Thursday, July 27, 2006

it's whats for dinner.......

There was never a time in my life, when greeted by my Italian grandparents at their front door, when the first words out of their mouths weren't: "Are you hungry?" or, "Have you eaten?" Nothing was more important than your stomach functions.... never mind that the trip might have taken a few hours drive, and your kidneys needed more attention.... food was the dominant concern. And so began my love affair with food.

We always ate well, as there was no excuse not to. Grandma's theory of life was that you spent the first part of your paycheck on food, then paid the rent. Funny thing is, I worked for another Italian lady once who had the same theory... so I was convinced it was an Italian tradition. Grandma could cook! It was her main function in life..... well, besides watching her "stories" and knitting doilies.

Cooking lunch and dinner started as soon as dishes from breakfast were cleared and cleaned from the table at the early hour of 7 AM. No respectful marinara sauce was cooked less than a full eight to ten hours before serving.... and marinara sauce dominated every dinner meal. Even if they were serving a meat dish, a bowl of pasta was always the beginning entree on her table. That could be pretty tricky for guests, as a pasta would seem like the main entree, and many people would load up on that before realizing that they had only just begun to be served. My Dad made that mistake the first time he was invited to dinner, and helped himself to two full bowls of pasta.... only to be surprised that the roast beef hadn't been served yet. Being polite, he ate everything, which probably endeared him to my Grandmother, as it showed that he had a healthy appetite. Protests of being too full were not a good enough excuse for her. As a matter of fact, it was an insult not to load your plate and eat every bite.... sometimes twice.

We would spend our Thanksgivings at my Grandparents house, and every type of animal known to man would be represented on the table (well, it seemed that way, anyway). Of course there was the traditional turkey, but we might also have rabbit, chicken and roast beef.... not without the pasta dish first. Grandma made her own gnocchis. For those of you not familiar with this pasta, it is nothing like the commercial brand you see in grocery stores. Her gnocchis were heavy. (It wouldn't surprise me if anchors on ships have this little gem as a filling.) Don't get me wrong though.... they were delicious, but you could only eat 6 and call it a day. But as mentioned, this was only the beginning entree..... many meats were still to come out to the table, and for those of you with "bird quality" eating habits, you would be doomed if you hadn't fasted the week before. Needless to say, nobody (and I mean nobody) ever went home hungry. It was unheard of.

Christmas was spent at our home in Connecticut. Mom would prepare a grand feast of pecan pies, cookies, banana breads, and all the sides dishes for the main courses. Dads specialty was meats, seafood, and the beginning antipasta. Sometimes we would have lobster, baked stuffed shrimp, standing rib roast or capon; and always a pasta to start the entree courses. Mom almost never cooked lasagna, that I can recall.... but she was a wiz with manicotti. Everything was made from scratch, even the "pancakes" that were rolled with cheese, and baked in her own marinara sauce.

Her real specialty was baking. She made the best christmas cookies, and lots of them! She would hide batches of them, lest we eat them all up, as they also doubled as presents for neighbors. I make those same cookies still, and can tell you first hand how labor intensive they are..... rolled, cut and decorated ones take me hours for just one batch, yet she made dozens and dozens of the them while still keeping everything else in order. ( I have to send everybody out of the house so I can concentrate and keep up with the timing when I make them.) When I was old enough, she drafted my help, until "making the christmas cookies" became my task altogether. I was also given the banana bread recipe, while she maintained the pecan pies. After 35 years of baking, I no longer read the recipes, I know them by heart.

All dinners were required to be eaten at the diningroom table, with the food served family style in the center of the table. There was one rule my parents had that was enforced. You were allowed to take as much as you wanted (and there was always plenty), but you had to eat all you had taken. So the rule of "eyes bigger than your stomach" was learned fast. If you started off slow, you could always go back for seconds, but take too much the first time around, you might still be in front of your plate while everyone else was excused. And we had to be excused from the table.... there was no getting up when you were done, you had to wait for everybody else. Conversation was allowed, but no bickering or fighting. My parents strived for us to be civilized, and we were. This was why they could bring us to fancy restaurants even when we were very little. They tolerated no revolting from the ranks.... and we were very aware of the consequences if we stepped over the line.

