Monday, December 31, 2007

Where Free Reigns Supremely

Do you have an item you need to get rid of that’s still usable but you hesitate to throw in the trash? The Freecycle Network is a nonprofit organization that can help you find a non-landfill home for it. I call Freecycle an Internet “trash to treasure” bonanza since everything is entirely FREE.

If you go to the Freecycle Web site, you can enter where you live and see if there’s a local group nearby. You will receive instructions from the local moderator about the particulars of joining. This grassroots organization was founded in 2003 in Arizona and is now international in scope. There are over 4,000 local groups and if there’s not one near you, you can start your own.

To recycle a Martha Stewart quote, “It’s a good thing.”

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christian Marketing and Redeeming the Fallen

Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has launched a senate probe into TV ministries. He’s asked for financial records from six major televangelists including Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn.

The senator is questioning the ministers’ spending practices for possible abuses of their tax-exempt status. Some of those elaborate sets with the gold “thrones” seemed a bit over the top to me. Yet, the very scope of the inquiry has been attacked as too broad. Grassley has been quoted as saying that the investigation “has nothing to do with church doctrine” and that he wants to make sure the organizations are following the law.

However, I suppose the timing of the advertising insert for “Morningside, A Place of Refuge” couldn’t have been worst for one Branson, Missouri, televangelist you may recall and the Branson developer, Jerry Crawford, working with him. A four-page color advertisement for this new venture appeared in the Dec. 28, 2007, Springfield News-Leader. The AP story about Sen. Grassley’s investigation was on page 9A and the advertisement for this new planned community was tucked among ads for JC Penney after Christmas sales and DirectTV promotions.

Crawford, a supporter from Bakker’s old days of The PTL Club, had encouraged the fallen televangelist to come to Branson, and Bakker and his second wife, Lori, are building a TV ministry here. Perhaps the “Gospel of Prosperity” theology once associated with Bakker has been exchanged, and the years he served in prison for fraud have molded a new and redeemed man. But one thing hasn’t changed. Bakker hasn’t lost his love for televangelism.

Will the new venture, Morningside, evolve into something similar to Heritage USA, once the third-largest theme park in the U.S.? It’s too early to say but the ground has been broken and the development is under way in Blue Eye, Missouri.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Some of my New Year’s Resolutions are Green

Ah yes, it is fashionable these days to wrap yourself and your home in green. Sustainable is tossed around here, there and everywhere, and I actually understand more about what that means than I did a few months ago.

Husband is on the sustainability council at Drury University and produces a newsletter for the group. He playfully points out “no trees were harmed during the production” of the electronic newsletter. In addition, he’s like a hawk with the recycling at home recently. We have paper sacks of paper and a plastic bin for the bottles, cans and plastic that our waste hauler picks up every other week. And I can’t sneak a non-energy-saving light bulb by him even if it is to rid ourselves of the old-style bulbs. If it’s up to him, our next car will be a Prius. He is fully on the green bandwagon. We are even recycling the Christmas tree, which Bass Pro and a local Boy Scout troop will take to Table Rock Lake to help the fish habitat.

Well, I’m getting there with the recycling, which leads me to my New Year’s resolutions. I have to give credit to The Daily Green for the inspiration after I read “7 New Year’s Eco-Resolutions for 2008.”

On Annie Bell Muzaurieta’s list:

1. “It’s time to clean out, and stop the crap collecting,” she says. You go girl! This is on my list too. This problem is vastly aggravated by the habit of shopping for recreation. Keep thee out of shopping malls and centers, so says me.

2. “I will avenge my phantom load.” She’s talking about computers, cell phones and other electronics that continue to use energy while plugged in. She suggests using a power strip and turning that off when the devices aren’t in use. I suppose I could shut the computer down. Okay, I’m adding this one too.

3. “I will be smarter than bottled water companies and drink for free what they are trying to sell me.” This does not apply to me (note the sound of me patting myself on the back), and I am therefore, leaving it off of my list. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that a small bottle of water should not ever cost $3. Also, the skeptic in me wonders if that Wehrenberg movie theater water fountain was REALLY “Out of Order” the other day.

4. “If I can remember to TiVo “Dancing with the Stars,” I can remember to bring my own bags to the grocery store.” Annie, I think I want to try this one. There are plenty of cheap eco-friendly bags for shopping instead of the plastic ones offered by merchants. Of course, if you shop less frequently, you may be like a pack mule loading up for the trek home.

5. I’m deviating from Annie’s list now to my unique set of enviro-issues. A dirty little secret is thus revealed dear gentle readers. I take long and I do mean long showers. I hearby resolve to save water, energy and time with shorter shower-time.

6. And in general reduce, reuse, recycle and conserve.

What else can you do to green up your new year? The sky’s the limit. Get the bike out of the garage and use it instead of the car. Offer a friend a ride if you are both attending an event. Plant a tree. Replace an old furnace with a high efficiency Energy Star make. We did this and Springfield's City Utilities offered us a $250 rebate. Use compact fluorescent light bulbs, which use 66% less energy and last 10 times longer than regular bulbs. You’ll save an average of $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb. Buy as local as possible. Use old t-shirts and towels instead of paper towels for cleaning chores. Put up a clothesline. Wash with cold water whenever possible.

And on the subject of New Year's resolutions in general, is it silly to come up with them at all as some have suggested? Alex Epstein of the Ayn Rand Institute doesn’t think so. He writes:

This New Year's, resolve to think about how to make your life better, not just once a year, but every day. Resolve to set goals, not just in one or two aspects of life, but in every important aspect and in your life as a whole. Resolve to pursue the goals that will make you successful and happy, not as the exception in a life of passivity, but as the rule that becomes second-nature.

If you do this, you will be resolving to do the most important thing of all: to take your happiness seriously.

To expound and expand on the Epstein message regarding passivity, I would like to encourage us all to think about how we can make life better for others too. I resolve also to get up off of the sofa and test my passions with actions. Hope you will too. May the new year bring you hope, joy, healing from emotional and physical ailments, peace and much love.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to You

When I launched this blog in the summer of 2006, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t think the readership would grow much beyond a few family members, but I have cyber-met people from all over the world. I appreciate this connection. So, with five days to go until Christmas, I wish for those who visit me regularly that you may make warm memories with those you love, that the new year will be kind to you and that may you find the strength to face with grace whatever comes your way.

Note: This was my Christmas message last year and it seems good enough for this year too.

However, I want to add a thank you to all kind readers who held my hand as the nest emptied and College Boy left for Hendrix College. Rev. Jay reassured me that CB would be fine and he was and is. Jay, I don’t know if it was the Sonic Boom alarm clock or the roommate who helped CB get up for his classes, but that wasn’t an issue as I had feared. Jay also happens to be a reader I’ve actually met in person.

Marion has been a cyber-sage throughout the year for me with a quiet and compelling wisdom I truly appreciate. The Palm Springs Savant is where I go for a fun and upbeat look at life, and Rick always posts great photos of his travels and adventures in fine dining. Lorelei and Marsha are favorites as is my British cyber-friend, Naomi, who has seen her blog picked up by Reuters. Sarge and Miss Bee, Miss Trashahassee, and floridagirl, who received that print of Jesus I wrote about recently, are my Florida connection. Don from Alabama keeps me in the loop about politics. Joe touches my heart. Sank is funny. I’m sure I left someone out.

