Friday, March 17, 2017

The Wearing of the Green

Thought for the day: It's fine to pretend to be Irish on St. Patrick's day; we pretend to be good on Christmas, don't we?

Yep, today's the day even folks with a last name like Swiderski can celebrate the Irish. Why not? I'm all for wearing a bit o' the green and talking a bit o' blarney, no matter what day of the year it is. As for today... just call me O'Swiderski.

What follows is a St. Patrick's Day post from three years ago. Seeing's as today is St. Patrick's Day AND my usual day to post, I thought it's be a foin idea to run it again. Then I'll have more free time to do the jig or something.

Care to join me... and a one and a two and a...(pant, pant, pant)

Never mind. You dance. I'll watch.


Thought for the day Never borrow money from a leprechaun. They're always a little short.

Yep, it seems like everybody wants to be Irish on St. Patrick's Day, doesn't it? Doesn't matter a shillelagh what your actual lineage is, either, for 'tis a grand day for dusting off that "Kiss me; I'm Irish" button, and pinning it to your shirt.

Know what's kinda funny about that? (shhhh) St. Patrick... wasn't Irish!


Aye, and that's the truth, it is. St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, wasn't born in Ireland at all... and neither were his ancestors. However, he is credited with introducing Christianity to the Emerald Isle, where he evangelized for thirty years.


He used the shamrock... the three-leaf clover... as a visual prop to teach the concept of the Trinity. We talk about the luck o' the Irish, and associate the shamrock with the Irish, but it's the four-leaf clover that's considered the lucky pick, simply because of its rarity.


Even though many people use St. Patrick's Day as an excuse to guzzle even more beer than usual these days, from 1903 until 1970, it was a religious holiday in Ireland, and thus...a dry day. No booze. It converted to a national holiday in 1970, and the taps have been flowing freely ever since. (Obviously, the guy in that picture is a purist... his beer isn't green.)


St. Patrick's Day, as celebrated worldwide, is marked with parades, festivals, shamrocks, wearing o' the green, drinking Irish whiskey and green beer, and sometimes... eating corned beef and cabbage. Many buildings of the world use decorative green lighting, and rivers, lakes, and ponds galore are dyed green. Even the fountain in front of the White House glistens emerald.


Heck, what am I saying? The celebration of St. Patrick's Day is even outta this world. Dare ye to doubt me? Check out this picture of astronaut Chris Hadfield in the International Space Station, wearing his spiffy green bow tie while orbiting the planet on St. Patrick's Day, 2013. (Kinda looks like he's doing an Irish dance, too, doesn't it?)

Talking about Irish dances, have you seen this video?

                                                      See? Even chimps wanta be Irish.

[one of my favorite pins]

* Think there's any truth to the theory that the Irish dance was born because there weren't enough urinals in the pub? (Think about it...)

* Know why you should never iron a four-leaf clover? It's never a good idea to press your luck.

*  Know how to tell if an Irishman is having a good time? Easy. He's Dublin over with laughter.

Okay, I'll stop.

Since St. Patrick's Day is already here, it's too late to try this corned beef  recipe this time around, but you might want to give it a whirl next year. It isn't that much work, and I guarantee you, it'll be the best corned beef you ever ate. There are no nitrites in it, so the meat doesn't turn that unnatural red color, but it is gooooooooood.

For the salt and spice mix, you'll need 1 1/3 cups of Kosher (or coarse) salt, 3 T sugar, 1 T cracked peppercorns, 2 t allspice, 2 t thyme, 1 t sage, 1 t paprika, 1 large bay leaf, and 2 large cloves of garlic, minced.
Cut of meat - brisket, chuck, eye round roast, or bottom round, about 4-5 pounds

To Cure- Trim excess fat. Blend salt and spices, and rub the mixture into the meat. Liberally. Place meat into a large plastic bag and toss in the remaining salt/spice mixture. If you'd like, you can add a sliced onion and sliced carrot, too. Squeeze out as much air as you can, and then seal the bag. Put it into a a large bowl, cover it with a plate or pan, and weigh it down. (Put something on top of it that's heavy enough to keep the plate firmly pressed against the meat.) Place in the bottom of your fridge. Turn and knead the bag at least once a day until the curing process is completed. You should cure for at least two weeks, and up to a full month.

After curing: Wash the meat in cold water, and then soak it in a large bowl of cold water for about 24 hours to get rid of excess salt. If you'd like, you can tie it with butcher's twine, but it isn't necessary.

To Cook: Put meat in a large pot, and cover with water. Add an onion stuck with four cloves, a large carrot, and two celery stalks. Bring to a simmer, and skim off the scum for several minutes. (And I mean "scum" in the nicest way ...) Cover, leaving lid askew to allow for circulation, and simmer for 3- 3 1/2 hours, or until the meat is deliciously fork tender. Enjoy!

 Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other. 
Bless your little Irish heart, and every other Irish part.

May your glass be ever full. May the roof over your head always be strong. And may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you're dead.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Intrepid Flyers

Thought for the day:  Endurance is the price tag of accomplishment.

Wouldn't it be cool to fly like a bird? To soar and swoop and make some lazy circles in the sky... it's a dreamy thought, isn't it? But not a new one. Man has always been enthralled with the idea of flight.

Today, we're going to talk about some very unusual flyers... the first from the bird kingdom, and the next from the human ranks. One thing these groups have in common is determination. Determination and endurance. (Okay, two things.)

                                                                 First, the bird.

[source:Henri Weimerskirch, CNRS, France]
It practically takes an act of Congress to get some children out of bed at times, but not so for juvenile frigate birds. No sirree, and it's none of that lazy circles in the sky stuff for them, either. It isn't at all unusual for a young frigate bird to take off from his cozy nest and fly non-stop for the next 185 days straight... covering as much as 34,000 miles.

[source: Aurelian Prudor, CNRS, France]

These amazing birds, with their lovely forked tails and wingspans of up to seven and a half feet, (2.3 meters) fly an average of 255 miles per day... and can do it for months on end.

They accomplish this by making brilliant use of the wind currents, and they can ascend to 2000 feet and then drop back down to sea level with only a single flap of their massive wings.

Another interesting fact about these birds is, even though they're classified as seabirds... they can't get in the water. Why? Their feathers aren't waterproof. If they were to dive into the water or even land on its surface, they'd get waterlogged, and wouldn't be able to fly again. So if they choose to eat during their long journeys, they have to swoop down and grab small critters from near the water's surface.  According to scientist Henri Weimerskirch, of France's Center for Scientific Research, (CNRS) who tracked 80 of these birds for two years and learned about their remarkable ability to master air currents, "There is no other bird species like them."  (No wonder this male's chest is all puffed out!)

The human flyers were part of a remarkable group, too, and since it's only a couple days after International Women's Day, it's rather fitting that they were also... women.

[credit: Sovfoto/ UIG- 1944]

Meet the Nightwitches, aviators of Russia's all-female 5880th Night Bomber Regiment. These brave women, ages 17 to 26, some of whom had never even seen an airplane before they joined the regiment, played a vital role in World War II, and struck terror in the hearts of their enemies.


These women flew in Polikarpov PO-2s, re-purposed biplanes from the 1920s, which were constructed of wood and canvas, and had been used mainly as crop-dusters prior to the war. These planes were slow, obsolete, and contained no radios or radar, so rudimentary navigation hinged on a stop watch and a map.

[[credit: Quality Time]

So what was so terrifying about these women, and how did they get the nickname Nightwitches? That's the English translation of the name bestowed upon them by German soldiers, who called them Nachtexen. (which, um, obviously means the same thing...) See, what these women did as they conducted their night missions was as they approached their targets, they shut off their engines. Then they'd glide down to drop the bombs, so the only sound accompanying their descent was the whoosh of their planes cutting through the air... which sounded like witches' brooms to the soldiers below.

[credit: The Image Works]

After dropping their bombs, the airplane engines then had to be re-started in mid-air, and if that meant a navigator had to climb out onto the wing to give the prop a spin, sobeit.

Because the planes were only capable of carrying two bombs at a time, each night's mission consisted of multiple flights ... as many as eighteen harrowing sorties in a single night. Weight limitations of these planes didn't just dictate the amount of armament they could carry, either. It also meant no parachutes.

At its largest, this battalion contained forty two-person crews, and in total, these gutsy gals carried out 30,000 missions, and dropped 23,000 bombs. At first, Russian male pilots thought these brave young women were a joke, but they soon learned to respect them for their courage, their ability, and their endurance.

[courtesy the Image Works]

Nadia Popova, who was sometimes referred to as Russia's Amelia Earhart, said, In winter, when you'd look out to see your target better, you got frostbite, our feet froze in our boots, but we carried on flying." 

After one mission, her airplane was riddled with forty-two bullet holes, and she was shot down a couple of other times. Still, she persevered and continued to serve as a Nightwitch commander. She passed away in 2013 at the age of 91, and she and her fellow witches will long be remembered as some of Russia's most intrepid flyers.