You were also required to try everything at least once, even if it were a spoonful. Opinions could not be formed if you didn't try it. However, my Mom and I had an ongoing thing about peas. I hated them! She thought she could break me of my boycott by requiring me to take a spoonful everytime she served them, but never did. To this day, I still hate them, and pick them out of any dishes that are served with them. I have another food I was never fond of either: fried fish, especially if they came in the form of sticks. The frozen varieties that Mom bought for our meatless fridays (because we were Catholic) were awful, and I never had acquired a taste for them.... no matter how much ketchup was doused on them to get them down. I wasn't much of a fruit eater either, mostly berries of any kind, but loved melons.

My favorite meals always consisted of meats and potatoes, especially if the meat was cooked on the grill. Dad was KING in that area. He could man a mean grill to perfection. Our dinner at home didn't always include the pasta entree first, then on to the meat course. Mom simplified it to just one course.... but made a variety of different homecooked meals every night, a special mid-day dinner on Sunday after church. It was ritual and tradition that we were in our chairs, washed for dinner at the first sign that the food was done. No one really had to call us twice. We were good eaters! We also were all raised on milk as choice of drink. Since I hate sodas of all kinds, this was not a problem for me. I still drink glasses of milk with my dinner to this day, and am not in the least worried about osteoporosis.

My biggest weakness is, and always has been, sugar. I will take a cookie, cake or pie over any salty foods as a snack. And a big bowl of ice cream has served as many dinner entrees for me. Hey, my Mom told me that when I owned my own house, I could eat anything I wanted.... I'm just following her instructions.... nothing wrong with that is there? Ok, yes, I do love salads, vanilla yogurt with honey-nut cheerios, and a whole arrangement of healthy foods.... but sometimes I just crave a nice bowl of ice cream, with chocolate sauce. Preferably mint chip, but I will settle for fudge swirl if I have to.

Geez..... all this talk about food, and now I've talked myself right into a bowl of ice cream. Good thing my son knows how to drive, and inherited my sweet tooth. I can send him off to the store to get the required groceries while I finish this post. Ah... life is so good today!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

a delicate balancing act.....

Some days we have to choose between being the bee or being the cat... and some days it chooses us. Without any real consultation or
awareness involved, we might find ourselves walking a fine tightrope of balancing many tasks in order to make it through the day accomplished. Many times things on our list were never there to begin with, they were added as the day grew longer. Yet we manage to find ways to complete the tasks, because so much depends on those chores we were never aware of.

If we are the cat, the tasks are minimal. Other than the million naps we can take, or patiently waiting for some small critter to make the mistake of crossing our path, we can live a pretty peaceful existence... as long as our owners treat us well. Everything else we do would be considered "all in a days work"..... because cats hold no real job other than fluff and purring. Yes, the owners depend on us to keep their house rid of pesky mice and bugs, and we do run the risk of being dive-bombed in the behind by getting too close to a birds nest in the trees; but for the most part, cat naps are our forte' in life.

If we are the bee, much depends on our abilities to pollinate the species of flowers that grow across the land. We are busy making sure the earth has color, as well as utilizing the nectar from those flowers for food. Not only do we produce honey, but we seek to feed our tribes as well. It has been estimated that one third of the human supply of food is dependent on the pollination that bees accomplish. Therefore, the saying "busy as a bee" has true magnitude because of this.

So as a human, I had the chance to be both sides of the equasion this past week. When I deemed it necessary to be the cat, and enjoy those cat naps I sooooo love, I became the cat.
Lets face it.... it has been hot this past week, and with our commercial kitchen without any air conditioning, temperatures spiked into the likes of hellfire. After making sure I was the bee, and got the food to the required destinations, I came home and crashed. I was wiped of any spare energy to do menial tasks around the office, and saved much of that work for when the sun went down. Then I became a different animal altogether: the owl. Nocturnal abilities are abundant when a good siesta was allowed, and I am so good at this ability. Always keeping one ear perked for the phone to ring, I settled into the depths of my couch and snoozed. If not, I could have been very cranky.... and I'm just not very nice when I'm cranky.