But thank you all. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Are You SAD

Symptoms of winter-onset seasonal affective disorder according to the Mayo Clinic include:
* Depression
* Hopelessness
* Anxiety
* Loss of energy
* Social withdrawal
* Oversleeping
* Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
* Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
* Weight gain
* Difficulty concentrating and processing information

Should You Seek Medical Help
If your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, if you feel hopeless or have thoughts about suicide or if you rely too much on alcohol to ease the mood, you should see your doctor.

Treatment for SAD
* Take medications as directed and attend therapy appointments as scheduled.
* Expose yourself to as much light as possible. Open blinds. Get outdoors.
* Engage in physical exercise, which can help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms.
* Be nice to yourself. Get enough rest, eat a balanced diet and take time to relax. Avoid alcohol or non-prescribed drugs.
* Learn how to better manage stress.
* Socialize. Stay connected with people instead of withdrawing.
* Take a winter vacation in a sunny location.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Redneck Christmas or It Takes All Kinds

Jeff Foxworthy has made quite a career out of redneck comedy. I thought of him when I noticed gifts for the redneck advertised at the top of this morning’s post. Just because the blog is called Alabama Kitchen Sink doesn’t mean everyone from Alabama is a redneck, and I certainly don't purport to be one. However, rednecks are some of my favorite people, and let’s just say I have encountered my share of them. Most are lovable, colorful and rather benign except when it’s deer season or they've had too much beer. Both of those events can be interesting or deadly.

Click on over to check out a new-to-me redneck, Slidawg and the Redneck Ramblers for a new Christmas song called “Did You Heared What I Heared?” and slap a smile on your face. Appropriately, the CD is available at Wal-Mart.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I Know Why Santa is Plump

Have you heard that some think Santa Claus is too fat? As is often the case, our icons evolve over time. Apparently, Santa Claus wasn’t always fat. Wait a moment. Let me think of another way to say that. I don’t like calling SC fat. How about portly? Where Santa Claus came from is hardly a mystery. With pagan and Christian roots, he has been around for some time.

Thomas Nast, a political cartoonist in the 19th Century noted for his illustrations in Harper’s Weekly, drew a stouter version of Santa than previous artists, and this image of a plumper Santa stuck. After all, there is more of Santa to love. Nast, of course, must have been influenced by his German roots and St. Nicholas.

Haddon Sundblom’s Santa, which he created for Coca-Cola advertising in the early 1930s is probably the image most of us latch onto. And back to that weight issue. Hey Santa, lay off the Coke!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Hold the Ice

Let it snow! But please, hold the ice. Unfortunately, it’s too late. Nature isn’t listening. She is too busy raining on southwest and central Missouri this morning. And with temperatures hovering around freezing, we have an ice storm.

When I peek out the window, the ice-laden limbs seem to sag even lower. Treacherous streets and walks mean I’ll stay inside and prepare for College Boy’s return tomorrow. He has one more final and the first semester will be a wrap. Helicopter mom has learned much and so has CB.

Photo from last January's ice storm that hit this area, downing thousands of trees and leaving people without power for days. This storm shouldn't be nearly so bad.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Christmas Music Memories

I haven’t bought any new Christmas music this year, but if Oprah’s embrace of Barack Obama is as successful as her endorsement of Josh Groban’s new CD, Noel, we will have him as our Democratic presidential nominee.

Today as I write, Chris Isaak Christmas is playing on my computer. I love his Pretty Paper rendition, and his Mele Kalikimaka is playful when traditional grows old. A Charlie Brown Christmas with the Vince Guaraldi Trio is classic as is Nat King Cole’s Christmas Favorites. You can’t top Aaron Neville’s Soulful Christmas with its Louisiana Christmas Day. These are all some of my favorites.

However, I can’t help but think back to the Christmas music I grew up with--Burl Ives’ and A Holly Jolly Christmas, Gene Autry with Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. Later today, I’ll sit down at the piano and plunk out a few tunes, most likely written by Johnny Marks. I will start and stop when I hit the inevitable sour note. And when I’m through, I’ll be smiling and I’ll be happy. Music does that to me.

For now, though, I work at the computer and sip my lemon lift tea and hope the ice storm is not so bad.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Unique Christmas Gift Idea

I made this personal gift for my two sons three years ago. I compiled some favorite recipes and designed the cards where they fit into a CD jewel case, which flips over to provide a stand for the recipe. It is definitely a unique Christmas gift, because the recipes are family favorites that the guys insist upon when I cook a holiday meal.

I kept to one theme with the artwork I chose for the project; in this case, I selected old copyright-free etchings. You could take a more contemporary approach if that’s your style or the intended recipient’s style. I designed the cards on my computer and printed the project on cardstock on my Epson printer. I trimmed the cards with an xtacto-knife (please, please be careful if you attempt this project) and assembled the contents. Wrap the jewel case with kraft paper and a pretty wired fabric ribbon, and you have a very personal Christmas gift than costs only your time and the packaging materials.

You can also create a strictly electronic version of the project, but I like having the recipes close at hand when cooking.

Note: I can work with you to create your own family’s favorite recipe CD if you are interested. E-mail me for details. Also, coming for January, I will be offering custom recipe calendars through my shop at CafePress.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Enough of Christmas—How About a Little Hanukkah

For the sake of seasonal balance, I’m including a link to Old and in the Way, where Sank gives us a brief primer on what it’s like to be Jewish this time of year with
Musings on The Meaning of Hanukkah. Sank writes:

I don't buy much for this holiday. A few games and books for kids, and the customary gift certificate and catalogue, with suggested items circled for Mrs S to Victoria's Secret, which she ignores for this seasons latest patterned flannel head to toe burqua.

I would dearly love to know if Mrs. Sank ever reads her husband’s blog. Thankfully, mine doesn’t.

A Christmas Homecoming

College Boy will be home for winter break in six days. Final papers, tests and assignments will have been completed and CB’s first semester will be history. I sense a note of anxiety in his voice when he makes those less frequent calls home. At this point, my job is to reassure him that he can do it even for the class whose professor gives “hard exams.” With advice like, “You study harder and more than you ever thought possible,” I also tell him that all I expect is that he gives it what he’s capable of doing.

I did, however, receive an unexpected phone call this morning at 8. “I’m just calling to let you know I’m up,” CB said. “My politics and terrorism final is at 8:30, and I didn’t want you to worry.” “Oh,” I replied, “I didn’t realize it was then. And I really don’t worry. I know you’ll do what it takes.”

Yes, I especially look forward to this Christmas homecoming even if it means the grocery bill will spike upwards for the next few weeks. It will be good to share the nest with him and catch up on movies and pop culture and hear all about his new life and friends.

