Monday, July 30, 2007

Older and Wiser--Maybe, Maybe Not

Do not regret growing older. It is a privilege denied to many.

Today I’m celebrating a couple of things. First, I’ve evaded AARP successfully for five years now although they have pursued me like a lobbyist after a politician, and since the move, they haven’t located me yet. Let’s just say I prefer to have it that way.

And the second occasion, is that it was a year ago that I started the blog. Many thanks to those who have visited, at times enduring long rambling vents and soapbox stances on a huge variety of issues ranging from why I don’t like Hillary Clinton to my worry about a Rip Van Winkle son and his quest to wake up. It’s been fun and just as I thought, I haven’t run out of things to say.

Hope to make many new blogging friends in the new year. Cheers.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Shopping for College Stuff

Oh to have a daughter who loves to shop. My soon to be college freshman has inherited his mom’s anti-shopping gene. Here it is a little over two weeks until launch date, and we just made our first dorm room-shopping excursion.

Don’t panic for me all of you super organized moms and dads. We are going to recycle some leftovers from older brother—two sets of perfectly decent sheets, for example. We have a little microwave and a rug. But that leaves a whole lot of shopping. I don’t want to get down to Arkansas (Hendrix College) without more. Yes, I know they have stores, but every first year student and his or her parents will be in them, and I hate crowds as much as I hate shopping.

So, yesterday we stopped off at Target for some basic bedding items like a nice memory foam bed topper, comforter, pillows and a compact tool kit. It was fairly painless. The trick, I’ve found out, is to take son to a movie, feed him and then spring the shopping on him.

After perusing the dorm room essentials links this morning, I now realize that I'm not going to get out of spending more money--a whole lot more if I'm to believe the Rocky Mountain News which says, "In 2006, the average family of a college freshman is expected to spend $1,200 on furnishing and decorating his or her college dormitory room, according to the National Retail Federation." Yikes! And we've only just started.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

How Do You Remember

We’ve been remembering and revering fallen, endangered or ill people for quite some time now—so long that most of us have lost track of who started it all.

We have felt the need to mark graves—a kind of Kilroy was here—for ages. Heck, I’ve even seen R. I. P. (dearly departed relative or pet) car memorials, often on the most pimped out of vehicles.

Songs have been written. Two come to mind: Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon.

Speaking of yellow, the yellow ribbon magnets slapped on cars that were all the rage at the start of the Iraqi war are noticeably fewer in number these days. While we still support the troops, we just aren’t so sure we need to show it anymore now that it’s safe to disagree with the Bush administration. Even the republican senators are joining the opposition.

I have a pink ribbon or two and have sold products featuring the ribbon so ubiquitously identified with the disease I’d sooner forget. Lance Armstrong’s plastic Live Strong bracelets are a favorite presidential candidate accessory.

But, the other day my daughter-in-law forwarded a story from NPR about a couple from Kansas City who had simply planted American flags on their lawn—one for each of the U. S. soldiers killed since we got into Bush’s War. The couple didn’t appear to be loud or obnoxious like some war protestors cut of the Cindy Sheehan cloth. They were just sad. It was a stark and powerful statement.

Sadly, it’s taken many months and many lives, for many Americans to come to the conclusion that this war and what the administration says it is striving to do, just isn’t wanted by many Iraqis. American-style freedom isn’t the panacea it’s cracked up to be. I love my freedoms. I love my country. I don’t expect the world to discard ancient and traditional ways just because a U. S. president thinks his way is the way to go. I do expect other countries and their citizens to leave me and my family the hell alone when I’m minding my own business.

Maybe, just maybe, we should leave the Iraqis alone. That is if we can wind the clock back to the time before all hell broke loose.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dr. Sheila’s International Health Care Poll

Not too long ago I saw Sicko, Michael Moore’s new documentary about health care in America and how it compares to that found in Canada, France, Cuba and the United Kingdom. If you are at all familiar with Moore, you know his view (in case you aren't, Moore says that U. S. healthcare is sadly inferior in many ways). But I am curious to hear from international readers who can offer a glimpse into what health care is really like in your country. Please weigh in and let my America readers know if Moore has gotten it right or not.

