Friday, August 29, 2008

First Thoughts

Today, Republican Senator John McCain, 72, chose the Republican Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, 44, to be his running mate. I’m not surprised he chose a woman. He has been hungry to attract any disgruntled supporters of Senator Hillary Clinton. And it’s good that another woman will be on a national ticket. The first, Geraldine Ferraro, ran for Vice President on the Democratic ticket in 1984.

But my initial thought was that John McCain must think women are irrational and reactionary. Why? He probably thinks some women will ignore the Republican platform and Governor Palin’s equivalent position on the issues, just so they can cast a vote based on the gender of the Republican vice presidential nominee.

No thanks.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hope Becomes Action

Tonight was the final night of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado. Tonight Barack Obama accepted his party’s nomination for President of the United States of America.

It was a wonderful convention and a wonderful night. 84,000 people gathered from all over the country and the world to see history made. On the 45th anniversary of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Barack Obama stood on another mountaintop and clearly spelled out his vision for America. It was not the same excited, crackling speech he had delivered four years earlier in Boston, in his first heart stopping moment on a national stage. That speech electrified the audience, captured our imagination, fanned the dying embers of hope and catapulted Barack Obama to prominence. That younger man of 2004 said what needed to be said in that moment.

Tonight, the same man, but a man who has grown along the journey of this campaign, spoke to the crowd at Mile High Stadium and to those of us watching and listening at home, as the next Commander in Chief, as the next President of the United States. He spoke with passion, clarity and wisdom. He gave us facts and figures. He shined a bright light on the difference between an Obama - Biden administration and four more years of the same old Bush - Cheney administration, reincarnated under John McCain. He still brought the people to their feet, but this time ready to move forward, together, toward a clear goal.

Barack Obama inspires us and moves us to action, yes. But Barack Obama can and will lead us out of the darkness of the last eight years. Barack Obama and Joe Biden will work with Congress and the citizens of the United States to get this country back on the right track, back to our democratic roots and our constitutional core.


Hope is important. So is enthusiasm. Hope coupled with enthusiasm plus action is what brings about change.

The most important action we can take is to vote in the national presidential election on Tuesday, November 4, 2008. That’s less than ten short weeks away. In order to be able to vote, you need to be registered.

Are you registered to vote?
Have you moved recently and need to register?

Type “Voter Registration” plus the name of your state into a search engine like Google. Soon you’ll be following links to get yourself registered.

Or go to RockTheVote Voter Registration and fill out the form to receive a voter registration form via e-mail.

Are you already registered to vote? Good for you!
Do you know where your polling place is?
Have you thought about voting early?
Many states allow early voting without cause. Check with your election authorities.

And if you’re already registered to vote, help someone else to get registered!

Want to help on a larger scale? is launching a campaign to register half a million new voters.

Turn HOPE into reality. VOTE!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What A Night

Forty years ago we were living through the summer of 1968. It was a terrible year for all Americans. Two fine men had been assassinated. Protests were raging. President Lyndon Baines Johnson was turning sixty years old. The Democratic National Convention was being held in Chicago. That convention served as the crucible for the concentrated pain of a nation being torn asunder by the Vietnam War and buffeted by the sea change of the Civil Rights Movement. As riots raged on the streets of Chicago, inside the convention hall Hubert Humphrey and Edmund Muskie finally secured the Democratic nominations as president and vice president. But only after a divisive and politically bloody battle.

Tonight, as Chuck and I watched the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, I couldn’t help but think back to that awful summer of 1968. As we listened to wonderful, inspiring, thoughtful, creative and hard hitting speeches from former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, former President Bill Clinton, Senator John Kerry and Senator Joe Biden I knew we were once again in the fight of our lives. But this time instead of the chaos and violence which marked a generation, we were working together.

Not everyone in the convention Hall in Denver holds the exact same set of beliefs nor agrees on the exact same strategy to right the wrongs of eight years of the Bush - Cheney administration. Not even Chuck, the registered Democrat and me, the registered “independent” agree on everything. But the Democrats in the hall and all like minded citizens at home, felt hope rise up in us tonight. As Senator Clinton called for the rules suspension to make the roll call vote one of acclamation for Senator Barack Obama, all the uneasiness over dissent fell away. As President Clinton, Senator Kerry and Senator Biden made the clear case why a vote for Senator John McCain is a vote for more of the same, we applauded. As Barack Obama’s strengths were called out, we cheered. And as Barack Obama stood shoulder to shoulder with Joe Biden, we committed ourselves to working together to make hope a reality. We committed ourselves to electing Barack Obama and Joe Biden as the next President and Vice President of the United States of America.