I’m lucky and don’t think I don’t know that.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Christmas in Branson, Missouri

The White Flight exhibit at Branson, Missouri’s Butterfly Palace provides a rather unique twist on the meaning of white flight. Now regular dear gentle readers know that last summer we moved from Montgomery, Alabama, to Springfield, Missouri. When you mention white flight down South, it certainly doesn’t mean pretty black and white butterflies flitting around Poinsettias. I never thought I could say white flight is pretty.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Good Works at Christmas

If I had money, I’d want to give a lot of it away to organizations and schools. I’d give some to the Salvation Army since I know the kind of work they do to help the disadvantaged. I’d give some to my son’s old performing arts high school, Booker T. Washington Magnet High School in Montgomery, Alabama, for a stage. The school is full of talented kids who have to rent out a stage in order to perform for larger audiences. I’d give money to build a Habitat for Humanity house. I’d give enough money for a scholarship or two. The wonderful community college, College of DuPage, which taught me a thing or two about design could see a student benefit, and maybe I’d give some to the University of Alabama. Save the Children, the local food bank and other worthy charities might receive my money.

But, you know what? I wouldn’t want my name on anything, not even if they insisted.You can skip publishing my name in any publication. Better yet, use that space to write about the good you are attempting to do. Here's the thing. I’d want to be like that little old lady in Mississippi who cleaned houses all her life and who through her frugality amassed a fortune, which she left to charity when she died. Until I amass my fortune, I always stuff a dollar of two in the Salvation Army's kettle this time of year. Don't you think you could too?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Face of Jesus

We see so many illustrations of what artists think Jesus might have looked like, and I don’t know if there is a divinely approved version out there. Rev. Jay, can you weigh in with a theologically correct answer here?

Touring museums in Italy, I saw many Madonna and child paintings. There was a common element almost as if the Church had its own graphic design standards manual. More modern thoughts on the question can be found at Web sites such as Tom Brown Ministries where he answers that Jesus looks like an artist’s version based on the Shroud of Turin. This he bases on a vision he had one day at a nursing home.

Beliefnet covers the question with “Images of Jesus Through Two Millennia.”

The reason I thought of this was that I came across a 1940s print of one such artist’s view of Jesus. Here’s the little story behind how I acquired this. I had searched for picture frames to repaint for some of my paintings and came across Jesus at a flea market one Saturday. The seller priced the frame right but wanted to know what I intended to do with Jesus when I explained why I was interested in the frame. He added, “Please don’t throw Jesus in the trash.”

And that dear gentle readers is why I still have this image. I just don’t know what to do with Jesus. Yeah, I’m superstitious. I’ll admit it. Anyone out there interested in receiving Jesus, may e-mail me and I’ll send Jesus to you.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Missouri: Where Christmas is Safe

On Monday, Missouri State University’s dean of the College of Humanities ordered a 20-foot Christmas tree taken down when a faculty member reportedly said the tree showed a “a lack of sensitivity” to people of other religions.

By Thursday the Christmas tree was back up. Two big Springfield News-Leader stories later, the Christmas controversy is now happily resolved.

Before you jump to the conclusion that this was another politically-correct attack on Christmas, let me say I think it was more a case of someone eager to get the decorations up without fully involving the university community in the process. Universities are like that where consensus building is big. In the beginning, the original tree was secularized with non-religious decorations and displays from other faiths had been planned.

Missouri’s “Santa,” Gov. Matt Blunt issued a directive to state agencies that no state employee be chastised for saying “Merry Christmas.” Woo Hoo! Christmas is safe in the Show Me State.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Limoncello for a Liquid Christmas Gift

All of my Christmas gift ideas this year will be unique in some way, and none will be over-the-top expensive.

If you get started today on this first idea, you should have a batch of pretty good limoncello right before Christmas that you can divvy up for your best friends. I am not going into the details since my son and daughter-in-law have posted their limoncello recipe on their Vino e Vittles blog. This wonderful Italian digestivo is nice packaged in little bottles, and Jeff and Natalie give a low-down on where you can get the bottles as well as how to procure and clean the lemons for the best possible product.

Of course, the lemons we find in the U.S. and Canada are quite unlike the huge lemons you see everywhere in Sorrento, but this is the best limoncello recipe out there and comes very close to the limoncello you’d find being made on Italy’s Amalfi Coast in Sorrento.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Is It Old-Fashioned to Send Christmas Cards

Jeeze, I had to go back and edit yesterday’s post title. I got the countdown number wrong. Today marks the 27th day until Christmas. Why didn’t y’all point out my error?

I was at the post office on Monday and I’d recommend getting those Christmas cards and packages ready if your local post office is anywhere near as busy. The line snaked way long even though they had all clerk positions open. Maybe it was because once you finally get to the clerk, he or she makes you feel like you are the most important customer in the world. Well, that’s been my experience so far in Springfield, Missouri.

I decided to come back later for the Christmas stamps, but did you know you can order them online and save a trip and gas?

And I thought, is it old-fashioned to send out cards these days? I like the photo cards but can never find a suitable picture to inflict on family and friends. I am not photogenic to put it nicely. I always look like a prison inmate let loose on good behavior. Unlike some folks, I also love the Christmas letters a couple of friends send out each year.

Even though I have made cards with my own designs, I found myself picking up a couple of boxes at Target this year. Only after I got home did I discover they were made in China. That strikes me as strange and I wish I’d gone to more trouble to find cards MADE IN AMERICA. Is every blasted product made in China? Well, I think nearly everything in Hobby Lobby is. It bothers me because I wonder if are we buying ourselves out of our position as an economic world leader just to save a few cents.

Sorry for the digression. Now, go mail those cards!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

2nd Annual Christmas Countdown--28 Days

I’m a little late getting started with the Christmas Countdown. My spirits are a bit down and maybe thinking about this wonderful season will help. Bear with me long-time readers if I repeat myself, but I’m sure there will be plenty new to write about. However, for the first post, I am reprinting last year's kickoff. Here it is:

As I promised, I’m launching my countdown to Christmas with my favorite Christmas book, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. I was a new mom 30 years ago when the president of the Alabama Alumni Association, Ann Pritchard, gave Bill a copy of this classic. Sometime in the next few weeks we will sit down and reread the story of the horrible Herdmans and how they and those all around them discovered the real meaning of Christmas. I get choked up each time I read the words aloud. If you have kids and have never read this book, rush right out to your bookstore or order it online (paperback and hardcover available at Amazon), and please read it to them. If you don’t have children, please read it anyway to remember why we celebrate this day. It’s short and wet your pants funny. And yes, it’s sweet and sentimental.

An excerpt from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever:

The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world. They lied and stole and smoked cigars (even the girls) and talked dirty and hit little kids and cussed their teachers and took the name of the Lord in vain and set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s old broken-down toolhouse.

The toolhouse burned right down to the ground, and I think that surprised the Herdmans. They set fire to things all the time, but that was the first time they managed to burn down a whole building.

I guess it was an accident. I don’t suppose they woke up that morning and said to one another, “Let’s go burn down Fred Shoemaker’s toolhouse” . . . but maybe they did. After all, it was a Saturday, and not much going on.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Damn the torpedoes! Full Speed Ahead!

I have a new venue for blogging if anyone cares to check it out. Our local Gannett-owned newspaper, The Springfield News-Leader recently started Ozarks Right and Ozarks Left blogs. Guess which I am?

