TERRIBLE

She said, “That has to be the most terrible thing.  It is what all parents fear the most…” I replied, “No, it is not the most terrible; it’s bad, horrible, rough to deal with, but its not the most terrible.”

She dropped the topic and refused to question what could be more terrible than losing a child to death.  Perhaps it was a good thing, for while knowing there is worst, I’m not sure I could put it into words.  Yet I’m puzzled why she did not want to know what could possibly be worst than death, at least in the mind of this writer.

The imagination when allowed to roam free can come up with a cornucopia of misery; of things that rob us of joy and freedom to enjoy life by shackling us in chains; chains forged by our fear of those most terrible things.

  The losing of someone through death is a terrible, heart-wrenching episode in anyone’s life, but the loss through death can be more easily accepted than loss by divorce.  In death the person is torn from your life by events or illness, but never by their own will.  Immediately after their death you may blame or super-impose the image that this person deliberately deserted you, but your logical mind can ultimately reveal to your emotional self that you as a person were never rejected.  You suffer grief, sorrow, pain, but your ego, the who you are is left undamaged, you remain a whole person.

` Divorce is a declaration of rejection.  You as a person has been examined and found lacking, and you therefore are spurned, branded, and deserted.  You are left to sort out if the rejection resides in you or in the person doing the rejecting.  In either case your psychic is damaged.  The who you are is mangled and crippled, and even if the logical mind can rationalize the event it can never remove the scar tissue accumulated upon your emotional self.

Is divorce the most terrible of things?  It is bad, horrible, rough to deal with, but it can ultimately be dealt with, and one can learn to live with this form of rejection.  There are too many survivors in existence to deny this, and most divorcees, after a time, claim life is better for them now than prior to the divorce. The most terrible of things, in the mind of this author, is a fluid thing that can change, but I honestly believe that the most terrible of things is tied to the rejection of self.  How we define self varies with each of us, but when we believe that  we are unworthy, unappreciated, and without purpose we live with a terrible thing–a lie.

Solomon wrote centuries ago of the vanities or emptiness of life, and came to the conclusion that all we have is ourselves and our faith in a higher purpose.  Ecclesiastes is one of my favorite books because it deals openly and honestly with what makes society work, what motivates the individual, and shows the paradox of it all. It declares that we should eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die, and that we should enjoy the fruits of our labors today.  He preaches that we should be honest with ourselves and continue to hold fast to truth no matter how painful today.  We should believe that truth will provide great joy tomorrow. The most terrible of things is to lose faith that all things have purpose, and to lose the belief that even evil works for the ultimate good.

PLAYING IN THE KITCHEN

table setting for a South American meal

It’s amazing how my eclectic interest intertwine. I love to eat, to taste different foods, enjoy cooking, challenging myself to learn new techniques, read of different cultures, explore other forms of artistic expression; in short I love living, and looking for new things. One of the problems that I incur in satisfying my innate curiosity is the cost of traveling. It’s just too expensive for a retiree on fixed income to be an actual world explorer, traveling and sampling what different cultures have to offer. But I can afford the internet, I can read, and because the world is shrinking (globalization) items from other lands have become more readily available; even more diversity in our local population has allowed insights in the way others on our planet live.

a meal to share South American influences

Menu de esta noche
para el grupo
internacional de comidas

tonight’s meal is mainly influenced by South and Central America with just a hint of Asian influence. Bon Appetit!

Sopa de calabaza, a soup made of pumpkin served chilled. A mild to moderately spicy soup for a hot August evening.

Ceviche vegetariano, a vegetable salad made with cauliflower, peppers, onion, tomato, cucumber, orange, and marinated in lime and lemon juice. A bright and spicy appetizer.

Ceviche de pez roca, a blend of chopped raw rockfish fillet, peppers, onion, tomatoes, cucumber, oranges, marinated in lime and lemon juice. A bright and spicy appetizer for those who wish to stretch their palates.

Arroz con jengibre y cerdo de ajo. This our main entree is a ginger-garlic pork served with white rice, a helping of Frijoles refritos (refried beans) and an Ensalada jicama (a salad made with Jicama or Mexican turnip.

We will be serving a Peruvian bread, Pan Chuta, a bread made of sweet anise.

We also have for you to taste two Peruvian beverages, Jugo de Pina, made with fresh pineapple and Chicha Morada, a traditional Peruvian drink made with purple corn.