So my lack of posting or making it around to comments didn't mean that I'd dropped off the face of the earth... I was otherwise occupied by rest I could afford myself for being one of the bosses of my company..... and I soooo deserved it. Much work was still accomplished, only at stranger hours than usual. It's a balancing act I've learned to perfect at my nearing age of "ancient". Of course, I'm in big trouble if I ever get a real job that requires me to be alert for a straight 8 hour shift..... but I won't think about that now, it's siesta time!

Friday, July 21, 2006

just a wee bit preoccupied lately.....

I would have posted more this week, but as you can see, I am out looking for a new brain. The old gal ain't like she used to be... but lucky for me, I found a place that can fill my request. I just have to be careful that I don't pick the one that says AB Normal. I love the fact that I can also buy a few donuts at the corner store while I'm there. Hope they sell chocolate ones.

See you all next week.... with a brand spanking new brain! Have a wonderful weekend... and pray for rain to slosh us somewhere during that time. We sure could use a good belly-gusher in these parts.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

if only it were this easy.......

You can hardly turn on a newscast lately without finding out more than your share of skirmishes that lead to rocket fire, and eventually to recorded deaths. It seems the world has gone mad. The Middle East maddest of all, lately. All the while, the collected heads of other "states" ponder over what must be done to stop this nonsense.... to somehow return to rational thinking, diplomacy.... or whatever other tactic will appease each side. Where are the Super Heros when you need them?

Well, this is nothing new. Every generation behind us thought the same about their times.... and for good reason. It's been a proven fact that man cannot get along with his own species very well. Call it territorial or call it the nature of the beast, we've gone out of our way to bring the act of conquering to a fine art. It probably started out during the cave days when man was first learning to walk upright. His brain, just larger enough and capable of thought process, had the caveman just humming about while spotting a nicer or newer cave. Hence the first neighbor against neighbor skirmish. He who has the better cave has a better chance of survival, yes? And on it went to bigger and better things, such as food and clothing. It escalated from there to land beyond that of known territory, and now we have events that throw God , as a pariah, into the mixture..... adding fuel to an unnecessary fire. What's different about these times is that we watch it unfold before us everyday, all day, even if it doesn't affect us personally. The bombs are more sophisticated and better built. Heck, in most cases you don't even have to show up at the battlefield, just aim and point from whatever distance away you are. It's bound to do destruction, and cause death.

It's not the end of times, I don't believe, but it sure feels like it somedays, doesn't it? Between the weather being as screwy as it is, bombings across the continents on innocent cities by terrorists, and the general hopelessness we feel over the leaders we entrusted to take care of these problems, it's difficult to see any hope out of the situation. But there is hope. Remember..... it was the last gift out of Pandoras box after all the other ills were released into the world. At this point, it is all we have as a coping mechanism.

The world is not full of Super Heros to dig us out of this mess, but enough smaller heros make a difference here and there. What we really need is an understanding amongst the kooks and mongers out there that life is more precious, because it was a gift of God.... whomever they perceived Him to be. We should survive as a species because we have the best abilities of any animal that has walked the face of the earth so far. We were put here to do good things. There has to be more of a reason, other than to destroy ourselves, why we exist at all. And a few people do realize this concept, except they are out-numbered by ones who apathetically stand by or actively work against it. Remember that it is nowhere written that the species of man can go on forever, but it is something we can have a hand in taking care of now. If only it were easy enough for us to leave it up to the Super Heros..... but it's not.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

monsters inc......

If you can remember back to when you were a kid, you can probably conjure up the image of yourself checking under the bed at night... or the closet. After all, that's where the monsters hid. Somewhere along the line, we all out-grow that little ritual, and get on with the business of growing up. We're pretty sure the "monsters" have exited the building, as there were new places to go, people to see, and things to do. And we run smack dab into life, where we discover there are worse monsters out there. Ones our parents tried to warn us about, but we were too smart to listen.... and ones we never saw coming at all. Ones that make us want to cuddle up on that very same bed we were afraid of so long ago.....but we're grown-ups now, so the very idea of taking to bed is inconceivable. Whether we like it or not, we must face the day with some type of bravado and carry on. Brave little soldiers, and all that.