I have already found out the perils of expressing an opinion. Likewise, I will now be a lot more careful in drawing lines in the sand. I’d forgotten that one might have to cross them. Missouri’s Democratic blog, Fired Up, got all fired up over something I wrote about me not going to vote for Hillary Clinton and wrote something like I wasn’t much of a Democrat. That didn’t bother me, but at first I got a little mad when they made fun of my “funny hat.” Then, I thought, there are worst things to say about a person.

The other peril of this venture is that the News-Leader also prints on the opinion page some of our posts. So far they have printed three of mine, and I’m afraid I’m going to gain a Grandpa Simpson’s reputation.

But my motto is best expressed by the words of Admiral David Farragut, “Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!” which I love so much I created a t-shirt at CafePress with the quote.

Recipe for Sweet Potatoes

Note: I usually have to bake this a little longer than the recipe indicates. Also, watch the potatoes while you are boiling them as it is easy to overcook them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Talking Turkey

I’m doing a little shopping for Thanksgiving dinner today. My two sons, daughter-in-law, husband, granddog and I will be together Thanksgiving for our traditional dinner. Last year I wrote about my Thanksgiving “disaster” and if you are so inclined, you can pop over and see what dumb thing I once did.

Stories abound of similar cooking disasters. Feel free to share your mishaps if you dare. Or better yet, share a pleasant memory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And Now, the Rest of the Story

I love to hear from readers, especially when the post concerns them, as was the case I mentioned yesterday. Today, I’m sharing with his permission, the e-mail I received from Chris concerning his Royal Air Force grandfather.

It was with great interest that I belatedly read your blog entitled ‘Remembering Young Lives Cut Short on a Hot Alabama Day’ (dated August 9, 2006). It was particularly interesting as I was with my mother at the time, whose father (my grandfather) was the RAF pilot Frank Marhoff who you refer to in your article. It was quite strange but pleasing to see that someone on the other side of the world, who neither knows our family nor is connected to it, has taken notice of a grave that only one of us has ever been able to visit.

My mother was three years old when her father died in that plane crash and so far she has been the only family member to visit the cemetery in Montgomery, a lifelong ambition which she finally managed to achieve in 1988, some 47 years after he died. In 2005 when I was in the USA to write about the visit of the England national football (‘soccer’) team, I did myself toy with the idea of breaking off from visiting family in New York to fly down for a couple of days, but was unable to get it into my schedule. Maybe I’ll get there one day. I would certainly love to see it as the graves look beautifully set in your pictures.

My mother was interested to see all the flowers around the grave and your explanation of how they are cared for, as during her visit in 1988 the grave looked quite different – either it was before the flowers were added, or it was the wrong time of year, but she was certainly impressed by how it looks now (or at least last year, when you took the photo).

Just out of interest, out of the many graves there, why was it that you focussed my grandfather? I’m always interested in these chance happenings.

Just to fill out the picture a bit in case you’re interested, after my grandfather’s death in 1941 my grandmother never remarried and brought up the two girls referred to in the newspaper cutting by herself. She emigrated briefly (for two years) to Australia in the 1950s, before returning to the UK and eventually relocating to the Cambridgeshire area of England to be near my mother in the early 1970s. She died in the early Nineties. Had my grandfather lived, he would now have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, plus one more on the way, as my first child is due in January. It’s strange to think that a life cut so short has so much that comes from it. But I guess cemeteries like the one in Montgomery are full of such stories.

I have a box of photos of my grandfather in Alabama and my mother has all the letters he wrote home from before his death. We even tracked down a Pathe newsreel clip that features him briefly during his training in the US. Plus we also have a photograph of him meeting Jack Dempsey while in the States, as featured in the clippings you linked to your blog. At least there are a few things to pass down to my first child alongside my mother’s few early memories of the man. One way or another, Frank stays alive in the family.

Many thanks for writing your article and spending some time visiting my grandfather’s grave.

Best wishes,
Chris Hunt

And in reply to my request to publish his e-mail:

By all means share the email – the whole thing has cheered my day up. I didn’t post it all as I thought it might clog up your blog with too much information for the wider world. However, I’ve just posted another comment because of a bizarre coincidence. I was looking at the below link with my wife after showing her your blog. After noticing the date on the headstone, she pointed out that it would be the anniversary of his death today.

Being a writer like yourself, I’ve always found the story of my grandfather very interesting – even though it’s a very ordinary story. He was among the first shipment of RAF trainee pilots sent to the US to train to fly, but he didn’t die a war hero, he wasn’t special to anyone outside his family, but he’s always been a big part of our family’s life and history. My grandmother certainly never got over him and my mother still thinks about him regularly.

As a child I grew up fascinated by the photos of him in his uniform on the base in the US and the picture of him with Jack Dempsey. It all seemed a million years away from our lives. My other grandfather fought in the First World War (and lived to tell the tale), but in some ways I thought that the idea of Frank travelling so far away to the US (and being pictured with big American cars in the background, alongside strange looking American road signs) was in some way more alien than the idea of my other grandfather fighting in Ypres. I’m sure one day I’ll write about it myself!

All the best,
Chris Hunt

Note: if you click on this link, you will see a photo of Frank's grave, which was posted less than a month ago. I suppose another story lies in the photographers who post these photos.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Fallen Heroes

Last year I wrote a post entitled, “Remembering Young Lives Cut Short on a Hot Alabama Day.”

I had visited Oakwood Cemetery Annex in Montgomery, Alabama, where Confederate sons of the South rested near the graves of British airmen sent to train at Maxwell Air Force Base during WWII. Yet many more visitors come to see the grave of country music legend Hank Williams than pause at the graves of these fallen soldiers.

This morning, a reader named Chris left a comment about the old post:
It was with great interest that my mother and I belatedly read your blog. The RAF pilot you refer to, Frank Marhoff, was my grandfather. It was quite strange but pleasing to see that someone on the other side of the world, who neither knows our family nor is connected to it, has taken notice of a grave that only one of us has ever been able to visit. I shall email you more fully care of your blog address, but once again, thanks for taking the time to think about my grandfather.

We all want to think that our time here on earth matters—that someone notices that we were born, lived and died. Maybe we aren’t a famous celebrity. We might not have invented a new medicine, flew to the moon or ran for political office. Yet, the human in us wants to know that life is precious and that our time here, short as it is, mattered to someone.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Borat’s Back

Did you hear? Borat, the lovable and highly offensive faux Kazakh reporter, has come out with a guidebook about Kazakhstan and the US and A.

So far, comedian Sasha Baron Cohen has been talking up the book via e-mail interviews, during which Borat said when asked about the U. S. presidential election by Celebrity News Service, “I cannot believe that it possible a woman can become Premier of US and A—in Kazakhstan, we say that to give a woman power, is like to give a monkey a gun—very dangerous. We do not give monkeys guns any more in Kazakhstan ever since the Astana Zoo massacre of 2003 when Torkin the orang-utan shoot 17 schoolchildrens. I personal would like the basketball player, Barak Obamas to be Premier.”

