Friday, March 28, 2014

On the Road Again

Thought for the day:  Did y'all hear about the jurisprudence fetishist? He got off on a technicality.

It's the last Friday of the month, (already!) so it's time for another friendly gathering of The Armchair Squid's famous world renown whole lotta fun online book club, where participants post about the best book they've read within the past month. It isn't too late for you to participate, ya know. Just click on that link to his blog, and and sign on up... and then tell us about your Book of the Month.

Like last month, I still realize not all of you give a good diddle about a book recommendation, so I'll offer a little something else for your enjoyment before finishing up with the book review. Oh, and this will be my last post for a while, too. Although I'm not gonna participate in the A-Z Challenge this year, I AM gonna take the month off from blogging and maybe get some work done on some writing projects. Heck, I might even rearrange some of the dust bunnies around the house, or paint a wall or two. Who knows? (After all, I was born to be wild...) To those of you who will be working your way through the alphabet and a bazillion blogs, have fun! Maybe next year for me. Maybe.

Since the bogus funny billboards seemed to be such a hit last month, I think I'll go with some more of them this month. Remember, these things arose from the fertile imaginations of some mighty creative minds; they aren't billboards you'll ever actually see standing alongside the road. Tough. We're still gonna take our virtual road trip to check 'em out. As always, many thanks to the fine folks at dribbleglass, who so graciously granted me permission to use these images.

Ready? Let's go-o-o-o...


Well, I hope some of those floated your boat. Now, for the book review. Let's see... which one kicked the butts of all the other books I read this month? Tough call.

                                                          But I'm gonna go with... this one:

According to the description on the back cover: The epic tale of Harry Clifton's life begins with the words, "I was told that my father was killed in the war." A dock worker in Bristol, Harry never knew his father and expects to carry on at the shipyard, until a remarkable gift wins him a scholarship to an exclusive boys' school, and his life will never be the same again...

As Harry enters into adulthood, he finally learns how his father really died, but the awful truth only leads him to question: Was he even his father? Is he the son of Arthur Clifton, a stevedore, or the firstborn son of a scion of West Country society, whose family owns a shipping line? From the ravages of the Great War and the docks of working-class England to the streets of 1940 New York City and the outbreak of the Second World War, this is a powerful journey that will bring to life one hundred years of history to reveal a family story that neither the reader nor Harry Clifton himself could ever have imagined.

Sounds pretty cool, right? Well, here's what I think about it:

I actually won this book through a Goodreads giveaway. (Yep... Lucky, lucky, lucky!) I've read a number of Archer's books in the past, but it had been a while, so I was thrilled to have one of his books fall into my lap again. If you've never read any of his books before, you might want to check him out. He's a master storyteller.

When someone is telling me a story, I generally prefer to receive it in a linear fashion; I don't need a lot of backtracking, rehashing, or side trips. Just tell me the darned story already. And if possible, don't keep telling me the same thing over and over. I'm pretty intelligent, so there's a good chance I picked up on that particular detail the first ten times you told me.

So what did I think of a book that essentially tells me about the same events over and over... and over... again? Actually, I liked it. A lot.

See, this book tells the same story, but from different perspectives. Each section of the book is named for a particular character, and begins with a first-person narrative from that character's POV, followed by a 3rd person part of the story, based on what that character knows, thinks, or thinks (s)he knows. There's also a little bit of head-hopping, mixed in with some omniscient narrator POV.

Sounds confusing, but it isn't. I must admit, when the first retelling began, I was a tad annoyed at having my preferred "linear" story interruped, but the author's mode of story-telling is like a jigsaw puzzle being put together via group effort. Different characters provide different pieces, and just like people, some characters try to force their pieces into the wrong place.

All-in-all, this overlapping mode creates a rich depth in both story and characters. I'm not sure many writers could pull it off nearly as skillfully as Archer does, but I still don't think I'd like a steady diet of this style of story-telling. Archer already has a well-earned reputation for being a skilled storyteller, but I wouldn't recommend any new writers to try his approach. The constantly changing POV and head-hopping probably wouldn't be readily accepted from someone who hasn't already proven his marketing appeal.