Here are some questions to get you started:

How is health care organized in your country?

Do you pay for it individually or through your employer or is there a national system for health care funded via taxes? If you pay, what amount do you pay? Please include prescriptions and actual services from a medical provider.

Are you satisfied with how things are done?

Do you feel you can receive good care in a timely fashion?

What would you change and what do you like?

Do the poorest people receive the same level of care?

Do wealthier people go outside the system?

Are you familiar with the health care system in America?

If yes, would you trade your system for ours?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Neighbors & f-Words

I think we moved next door to Animal House. No, not every day is this way, but Sunday afternoons in my mind are best enjoyed without a lot of f-this and f-that. I’ll cut the guys some slack, because I do vaguely remember what it was like to be young.

Last Sunday, there were at least 15 people over there, drinking around the swimming pool and being loud and obnoxious as I imagine college students are prone to being when they are away from mom and dad. They really didn’t swim, and I am thankful for that. I sneaked a peak over the fence and the water in that pool is murky, algae green. Not good. Poor husband can barely contain himself from going over and offering to clean it up for the guys.

My first house as a grown-up wasn’t a nice one bought by daddy or mom like the house next door. I got married after my freshman year, and my husband and I rented a second-floor apartment close to the University, which we furnished with cast-off second-hand junk. We were too busy studying, going to class and working work-study jobs to care much about the neighbors. But we did get to know them well enough to borrow a ladder to climb in the window the night we locked ourselves out. It is always practical to know your neighbors.

So, guys next door, party if you must—just have it wrapped up it before my bedtime. That’ll be about 10 p.m.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Travels Along the Interstate of Life

I wish I had one of those hand-held recorders so that when driving I could just dictate my thoughts, because now that I’m back home after a mini-road trip I can’t remember what I thought was so profound at the time. Maybe it will come to me.

It was along the lines of getting off the beaten path. The advent of the U. S. Interstate Highway System was in many ways a wonderful transportation milestone. I’m sure the trucking industry is happy to get its drivers where they need to be faster.

However, this same advancement in one sense has separated us more from our surroundings. Could you seriously distinguish one interstate highway from another? Well, maybe you could by terrain, but they all tend to blend together to me.

But I think back to when my mom took U. S. Hwy 82 west from Alabama to Texarkana in the summers and then continued on even more rural roads to Haworth, Oklahoma, to visit Granny. We started out after my mom got off from work on Friday and often found ourselves in that soft twilight time right before the sun goes down with a hint of honeysuckle, kudzu and pines as we whizzed by ram shackled barns and forgotten gas stations along the route. Big 18-wheelers, which nearly blew us off the road when we passed them on the narrow two-lane rolling highway, were scary to a six-year-old sitting in the back seat with the windows rolled down. Mom drove until after 10 p.m. when we’d start looking for some cheap motel. Some times it would be so late that it was one-after-another bad choice. But, the ride the next day was shorter.

Once we crossed the Mississippi River, I began to dread the trip through Arkansas. Normally I’d say much of Arkansas is beautiful, but the part around Crossett, which we were forced to drive through, was about the smelliest place in the South. Paper mills. If you’ve lived near one, I needn’t say more. Back then in the days before the Environmental Protection Agency and air pollution control, the giants of the timber industry pretty much spewed whatever they wanted to spew into the air and water, and it was tolerated. Small as it was, I could never hold my breath all the way through Crossett.

As we neared Texarkana, I began to look forward to our traditional stop at the gift shop where I could straddle the Texas-Arkansas state line, one foot in each state. I guess only kids think that kind of gimmick is clever. These days there is a post office on the state line and tourists can still pose with one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas, but back then we always left Pecan Joe’s (or whatever the shop was named) with a pecan log and some sort of tacky souvenir I couldn’t live without. At this point, Granny’s place was less than a couple of hours away where we could count on her fried chicken, fresh from her garden corn and green beans and a strawberry shortcake if we timed the arrival just right.