The above menu for a meal that I prepared was for a small get together based upon having visited a new restaurant in town. The table setting was an attempt to create the ambiance of sitting in local cafe. It was also another form of artistic expression, I had woven the runners, place mats and the poncho.

preparing the runner
doing the warp

I said I was eclectic.

preparing the meat for our meal
cooking the ginger-garlic pork
buffet style meal

So for one hot August night in the Southern state of North Carolina I was allowed to embrace a little of another culture by embracing some of the cuisine. To be honest I’m sure that everything from this night wasn’t 100% authentic, but I still had fun by playing in the kitchen.

A FOOT IN CULTURE

Southern or oriental?

Why would anyone want to eat that? Now that’s a question I have upon occasion asked myself about several different foods. As I’ve grown older (matured like a fine wine) I ask that question less often. I now ask, “how do they prepare it and eat that (method of eating it)”? And sometimes, “Why do they eat that”? It was Jonathan Swift who said, “He was a bold man that first ate an oyster.” I have to admit a raw oyster just didn’t appear very appetizing the first time I saw one. A vision of a kid with a head cold popped into my mind. And the first time I ever ate a raw oyster that rascal kept getting bigger and bigger in my mouth and harder and harder to swallow, but after the first one those that followed were mighty tasty.

Oysters aren’t the only food that I’ve had trouble envisioning as something to eat by choice much less a food that is desired and long for. Hog trotters, ears, ox tails, chitterlings, eels, sushi, maul (tripe), brains, liver, lights (lungs), kidney, tongue, fries (testicles), and chicken feet are other sources of protein that I’ve questioned in my life. Yet in certain cultures they are much sought after, I forgot snails (I hope the French will forgive me). No, I haven’t tried all that are on this list; most…but not all. My personal bias has prevented me from experimenting with kidney, fries, brains, and until recently chicken feet. I could be wrong, but I imagine that hunger and poverty were the driving forces that led to peoples first eating these sources of protein. In the South during the latter part of the Civil War Southerners found that something they consider fodder for livestock was a life saving source of food and that food has become one of the staples of Southern culture…the black-eyed pea. Prior to 1865, I doubt if many would have been willing to taste much less put them on the table. The reality of starvation allowed this then culturally frowned upon food source to become a much favored icon of the South’s cuisine.

Until recently I had never heard of eating chicken feet. I didn’t know one could eat the chicken’s foot or that there was anything on the foot that was eatable. But as the area that I reside became more diverse, a different culture brought their concept of dining and chicken feet is one of those items. Chicken feet started showing up on grocery store shelves, and that piqued my interest. How do you prepare and eat feet?

first you wash

I started trying to find a way to fix them, and quickly discovered that Chicken feet are considered a delicacy in China, as well as being common in Hispanic cuisine, and that they were a part of the diet of some of my own family.

I blanched my feet in boiling salt water

I decided to try to make them with a hot and spicy sauce.

removed the claws after blanching
pressured cooked for 20 minutes at nine pound of pressure
peppers, ginger, vinegar, sugar in the skillet
plate of feet ready to try
pickled collards, sauerkraut, hot & sour chicken feet in a bowl of rice

After I had prepared the feet I still had to overcome my bias to actually taste them. Once I got one in my mouth I found the taste of the sauce was very good, the texture of the feet in my mouth wasn’t what I expected. The foot sort of melted. Over all I found the experience of dining on them enjoyable, and I will probably try using them in other ways-frying, making broth.

The biggest take away from my cooking the chicken feet is one should always be willing to entertain another’s culture…you may find you like it.

A little Grace Please

No one in their right mind or even in their wrong would condone this event; the callous murder of a five year old boy. I know the feeling of burying one’s child and I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone. The horror of this event comes at time when our nation is divided and this event is being politicalized to give it a racial narrative. What foolishness! Do we really desire to force this child’s family to relive their heartache by making him a rally cry to justify despising another’s race or defend our own callousness in viewing losses endured by other races?

The killer deserves a lifetime of punishment, period. But no amount of punishment will bring life back to the innocent child or weld the broken hearts of his family. Nor will it assuage the guilt by association of the killer’s family. Lives have been destroyed, there is no need to color it.

AMBUSH

Mom’s last egg

During this COVID pandemic we all try really hard to avoid crowds and large get together, but sometimes you just have to come together and celebrate a big event. We just try to be as safe as possible in doing it. This past week we came together to celebrate Season and Steven’s pregnancy with a small gathering, and that led to an ambush of my emotions. It was to be a joyous occasion. They have been trying to have a successful pregnancy for several years now, so being in their seventh month with everything looking good we were excited for them.