But it has increasingly gotten harder and harder to do with all we hear and see. The state of the world is in a fine mess right now, and what's worse, it's a man made mess. No monsters like the fuzzies under our childhood beds, mind you, these scary ones look like us... and it's enough to make you horrified of the possibilities. We, the "thinking animal" have been capable of far surpassing the learning curve of basic needs; beyond that of communication, shelter and food. We have the ability to produce and study medicine, build bridges, and grow produce. No other animal in the world can do those things. So with all those abilities, all those great minds pregnant with ideas and ideals, how do we manage to find ourself in the quandary we are in now?

We hear of all the bombings around the world; carefully calculated, and executed by men who have a hatred in their belly so fierce for their enemy, that taking out innocent people who are just minding their own business get caught in...... all over a difference of opinions that can't seem to be solved diplomatically. In our leadership around the world, it appears that everybody is right in how they run their country, and everybody else is wrong. Instead of being able to solve the differences, we resort to threats and sanctions and eventually move to weapons and bombs. It's a simple jump from there to war and terrorism, and monsters you could never have dreamed of.

If you have ever seen the show "The Wonder Years", you would get an idea of what it was like to grow up during the late 1960's and early 1970's. Our parents had the worries of the world on their shoulders then. They were sending their sons off to a "conflict" in a foreign land, and worried that communism would spread. Missles were being tested, rockets fired, and now there were two super powers who had the formula for the bomb.... capable of blowing up the world 15 times over. (Like once wouldn't be enough, huh?) There was a stand-off between Communist Russia and The United States, and bomb shelters were easy thoughts because of the threat that was always prevalent. Yes, I do remember the "stop, drop, and cover", because it was taught to me in Kindergarten, in the early 1960's.

By April of 1975, our parents could breathe a sigh of relief, because the conflict known as Vietnam was officially over. As a nation, we watched as the last remnants of war scurried to leave a fallen Saigon. It was over, and our generation of fresh 18-year olds ready to conquer the world, would never have to worry about war again. Yeah, we had that brief stint in the Gulf for a few months in the early 1990's, but it was over in a flash. Not so with our current predicament. 9/11 has changed all that. Never in our wildest dreams could we have imagined anyone calculating such a scheme as to fly our own airplanes into buildings. It was horrifying to watch and gulp down the possibility that there was an enemy out there who actually wanted to do that much harm to innocent people..... someone who hated us and our lifestyle that much. This time we skimmed right over the sanctions halt, and slid right into war. It wasn't enough we had to hunt down the man responsible, we had to go after the nasty dictator we weren't finished with from the first Gulf War. And as Americans, many bought into the idea, because we were told it was a necessary function. In all the years from the first Gulf War to the second, this nasty dictator had had time to build up weapons of mass destruction, there was no way we could feel safe in the world knowing that this mad-man could be on the loose. Besides, he was sitting on a gold-mine of oil. It seemed conceivable, but then the plot thickened. No WMD's were found, and the reasons and excuses for war with Iraq changed to fit the mood of the moment. I just knew that was coming, didn't you?

As far as attacks due to terrorism, they've never stopped. It's not just the US who has become the target, it's happening in different cities around the world. We may not connect them all together, because they happen at random times and in random years, but it's all part of the same war. What's worsened the situation is that we aren't fighting a defined country, only an enemy that has infiltrated our cultures to locate and list "soft targets" for the next occurrence. It's making everybody just a wee bit nervous as we travel about our daily routines.
Part of us wants to hide our heads to the hate and destruction, as it's more than we can bear.... yet we can't. This is not a problem that will go away easily because every nation involved has their own reasons for being more right than the next guy. Diplomacy only seems to be going so far, and the attacks on soft targets are becoming images of revenge. Sadly, It's become our way of life now.

When will everyone just realize that terrorism is the lowest common denominator in the dictate of life, and that if you blow everybody up, you lose the very population you were trying to govern? With the bigger questions to deal with (like global warming, un-natural disasters, and how to handle our resource issues), why is it so important that we waste our time on the silly people who come along to destroy what we have already fixed? Why? Because whether we like it or not, we really don't know who the enemy is exactly. They could be living in any country as a sleeper-cell, and all you have to be doing is going about your life when, WHAM, it's shattered by an ideal born out of hate. It's not like you were knowingly walking into enemy territory, as there are no real borders.