Give ‘Em Hell Harry

Senator Harry Reid gave a powerful speech at tonight’s Democratic National Convention. Here are a couple of memorable excerpts:

"For the past eight years, the man in the Oval Office has tipped his hat over his eyes, kicked back his chair, and snoozed at his desk. Charged with protecting our national interests, he slept on duty while his vice president conspired with oil industry cronies. Tasked with cutting off funding to terrorists, he slept on duty while oil shortages worsened, oil prices soared, and dollars by the ton were delivered to terrorists’ banks in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela. Faced with a new kind of war, this president and his vice president helped their friends the old-fashioned way:
through war profiteering, tax cuts for billionaires, and in many cases out-and-out corruption."


"When doctors screen out the quack nostrums and phony remedies we call snake oil, they use two fundamental principles: the maxim “first, do no harm” and the question “is it safe and effective?”
In Congress, as in medicine, when we are offered snake oil as a remedy for the nation’s energy ills, our question should be: “Is it safe and effective? Does it do more harm than good?”
Senator McCain and the Republicans have centered their answer to our vital energy needs on one solution: off-shore drilling. Senator McCain calls for it in every speech; his party has demagogued the issue in both houses of Congress.
So, is off-shore drilling energy policy or snake oil? Let’s review the facts. White House analysts, congressional analysts, and the oil industry all agree that off-shore drilling won’t add one drop to our energy pool for at least ten years. The way things are going now, in another ten years we won’t need more oil; nobody will be able to afford it.
T. Boone Pickens said it right: “We can’t drill our way out of this crisis.”
But even if Doc McCain’s magic off-shore oil elixir won’t work, will it do any harm?
The answer is, we just don’t know, and neither does he. It might not ruin tourism in the Gulf or on the California coast. It might not destroy vital fisheries. It might not pollute our waterways. Nobody really knows.
But kindly old Doc McCain would like to sell it to you anyway."

I love it! I liked it so much I made this:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hillary Rocked!

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton just rocked the hall at the Democratic Convention!
It was a rousing speech and did everything it needed to do!

“You haven’t worked so hard over the last 18 months, or endured the last eight years, to suffer through more failed leadership.
No way. No how. No McCain!”


“This is the story of America. Of women and men who defy the odds and never give up.

How do we give this country back to them?

By following the example of a brave New Yorker, a woman who risked her life to shepherd slaves along the Underground Railroad.

And on that path to freedom, Harriett Tubman had one piece of advice.

If you hear the dogs, keep going.

If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.

If they're shouting after you, keep going.

Don't ever stop. Keep going.

If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.

Even in the darkest of moments, ordinary Americans have found the faith to keep going.

I’ve seen it in you. I’ve seen it in our teachers and firefighters, nurses and police officers, small business owners and union workers, the men and women of our military – you always keep going.

We are Americans. We're not big on quitting.

But remember, before we can keep going, we have to get going by electing Barack Obama president.

We don't have a moment to lose or a vote to spare.

Nothing less than the fate of our nation and the future of our children hang in the balance.”

Thank you Senator Clinton.

Family Ties

Last night, the first night of the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado was great. To me it was family night; a combination of a family reunion and meet the new in-laws. Senator Barack Obama’s sister Maya spoke beautifully about their mother and her influence and inspiration in their lives. Then Caroline Kennedy, daughter of slain President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, introduced a Ken Burns video tribute to her uncle Senator Edward “Teddy” Kennedy. Wondrous to behold, Ted Kennedy himself, currently battling brain cancer, gave another of his brilliant, inspiring and moving speeches. This one all the more poignant because of his own battle and the unspoken but palpable fear that this could be his last great moment before us.

Soon after, Michelle Obama’s mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, narrated a video introduction to her daughter called “South Side Girl”. Following the film, Michelle’s brother, Craig Robinson, introduced his “little sister” to the Convention. Then it was Michelle’s turn to speak. And speak she did. She has always impressed me with her ease and eloquence, but this time she was particularly terrific. As the crowd roared its approval, her daughters Malia and Sasha joined her onstage. Then live via a video connection, we saw Barack Obama speak to his wife and daughters from the living room of Jim and Alicia Girardeau, in Kansas City, Missouri.

See what I mean? Family reunion and meet the new in-laws. All that was missing was the cookout, complete with potato salad, three bean salad, Jello molds and blue ribbon desserts. Perfect for a summer evening in August.

If you’d like to read any of the speeches click here.

Convening Hope

When I was a kid, the only times I was allowed to stay up as late as I wished was during the National Political Conventions. Watching the flickering images on a black and white television was tremendously exciting. Listening to the speeches was inspiring. And when the roll call votes were cast from “The great state of...” fill-in-the-blank, it was exhilarating.

