Sad Commentary on our Times

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Today I was with my Mom, who turns 91 in a few weeks. She had arranged for a caregiver for Fred, and we hopped into my car and sped off to Joplin a few miles from her home. Mom had a list of places to go – Michaels for some framing, the bookstore, and a department store we will call Chrisman’s. It’s name isn’t Chrisman’s, but after what I tell you, let’s allow that name to stand. First, we had to go to the women’s area and return some underthings she had bought the last time, changed her mind about before putting on, and wanted a refund for. Then we went to the men’s department, in another store location in the mall.
Fred needed undershirts. So first, Mom was eyeing the Ralph Lauren shirts, which sold for $10 each. Then we noticed a different brand that were packaged three to a bag, for less; in fact, they would even sell a second bag for half price. We noticed a lot of things were on sale during this excursion, but there weren’t many shoppers. The man at the counter was very helpful, and explained that the brand we were considering were actually better than the Ralph Lauren shirts, and cheaper.
“You can buy a Ralph Lauren outfit for $145 here that was made in China for 25 cents,” the sales clerk said. “We don’t have much in the store that isn’t made in China.”
Then we got to talking about the economy. The clerk, a man who appeared to be in his late 30’s or early 40’s, said he used to work for the railroad as a conductor; but he lost that job when the railroad cut costs and eliminated jobs. The one he had was the only one he could get.
“I was working on an MBA at Pittsburg, but I had to stop because I needed to work,” he said. I asked him if he missed wearing the conductor’s uniform, and he came alive; I could see in his eyes that this had been a dream job for him.
“I never wore the overalls and the cap, but I wore a suit,” he said. And then he told me about posh trains frequented by the “big brass” and what that was like as a conductor.
We talked about work opportunities. I told him I was also laid off last year at the local university due to my job being eliminated, and was working on a Ph.D. while looking for a job. I also told him about the University of Phoenix, and suggested he consider continuing his education there while working. He sounded interested. Then he said, “If you know anyone who needs a job, tell them not to work here.”
Isn’t it sad that a man who used to have a job he loves, being a train conductor, is now reduced to working at a department store selling goods made in China? And why is this the case? We are all to blame. We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing our manufacturing base to go overseas. Stores who sell goods created off shore may be be able to sell the goods cheaper, but in the end we all pay a huge price for the “bargains.” I hear people all the time complain about having to dial 1 for English when they make a call to businesses. But these same people think nothing of stocking up on merchandise that is ruining the American way of life. What will it take? Does the light have to go out of all our eyes before we get it? Do we all have to hit bottom before we are willing to change?

Thought for the Day

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American goods, made in China.

National Lament
By Brenda Kilby, 2010, all rights reserved

Paycheck to paycheck, barely making do
Having to wait for things you need until way past due
The kids need shoes, the tires are bald, but you have to pay the rent
If anything extra comes your way, its already spent.

A young mother is planning out the week
Groceries and payments and children have to eat
It takes skills of a magician to make it, a treat is really rare
But showing food stamps at the checkout, people always stare

A young man stands dejectedly in the unemployment line
The check he gets won’t pay the bills, he’s already behind
But he can’t find a job though there’s a baby on the way
And the senator on TV says the rich shouldn’t have to pay.

We were the richest country but the laws bless avarice.
Corporations want more profits, and our workers pay the price
Goods made in the USA are few, and our tax base is in decay.
The jobs went somewhere else, and the tax money went away.

The truth is, the ones who care don’t really have a voice.
And the ones who have the money don’t know or care they have a choice.
Our lawmakers could change things, but lack the courage to make a stand,
Put tariffs on overseas products and bring the jobs back to our land.

It’s hard to find your bootstraps when you’re already down
Talk is cheap and blame the poor is the best game in town
Instead, count your blessings, and give it some thought.
It could be you tomorrow, who’s writing this song.

In this, the “country God made,” we set the precedent
And legislators look to re-election, no matter they were sent
To speak for all of us who struggle through the week
Is this the way you really want your country to be?

Note: the next time you make fun of what someone puts in their cart at the checkout and they are using food stamps, think about it. Put yourself in their shoes. And then look at your cart, and imagine what the person behind you might think.