It's sad, it's despicable, it's the complete reversal of everything we learned.... yet it's a real fact of life we have to deal with. These were not monsters our parents could warn us about..... but, sadly, it will be the monsters we warn our own children about.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

the money trap.........

With the cost of gas raising on a moment to moment basis, and the cost of utilities following fast in the same footsteps, I wonder how the generation behind us will survive in today's economy. Even making minimum wage pay (which is five times higher from when I first started working in the late 1970's) is not enough to sustain the basic necessities, and it gets harder and harder to become creative in finances.

We were all taught to put money away for a rainy day..... you know, the day that misfortune slams you out of nowhere, and it's essential that you have to take that carefully calculated bank account and tap it for necessary funds that will easily see you out of trouble. Ha! Is there really such a thing? Only with the Robbing Peter To Pay Paul Bank is it possible (at all) for me.... and I know I've raised it to a high art form. It wasn't easy, and took years of practice; but like a bike, once mastered, always learned. I'm also fortunate to have been born with the bargain gene, so any roller-coaster rides are like a swing at the playground. Sometimes I get pushed a little too high for my liking, but I always manage to find ground zero no matter what.

So all this thinking about money and survival made me wonder what the state of affairs are like on a larger scale.... beyond the scope of my own tribulations. How do the people of countries around the world survive their financial woes? I let my fingers do the google dance . Beyond all the statistics, I managed to boil down a few facts that came through loud and clear. It seems that countries that allow their commerce and economy to grow, spend somewhat less on defense, and more on the common citizen in education, have communities that thrive.

A shining example of this, is the difference between North and South Korea. Communist North Korea censors their television and news, and all reports come from state-run agencies. (Insert Big Brother here.) During the mid to late 1990's, the economy took a significant turn for the worse, and people were starving to death due to famine; numbers reaching up into the 600,000's With the fall of Communist Russia, much aid was cut off, and many citizens were defecting across the border to China in search for food. Foreign aid arrived by 1999, and although it helped to reduce the high number of deaths due to famine, North Korea continued on their nuclear program, which pretty much sucked out the funds to help a starving nation. It was reported in 2005 that the World Food Program could see imminent danger of conditions returning to the same numbers of the decade before, but the government was reported to have mobilized millions of city-dwellers to help out the rice farmers. However, we now sit on a tightrope of diplomacy over the missile issue.... but that's a story for another day.

Democratic South Koreans may be oppressed by their leaders to some extent, ( aren't we all to some degree??) but not nearly like North Korea. Since their 1987 free elections, South Korea, has become the 10th largest economy of the world; having the 2nd highest number of broadband connections per capita in the world. They have become leaders in computer games, digital displays and mobile phones, while still maintaining their traditions in cuisine and ancestral worship. In a word, they have flourished. Yes, they did receive our aid during the 1950's, but they sunk their money into commerce and the nation has grown into an international competitive country.

What about other countries? Well, the wealthiest ones still provide aid in the form of money, supplies, or volunteers.... the US being the leader in that area. That money could be well spent on it's own citizens, yet governments spend millions in aid to foreign countries. But how do they know the needed supplies are getting to the population? We don't necessarily.... but by the looks of repressed societies, and absent or low economies, we can get a hint that all is not well in their neck of the woods.... especially if the citizens are suffering. Least wealthy countries have a hard time maintaining on their own, nevermind when a natural disaster happens.... and that's where "special aid" comes into the picture.

It breaks our hearts when we hear of tsunami's and earthquakes that wipe out whole villages and towns. We jump on the bandwagon of "drives for money" to show our support in order to build back some normalcy to the shattered lives of the survivors. Private citizens also donate millions on their own. After all, this is a true immediate emergency, and our hearts bleed at the visuals we see of the destruction. As one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is still the leader when it comes to aid.... donated or not. Personally I am proud of that statistic, but at the same time cynical. That always has me questioning if the money is making it to the right areas or not. In many cases money was circumvented through the channels enough that the real citizens in need only received crumbs, while the military and government officials made out like fat rats in a cheese factory. Sadly, many African countries are guilty of that.

So it's not like we aren't giving enough, it's more like it's being wasted by societies that repress their citizens. Be it either by countries building up their nuclear programs, while starving their citizens, or giving the aid to incompetent officials who have corrupt governments, the proof is in the pudding when you see societies of people that are held back from flourishing. The aid they receive should help them well on their way, if the government they have had allowed it to happen.