I have never stopped believing.
I have never failed to be moved to tears by positive collective actions of groups of well intentioned individuals.

I have been discouraged.
I have been saddened, fearful, dismayed and furious over the feckless, reckless, despicable actions of the administration of President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney and their scoundrel minions.

But I have never stopped believing in The Constitution of the United States of America; in the dreams of the founding fathers; in the constant, if inconsistently paced, incremental improvements on those dreams.

I have been discouraged over the last eight years.
But I have never stopped believing, never abandoned all hope.
I believe in America.
That’s why on November 4, 2008 I will cast my vote for Barack Obama and Joseph Biden.
That’s why I still have hope.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Let’s Be Clear

Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee Senator John McCain has overturning Roe v. Wade and ending legal abortion at the top of his agenda.

I’ve posted my position on abortion here before. I stand by my statements. But as the new television ad featuring Debra Bartoshevich, a former supporter of and delegate for Senator Hillary Clinton, who is now campaigning for Senator McCain rolls out, I needed to raise this issue. Ms. Bartoshevich threw her support behind Senator McCain, apparently operating under the mistaken belief that Senator McCain, once known as “The Maverick”, was pro-choice.

Senator John McCain is not pro-choice.

Jiminy Cricket Update!

Phil came through his knee surgery with flying colors! We wish him well as he begins his recovery and rehabilitation!

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It’s a bit of a dirty word, taxes. During election season it gets turned into a weapon. A heavy, blunt object used to bludgeon an opponent. A hot button word to strike fear into folks who are working hard to make ends meet.

The topic of taxes is the only issue that Chuck and I have had to declare off limits. We both agree on the need for taxes; the importance of pooling resources for the common good. We absolutely agree on paying our fair share. But it’s how taxes are calculated that leads to rows. That is until now.

Today we ran some errands. While I drove, Chuck read the New York Times Magazine cover story aloud: “Obamanomics”. It provides an overview of Senator Barack Obama’s economic plan. Part of that plan includes taxes.

Many of you have probably seen and heard the television ads from the McCain campaign that claim Senator Obama will raise taxes on the middle class and senior citizens. They are lying. Here’s an excerpt from Section Five of today’s New York Times Magazine article by David Leonhardt:

“The Tax Policy Center, a research group run by the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, has done the most detailed analysis of the Obama and McCain tax plans, and it has published a series of fascinating tables. For the bottom 80 percent of the population — those households making $118,000 or less — McCain’s various tax cuts would mean a net savings of about $200 a year on average. Obama’s proposals would bring $900 a year in savings. So for most people, Obama is the tax cutter in this campaign.”

It’s important to note that if your household income is less than $250,000 (yes, a quarter of a million) a year, your tax situation will improve significantly in multiple ways under Senator Obama’s tax plan.

Here’s a link to the economy section of Senator Obama’s website. His plan is equitable, comprehensive and understandable.

But for you visual learners (like me) here’s a link to a video of Brian Deese, Deputy Economic Policy Director on the Obama campaign, fact checking the McCain attack ads related to taxes and the economy. Mr. Deese has a couple of other videos up and they are very clear and concise.

As for Chuck and me and the topic of taxes, I don’t want to overstate this, but I believe we’ve reached detente. That’s right, the only subject which was too dangerous to discuss, which threatened the harmony of our married life, has been resolved. And we owe it all to Barack Obama!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

The Veepstakes Results

Welcome Aboard Joe!
Learn more about Senator Joe Biden here and here.

To learn more and get involved in the Obama - Biden campaign click here!

Friday, August 22, 2008


I’ll admit it. I kept checking our e-mail all day. Why? Well, the new parlor game of course: “Who Will Be The Next VP?” It’s fun for all ages and for one or more players, but it is not a fast paced game!

For several days, my gut has been telling me Senator Joe Biden would be the winner. But as today wore on and new-to-me names were tossed into the mix - like Texas Congressman Chet Edwards - I began to think there would be a truly big surprise. But not the kind of surprise that has us running to Wikipedia to look up the name of the new Vice Presidential candidate. No, I began to wonder if it might be Senator Hillary Clinton. Or, wait for it, former Vice President Al Gore.

My crystal ball is cloudy. My tea was steeped from a bag, so I have no leaves to read. And sadly, Carnac the Magnificent is now living in an entirely different dimension. So we’ll just have to wait until our e-mails ding, our cell phones ring or Senator Obama and Vice Presidential candidate ______________ stand together at the Old State Capitol, in Springfield, Illinois tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Senior Moment? Out Of Touch? In Denial?

Senator John McCain was asked a simple question: “How many houses do you own?”. He couldn’t answer the question. He and his wife Cindy own eight.