I only have two major complaints. One, I have a problem with the genetic depiction of grandfather-to-son-to-grandson transmission of color blindness. From my understanding of this affliction, Archer's explanation is long on supporting the story, but short on facts.

The other problem is the book ends on an "Oh, no!" moment. No resolution. More of a cliffhanger, so the story isn't "done". Luckily, although I won this book through a Goodreads giveaway as a "first read", it isn't a new book. (Just new to me.) I say luckily, because this is book one of the Clifton Chronicles, and three more books in the series have already been released. (Ah, HA! No waiting!) When I finished reading this book, my first inclination was to speed to the book store to get the next one in the series. Too bad it was 2 AM at the time. 

Bottom line: Don't count on this book being a stand-alone. It's like the first taste of chocolate. Once you get a taste, you're probably gonna want some more.


Well, that's all folks! Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.  See y'all in May, but don't be surprised if I pop into your blog for a visit or two before then. Yep, I was born to be... oh, never mind.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fall Foliage and Frosty Winters

Thought for the day:  Vermont's a place where barns come painted, red as a strong man's heart, where stout carts and stout boys in freckles are highest form of art. [Robert Tristam]

[courtesy of a Vermont native]
In case you can't quite make out that sign under all that snow in the picture, it says, I am Vermont strong. I dunno about you, but I'd rather not have to be that strong. I mean, a sweet little delicate dusting of white is one thing... but that's ridiculous. Not that Vermont is the only state that's been buried under snow this winter, but it is the state we're gonna be visiting today. Ready?

You might be from Vermont if...

*  You've ever taken your kids trick-or-treating during a blizzard.
*  Mosquitoes have landing lights, and the best repellent is a shotgun.
*  You have ten favorite recipes for venison, and at least twice a year, your kitchen doubles as a meat processing plant.
*  You have more miles on your snowblower than on your car, and owe more money on it, too.
*  You consider tube socks and a flannel nightgown with less than eight buttons to be sexy lingerie.
*  Your snowblower has ever gotten stuck on your roof. (???)
*  You clean the grease off your BBQ grill frequently to keep the bears away.
*  You know which leaves make good toilet paper. (I know which ones DON'T!)
*  Your town officials greet you by your first name.
*  There's only one shopping plaza in town. (Until 1996, it was the only state without a Wal-Mart, too!)
*  The major parish fundraiser isn't Bingo; it's sausage-making.
*  You think -20 degrees F is a little chilly.
*  Your town budgets money for a zamboni instead of a bus.
*  Your state capital (Montpelier) doesn't have a McDonald's. (Only capital in the country with that tasteful claim to fame.)

Vermont is a lot more than snow. Matter of fact, I've kinda fallen in love with the state. (Except for, ya know... that pesky snow.) Talk about picturesque! And it's one of only four states that preserves its gorgeous views by forbidding billboards. (The others are Alaska, Hawaii, and Maine.)

So come on through this spiffy covered bridge and let me show you around. Vermont has nearly as many covered wooden bridges as it has snowflakes... more per square mile than any other state, anyway. Pennsylvania still rules supreme for having the most overall, though.


Okay, last covered bridge picture. This is the Flint covered bridge in Tunbridge... with only a dusting of snow. Looks like a glorious place to walk, doesn't it? Just look at that sky!

And who do you think might have lived in this rustic-looking cabin? Someone with a poetic soul, who was enamored with his surroundings, who wrote of such things as stopping by the woods on a snowy evening. Yes, this cabin, located in Ripton, belonged to Robert Frost. Since woods cover more than 3/4 of the state, Frost found plenty of natural inspiration around him. Plenty of seclusion, too. Even today, the only state with a smaller population is Wyoming.