Our government collects our taxes, and it works better for everybody if we all have a steady job to collect those taxes from. We also have disability benefits for a plethora of reasons for those who can no longer work. So our government not only gives to other countries, it also gives at home. It can be said of the train-wreck of Katrina, that we didn't give enough... the government should have given more. Well they kind of did, believe it or not. It was so mismanaged by incompetents on our own side that the aid once more slide out crumbs while being tangled in the mire of bureaucracy. Then there were the reports of the $2,000 check issued to recipients who spent it at the Walmart for TV's or X-Box games. That didn't sit too well with a lot of us.... but then, mismanagement issues were also the reason for that. So giving was not the problem. Granted, a check for $2,000 is certainly not enough to start over a life, but if you lived in Africa, you'd be grateful.... and if you were totally wiped out, $2,000 duty free is better than no dollars.

So I thank my lucky stars everyday that I live in a country where re-inventing myself is a matter of mind over defeat, and not a death sentence because I have a government that will repress that life away from me. I may have to pay some exorbitant prices for gas and utilities, groceries and clothes.... but at least I have the means, ability, and freedom to live in a society that offers choices. Sure, I'm not a happy camper when it comes time to make those quarterly tax payments... and a little trip to Peter and Paul Bank is humbling, but I still live in a country where I can own my own money pit, and hope the best for the generation behind me. With all its sham and drudgery, we at least live in a society that promotes commerce, and education..... a lot of poorer countries have neither, and it does make all the difference.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

operation endurance......

A little over fifty-eight years ago, in June of 1948, a military action far past the ideas of what the military is thought to do, was born. It is officially known as the Berlin Airlift. It was to be a shining moment during a time when everyone was recovering from World War II, and one that every person who was involved with it, became a hero for. And with good reason... it was helping to save the lives of a city still torn by the effects of war.

Berlin layed over 100 miles into the portion of Germany that was occupied by Russian control, after the country was divided up into four major sectors. The United States, Great Britain, France, and Soviet Russia were each responsible for the administration of their own sectors; similarly, Berlin was also divided by four. Not happy that he wasn't going to receive reparations he felt his country deserved, Stalin (from Russia) elected to convert his sectors into Communist Dictatorships. This included the section of Berlin that was also under his control. While the Communist rule was enforced, it was obvious that the the democratic rule of the western sectors was beginning to flourish and rebuild. Attempting to gain control over the city of Berlin, the Soviets began to blockade and shut down all means of transportation into the city. To further show their dominance, it was announced that Russian sectors would not provide supplies to the sectors of the city that were under Western administration. It would mean that the people of West Berlin would starve to death. Within ten days of this final blockade, the United States and Great Britain decided to mount an airlift program, and flights into Berlin began to bring the much needed supplies these people needed.

It wasn't an easy job, in fact, it was one of great heroism and dedication. There were only three flight paths that the planes could use to get into the city, as all other airspace was Soviet ruled.
Add to the problem the treacherous fog that had to be overcome in many instances. If a transport plane flew too far off the flight pattern, they could be in danger of being shot down by a Soviet plane; indeed, flying blindly also put them at risk for crashing into the remnants of bombed out buildings that still remained. Needless to say, it was not a job for the weak of heart.

In August of 1948, just a few weeks after Operation Vittles began, Lt. Gail Halverson, a C-54 pilot, came up with an idea of dropping tiny bundles of candy, chewing gum, and other goodies to the crowds of children who would line up at the end of the runway and outside the gates of Tempelhof Airport. It was a gesture he had taken upon himself, fearful that he could possibly get court-martialed for his actions. Because it became so popular, and gave the Air Force a good name, he was allowed to continue his Operation "Little" Vittles. (One boy, too small to grab a parachute of goodies for himself even wrote to the Colonel, making a map of his home, so that when the plane came overhead, the boy could be ready. ) The children were told that they would know the "special plane" because the lieutenant would wiggle his wings. Lt. Halvorson would become known as "Uncle Wiggle Wings", and the "candy bomber" to the children of the city who waited with anticipation at the end of the airport runway where a cemetery was located. It became a ray of hope for many children who were much to young to know the full scope of war, as well as adults who were trying to rebuild a very damaged city and get on with their lives.