There’d be cousins and aunts and uncles who, while not close in distance, were family just the same. After dark the kids ran around and around the house and garden playing chase and catching lightning bugs, too tired afterwards to even wash the dirt-bead necklaces from our tanned and sweaty bodies. Soon, we’d all be piled onto pallets (is this uniquely Southern or do y'all know that I mean a temporary bed on the floor?) of Granny’s quilts. The next day it was off to the river to swim or fish, and Mr. Martin, Granny’s second husband, would let us ride there in the back of his dilapidated old pickup Chevy truck, rusted and dust-covered but a fine four-wheeled country chariot to a gaggle of pre-teens who’d scrambled into the back with no thought to safety; this was before seat belts after all. Or we’d run down the road to visit Hett and Emmett’s earthen storm shelter with its cool darkness, an oasis from unbearable Oklahoma heat. Never in our wildest thoughts did we imagine that our dear Granny would one day wish she'd been in that bunker that night a tornado blew her and her little home away. She was tough enough to survive that but not the stroke that struck her down several years later.

These are the memories of my childhood. Life in the 50s and 60s was different of course. Was it better? I suppose every generation favors its own times over those that follow. I can’t imagine our children and grandchildren talking about a trip to visit granny in quite the same way. The interstate means faster car rides--the kids in the back with a DVD player, iPod, GameBoy or PlayStation to entertain. Sure families are together in one sense. And in another, they are very much individuals only sharing a space each in a world of his own.

“More than any single action by the government since the end of the war, this one would change the face of America.” The impacts of the Interstate System remain controversial, but it did, as President Eisenhower predicted, change the face of America—not simply by altering the landscape during construction, but by supporting changes that transformed our society in the second half of the 20th century.”
from Celebrating 50 Years: The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System

“When we get these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a single thing.” John Steinbeck

In A Life on the Road, CBS’s Charles Kuralt explained why he preferred the back roads:

“If the traveler expects the highway to be safe and well graded, he may as well stay home. The little roads without numbers are the ones I have liked the best, the bumpy ones that lead over the hills toward vicinities unknown . . . I keep thinking I will find something wonderful just around the next bend.”

This summer will you find something unexpected “around the next bend” or will time squeeze the spontaneity from your life yet again?

Monday, July 16, 2007

As Easy as Pie


Prepare one small package of lemon pie/pudding mix (the kind you cook, not the instant) according to directions on package. Beat 2 egg whites (you’ll have these left from the yolks that go in the mix) and 1/4 cup sugar until stiff. Beat a 3-ounce package of cream cheese into hot pie filling. Fold egg whites into pie mixture and pour into a piecrust. I use a graham cracker crust. Chill. An easy and family-friendly recipe great for hot summer days.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Advice for High School Seniors

Scott’s an incoming college freshman. In my quest to offer advice to those families approaching this time, I have some additional advice. Once your Einstein has narrowed the college choice down to THE one he or she will call home, be sure to send in the housing application and fees pronto or else you may find yourself in Scott’s shoes.

“I can’t believe this,” he said as he threw down the letter. “What?” I asked.
“My new dorm room is the janitor’s closet,” he answered. Of course, that’s an exaggeration. It’s a study room or lounge, and it may not even be where he ends up. And some students in the past have actually liked this setup. That is according to that letter. You guessed it. My son has been relegated to that limbo known as temporary housing.

Here’s the problem. I guess it’s kind of like being bumped from an overcrowded plane flight. Right now, Hendrix College has more bodies and too few dorm rooms. Some colleges are forced to put students in motel rooms when this happens.

“Look on the bright side,” I said. “At least you’ll be on campus.”

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Ron Paul Phenomenon

Most Dear Gentle Readers know I’m a Yellow Dog Democrat searching for the best candidate to support. In that quest, I’ll share my findings along the way with apologies to my heroes Stephen Colbert and David Letterman in Better Know Your Lesser Known Presidential Candidates. But keep that fact in mind. It does color what you read.

I’m a bit like Goldilocks in that none of them (the rag-tag bunch who still have their hats in the ring) seems “just right.” Big Daddy Gore is wisely sitting on the sidelines, and the more he sits, the better he is starting to look. How strange it would be if we had a couple of non-candidates from Tennessee eventually duking it out for president?