We baked them a cake. And we made fruit cups, and trail mix.

orange dreamsickle
fruit cups & trail mix

Others brought dips and donuts for refreshment to a baby shower. And of course gifts to be given to the couple. We had worked hard to make blankets for the occasion, weaving the material for our blankets, excited by the prospect of the joy they would bring.

blankets & pillows

But the gift that ambushed us all was the gift from the great grandmother, a diorama made with an egg. Great grandmother passed four years ago, so this one was totally unexpected. Her daughter had finished making the egg for her mother and gave the egg to the granddaughter in honor of her pregnancy. The thread of love that went into its making brought back many memories and was a confirmation of something said during great grandmother’s funeral, “the thread of love will continue, nothing can destroy the thread…”. Margaret Coleman was present and her love shone brightly from that little box that her daughter offered to her niece.

Margaret Coleman

It would seem that I’ve developed an allergy to eggs, when the little white box was opened my eyes began to water and my throat became tight. My emotions had been ambushed.

THREE SCORE TEN

hard at it

Well we made it to the start of another decade, let’s see this is the beginning of our eighth. Not too shabby, but as the scripture say three score ten, so everything past this point is gravy. Speaking of gravy I prefer milk gravy to red eye gravy, never really saw the appeal of red eye. Nope not in gravy or photographs, but I digress.Three score ten also means that I’m probably going to start looking over my shoulder a little more often to see if mortality is gaining on me.

My travels down through life have been greatly enhanced by those that I’ve had the pleasure to travel with. It started with having the great fortune of being a part of great family. My parents were the best (I pray you too can make that claim), and don’t tell them, but so are my siblings. I was gifted with grandparents that loved and nurtured me, I even met some of my great grandparents. The Lord blessed me with a slew of aunts and uncles who in turn added tons of cousins that were my first friends and not just family.

granddad & his siblings
granddad & uncle

Gaining some age, if not maturity, I began meeting people that became friends. These folks unlike family chose to be a part of my journey, God bless them. I’ve been able to start my own family and was granted the privilege of fathering four really beautiful children and have seen three grow into adulthood.One could say I have had a good life. It has been an interesting one too. Thanks for being a part of it. Let’s do this again next year.

PRUNE JOURNEY TAKE TWO

Well here we go again. The original journey had seven simple rules to follow and following those rules helped us to lose fifty pounds, but we got away from strictly following them since, really, Thanksgiving of 2019. The holiday coupled with two bouts of illness and a pandemic led to excuses and over the past eight months weight gain. The weight gain has led to higher blood pressure readings, achy knees, less quality sleep, and digestive issues have returned (think bloat & Gabriel’s horn).

We don’t know if our Prune’s Journey coincides with any other diet or health plan, but we’re sure that we’ve borrowed from others. The rules are as follows:

  1. keep calorie intake to 2000 calories daily or 14,000/week
  2. no foods are forbidden
  3. no empty calories in what we drink, we don’t use sugar substitutes
  4. prepare plate before sitting & no family style dishes on table
  5. no seconds
  6. eat at least 3 meals a day, but only one snack allowed
  7. work on being more active

Basically we try to eat whole foods, not processed, but they are not forbidden. We also allow ourselves to eat out, but we try to maintain the 14,000 calorie/week rule; so we watch what we order as well limit how often we eat out.

breakfast of oatmeal and pearl oats/with fruit = 327 calories
restaurant meal of Ceviche = 380 calories
home cooked meal of roasted pork, raw cabbage, collard greens, & tomato mint salad = 576 calories

To accurately measure calorie counts of foods we need to use a kitchen scale to measure portion sizes.

a healthy portion is smaller than we like of somethings

The weighing of portions is a painful, time consuming task, but is necessary to control how much one eats as well to educate us to proper portion size. Learning to tell your body that it has had enough isn’t very easy to do. But weighing portions does give us empirical evidence to soothe the raging demands of our own appetites. We wish that dieting didn’t feel like depriving and that our bodies would just accept that what we are doing is for its own good. Good luck with that. Fortunately while our body recognizes that we’ve cut back on how much food it intakes the eating of three meals a day staves off real gnawing hunger. One of the nice things about the Prune Journey, while also being a pain sometimes, is the allowing of choice in what one eats…the deciding if the calories warrant the desire to consume a particular food.

burgers are nice with potato air-fried = 596 calories
lunch with Mediterranean fish, with toast, tomato, and watermelon = 430 calories

We love a good burger and fries, but when dieting which of the above plates would be the most satisfying? It’s really not a rhetorical question. If all one has to consider is the calorie value of the two plates the fish would be the way to go, but other things factor in. Do you enjoy the taste of fish? How strong is the desire to have a burger? Will the potato’s comfort be worth the extra calories? How many calories do I have to spare and will one burger fill the empty pit of my stomach? Am I trying to drop weight or maintain my present weight? Which meal will sustain me until my next meal? We went with the fish, the wife enjoyed the burger.