How I vote is my business

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Recently I was accused of saying something on Facebook that I never said. What’s really unsettling is, I have been cautious to guard my true feelings about some of the political action in my home county. There’s quite a bit that COULD have been said, but never was, about how certain groups have dominated local boards and positions, and that maybe that was not the best for us. But say anything? No way. I’m a firm believer in letting the electorate have its way. If people vote against my wishes, and they win, so be it. It is the will of the people. When people win elections, there’s nothing to be done but accept it until the next election. Recently we had an election in this county, and how I voted is my business. I don’t care how you voted, and how I voted is none of your concern. But people who run for public office should be able to take whatever comes their way. When you thrust yourself into the public limelight, you are fair game. As Harry Truman said, “If you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen.”
It’s no secret that I’m a Democrat, and a liberal. I’ve never hidden that. But I also have a high respect for anyone who serves in a public capacity, and is willing to put themselves on the political chopping block to do so; my personal feelings are that it is a shame that many local service jobs are political, and that a person is forced to run for re-election every two to four years to keep it, especially when it pays very little. A better way should be found to keep good people in public service, and not to bankrupt them with forcing to shell out big bucks and time to keep their jobs. The public is fickle and we know, from history and the Bible, that mobs are not to be trusted. (Give us Barabbas, for example.)
In this last election, there was a lot of action going on in one political party in particular. Apparently, emotions ran high. But I had no part in it, except for one little vote. And I’m not telling how I voted, because that is my privilege. I’m not in the public limelight and I don’t choose to take part in this drama. But for those who are, or who have friends and relatives who do, here’s some advice: If the pressure is too much for you, or you find it difficult to go through the political process without suffering extreme angst and pain and misery, perhaps you should remove yourself from the competition. Leave it to someone who can and get the heck out of the kitchen.

Clark’s Egg Bread, revisited

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This bread recipe is one my husband’s mother made. Mable Kilby was quite a cook, and I’ve heard all Larry’s siblings talk about her exploits in the kitchen. I found this recipe in a cookbook she owned, written in her own hand. It is easy to make, fast, and always turns out perfectly. She named it after Clark Bradley, who loved it. (Clark was a little boy at the time. I’m sure he still loves this bread.) Here’s the recipe:

1-½ cups scalded milk, cooled to lukewarm
¼ pound butter (one stick)
2 packages yeast dissolved in ½ cup lukewarm water
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3 beaten eggs
7 cups flour

Scalding the milk is easy – you do this to make sure there is nothing in the milk that will interfere with the yeast. This was a must before pasteurization, but now is just as good an idea. You can do this carefully in the microwave, but beginners might want to do it on the stove in a double boiler, over boiling water; you can add the butter along with the milk and also put the sugar and salt in this mixture. Cool this down to lukewarm before proceeding. You can proof the yeast while the milk mixture is cooling. For a fast cool, suspend the pan in a bowl of ice and water; in about 10 minutes, voila! After proofing the yeast, add to the milk mixture, then sift in the flour, first putting four cups in and mixing, then adding the rest until it comes away from the sides of the bowl (I confess I cheat here and use my KitchenAid® mixer, with the dough hook, and skipping the kneading.)
If you decide to do it the old fashioned way, and knead, turn out and knead for about 13 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Then put in a greased or buttered bowl and let rise until doubled, about 1-½ hours. Punch down, let rise again, then turn out on a floured board, make into three loaves, and let rise until above the edge of the pans. Here’s how I do this: I weigh the dough with a digital kitchen scale, and then divide into three equal pieces. Then I take one piece at a time and flatten it out, using a rolling pin, then roll it up, fold in the ends, and place in the buttered pan.
Bake at 375 for about 25-30 minutes, until golden, lowering the heat to 350 after 15 minutes. Yesterday, I turned the heat off at 28 minutes and let the bread stay in the oven for another 10. Worked great. Test for doneness by tapping the loaf – if it sounds hollow, it is done. Turn out on a rack and slather with butter, and let cool. To store, it is best to put in paper sacks after the loaves have cooled completely. After 24 hours, you can wrap in plastic and freeze. Sometimes I make a double batch, and freeze the leftovers.

Ready to go in the oven

Ready to go in the oven


The bread, out of the oven and buttered. Yum!

The bread, out of the oven and buttered. Yum!

Baby Boomers – Learn Technology or . . .

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This is how most Baby-Boomers perceive the technical departments at most computer companies. Apt? Probably not. But it makes for a cute photo.