Another odd fact is that Senator McCain’s wife Cindy repeatedly states she is “an only child”. She’s not an only child. She has two half sisters. One is the daughter of Cindy’s mother from a previous marriage and the other is the daughter of Cindy’s father from a previous marriage.

Just for the record, Chuck and I (and a bank) own one house.
I have two sisters.
Easy peasy...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Oil At Home

Our heating oil company mailed out their winter heating contracts. I appreciate that small, independent oil companies are in the unenviable position of delivering home heating oil to consumers, billing them for it and trying to collect the payments from them. I realize that they are at the mercy of the huge oil corporations, oil commodities markets, speculators, politics and international cartels. But the 2008-2009 lock-in price is over $4.50 a gallon! And the non-refundable downward price protection insurance fee has doubled and is up to 40 cents per gallon - pushing the price up to nearly $5.00 a gallon!

I know the recent drops in the price of a barrel of oil cannot and should not be construed as a trend, but Chuck and I are loathe to lock in. And we can’t imagine locking in without the downward price protection. So, I think this year we’re going to roll the dice and pay the cash price all winter - no guarantees, no up front insurance fees. It’s a risk. But this year the contract feels like too much of a high stakes gamble.

We already keep the thermostat set low; no higher than 62-64 F (16-17 C) during the day and no higher than 54 F (12 C) at night. The furnace has just been serviced, cleaned, tuned up and evaluated. We have our big down comforter we bought during the winter sale at IKEA and my Mom suggested nightcaps - fabric not alcoholic! Thanks Mom! She also said we should pack up the cats and move in with her for the winter! Ummm... thanks Mom! It’s nice to have options, but we’ll stay here and keep our fingers crossed for a mild winter and lower home heating oil prices - and a Democrat in the White House come January. That good news alone will warm the cockles of our hearts starting the day after the election in November!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Tanglewood Tradition

As this long, hot, stormy summer has rolled by, we have been waiting for an opportunity to head out to Tanglewood. Yesterday was the first good Sunday, so we packed up and made the trek out to the Berkshires. Our trip last summer should give you a clear idea of what an afternoon picnicking on “The Lawn” listening to classical music spilling out from “The Shed” is like.

It was a lovely afternoon. Mostly sunny, with a enough of a breeze to keep one cool in dappled shade. These trips are an annual event for us; a rite of summer if you will. The family tradition goes back on Chuck’s side to his parents. Milton and Betty would drive up from their home in Westchester County, New York and various branches of the clan would meet under one of the trees on The Lawn for a communal picnic. That was in the years before Mom and Dad relocated to Washington State and before the entire right side of The Lawn was created; the side where Chuck and I now go.

Naturally, we reminisced about those previous trips and larger gatherings yesterday. But those memories only sharpened the poignancy of the call from Chuck’s sister Carol last night. She let us know that one month shy of his 94th birthday, Dad’s health has declined such that he will now begin receiving hospice care. We are grateful that he will continue to live in the wonderful home he has been in for many months. We are especially grateful for all the times he is still chipper and funny on the phone with Chuck. Mostly, we’re grateful for Dad and Mom and the great job they did as parents and all the memories we share as a family. Some of the most relaxed and peaceful were spent on sunny Sunday afternoons, at Tanglewood.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Another Outrage

Thankfully, President George W. Bush has just a few months left in office. But that doesn’t mean he and his administration aren’t continuing to do long term damage.

I just received an e-mail from It read in part:

It seems unbelievable, but the Bush Administration is quietly trying to redefine "abortion" to include birth control.
Can you sign an emergency message to Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, whose department is considering this rule change right now? Tell him: "Contraception is NOT abortion. The Bush Administration's proposal to change the definition of abortion and reduce women's access to birth control must be stopped."

Click here to sign the petition.
We have to remain vigilant.
Thank you.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tech Tip Two

Corey Barker does wonderful “Killer Tips” video tutorials for Photoshop Elements. Clear, clever and easy to follow, I always have an “Ah hah!” moment or two while watching them. You can find many of them on iTunes and at Elements Village.

You can also find his excellent Photoshop video tutorials over on Planet Photoshop.

The learning curve with Adobe Photoshop Elements or Photoshop CS3 is steep. So it helps to have an easy going and knowledgeable guide to help you along.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Unlucky 13th?

A little while ago, I realized that I had taken hardly any pictures recently. Therefore, my blog was sorely lacking any new visual interest. Today was sunny, dry, with blue skies and a few puffy white clouds - perfect for photo ops. But in a moment of Puritanical/Roman Catholic logic, I felt I should do a little yard work first. Then I could “reward” myself by wandering around the spruced up yard, taking some photographs.

