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.