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Internet Ads

While checking out to see local restaurant reviews, I noticed the banner ad at the top of the page was for Friskies’ cat food by Purina. Not wanting to “unlock a world of sensory delight” I skipped rolling over the ad in favor of reading about human food, which is what I wanted to find out about in the first place. Next I was treated to an ad from Marlo Thomas to “Please help St. Jude save her life,” referring to a young child at the hospital she helps with fundraising.

I think a little bit of targeting is needed here. In my own little blog, I signed up for Google ads and so far it’s been interesting to see what they assign to me. My post about Uncle Jim’s death brought an ad for onshore drilling. One day, I noticed one for stun guns. Still haven’t figured out that one. I guess I’m most happy to see ads for my Alma Mater, the University of Alabama. And those kitchen sinks.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Comfort Food

I so rarely spend the afternoon in the kitchen these days. Husband is easy to please or maybe I should say at least he doesn’t complain and meals can be rustled up quickly and simply. However, yesterday I took the time to make some comfort food. You know, the stuff we grew up with—macaroni and cheese, meatloaf, mashed potatoes or chicken potpie, which is what I set about making.

The steam from the boiling chicken warmed the kitchen while I searched for my old recipe. Yes, it had been that long and I have never been one to remember recipes. When I couldn’t find the tried and true, I used the Joy of Cooking version. The peas and parsley were okay now that son was away in college. The rhythm of peeling and chopping went quickly and soon the veggies were sizzling in a glob of butter, unsalted for good health. Another glob melted and melded with the flour, half n half and chicken stock for the cream sauce. Soon the de-boned chicken met the chopped carrots, celery and onions, and I topped them with a purchased piecrust. Love pies. Hate making the crusts.

After the half hour or so in the oven, my creation met with approval. “This is really good,” said my better half, “and better than the ones you used to make. They tasted like frozen.” See, I told you husband is not one to complain. I wonder what else I could improve?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Picking a Good College

Ironically as I checked out the results from the latest National Survey of Student Engagement, College Boy called me on his cell-phone.

I disavow the overused helicopter label but will admit this son stays in touch more than his older brother did 11 years ago. That’s a Millennial trademark by the way. This year’s findings show
“Contrary to what some educators believe, students who frequently talk with the parents and follow their advice participate more frequently in educationally purposeful activities and are more satisfied with their college experience. This is also true for students with so-called ‘helicopter parents’—those who intervened with institutional officials to solve problems their student encountered on campus.”

Approximately 313,000 randomly selected first-year and senior students at 610 four-year colleges and universities in the U. S. and Canada participated in the survey.

Other findings of note: When faculty members provide guidance and feedback on projects and papers, students are more satisfied and say they benefit more in desired ways, students who study abroad report greater gains in intellectual and personal development than peers who don’t, internship or field placement is the most powerful form of senior experience and 13 percent of first-year students have parents who frequently intervene with college officials and another 25 percent had parents who did so sometimes.

USA TODAY has a searchable database of 257 schools organized by institution type. NSSE benchmarks are compared to the average in five categories: level of academic challenge, active and collaborative learning, student-faculty interaction, enriching educational experiences and supportive campus environment. For the first time this year, some colleges and universities are sharing this typically private information with the public.

A push for greater transparency and a growing dissatisfaction with the much-hyped U.S. News & World Report rankings are perhaps behind the willingness to go public. It’s certainly a great tool in research during the search for the right college.

Here in Springfield, Mo., Drury University’s rankings are well above average in all areas for first-year students and for seniors in all but one area. In four out of five areas, Drury’s first-year student benchmarks were at least five points higher than the average for peer institutions. And that is a rather strong indication that Drury University is providing an excellent education for her students.

And in case you were wondering, CB's college, Hendrix, fared pretty good too and is a particularly supportive campus, which is very reassuring even if one is not a helicopter parent. And I swear I am not!

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Thanks Lowe’s

Since I will shortly be chronicling our sad and frustrating battle with American Home Shield over our home warranty contract, I wanted to heave some positive feedback in the direction of a corporation that did a fine job for us.

We purchased our new toilet and sink from Lowe’s here in Springfield, Missouri, and opted to use their installation services. We bought the fixtures on Saturday and the install department followed up with several calls along the way. The installer called on Monday to set up an appointment for Thursday. He arrived ON TIME! Although we experienced a minor problem because the faucet we were sold didn’t fit our sink’s holes and a trip to Lowe’s was necessary to switch it, Lowe’s charged us the original price instead of passing on the cost of the more expensive version. The installer went on to put in a dishwasher while we exchanged the faucets. He returned in about two hours to finish the job.

Kudos to the folks at Lowe’s and our installer Caleb. We are very happy customers and we will gladly turn to you again.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Encouraging Minority Entrepreneurship

Springfield’s Drury University and St. Louis-based investment firm Edward Jones announced a new scholarship recently targeted at minority students in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas but open to students throughout the country. Drury is offering 10 $10,000 scholarships for incoming freshmen and “will change the face of the university,” according to Interim President Todd Parnell. Coupled with other institutional financial aid, it will be possible for a deserving student to have his or her tuition completely covered.

Now I know this may not seem unusual for an institution of higher education to offer diversity scholarships, but it is significant for this area of the Ozarks because there are so few non-Caucasians here. Our population here in Springfield is over 90% Caucasian.

The Edward Jones Minority Scholarship Program at Drury University will open many doors. Students who receive the scholarships will also interact with local and national business leaders through Drury’s Edward Jones Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and they’ll participate in internships and training with Edward Jones. Last year Drury’s Board Chairman John Beuerlein and his wife, Crystal, partnered with Edward Jones in donating the money to establish the Center, and Drury is fast enhancing its reputation for providing a great business education with an emphasis on preparing students to soar in today’s global economy.

I suspect many first generation college students will have a shot at a top-notch education because of this generosity and foresight. And this first generation college graduate thinks that’s a right fine thing.

Note: Check Drury's Web site for more information at

photo: Emily Pitts from Edward Jones is charged with implementing the firm's inclusion initiative.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Uncarved Pumpkin

Halloween is a bit strange this year. Will I carve a scary jack-o-lantern face on the small lonely pumpkin sitting on my front stoop?

For years it fell to me to guide first my older son and then the younger one in this annual family tradition. Because of hungry squirrels eager to chow down on our pumpkins, we always waited until Halloween afternoon to commence the carving ritual. I never brought in the pumpkin soon enough for it to warm up, and it was always cold when I cut the top off and delved in to remove the seeds and goop, sometimes up to my elbows if it was a large pumpkin.

I don’t remember exactly how old sons were before they were entrusted with a knife. Kids wielding knives scare me as much as kids wielding paint brushes. I never asked them to help with painting projects, but I did eventually pass my pumpkin-carving baton to them.

The last several years, I took the role of pumpkin purchaser and then watched as younger son learned to do a fine job without incident. After he finished, I’d admire the work, search for a candle and we’d set the creation out by the front door so the trick-or-treaters knew we had treats for them.

Alas, with College Boy away this year, I may leave the pumpkin uncarved. My heart just isn’t in it.