The Republicans are running scared and haven’t gotten their nastiness together yet, because old Fred Thompson is about the best they can do at the moment and he’s not even officially in the race. Do we seriously think Rudy has a chance with the evangelicals?

Which brings me to the topic I started out thinking about. Ron Paul. In case you don’t know who he is, I’ll share what I know after watching a YouTube video of him, looking at his Web site and consulting a few other sources. And by the way, please go watch some of these videos to find out a little bit more about the candidates. You’ll get a better picture than you do from sound bites on cable news networks or the evening news if you are one of the few still watching it.

Ron Paul is a Republican easily mistaken for a Libertarian. He has, in fact, run for president on the Libertarian Party ticket. In my quest for more information, I discovered that Paul, a U. S. congressman from Texas who served in the 70s and 80s, got out of politics after a failed bid for senator and returned to delivering babies (he’s a specialist in obstetrics/gynecology) for awhile, and then reentered politics in 1997.

According to his Web site, Paul:

He has never voted to raise taxes.
He has never voted for an unbalanced budget.
He has never voted for a federal restriction on gun ownership.
He has never voted to raise congressional pay.
He has never taken a government-paid junket.
He has never voted to increase the power of the executive branch.

He voted against the Patriot Act.
He voted against regulating the Internet.
He voted against the Iraq war.

In a speech before the U. S. House this spring, Paul said:

Certainly, the neoconservative belief that we have a moral obligation to spread American values worldwide through force justifies the conditions of war in order to rally support at home for the heavy hand of government. It is through this policy, it should surprise no one, that our liberties are undermined. The economy becomes overextended, and our involvement worldwide becomes prohibited. Out of fear of being labeled unpatriotic, most of the citizens become compliant and accept the argument that some loss of liberty is required to fight the war in order to remain safe.

This is a bad trade-off, in my estimation, especially when done in the name of patriotism. Loyalty to the state and to autocratic leaders is substituted for true patriotism; that is, a willingness to challenge the state and defend the country, the people and the culture. The more difficult the times, the stronger the admonition comes that the leaders be not criticized.

Tune in next week for another Better Know Your Lesser Known Presidential Candidate.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Poem in Memory of?

Invincible; no, you only think so.
Immortal. Hardly.
You are the bright promise we old farts hang our stars on.
You are the better day. Funny. So full of life.
Intensely living and learning and growing.
Why did you fall? Why did life cut you down long before life wore you out?

Note: I swear I’m becoming forgetful, because I came across these words today while decluttering and can’t remember for whom they were written. I think maybe I wrote this after the shootings at Virginia Tech. How quickly that story disappeared from the nation’s radar. Now with Scottie going off to college soon, I’m again reminded of how fragile, vulnerable and precious life is. And I don’t claim to be a poet; it was just a case of a tired and sad blogger wondering why.

I took this photo of the grave of an obviously well-loved-and-lost child during a visit to Florence, Italy. Scott is holding the umbrella. It somehow seemed to fit.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Countdown to Launch

“You baby him too much,” husband said to me the other day. I couldn’t really disagree with him but felt compelled to defend myself with, “But he IS my baby.”

And that Dear Gentle Readers is where we stand on getting the kid ready to head off to college next month. Dad worries that his son won’t cut it in the real world and mom holds on trying to cushion the transition.

I suppose I could just say, “Well, he’ll either learn to handle himself or he won’t.”

But I also happen to believe that there’s no cookie-cutter approach to parenting either. What works for one kid, doesn’t necessarily work with them all. Junior didn’t come with a 600-page instruction manual or even one like the one with 240 pages that came with the Sprint cell phone husband brought home for me recently. This has all been on-the-job training. Thank goodness, there’re two of us. His yin balances my yang.

I’ll deal with my anxieties here on the blog, sorting through the issues and feelings. Husband has retreated to his floating “man cave,” a. k. a. the boat. Oh, if you have any words of wisdom, send them my way. The last time we did this was 11 years ago when elder son trotted off to school for two years, transferred for a year at home in a school change and finally spent his senior year studying in Italy.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Harry Potter Comes of Age

One of my favorite writers beat me to the punch. Stephen King, writing in the July 13 issue of Entertainment Weekly, took on the subject of Harry Potter.