Truth be told, the yard had taken on the look of a jungle. Weeks of precipitation will bring about a rain forest effect. And everything had benefitted from this unusually wet summer. So I convinced Chuck to join me in this plan. Misery loves company and all that. We began with a rose bush that had been slammed in a recent storm and was splayed in an ungainly, unattractive and worrisome way. By “we” I mean Chuck donned the heavy work gloves and wrestled with the thorny canes, while I wrangled two rakes to lift the roses up at a safer, less prickly distance.

Chuck did a great job. I got swarmed. Not by bees, but by mosquitoes. As I gingerly stepped into the wildly overgrown flower bed in front of the rose bush, I disturbed something. I was wearing a pair of shorts, not my usual bundled-up-against-the-ticks-and-skeeters gardening ensemble. No, I had been seduced by the lovely weather. I felt something on my legs and glanced down. At first I thought they were seeds or petals or leaves. Then some of them moved. Still holding two rakes to help keep thorn filled, woody canes from crashing down and nailing Chuck, I began a running commentary on what was running through my mind. “Something’s on my legs!” “Ow!” “What the heck is that?” “Oh $#&@!” “I think it’s mosquitoes!” “Chuck!” “I need to drop one of the rakes!”

(In my own defense, let me point out that here in New England, we have all manner of unpleasant insect worries. Ticks carry Lyme Disease. Mosquitoes are responsible for the spread of West Nile Virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis. To aid in my prosecution, I had absolutely no business being out in shorts, with no insect repellant on.)

As the mosquitoes continued to land and bite, despite my vigorous one-handed slapping, I finally had to abandon the other rake and my post. Knees to ankles I received better than two dozen mosquito bites - all of which stung like crazy. I’ve never felt that sensation before, but I’ve also never received that many bites at one time. You’d think that a half century of living would lead to an increase in my common sense. Obviously, not so much.

And that, Dear Readers, is why I have no photos to share with you today.

Good news? Chuck went on to make significant improvements on the yard, was bitten by nary a skeeter and was impaled by only one small rose thorn.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tech Tip

Jessica Sprague has put together another great video for using Adobe Photoshop Elements 6.0. She made it for Creating Keepsakes. As always, her directions are very clear and I never fail to learn something new or a slick shortcut.

To view Jessica’s free tutorial called “Make Cool Digital Circle Elements” click here and then follow the links to her “Video Tutorial”. The techniques are well worth learning and easily transferrable to other projects.
Have fun!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Electric Bikes & Scooters

I’m not sure we live in an area where it makes sense for us to own one of these nifty machines. It’s rural, hilly and the winters are pretty darn long. Still, we’ve been thinking about them for a while. But we haven’t sorted out the intersection of price, speed, battery life, carrying capacity, charging costs and so on. They are definitely on our radar and I wanted to see if they are on yours. Here’s another good link with lots of useful information.

On a similar note, Jeff over at Wormtown Taxi posted about a local fellow who converted his gas powered car to electric. Recently? No. He did it back in 1973 at the height of the last oil and gasoline crisis!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Way He Liked It

I was talking with my Mom today and she mentioned cabbage. That, of course, reminded me to ask her about Rumbledethumps, Colcannon and Bubble and Squeak. She had never heard of any of the aforementioned dishes and thought her youngest daughter had gone off the deep end! I quickly explained about Rumbledethumps. That triggered a memory for her. When my Mom was a girl (back in the 1920s and 30s), her mother Marion, my Gagee, would make a “New England Boiled Dinner”, which is corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots and onions all cooked together in one pot on top of the stove. Marion’s father-in-law, an angel of a fellow named Jody, would ask her to make it “the way he liked it”. Gagee would reach into the icebox for the bacon drippings and put a little in a frying pan. Then she would scoop out some of the cabbage from the big pot and fry it in the bacon grease. Next she would lift out a potato and add that to the frying pan and mash it in with the cabbage. Gagee would serve it to Jody and he would add just a splash of apple cider vinegar to it.

Now if that isn’t the kissin’ cousin of Colcannon and Rumbledethumps I don’t know what is! Jody was of Irish, not Scottish descent. And he was, in fact, my Gramps’ stepfather. The Scottish branch I wrote about recently is my paternal grandfather’s side. Be that as it may, it cements that strong feeling I had about Rumbledethumps being a connection to something deep and old in my family’s culinary heritage. I need to keep browsing Maw Broon’s Cookbook to see what other chords get struck!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Team Handball

The 2008 Beijing Olympics are now in full swing. I want to recommend that you watch a sport I used to play in high school: Team Handball. It is a bit like basketball, but with a soccer (football) net instead of a hoop. It is also a fast paced, wildly under-appreciated sport! In order to learn it, my classmates and I had to watch films of the U.S. Army competing against the U.S. Navy. We girls were loving the sport and once played "boys against the girls" at the boys laughing-up-their-sleeves request. We kicked their butts! All these decades later, I can still vividly remember slamming the ball so hard into the net that the big, burly, football player of a goal keeper ducked!