Flush with Power

Pardon my pun, but we have the crappiest toilet in the new place, a Titon 1.6 gallon model, which does not do the job. While the idea of a low-flush toilet sounds environmentally good on toilet paper, in practical matters, many of these poorly designed toilets waste water instead of saving it.

Saturday morning, husband asked me if I wanted to go look at toilets and sinks over at Lowe’s and off we set. Although we were tempted by American Standard’s Champion toilet, claiming you can flush a bucket of golf balls down it, we ended up buying Kohler’s Cimarron model. Could it be because our new toilet bears the name of an Edna Ferber novel and movie, Cimarron, I doubt it. I had looked at Terry Love’s Web site before shopping and came across a reference to Maximum Performance Map Testing, the quintessential toilet-rating source. Veritec Consulting, a Canadian company, has found that soybean paste stuffed into condoms simulates the stuff we love to flush away. They make these sausage-like links of mock poop from imported Japanese soybean paste and that's what they use to test toilet performance. And voila!

Maybe they should use a bucket of golf balls.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Also During My 19th Year

Part 2
Also, during my 19th year:

18 year-olds gained the right to vote when the 26th Amendment was ratified.

In June of 1971, the New York Times published excerpts of the Pentagon Papers and later won a U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment case when the government challenged it.

A man calling himself D. B. Cooper parachuted from a Northwest Orient Airlines plane he hijacked, with U.S. $200,000 in ransom money (he was never heard from again).

Brian’s Song aired on ABC TV. CBS introduced the Waltons in The Homecoming: A Christmas Story. All in the Family became popular. A Clockwork Orange premiered in December.

Number one songs included: Carole King (It’s Too Late), James Taylor (You’ve Got a Friend), Bee Gees (How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?), Isaac Hayes (Shaft), Don McLean (American Pie), America (A Horse With No Name), Roberta Flack (The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face) and Sammy Davis, Jr. (The Candy Man).

Peace protests continued against the Vietnam War. President Nixon visited China. The Federal debt was $408.2 billion. A stamp rose to 8 cents, up from 6 cents earlier in the year. Minimum wage was $1.60. A gallon of gas was $.36.

In May of 1972, Arthur Bremer shots George Wallace in Maryland.

Federal Express was founded. Intel introduced the microprocessor. Disney World opened in Florida.

And that, my friends, were a few of the things happening when I was 19.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

When You Were 19

Today is the 19th birthday of my son, Scott. He’s usually College Boy to you. I am thankful to have him in my life and proud of him, and I think that is probably all I need to say because having a mom who blogs about you may not be appreciated.

But, I thought back to what I was like when I was my son’s age. The year was 1971, and when I turned 19, I had been married exactly 31 days. The photo is of my father and me on my wedding day. I love the background. Our wedding was planned in a week.

That summer was hot and I was looking forward to getting back to school after staying with my in-laws for a month.

However soon, new husband and I were back at the University of Alabama, scraping by in a $75 a month, tiny one-bedroom apartment on 13th Street in Tuscaloosa, close enough to campus to walk. Our furniture was from a shabby second-hand store downtown--the bookcase, two boards and four concrete blocks. My mom paid $1,000 toward my expenses that year and the rest came from student loans and a work-study job. Between classes, we went to football games and free movies on campus, played ping-pong at the student center and studied. On weekends we drove out to Lake Tuscaloosa in our 1963 red VW Beetle, and I learned to drive a stick shift while destroying the clutch. In late November, Coach Bear Bryant’s boys beat Auburn 31-7 and the Tide went on to lose big to Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.

During Christmas break, we watched the new Bond movie, Diamonds Are Forever, with my husband’s mother. But in February of my 19th year, my new mother-in-law lost her fight with breast cancer. Spring saw us trying to help husband’s brother and grandmother deal with her death. On hindsight, I don’t think I was much help. We cleaned out the house and arranged for a lady to come in to check on Grandmother and went back to classes.

More tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

J.K. Rowling Outs Dumbledore

Harry had better watch his back. When author J. K. Rowling answered a young fan’s question the other evening with the answer that Headmaster Dumbledore was indeed homosexual, she opened the door to what will surely be a new round of censorship for the hugely successful series.

According to the American Library Association who keeps track of these censorship challenges, Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell’s award-winning “And Tango Makes Three,” about two male penguins parenting an egg from a mixed-sex penguin couple, tops the list of most challenged books in 2006 by parents and administrators, due to the issues of homosexuality.

For the last two or three years, the Harry Potter books had strangely been missing from the annual list of most challenged books while Rowling continued to hold the fourth place among the American Library Association’s Top Ten Challenged Authors 1990-2004.

Over the years, challenges to the books revolved mainly around the central theme of witchcraft and wizardry. However, it is safe to say that we do not now have covens of budding witches and wizards due to fascination with the books. Hardly. We have many more college-age students—the ones who grew up loving Harry—who have moved on to other works. Molded into readers by their love of the books, these young adults like my own College Boy might not have been as enthusiastic if Harry and Rowling had not come into their lives when they were in elementary school.

Now, with Rowling’s revelation, I predict Harry may just find himself back on the list.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More than You Need to Know About Armadillos

From hours and hours of extensive research (well, honestly, that’s really about 10 minutes on the Internet), I bring you the latest in armadillo leprosy news. One of my most astute readers questioned whether armadillos carried leprosy, and I felt the need to double-check my “facts.”

And the first Googled source turned out to be an old friend of sorts, Cecil Adams from The Straight Dope answering the question, Is it true that armadillos carry leprosy? Cecil dubs himself “the world’s smartest human being” and has written several books and has a column in the Chicago Reader. The Straight Dope’s tagline is “fighting ignorance since 1973 (It’s taking longer than we thought).

Bear with me as I conclude this tangent before expounding further on armadillos and leprosy. While I never had any connection to Cecil, his long-time illustrator, Slug Signorino, had done illustrations for some of husband’s magazines. So, it was fun to see that old Slug is still at it. I recommend a visit to The Straight Dope Web site for an entertaining and enlightening excursion.

Apparently armadillos can carry leprosy. In the 1970s, 15 to 20 percent of the wild armadillos in Texas and Louisiana were found to carry leprosy. Yet, researchers in Florida found no sign of leprosy in 3,000 armadillos they examined. In the mid-80s a few people were found to have leprosy in Texas and Louisiana who had had no contact with human carriers. Their only connection had been some contact with armadillos—either racing them, extracting the meat or making stuff out of the shells.

The use of armadillos infected with leprosy has also enabled researchers to search for new drugs to treat the disease in humans and to test whether older ones induce resistance after prolonged treatment. Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Advice from the Kitchen Sink: If you are dead set on eating or racing armadillos make damn sure they aren’t from Texas or Louisiana.

NOTE: I am not advocating eating armadillo but here’s a recipe found on the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Web site if you are ever tempted to try it.


1 1/4 cups dry white wine
1/2 cup oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed (optional)
1/4 cup butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp. thyme
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1 med. onion, sliced thin
1 armadillo, cleaned and cut into serving pieces
1 1/4 cups light cream
1 tbsp. brown mustard (e.g. Gulden's) or Poupon Dijon
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Mix all ingredients of marinade and add armadillo. Marinate about 8 hrs., turning meat occasionally. Remove armadillo and reserve marinade.