The airlift was a round the clock operation, trying to maintain a constant flow of essential commodities into the city. In trying to prepare for the winter, a newly developed Ground Controlled Approach Radar system was shipped to Europe to be installed at the airport. With the installation of this new system, controllers at the airport were able to give some insurance to the pilots flying in. It did not, however solve problems of icing the planes received while flying in the clouds. There were crashes, and a total of 31 Americans and 39 RAF flyers and workers on the ground did lose their lives. The numbers of lives they saved still remains priceless to this day, as the German people never forgot the kindness of a people they were at war with just a few years earlier. They would receive almost 2.5 million tons of essential goods. The Soviets would end their blockade in May 1949, but the operation would continue till August of that year. Fearful that the Soviets would re-blockade, the United States wanted to be sure the city of Berlin was on its feet a little bit better before stopping airlifts altogether.

I knew a lady who lived in Berlin during those times. She was raising two small children; another one on the way a few years later. The struggle she faced everyday was a constant threat. She was fearful of her children playing in bombed out buildings, weakened by the effects of war, and she was fearful that her children would never have enough to eat. She even resorted to "stealing a ham" once. When I asked her what she meant by "stealing", she proceeded to tell me that actually a friend of hers had stolen it, and given it to her. Afraid that it would be confiscated, she hid it under her coat and pretended to be pregnant while riding the train home from her friends home. There would be real food on the table that night for dinner. In August 1957, she immigrated to America with her husband, and now, three children. On the 20th, they landed at Ellis Island, and into a new life in a foreign country. She would learn to speak English through television, and had a habit of watching gangster movies of the time, emulating some of their vocabulary. My favorite was when she referred to taking a walk as "taking a powder". I used to lovingly call her "Mutti"... the German version of "Mother", and I used to love hearing the stories she would tell me of the time when she lived in Germany. She would even illustrate each one with a picture she pulled out of a special box that contained family photos of times when she was a young woman in the 1940's. My favorite ones included the Berlin Airlift. One cannot know desperation unless you truly face it head on, and she certainly had her trials in that area. She would lose her oldest son to a car crash when he was 18, and her husband succumbed to a heart attack while on one of his daily walks. Hers is a life that had seen many things, including her share of tragedy.... yet her stories of the airlift brought a sparkle to her pretty blue eyes, and I could tell that she was a survivor of the highest caliber for all that she had endured.

Everytime I think things are too tough to endure for myself, I think back to this courageous lady who braved the reconstruction of her bombed-out city in order to find some means of survival. The lessons I took away are immeasurable, but the sum of it was always: one has to do what one has to do in order to survive. It's not an easy balancing act, as it is a long and winding road.....but no matter, what's the alternative otherwise? If you can do what you need to do without sacrificing your soul at the end of the day, you are further up the ladder of personal success than most of the population of the world. It's the silver lining of the cloud we call life. It's a measurable feature we possess as humans, and making it through the curve-ball times certainly earns us a gold medal for Endurance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

odd occurrences.....

A few weeks ago I happened to notice a little bird just sitting in the middle of the road at the end of my driveway. That seemed a little odd, but not quite out of the ordinary. Thinking I could shoo it off a bit, as people race around the curve in front of my house, I stepped closer, albeit slowly so as not to startle the little swallow.... but got so close I could touch it. It never budged an inch. Now that was odd!

Still a little worried that the bird would become part of the pavement, I looked around for a stick and small platform of sorts, in order to transport it manually. Successful in my attempts for props, I walked back to the little guy and tried to prompt him onto the makeshift platform. I gently poked his butt a few times, and still the bird did not move. Perhaps a broken leg? After my third attempt, the bird finally managed to fly "torso level" onto a neighbors yard, where he proceeded to sit the afternoon away. Birds don't usually "sit" on lawns, but who am I to question their methods of kicking back? Feeling like I had done a good deed by getting him out of the street, I talked it over with hubby, who mentioned that he was glad I didn't touch it. West Nile Virus and the Bird Flu became a topic of discussion over dinner.... and then I forgot all about the incident.