Here’s a schedule of the Team Handball matches being held over the next two weeks in Beijing.

Friday, August 8, 2008


Tonight I made Rumbledethumps based on the recipe in Maw Broon’s Cookbook (U.K. link). Oh my goodness! It was delicious! Rumbledethumps is a cousin of Colcannon and a few other regional dishes, all of which are based on potatoes and cabbage. I had never made, let alone tasted Rumbledethumps before tonight. But both Chuck and I found it delicious and satisfying.

Before cooking, I Googled Rumbledethumps and Colcannon to see about the range of variations. There are many! But the following is what I did:

One pound of Potatoes - boiled, drained and mashed

One pound of Cabbage - cored and sliced finely
one large Onion - sliced finely
a little crushed Garlic (that’s all me!)
Olive Oil
Crumbled Bacon
a splash of Light Cream

Grated Cheddar Cheese

While the potatoes are going in one pot, start the onions and garlic in a large open fry pan with some olive oil, butter and a pinch of salt. Add the finely sliced cabbage. Cover and cook until wilted. Add some crumbled bacon to the cabbage and onion mixture. You don’t want the veggies to brown nor do you want them to be soggy, so let them finish cooking with the lid off. Season with pepper and salt to taste.

Drain and mash the potatoes along with some butter, salt, pepper and the splash of cream. Combine the mashed potatoes with the cabbage mixture. Spread the potatoes and cabbage in a baking dish. Cover with grated cheddar cheese (or cheese blend of your choice). Bake in a hot oven (I set mine to 450 degrees F on convection) until the cheese on top is golden.

I had been wanting to try this hearty cold weather dish ever since I first read it in Maw Broon’s. I am so glad this afternoon came in unseasonably cool and drizzly!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Do You Have A Plan?

The tornado warning was announced this afternoon. We were fortunate that by the time the storm with the tornadic cell in it made its way east over the Quabbin Reservoir towards us, it had broken down. We felt very fortunate as we watched the bright red and orange of the radar collapse down to solid green and the tornado warning was lifted. But before that happened, we had to think about where we would go - the cellar. And what, if anything, we would bring down into the cellar with us.

Back in 2002, there was a terrible fire out in the southwestern part of the United States. It was called the Show Low fire in Arizona. I vividly remember a television interview with a resident who had been ordered to evacuate as the flames raced toward her home. She spoke about that awful moment of not knowing what to grab and throw in her car as she fled the inferno.

I sat down that same day and made a list. The limitation was it all had to fit into our Subaru wagon. Obviously, if your home is on fire, you get your family and yourself out, everything else is secondary. But if you have sufficient warning of the need to evacuate due to an approaching fire or flood or severe weather, it’s much better to be prepared. Take a few minutes to make a plan and a list of what is necessary to have with you.

Here’s a link to the American Red Cross Disaster Services Page. You’ll find lots of tips and checklists to help you be better prepared for any and all possibilities. Here’s hoping that doing your homework now, will be like carrying an umbrella keeps away the rain!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

“And Things We’re All Too Young To Know”

Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields wrote the song “The Book of Love”. A cover of the song was performed by Peter Gabriel and used in the soundtrack for the 2004 movie “Shall We Dance”.

We were flipping around the television channels the other day when I happened upon the last few moments of “Shall We Dance”. I was captivated by the song playing behind the final scenes. I Googled the lyrics and found the songs over on YouTube. The original Magnetic Fields version is available on iTunes. But the Peter Gabriel version can only be downloaded there as part of the entire soundtrack.

In honor of Carrie and Al’s wedding day, just a month away, here are both versions of “The Book of Love”:

Jiminy Cricket!

The Jiminy Cricket used as the title is meant to substitute for inappropriate expletives, not to refer to the conscience dude that hung out with Pinocchio!

“Jiminy Cricket!” is also better than what any of us said when we heard that Phil had injured his knee while playing basketball. The injury will require surgery, crutches, a brace and months of rehab! Phil is our niece Kate’s husband. Does that make Phil our nephew-in-law? No matter, he’s family and an incredibly nice guy! Oh, did I mention that they just moved to a second floor walkup apartment?

We send Phil our best healing thoughts and wishes for a speedy recovery.
Be careful on those new stairs Phil!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Sometimes We Lose Things

Sometimes we lose things, especially as a family.