Determination is doing what needs to be done even when you don't feel like it. [author unknown]

Failure will never overtake me if my determination to succeed is strong enough. [Og Mandino]

Determination gives you the resolve to keep going in spite of the roadblocks that lay before you. [Denis Waitley]

Endurance is the price tag of achievement. [author unknown]

Each of us, in our own way, has the ability to fly. Maybe not across an ocean like a frigate bird, and maybe not in daring night missions in antiquated airplanes... but we can fly; we can succeed. Those birds don't back down when faced with the daunting task of flying for weeks and months on end; they just do it. Those women, many of whom had never even seen an airplane before, didn't say, "We can't do it;" they just did it. Like them, with determination, we, too, can overcome obstacles, and we, too, can fly. We can achieve, and we can make our dreams come true, so never settle for less. Remember, even the grandest oak tree started out as a little acorn that refused to give up. Surely we nuts can do the same.

                                  Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Flipping a Floppy

Thought for the day:  A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit.  [Richard Back]

Praise be, I have returned safely from battle.

Okay, so it wasn't actually a battle; it was more of a book club meeting, featuring yours truly as the main course.

The bottom line is, I got through last Thursday's meeting unscathed, and didn't even have to draw my sword once to defend myself from hurtful criticisms hurled by disappointed readers. Matter of fact, it was awesome. I only hope the other folks who were there enjoyed our discussions half as much as I did.

As soon as I arrived, I surreptitiously searched the premises and didn't find any buckets of rotten tomatoes hidden anywhere, so that was a reassuring sign. Then when everyone got there, I asked if any other writers had ever attended any of their meetings. When they said I was the first, I knew I had it made, because even if I did a lousy job, I would be the BEST writer who'd ever visited them. Woo HOO! So I relaxed, and just had fun. I think they did, too, because I was told the meeting usually lasts for about an hour, and we were there for two and a half. It was such a terrific group of ladies, (and obviously very bright, too, because they all liked my book. HA) I wish they held their meetings a little closer to where I live, so I could join them as a member. It was a terrific experience. The only downside? Even though the gals all said they'd post a review, none of them did. Oh well. C'est la vie.

Yep, it's that time of the month again. Time for insecure writers (i.e. ALL writers) to share the ups and downs encountered along our bumpy writing paths. Once again, thanks go to ninja writer Alex Cavanaugh for coming up with the idea of forming this group and for making it such a successful reality. If you're interested in joining, please do! You can go right here to sign up, and you'll also find a list of the other participants there, so you can check out their posts, too.

Okay, I've already told you what a positive experience the book club meeting was, so let's move on to the question of the month: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Oh... you want details?

Nowadays, in spite of society's proclivity for quick fixes, disposable everything, and instant gratification, there's also been a huge resurgence of people who are dedicated to diligently refurbishing and re-purposing, whether it be a falling-down house in dire need of TLC, or some treasure pulled from a dumpster or purchased inexpensively from a flea market, so why shouldn't  we writers do the same with our old manuscripts? (Assuming they're something you flip over, and not a dismal flop. If it sits long enough, you can tell...)

Mine sat plenty long enough.

This particular manuscript sat abandoned in the back of my closet gathering dust for years. Although it wasn't painstakingly written on a scroll with a quill, or etched in stone, it was darned near that bad, because it was saved on... (gasp!) floppy discs.

Yep, I typed the first draft of Hot Flashes and Cold Lemonade on an Apple II E computer. Luckily, in addition to storing the manuscript on floppy discs, I also had the foresight to print it out in... (gasp!) dot matrix.

Fast forward about twenty years, and I decided to read the manuscript again. (Talk about letting a story sit a while, eh?)

I decided it was worth rescuing, but in order to work on it again, I had to scan the manuscript, one page at a time, and save it in a file on my new no-more-floppies computer. Not terribly difficult, but a time-consuming pain in the patootie.

Countless rewrites and many changes later, the manuscript finally became a book. It hasn't made me a bunch of money, but that was never my goal, so yeah, I'd say it worked out. If you have a poor little orphan manuscript languishing in the back of your closet, why not pull it out and give it another look-see? It just might be something worth saving, and my guess is... it isn't saved on floppy discs.


(Haven't you always wanted to say that...) Okay, so technically, there aren't any presses to stop, but I did want to take a quick sec to sneak in an announcement before putting this post to bed. It's about a book. (Surprise!)

For quite some time, fellow blogger and author Karen Walker had a dream about putting together a book in which a group of writers offers candid reflections about the blessings and curses of aging. I'm pleased to say her dream is about to become reality, and Still Me... After All These Years is scheduled to be released in early April.

But you can pre-order an e-version NOW. In U.S., you can order here

In this upcoming anthology, two dozen writers from ages sixty to ninety... including yours truly... tell it like it is about keeping dreams alive, putting rusty sex drives in gear, and dealing with the ups and downs of retirement and the loss of independence. Touted on the back cover as being poignant, humorous, and brutally honest, this book promises to be a collection that will hold appeal for all ages.

All proceeds from the sales of this book will be donated to Alzheimer's research.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.