You know the joke: if you can’t program your new TV, computer, cell phone, etc., call your 5-year old grandson over. Chances are, within an hour he’ll be finished programming everything, and you’ll be all set. The sad thing is, it’s no joke: our grandchildren are good at technology. Better, even, than our children. I have found that my daughter and step-sons, with one notable exception, are clueless about the new technology. As a result, I get called a lot. Because I didn’t give up — I kept at the technology and have kept fairly current on how to utilize all the new methods of networking that are available, I can cope.
That’s not to say I’m infallible. I get frustrated, too. New things are hard to learn, and sometimes it just seems to be too much trouble. But eventually, I can get it down.  I’ve never given up. But some of my friends and co-boomers have.
Usually these throw-in-the-towellers are men, but not always. I think men are more likely to give up because they are (1) used to having women doing things for them, and (2) because many of them didn’t take classes in secretarial science, like many women did, in high school.
I confess that I didn’t take shorthand; but I took all the typing classes I could, and even attended a summer session in advanced typing, using the new technology of the time: the IBM Selectric. I left high school typing 90 words per minute on an electric keyboard, knowing how to format documents quickly, and also knowing how to use carbons. This was before most offices had copiers; it was also before faxes, the personal computer, and the Internet. The year was 1968. We had no idea what was coming, and wouldn’t have believed it if we had.
Fast forward to 2010. I’m going to be 60 in a few days, and I own a laptop and a desktop computer, both which I use daily; I have an iPod Touch®, a cell phone, and a Kindle®. My car has satellite radio. I have a Facebook account, and I’m also on Linked In and Twitter (but I don’t Tweet much yet). Facebook took some getting used to, but I enjoy it now. I was slow to get with the “groove,” as we used to say back in the day; but now I find Facebook an easy way to keep in touch. Instead of finding Facebook to be intrusive and nosey, as some of my co-boomers have said they found, I like the informality of it. If you want, you can have private conversations or message people privately; but you can also begin group conversations and enjoy finding out more about your Facebook friends. Not that there aren’t some drawbacks – some people’s opinions are hard to accept, and this can be a problem. Also, sometimes pictures of you show up that are less than flattering, and when people tag you in those photos, they appear on your profile. That can be a little disconcerting. But truly, the Facebook interface is a virtual party. It’s like going to  a group gathering, sans food, drinks and having to dress up, and converse. It can also be like eavesdropping, because you can “listen in” to other’s conversations and not chime in, but rather read and enjoy. If you get bored with that, you can play games with other people on Facebook, people you don’t know and will never know. These people are all over the world, not just in the U.S. Some of the games will let you change your name to something non-identifying, so you can play incognito.
While I have learned to enjoy Facebook, and now keep a blog (which you are reading), many of my friends have not. Some have come on to it, tried it, and left, usually with disgust and insulting remarks. They get frustrated with the rules of cyber-networking, don’t understand the community, and are unwilling to learn this new, and I believe, very important technology. As a result, they are now losing the battle with age, and are likely to rapidly decline into the land of the doddering.
I refuse to give up that quickly. Surely, there will be a time when some of the new stuff becomes burdensome. But the longer I can stave off the temptation to leave it to the younger crowd, the longer I can stay alive.
There’s a good reason why our grandchildren are so good at dealing with our cell phones, our pdas, and our personal computing glitches – they aren’t intimidated by it. Everything is new to them right now, so computers, etc., are no big deal. Also, they don’t have all the information stored in their internal hard drives (minds) that we do; they don’t have to filter through so much. And, they aren’t old enough to have become arrogant old farts. I’m not saying I don’t get frustrated – we all do. Even the five-year-old does; but he handles it better than I do – instead of yelling and screaming and blaming the technology, he keeps at it, quietly, until he gets it.  I could learn from that, and so could the other old farts. Are you listening, Peeps? (BTW, the five-year-old mentioned is apocryphal. I don’t have a grandchild that age. But if I did, I’m sure he or she could do it, lickity-split.)

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

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Amy Winehouse needs to lather, rinse, repeat….

These were the instructions on the shampoo bottle. Much has been written about these instructions. Ben Cheever even wrote a book, “The Plagiarist,” where an advertising executive adds these instructions to the shampoo so that it will sell more of the product. The truth is, today we don’t really need to repeat much. Once will usually do it. I’m old enough to remember when we needed to repeat. It used to be that Americans didn’t wash their hair but about once a week. Now we take showers more often. The French have been slow to take to this practice, but today they even take showers more often. Loreal made a great shampoo that you could buy here and in France, and it really cleaned your hair, I mean squeaky clean. Today they have changed the formula. You might be able to buy it in France, but you can’t get it here anymore, at least not at Wal-Mart.

But let’s go back to “lather, rinse, repeat.” This phrase is often used comically, to indicate a never ending cycle. August in the Ozarks is kind of like that, when it comes to watering the garden.