Many of my ancestors came to America from Ireland in the middle of the 19th Century. In the years leading up to and following The Great Famine, family on various branches left their Irish homeland to seek better for themselves and especially better for their children. Another branch of my family left Scotland in the late 19th Century and found their way to America. But it is possible that many of their roots can be drawn back to Ireland, perhaps in one or more of the waves of immigration that happened between the two areas. One more branch apparently left Denmark, also at the end of the 19th Century and settled in Massachusetts and then in Rhode Island. Still another branch probably originated in France and first emigrated to Canada and later to the United States.

A surprising number of my ancestors all found their way directly to Rhode Island. They may have come from rural or urban areas back home, but most lived and worked in the cities. Many of the men and some of the women found work in the factories of Rhode Island. Their lives were difficult. Their education was minimal. It took multiple generations before a high school diploma was the norm. Another generation beyond that before college educations were possible and eventually routine.

So it’s not surprising that things got lost along the way. Religion stayed intact because the Roman Catholic Church was thriving here in the United States. But other traditions fell by the wayside. Language, while predominantly English, lost its native accent as brogues and burrs were replaced with New England regional accents. But within contemporary accents and expressions, one can still hear echoes of the influence of myriad Irish and Scottish voices who settled here.

Sadly, within my family, oral histories also became truncated. By the time I sat down with my father and my maternal grandparents in the 1970s, they could sketch out the stories of relatives they had known personally, but ancestors beyond a certain point of recognition, were already hazy. I have to assume that the daily responsibilities and challenges of keeping body and soul together, left little time for stories from back home. But it is just as likely that back home may have been fraught with pain. We also had our fair share of estrangements, including a multi-generational one of vague origin from my Scottish born relatives. What Dad, Mom, Gagee and Gramps knew was the countries their families had come from. But even there, errors would eventually be found. Gagee used to tell me I had German ancestors. That was because her stepfather, the only Dad she had ever really known, had been of German descent. The family story of my paternal grandfather Alexander was a memorable one, which unfortunately proved apocryphal. We had always been told that Grandpa had been conceived in Scotland and born in the United States. Turns out, his parents and older siblings emigrated from Scotland to America two years before he was born.

Besides language, accents and oral history, other traditions such as cooking changed. Sometimes this was due to a lack of availability of ingredients from home. But it seems likely that more often than not, poverty dictated what could go in the soup pot and in the lunch pail. I also imagine that there was the typical desire to assimilate with the larger, dominant culture. Within my family, there was a strong theme of putting our best foot forward to the world. Members of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations often referred to folks both within and outside of our family as ”Lace Curtain Irish”. It meant folks who didn’t have two nickels to rub together, but hung lace curtains in their windows to give the appearance of prosperity to the neighbors. They may have used the term dismissively, but I felt there was a whole lot of the pot calling the kettle black in their usage!

By the time my parents were raising up a family, their children, my sisters and I, were minimum third generation Americans. First and foremost, we were a thoroughly mid-20th Century, just barely middle class, all American family. Tied for second, we were decidedly, absolutely, Roman Catholic. Thirdly, we were of Scottish, Irish, Danish and French descent. The family recipe box had recipes clipped from American magazines, newspapers and off the backs of packaged products from grocery store shelves. Meals ran the gamut from corned beef and cabbage to meatballs and spaghetti to hot dogs and hamburgers to all kinds of seafood. We weren’t just part of the melting pot, we were eating out of it!

So it was with great delight that I learned about “Maw Broon’s Cookbook”. The discovery was serendipitous in a way possible only in this technologically advanced, early 21st century time. A few weeks ago, I was reading Sue’s blog. She and her son Jake were traveling on an extended vacation from their home in South Africa to a number of countries. One part of their journey brought them to visit family in Glasgow, Scotland. While the entire trip was fascinating, greater Glasgow is where my paternal great-grandparents lived before coming to America. One of the photos Sue uploaded to her blog showed her and Jake standing in front of a Borders Bookstore in Glasgow. In the bookstore’s window was the “life size” image of a cartoon character called Maw Broon. I did some Googling and learned that “The Broons” (The Browns if spoken without the Scottish accent) were created by Dudley D. Watkins in 1936, during the depths of The Great Depression. The Broons were a Scottish family living in a fictional town, inspired by Glasgow and Dundee.

The typical internet search led me link by link to Maw Broon’s Cookbook (United Kingdom link). The description alone intrigued me. Holding the artfully aged and cleverly created book in my hands left me smitten. The conceit of Maw Broon’s collection of recipes is that it was a gift from her soon-to-be mother-in-law on her wedding day. The book has been digitally ”tattered” and “stained” and contains recipes and tips held in place by yellowing “tape”. The period script penmanship is sometimes difficult to decipher, especially as the recipes are also written in dialect, but that just adds to the charm.