Last week, while making inspections of the five birdbaths in my yard, I noticed a robin sitting in a front yard bath, shivering. I'm used to them frolicking about and flapping around, but never just sitting in the water of the birdbath. Once again, this bird would let me get very close (without budging), and this time I figured it relatively safe to leave her alone. Forgetting the events and going about my daily chores, I thought no more about this bird either.... until the next morning on my way out the door. Glancing over at the bath, I noticed the robin keeled doubt this bird would never fly again. A little shaken, and sick to my stomach over the dead carcass, I made a phone call to hubby to tell him of a chore I had in store for him. (It is written somewhere in our marriage vows that he has total chore-domain over yard carcasses.... I made sure of it, and remind him everytime one surfaces.) Bringing out the shovel to ready his tools for the job of sending this poor little soul off to the backyard ivy graveyard, we once again discussed the odd happenings of critters in and around my yard.

I'd probably drop the whole subject all together except for the fact that I've been having some strange occurrences with birds lately. On one of my deliveries in a town north of me, I noticed an odd looking bird trying to cross the road on foot. Not being able to actually identify what type of bird it was.... only that it was big, black and had a funny neck; hubby thought it might be a buzzard. Well.... still not sure as it really didn't look like any buzzard I'd seen, it made a little sense.... but why was it crossing the road on foot? Don't they fly? Maybe it was a wild turkey, as we still do have some around here, but I passed it too quickly to get a detailed look at it's features. Again, I dropped the subject, until I backed out of my driveway this past weekend and there was a man walking his dog..... and a very large parrot the size of a Macaw. What is it with birds lately that they want to walk? Did they forget they are actual prey to all the cats who roam in search of easy fodder? Walking seems like they are making it a little too easy for the kitties who troll the neighborhood, doesn't it? Or am I just being paranoid myself?

Ever since Miss Kitty moved down to Florida the yard has been filled with critters that never dared show themselves, let alone walk around. She was the Queen of Hunters, and never allowed my yard to get so over-run with rodents, reptiles and fowl. Now finding a chipmunk burrowing the ground for food, or a stray snake in search of a mid-day jaunt, is not uncommon. Birds from all over flock to the filled feeders and baths in my yard. It's not unusual to see the squirrels squabble with the cardinals, doves, and black birds over the dropped seeds from the messy little eaters that pick over the seeds at the feeders..... dropping the leftovers to the ground. With a fresh coat of pine straw on the ground in areas where I don't bother to grow grass anymore, new pock marks appear, which means a new job for me to straighten it all up again. If Miss Kitty were around, the noise level, pock marks, random snakes, paranoid squirrels and chipmunks would think twice before their venture into the gardens.

As it is, we joke amongst ourselves everytime the feeders are filled, and announce to all critters that the "buffet is open", and step back as the animals peek through the ivy to see for themselves. I've found it's true.... the smell of food will turn anyone's nose in it's direction, and it doesn't take long for all creatures to figure it out either. Perhaps that's part of the problem. Maybe I feed them TOO much. You should see some of the super-sized critters that drop into the gardens. I've noticed this same phenomenon with dumpsters near McDonalds..... all critters who sanction them are well fed and robust. How can they not be with all that food available?

Somehow I can deal with all the squirrels and birds.... it's the reptiles and rodents that frighten the stuffing out of me. I hate snakes and rats.... it's no secret to anybody who knows me. I don't see a lot of them (which is a good thing), but occasionally run across one from time to time. It's the reason I will not go outside barefoot. One reptile was sighted by hubby this weekend, who promptly managed to smack it in the kisser with the edger, not realizing it was a snake at first; this called for another trip to the ivy graveyard. Snakes look so much like twigs, it's hard to tell them apart sometimes, so weeding sticks and twigs from the lawn is a careful operation. The rats and mice seem to thrive in the ivy.... also making good food for the snakes, I guess. The population is still at bay somewhat, as another kitty in the neighborhood makes a foray into the gardens from time to time.... let's face it, my gardens are kind of a "buffet" for her too.

It's the sick or injured birds that have me a little spooked. Granted, they could have been incapacitated by legitimate means... but all this talk of bird flu makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Monday, July 03, 2006

let the fireworks begin.... a happy and safe 4th of July to all!