Melt butter in deep skillet and brown armadillo pieces. Pour in marinade and bring to a boil. Stir in seasoning, cover and simmer until tender (about 1 - 1 1/4 hours.) Remove skillet from the fire and place armadillo pieces on a warmed platter.

Mix mustard and cornstarch, then mix in cream. Return skillet to low heat and stir in this mixture a little at a time. Stir sauce until hot, but not boiling, and thickened. Pour sauce over armadillo. Serve with steamed rice.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Where is Daddy

She drives the Jeep with the yellow ribbon into the driveway and carries a four-year-old towheaded little boy who is fast asleep into the house. A couple of minutes later, she reappears and bends over to retrieve another sleeping child, this one looks about two. The garage door slowly rolls down, and I think how many times this little scenario plays out each evening in the suburbs and homes of America.

While any mom worth her salt lugs sacks of groceries and the dead weight of sleeping kiddos with the best of ’em, in our family this duty always fell to dad.

Here, though, the task falls on mom. She is now in reality a “single mom” who is alone in the evening caring for her two young boys while daddy serves his country in Iraq. During the days now, their yard is devoid of the sounds of giggles and shouts of “Daaaaaad!”

A couple of houses up the street, I hear a loud ruckus and see several children pounding at the door. “Daddy, daddy,” they shout as daddy comes to the door and goes out to play.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fun Armadillo Facts

It is illegal to sell a live armadillo in Texas, because they can carry leprosy.

The State of Texas named the armadillo the state mammal.

Armadillos jump up in the air when threatened. This explains why you see so many killed by cars. Plus, they are nocturnal and eat road kill. Remember what Mama said about playing in the road?

They like to dig and have been called “gravediggers.” You can guess why.

They were called “Hoover hogs” during the Depression because of dislike for President Hoover, and the taste of armadillo meat has been compared to pork.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Would You Believe

Incredible news about Stephen Colbert running for President in South Carolina! Isn’t that wonderful? I finally have a candidate I can support. Oh, wait a minute, I don’t live in South Carolina. A native of South Carolina, Colbert plans to run as a favorite son and as a Democrat and a Republican. Can you do that? He was quoted as saying, "Let the voters decide what he is."

I also note that yesterday, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in 10 states endorsed John Edwards for president. I have to agree with the campaign missive I received from the Edwards campaign that the “Washington establishment has been trying to turn the Democratic primary contest into a coronation for months.”

I would just like to think that other Democrats besides the ones in Iowa and New Hampshire have a voice in selecting the party’s presidential nominee. And here in Missouri, our primary is on Tuesday, February 5, 2008, along with a slew of other states.

Some time ago I urged that we adopt a national primary day and all go to the polls on the same day. Slowly and surely, I think we are headed in that direction despite the Democratic Party leadership’s efforts to keep things as is. Florida Democrats can have their primary on January 29, if they want, and the party leaders would best not try to ignore them. We all want to have our voices heard. GET THAT, HD?

Note: the t-shirt is the latest over at Hail to the Chief.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

City Hawks

This formerly country girl is always amazed to see city wildlife, but I’m not talking about the typical squirrels and birds you find everywhere. This morning, I looked out of my kitchen window and spotted a big hawk sitting on top of a telephone pole in the backyard.

I watched him for several minutes as his head turned this way and that, surveying his territory for any movement that would indicate small prey. I think this was the hawk who had visited once before when I noticed him high atop a scraggly tree, which was a casualty of last winter’s ice storm.

Then, I recalled that even in New York City on no less than Fifth Avenue, hawks have graced city-dwellers with their presence. A few years ago, two hawks, Pale Male and Lola, set up housekeeping atop a ritzy co-op apartment building and caused an uproar when their nest was torn down.

My hawk, who remains unnamed, allowed me to watch him, and then rather hastily, he took off with a great flourish of his wings. I suppose it was breakfast time.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Carnival of Cities

Check out the Carnival of Cities for a quick trip around the world from the Show Me State (me) to Bologna, Italy, and beyond all without leaving your chair.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Stainless Steel Soap

Our Sunday paper highlighted a kitchen product today called stainless steel soap. Dear gentle readers who are cooks will know how hard it is to get the smell of onions and garlic off of your hands after handling these culinary necessities. These readers will also probably know that an ordinary stainless steel knife or spoon will likewise do the trick of removing the odor. Save yourself $10 and kitchen counter space and avoid another useless kitchen gadget. For a discussion on why the stainless seems to work, check out I am a believer, but caution you to be careful with sharp knives.

Any readers care to nominate their own favorite useless kitchen gadget?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Review of Behind Happy Faces

Tomorrow is National Depression Screening Day. A few days after I participated in a bloggers’ conference call about campus mental health, a copy of Behind Happy Faces arrived at my doorstep. Written by Ross Szabo and Melanie Hall, this book is a very personal look at what happened to Szabo when he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder his senior year in high school. The authors weave other stories into the message that, despite the stigma society attaches to mental health issues, help is out there and that with treatment, there is reason for great hope.

The authors don’t sugarcoat their message though. While they point out statistics may show that “a large majority of people who seek help can see improvement in their symptoms,” they must first be willing to ask for help.

Szabo and Hall have written this book as a guide for young adults. Yet, their work is valuable for those who love and work with young people. They touch on what I believe to be the most difficult issue and offer suggestions about how to get those young people to see the need for help. Common mental disorders like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder are discussed. And Szabo describes how in his case, he fell into substance abuse to self-medicate the pain of his illness as so many other people do.

Whether it’s planning, maintenance, understanding the illness or adjusting one’s lifestyle, the authors stress “you are not your disorder.” They write: “The reason this distinction is important is because it casts a more positive outlook on your treatment. You’ll start to think of your disorder as something you can manage, not something you’re stuck with, or something that can’t be help.”

While this is a straightforward and realistic look at mental illness in young people, Szabo’s story provides much encouragement. From the low point of wanting to take his own life, he has come to terms with his illness and has an understanding of what it takes to manage the bipolar disorder. The authors promise no easy answers but they do offer advice from the mental health community and Szabo’s personal experience. Today, Szabo is Director of Youth Outreach for the National Mental Health Awareness Campaign and a popular campus speaker for CAMPUSPEAK, Inc. where he has reached thousands of young people. You might also catch him penning a post for the Huffington Post. He is a man with a mission after all.

Behind Happy Faces is a book that ought to be on the bookshelf of every high school and college counselor, adviser, teacher and administrator.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In the Stillness of Night

One lone camper at the port campgrounds where the floating man cave is docked was breaking camp as we pulled up around 2:30 p.m. The clouds had built up to the point where it seemed rain was imminent, and sure enough, as we got under way a few sprinkles started to fall. “Should we stay near the port?” we asked each other as husband raised the canopy. “Nah,” we both concluded. This didn’t look like a serious storm, and we soon outran the drops.