The decision to walk the Prune Journey is an individual one and while the rules are simple the discipline to follow them isn’t. It’s helpful if you have someone who helps to hold one accountable, but ultimately self-discipline is what keeps one on the path to a healthier life-style.

prune journey update

It has been well over a year since we started the “Prune Journey” and we wish we could claim victory in reaching our goal of losing and keeping off fifty pounds, but alas, we have not. We did lose the fifty pounds, but have failed to maintain that loss. Fear to get back on the scale for several months was overcome this morning and as feared we have gained back some of that loss. All is not loss, we still show a significant loss of thirty pounds. Yet the needle is moving in the wrong direction. There are several reasons for the weight gain. Most deal with the love of food, and simply over-eating again.

Due to restrictions that have been in place to combat the COVID-19 pandemic we haven’t been allowed to visit the gym for the past three months. That in the beginning was considered a blessing, we’re naturally a little lazy, but being in isolation and binge watching television doesn’t burn the calories that one burns at the gym. The hot humid summer weather of central North Carolina discourages outdoor activities so it is easy to bask in the cool air-conditioned atmosphere surrounding the living room couch. Yes, we are beginning to feel the negative impacts of not moving and the gaining of those extra pounds. Gabriel’s horn has become louder and more persistent, the knees have reached a higher crescendo of a shrill ache, and we just feel more lethargic.

Orange Chicken

We know the inactivity has aided in our weight gain, but the real culprit is the increase in food consumption. We stopped counting calories and we began to eat seconds; we started to increase our portion sizes too. Ah, the food taste so good! One of the things that we enjoy is challenging ourselves in cooking new foods or foods in new ways. It is a fun delicious hobby, but not one that helps in maintaining weight loss. We’ve bought a couple of new toys for the kitchen that have made it even more challenging, a stand mixer and air-fryer oven.

bacon & pancakes
Mango chocolate cake
chicken quesadilla

We haven’t shown you the Cookies, other cakes, or the fantastic meals we’ve been able to cook over the past several months. One thing is certain we must return to smaller portions and cut back on rewarding our taste buds with sugary treats just because they want them. Dieting sucks! Discipline isn’t just for children! And that sucks too.

The “Prune Journey” was to be about lifestyle changes that produced a healthy weight and better self-image. It is to be an honest appraisal of how we are doing in our walk on the trail of physical life, but we think we must also include all aspects of living in our present walk. We do enjoy cooking and we have other interest too. These things are important, as important as weight loss. We just have to remember to use discipline and moderation in all aspects of life.

I Thought

As a Southerner I have certain assumptions of what it is that makes me a Southerner, and the history of the South. Mostly these are generalizations. I wish to be proud of my heritage and for most of my life I have been. Even to the point of swelling with pride at the ole rebel saw of, “hell no, I ain’t forgetting”, or the feeling of pity toward those who can’t claim ties with the South, and even frustration at the influx of Northern Snowbirds as they invade my region.

Heritage is really a funny word, meaning a special or individual possession; an allotted portion. But that doesn’t quite seem to cover all that it means, especially in the context of ”cultural heritage”. Cultural heritage encompasses all the nuances of one’s history, behaviors, customs, objects, and artistic expressions. These things that we inherited from those generations that are our ancestors…the intangibles that tangle our reasoning, logic, our rationalizations.

One of the huge misconceptions of some in the South is the idea that our secession from the United States was actually a patriotic act and not the treasonous act that it was. They attempt to justify this action as an act made necessary to protect the sovereignty of the individual states. And that the Civil War was not fought over slavery, but because of the Northern states aggression against the Southern states. That is a rationalization that defies history, unless one re-writes history. They have to rewrite the history of this period of Southern history or accept the fact that the leaders that we so admire were White Supremacist, that the war they fought was built on a false premise, and while we can understand that the culture of that day could lead them to their hateful conclusions it doesn’t excuse them or us to the point of denying the evolution of thought that this is immoral. If their position is immoral we should not deify them or honor that to which they fought to uphold. The “Hell no, I’m not forgetting” should be forgotten or remembered with shame.