Maw Broon’s Cookbook doesn’t heal my family’s estrangements. Nor does it tease out any more truth from my beautifully gnarled family tree. Reading Maw Broon’s recipe for Fish Pie reminds me of the recipe I created for Finnan Haddie Pie. But not even Maw Broon’s Cookbook can transform my own family’s recipe box filled with tips and recipes from Better Homes and Gardens and the Providence Journal Bulletin. But reading recipes for Porridge, Beef Tea, Stoved Tatties and Black Bun makes me feel connected to members of my family named Mary, Elizabeth and Madelyn. Holding this cookbook, reading the recipes and notes aloud in my best Scottish burr, enables me to cleave a bit tighter to part of my family and its heritage. It has helped me to find, something we lost.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Coconut Chicken

Perhaps it is unfair to discuss food or even approximated recipes here (sorry Sue!), but this dish is very good. It was loosely inspired by a curry dish we’ve had at a Thai restaurant up in Bar Harbor called Siam Orchid.

As always, I can’t tell you much about amounts. And really, despite the name, this is an excellent vegetarian dish. Just leave out the chicken and swap in veggie broth for the chicken broth. You can also add beans.

Olive Oil
Onions - medium dice
Garlic - crushed
Potatoes - medium dice Yukon Gold
Red Peppers
Mushrooms - I like shiitake
Carrot - grated
Chicken Broth
Coconut Milk - 1/2 to 2/3 of a can
Grated Unsweetened Coconut
Curry Powder - to taste
Hot Sauce - I like Frank’s Chili Lime
Sesame Tahini - couple spoonfuls
Salt - to taste

Start with a large saute or frying pan. Add the olive oil, onions, garlic, sherry and a little bit of the curry powder and cook over medium heat until onions have softened. Add the potatoes and some broth. Cover and simmer until potatoes are near tender. Then add the other veggies.
Note: I’ve used lots of different vegetables including zucchini and summer squash. I’ve also used sweet potatoes instead of white or yellow. What you want is a nice assortment or colors and textures.
Reduce heat to a simmer and add the chicken. Then add the coconut milk and the Tahini. Sprinkle on the grated coconut. Season with the remaining curry powder, hot sauce and salt. Cover and simmer until done.
If you need to thin it, you can add a little more broth or some milk.

I like to serve it over a Thai rice which is seasoned with lime and lemongrass. Or add lemongrass and a little lime or perhaps orange zest or ginger to the coconut veggie mixture and serve over brown rice.
I’ve also served the leftovers as a chilled soup.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Red Sox Nation Welcomes Bay

The down to the wire trade which sent Manny Ramirez to the Los Angeles Dodgers and brought Jason Bay to the Boston Red Sox, has turned out quite nicely. It already looks as if young Mr. Bay is doing exactly what any player brought in to replace Mr. Ramirez should do. But here’s my hopefully happily redundant advice:
1. Play hard.
2. Be nice.
3. Remember to tip your hat.
4. Run like the divil hisself were chasing you as you take off from home plate.

Welcome to Boston Jason!
So good, so good, so good!

Friday, August 1, 2008

In The Deep End, But Swimming!

You may remember I’ve been wrestling with whether to upgrade to Photoshop Elements 6.0 or to take on the 500 pound gorilla which is Photoshop Creative Suite 3. CS3 is now living on my laptop! In order to prove to myself that I would be able to work in it right away, I attempted to create a quick and simple digi-scrap page. First step: Choose a Color and use the Paint Bucket to pour the color on the page. Easy-peasy right? Not so much. My Crayon Box and Color Wheel were missing. In it’s place, I found a dizzying array of color options, which will no doubt eventually be very cool and useful. Then I couldn’t find the Paint Bucket. I looked and looked and queried “Help”. No dice. Chuck looked for the Paint Bucket. Eventually, I Googled “paint bucket CS3” and that’s when I found the mother lode of information about Photoshop CS3. Here’s the link to said mother lode. Turns out, the Paint Bucket is hidden behind the Gradient tool.

I also went rooting around and found a table which provides a key to most but not all of the CS3 tools, their icons and where they have been hidden live on the workspace. Here’s the link to that treasure trove (click on “About Tools”).

As I continued to work on the digi-scrap page, I repeatedly returned to those Adobe Help Resource Center pages to figure things out. At this moment, I miss, what in retrospect, were the user friendly aspects of Photoshop Elements. Of course, when I first started with Elements I nearly went crazy from how non-intuitive and illogical the program was!

Patience, Grasshopper, patience...