We passed only a few boats on the way to a secluded cove where husband dropped anchor, and we noticed a quietness we had not heard in weeks. There were no other boats within earshot. Table Rock Lake is a busy and popular spot most weekends. And yet, on this Sunday we nearly had this enormous lake to ourselves.

We sat watching the clouds as the stillness surrounded us until the sun set over the hills and slowly the stars became visible—first the Evening Star and soon, as we sat with our chins pointed upwards, the whole of the sky was covered. How low the Big Dipper appeared! By now darkness enveloped us. Only a few lights from homes overlooking the lake punctuated our darkness. We smelled wood smoke and heard a lone dog bark in the distance.

I thought back to how as a child I was so afraid of the dark that I slept with the light on each night, afraid of danger lurking there in the dark. Yet, tonight, in nearly pitch black with no moon to steal the glory from the stars, I breathed in soft evergreen-scented air and thought how wonderful.

Monday, October 08, 2007

A Good Thing

A newcomer has to get the lay of the land. I’m still in the neophyte stage here in Springfield, but I was struck by the wisdom of two local legislators.

The Springfield News-Leader, our local Gannett-owned paper, had a Sunday front-page story about what gifts lobbyists had given to state legislators, their staffs or family. Now first off, I will say this. None of the gifts was extravagant or expensive. Most were food or tickets.

Several legislators felt the need to defend accepting the gifts. The gifts “don’t influence” votes and, “I’m going to vote my conscience, period,” said one. Another remarked that the lobbyists “can be useful sources of information about issues facing the legislature.”And according to the paper, the same legislator pointed out that group dinners are a good way for the lobbyists to have their say. I suppose that’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone (not that I’m advocating killing birds).

However, out of 13 legislators, two repaid all the freebies. The paper quotes one as saying, “If I’m going to be voting on something, I’d just as soon buy my own dinner and pay my own bills. That way, I don’t have to worry about where the line’s drawn.” The other fellow said, “I’m a big boy, and I can pay for my own meals.” Neither of these two, however, was critical of those legislators who did accept gifts and one defended lobbyists by saying, “They have a purpose, as long as you understand that purpose . . .”

Rep. Jay Wasson and Rep. Mick Cunningham deserve a pat on the back for their personal stance. But what do you suppose would happen if all of our state and federal representatives chose to turn away the free lunch? Perhaps, with apologies to Martha Stewart, it would be a good thing.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Frog-eyed Hippies Get Green Make Over

Consumers are hopping on the green bandwagon. The 2007 ImagePower Green Brands Survey shows a shift in thinking. No longer is green marginalized to fanatical environmentalists, and nearly all Americans display green attitudes and behaviors according to the research. Especially appealing are green products that are relatively simple to implement like appliance upgrades.

Respondents said green brands are often seen as better quality, though at a higher cost.

The survey also categorized participants’ levels of involvement into shades of green, or green attitudes. The result of this segmentation is that all Americans exhibit some sort of green attitudes and behaviors.

Here is where I deviate from a rehashing of press releases about this research. I read more than one press release and am curious about some of the terminology applied to the categories of respondents, and why between May 1 and September 27, there has been an apparent shift in what to call these folks (if there hasn’t and I’m wrong, I’m sure some PR person will write and correct me). For example, in the most recent release, mention is made of five “green attitudes,” which range from “Bright Green” to “Dull Green,” with each category exhibiting certain characteristics. From the September 27, 2007, press release from public relations firm Cohn & Wolfe, strategic brand and design firm Landor Associates, and Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates (Mark Penn is chief strategist to Senator Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign):

Dull Green respondents, for example, who are characterized by making a minimum effort to support environmental change, prioritize crime reduction, religious organizations and healthcare as their main causes. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the majority of Bright Green respondents, or those who are doing everything they can to make a long-term impact on their environment, care most about the environment, animal rights and education. One in five Dull Greens is satisfied with the current state of the environment, while, Bright Greens remain sad and skeptical about the future outlook and one in three even feel anger about the situation.

However, when I looked at a May 1, 2007, release from Landor Associates:

The difference in behaviors can best be seen at their extremes, by “Muted Green” and “Active Green” participants. Muted Greens are not convinced that the environment is in trouble and make the minimum effort to support environmental change, while Active Greens believe taking care of the environment is society’s responsibility and are doing everything they can to make a long-term impact on their environment.

What struck me in noting the shift, “Muted” to “Dull” and “Active” to “Bright” was that while “dull” may be accurate, it seems so negative.

“The value of examining the everyday lives and activities, as well as the emotions, of our green groups is that we can then adapt and refine the way in which we communicate with them to maximize relevant messages,” said Annie Longsworth, EVP and Managing Director of Cohn & Wolfe San Francisco. “What resonates with Bright Green people is very different from what rings true for Dull Greens, which presents some really exciting marketing challenges and opportunities.”

I suppose it’s no big deal, but it’s just an observation on my part. No one likes to be labeled “dull.” Even if they are.

Note: According to information on their Web site, Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates Inc. “conducted 803 interviews on the Internet among U.S. general population from Sept. 7-9, 2007. Respondents were screened to meet the following criteria: Age 18 or over. Gender, age, and region were weighted based on U.S. census information.

An earlier Internet survey was conducted with 1,504 U.S. interviewees between April 6 and April 8, 2007 and 1,525 interviews among the UK general population

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ozarks Road Trip

Last weekend was Parents Weekend at Hendrix College, which regular readers may recall is where College Boy is right now. I’m never one to turn down a road trip, especially one through the Ozarks. We passed lots of cows and horses, and I suspect deer, but they weren’t out. It’s a good thing too, because deer and cars don’t mix very well. Ditto for elk, which this part of Arkansas also has.

Conway is about a three to four hour drive depending on how much stopping you do. We do a lot. I have already found a good lunch spot, Neighbor’s Mill CafĂ© in Harrison, Arkansas. On the return trip, we stopped off and took a peek at the Buffalo River, a National River, and one of the few rivers in the Lower 48 without dams along its 135-mile course, which makes for remarkably fine canoeing.

College Boy himself seemed to be happy to see us and let us treat him to dinner Friday night before he was off to spend time with friends. However, he gave his whole Saturday to us—minus time for sleeping late and a nap. While he slept, we hit the breakfast spread put on to meet faculty where we met one of CB’s professors. She and the rest of the faculty seemed pretty neat. The campus is small, compact and lovely but getting bigger. Former Sen. Bill Bradley had just visited earlier in the week to dedicate the new Wellness Center. Complete with a rock climbing wall, wood-paneled hallways and shiny marble floors, this place is a tremendous asset, and CB has a wonderful place to work out. Oh, and CB got to meet Sen. Bradley and ask him a question when the former senator spoke to CB's class, Issues in Politics: Terrorism.

CB showed us some of his world—the library, the tiny radio station where he has a weekly show—and Dad saw his room (I decided it was better that I skip this part of the tour and trusted husband’s report, which is classified). We lunched on lasagna and met the cafeteria ladies who CB says remember to ask how he did on tests and notice when he looks tired. Thank you dear ladies.

It seems for CB now the rather small enclave of the campus is his world. And yet, I feel as if he has had thrown open wide the doors to the whole world.