J. K. Rowling is about to conclude her series of books featuring the boy with the lightning strike scar. In case you’ve been in the wilds of Mongolia for the last 10 years, I’ll give you the lowdown. Harry Potter and his creator can claim credit for turning on a whole generation of young people, particularly boys, to reading for pleasure. Millennials (that’s what you call the generation after GenX) like son Scott grew up with Harry. Along the way, the books stirred the censorship pot of many a right-wing religious fundamentalist afraid that by reading the books her child would suddenly become a devotee and practitioner of witchcraft. I've worried a lot about my son but never about him becoming a witch.

In Goodbye, Harry, Mr. King writes:
“When it comes to Harry, part of me—a fairly large part, actually—can hardly bear to say goodbye . . . And I’m a damn Muggle! Think how it must be for all the kids who were 8 when Harry debuted in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone . . . Those kids are now 18, and when they close the final book, they will be in some measure closing the book on their own childhoods—magic summers spent in the porch swing, or reading under the covers at camp with flashlights in hand, or listening to Jim Dale’s recordings on long drives to see Grandma in Cincinnati or Uncle Bob in Wichita.”

Long ago, I started reading the first Harry Potter to Scott. I suppose we were maybe a quarter of the way through when the elementary schooler, not an early wonder-kid reader by any means, took over for himself. Nearly every night for the next 10 years there’d be a Harry Potter book in his bed—not always the latest since he took to rereading the books. And in the mornings when I’d wake him for school, there it’d be next to him when he awoke. While his interests in literature expanded, the one constant was the love he had for Harry Potter.

We both read the EW article and I asked Scott, “How many times DID you read Harry Potter?” “To be honest, I read the first book at least 20 times and the others 10 times each,” he answered with a laugh.

Mr. King thinks “Rowling will almost certainly go on to other works, and they may be terrific, but it won’t be quite the same, and I’m sure she knows that.”

I don’t know, Stephen. Back many years ago, that little lady in Alabama wrote just one book, and you know, it was one damn, fine one. For years people wondered when Harper Lee was going to publish another one. To this day she’s seen no need to bother. I have to think J. K. Rowling did just fine with Harry Potter, just as Ms. Lee did with To Kill a Mockingbird.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Sittin on the Boat at the Lake

Our first Independence Day here in Missouri was mostly spent on the boat. We wisely took two cars and Scottie and I left early, but Bill thought watching Kimberling City's fireworks from Table Rock Lake would be cool. Would’ve been too without the rain. I’m probably the only person in America who doesn’t like fireworks and not because they can be dangerous. I’d rather see the money spent on helping people. There’s only so much amusing before reality kicks in.

Anyway, Table Rock Lake, what I’ve seen of it so far, is a clean and pleasant escape. Parts are crowded as you can see from the crowd at the Swing. I didn’t like that since I kept worrying we’d bump into another boat. Bill and Scott jumped off the boat and swam over to the rope swing to join the line to recapture a bit of their childhood with a plunge into the deep waters. This is an area where boaters congregate to socialize, drink, swim and hurl water balloons. It was tame yesterday unlike Table Rock Lake's sister, Lake of the Ozarks, with her notorious Party Cove.

Even with the holiday traffic on the lake, you could still find quiet coves with herons and green covered hills. That’s more my speed.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Fourteen Springfields Vie for Simpsons Movie Premiere

Start your voting over at USA TODAY for your favorite Springfield.

My new hometown, Springfield, Missouri, is in the running, and the video created with the blessing of the city’s fathers and mothers for you to vote on is pretty good. I think it may take the doughnut for the most people involved, and Springfield, Missouri, deserves the premiere as much as any other Springfield.

However, please don’t revoke my citizenship, but those folks down in Tennessee’s Springfield have the funniest one, complete with cops eating doughnuts and bungled lines. I couldn’t stand to watch all of the videos because some were just too painful. And that man in the Louisiana video who let them paint his head yellow. What was he thinking?