The Confederacy was founded over slavery, slavery was justified by the concept of white supremacy, and the leaders of the Confederacy were unapologetic in their views. They did attempt to make those views more palatable by using terms like sovereign, state rights, unfair taxation, economic sanctions, but in those terms the concept of legal slavery was the cornerstone of each of these arguments, and the cornerstone of that rationality is the premise that white is superior. Alexander Stephens, vice-president of the Confederacy made that abundantly clear in his address to the Georgian Assembly on March 21, 1861. He said, “our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas [as those of slavery foes]; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.” he went further with slavery, “was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.” Can we not finally agree that slavery is the root cause of the founding of the Confederate States of America? It is a great wish that this wouldn’t be true, but the factual evidence says it is.

The idea that the Civil Was fought by the Southern states as an action to combat Northern Aggression seems disingenuous. The shooting war began on April 12, 1861, when the South Carolina militia fired on Fort Sumter ending a stand-off with the United States government. No country ever gave official recognition to the Confederacy, not even Britain or France. It is conceivable that political forces in the South could use this concept of aggression to muster support in the South for a war that they brought on themselves. It may come as a surprise, but there was considerable opposition to secession from the union here in the South and by making the North the aggressor those in favor of secession and the war were able to overcome that opposition. On a personal note I am a descendant of ancestors that fought on both sides of this war. I do have respect for both sides, but I am truly grateful that the South lost. “The North’s victory decisively proved the durability of democratic government. Confederate independence, on the other hand, would have established an American model for reactionary politics and race-based repression that would likely have cast an international shadow into the twentieth century and perhaps beyond.” Fergus Bordewich. Unfortunately Bordewich’s insight doesn’t include the systemic racism that came about during reconstruction and the Jim Crow period of our history. By continuing to try and justify the actions of the Confederacy and to prove that their motivations were moral we allow the smothering residue of white supremacy to live and its systemic racism’s roots to grow deeper into our subconscious hearts, and that my friends will ultimately ignite into an uncontrollable flame. It is time for us to grow-up and to live up to the ideals that we claim in our Declaration of Independence, our Constitution, and yes, even our Christian values.

It is time for us to relegate the vestiges of the past to the realms of historical museums were they can be honestly evaluated. It is to the credit of the German people that they did not allow the holocaust to be forgotten in their country and no one in this country wishes to forget our history either. But they put their history in museums where they could learn from their past. We should too. I for one, do not want the Confederacy to “Rise again”.

SIMPLE QUESTIONS

I have a dumb question. In the Gospel according to John he states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” And he then states, “all things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life and the life was the light of men.” Do we confuse, maybe better, do we combine the scriptures and the person (Jesus) as one or are they separate? If they are two separate things, isn’t the equating of the two bordering on or at least dangerously close to making scripture an idol? Isn’t that what Jesus charged the religious leaders of day with? They knew the scriptures, but were blind to the light that they spoke of.

Is the purpose of the traditional scriptures (the Bible) to point us toward the need of a personal relationship with Jesus? If this is true, why do we want to make the Bible a literal history book…a rigid road map to the narrow path to God? As a Baptist I use to refer to us a people of the “Book”, and took great pride in that designation. Now I wonder if that allowed me to exclude others from being my equal. That is a humbling thought, that my faith was a prideful thing that could be considered sinful.

Samuel told Saul that it was better to “obey than to sacrifice…”, and for that to hold true for us today shouldn’t we obey what Jesus admonishes in Mark, “and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment, And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love they neighbour as thyself…”?

James gives us a working definition of religion in his epistle. “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world”. Action words, things to do, behaviors that make a person a follower of Christ. But actions aren’t what makes us believers, they simply give evidence that we are.

To be a follower of Christ is simple, complex, frustrating, peaceful relationship with the person of Jesus the Christ. It’s more than checking off boxes or memorizing scriptures; it’s taking personal responsibility to maintain that personal relationship with a person, not a denomination or ideology. And that can be as different as each of us.

There are fundamentals that I hold very strongly to. That God is the creator, That life is in Christ, that He restores my standing with God, that my natural condition is at enmity with God, that Jesus is both man and God. I do believe that the Bible illuminates the mind of God and does point one to Christ.