “The last full measure.”

There arguments as to how it started, but even though decorating the graves of fallen warriors is an ancient tradition, it took root in America after the Civil War. The Civil War was devastating not only in terms of bullets, but disease that swept through the armies before, during, and after the battles.

The North credits the Grand Army of the Republic—the veterans of the Union military—for starting it in 1868. They called it “Decoration Day” because of the flowers on the graves; its first observance was on May 30th because that date did not coincide with any significant Civil War battle.

There are others (including the US National Park Service) who claim that it began in Columbus, Georgia in 1866. There it was called “Memorial Day,” although after the North co-opted the idea (and the title), they called it “Confederate Memorial Day.” There was not a specific date throughout the South.

There is one other theory.  In South Carolina, Union soldiers were held in a makeshift prisoner of war camp that was actually a race course.  At least 257 Union soldiers who died in the camp were buried in unmarked graves. In 1865 freedmen—African-Americans who had been slaves—cleaned and landscaped the site and built an enclosure with an arch that said, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Regardless of its history, we now celebrate it on the last Monday in May with lots of sales at every retail store, and not enough thought of those who died in while in the service.

For clarity’s sake:

Memorial Day—the last Monday in May—honors service members who died while serving.

Veterans’ Day—November 11th commemorating the Armistice of World War I, which occurred at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month—honors all who served in uniform.

Armed Forces Day—The third Saturday in May—honors those currently serving.

 

 

Happy 2016

First, I did not stay up until midnight to watch the ball drop, the groundhog, the meteor showers, the rain, or anything else.

Young people think, “Let’s party! Who needs sleep!”

As we age we begin to balance our decisions with, “Party, sleep, party, sleep? Let’s go to the party, but we can leave early and blame it on the babysitter.”

When you get to be my age it’s, “Hey! I can get to bed early, and sleep late—all the way until 7:00 AM!”

In other news, I have a January tradition of writing the wrong year on checks. At work we’ve been in fiscal year 2016 for a number of months so I started to think that we were headed to 2017. I now have two (2015 and 2017) possible wrong years to write on my checks! Fortunately, electronic bill paying helps alleviate this.

I spent today reconfiguring antennas on my car. This is the adult geek male equivalent of changing purses, only requiring more tools and getting dirtier. I’m almost done. Tomorrow I’ll test them and see if anything works better than it did before. Wish me luck!

All Right! I Confess!

I admit it. I’ve been trying to write blogs lately, but:

  • There was Christmas.
  • My son, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren drove 12 hours to visit.
  • My daughter, who has started reading my blog, says all my blogs are the same.
  • I keep coming up with ideas that are incomplete—which got me thinking.

Some of the Beatles songs, including much of Abbey Road were actually the parts of songs that had never fully developed. Therefore I tried to piece together ideas:

My New Year’s resolutions. After “I will never be a staffer for Donald Trump,” I got stuck.

I tried to write about the era of Downton Abbey and how people were once born into wealth and/or married into it, and how that is rare today.

Then I thought of:

  • The Bushes
  • The Clintons
  • Miley Cyrus
  • Jaden Smith
  • Colin Hanks
  • Drew Barrymore
  • Prince Charles

Which brought me back to square one, so, attempting to steal from the Beatles, using the tune from “She Came in through the Bathroom Window”:

My son and daughter trashed the bathroom,
I think they lost my silver spoon,
So I sat there and I pondered,
I should not get mad so soon.

My kids have always been expensive,
Cost me more than I could know,
But I wouldn’t change a minute,
So now I have these joys to show

Is it any wonder?

Let me close this year with my thanks to God for my NORMAL family (the emphasis is there to remind me that despite the condition of their bedrooms and bathroom, my kids are normal; on the other hand, given their outstanding academic, athletic, and musical accomplishments, I owe it to them to differentiate between normal and average).

For you, may 2015 be the year that was just before when everything became wonderful.

The Night Before—the Night Before Christmas

SONY DSC

Twas the night before — the night before — Christmas and chaos persists,

There’s wrapping paper everywhere and six missing gifts.

We tear the house apart, looking for tape,

Not to mention all the bows, which made an escape.

The stocking are hung just as they say,

But the hooks are too weak to last till Christmas day.

The only old fat man around here is me,

So we gather the gifts to put under the tree.

My wife, who has done the most, heads up to bed,

And seeing all she’s done, “I love you,” I said.

Counting Down to Christmas

stamp

Parents count the days until Christmas differently than regular people. Are no golden rings, calling birds, pipers, or even a pear tree (sans leaves, since it is winter). Instead, parents way fo counting down to Christmas includes:

Days needed to get a personalized Christmas stocking from (name of mail order retailer here).

The day for the Christmas band/orchestra/choir concert.

The day that the kids need to bring canned food for the needy or a gift for Toys for Tots.

The day you panic and run to the corner drugstore to print out family pictures to send with the Christmas cards.

The day you should have gotten the photos.

The day you should have sent out Christmas cards.

The day you panic and run to the post office to get stamps for the Christmas cards. (And out of 47 styles of special Christmas stamps, they have only one left—the one you used last year, and the year before that, and—you know).

The day you make a list for next year, which you promptly misplace.

Parents—people with strength, courage, humor–and a totally warped perception of reality, which is how they survive.