Frost isn't the only one who fell in love with the beautiful vistas of Vermont. Especially in the autumn...

The Round Church, located in Richmond, and built in 1812-13, is one of the best-preserved meetinghouses from that time period. This sixteen-sided building, maintained by the local Historical Society, is still used for weddings and other events.


Here's a different type of building altogether. It's a prime example of 19th century industrial architecture. When built in 1846 as the Robbins and Lawrence Armory and Machine Shop, work done here played a primary role in advancing the Industrial Revolution by improving the production of interchangeable parts. Today, the building houses the American Precision Museum.

[National Park Service photo]
Didja know Ben & Jerry's got its start in Burlington, Vermont... in a former gas station? Yep, the now iconic ice cream brand made its debut on May 5, 1978, and every anniversary since then has been recognized as Free Cone Day, where every person who goes into any of their stores around the country is treated to a freebie. Any guess what their first flavor was? Yep, vanilla. Know what the company does with its ice cream waste these days? It goes to the local farmers to feed their hogs... who are allegedly real hogs for every flavor but Mint Oreo.

Vermont is the greatest producer of maple syrup in the country. Mature trees (30-40 years old) can support from one to three taps, depending on the tree's diameter, and the average tree yields from nine to thirteen gallons of sap per season.


To convert sap into syrup, it is boiled in a special building with a louvered roof... to allow steam to escape... called a sugar shack. (Or house or shanty.)


Maybe one of you can tell me more about this picture? I found it on Morguefile, but have no details on what it is or the significance of those figures. Only that it's located somewhere in Burlington, Vermont. Neat-looking, isn't it?

Vermont's state motto is Freedom and Unity, and these words befit the state's independent streak throughout history. It was the first state admitted to the union after the ratification of the Constitution; it was the first state to abolish slavery; and it was the first state to legalize Civil Unions. Another interesting tidbit: Ida Mae Fuller of Brattleboro, Vermont, was the first U.S. citizen to receive a social security check. She collected her first check in 1940, lived to be more than a hundred, and ended up collecting more than twenty thousand dollars in benefits.

Shelburne Museum, founded in 1947, contains a unique collection of artwork and Americana artifacts, folk art, quilts and decoys from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries. Housed in thirty-eight buildings, the museum showcases twenty historic structures, including houses, a one-room schoolhouse, lighthouse, jail, general store, covered bridge, (Of course!) and the 220-foot  Ticonderoga steamboat, as seen in the photo. The village-like setting also includes more than four hundred lilac bushes, formal gardens, perennial gardens, herbs, and heirloom veggies. (Can you imagine the sweet smell of all those lilacs in bloom?)

Vermont isn't just known for its mountains and snow skiing, or for its woodlands and gorgeous fall foliage, or even for its covered bridges and ice cream. It also has some beautiful water... like Lake Champlain. Beautiful, isn't it? So (tra-la-la) peaceful. So (tra-la-la) idyllic. (Cue the scary music...)

Or not.

When Samuel de Champlain discovered (Yeah, I know... it wasn't lost.) the lake in 1609, he claimed he saw a monster, five feet long, as thick as a man's thigh, with thick silver-gray scales and a two and a half-foot sharp-toothed jaw. Native Americans also claimed to see similar monsters, ranging in size from eight to ten feet long. There have been many sightings over the years of the Lake Champlain monster, fondly known as Champ. Is it a cousin to the oft-reported Loch Ness monster Nessie? Are they both plesiosaurs? Or is it all a hoax? Tell ya what, Champ is pretty darned real to the fishermen shown in this 2005 video:

Okay, let's see if any crazy laws are languishing on the books in the fine state of Vermont.


  • It's against the law to whistle underwater. (I guess they don't want anyone trying to summon Champ.)
  • At one time, it was illegal to tie a giraffe to a telephone pole. (Does that mean it's okay now?)
  • Women must obtain permission from their husbands before they can wear false teeth. (I doubt if this law has any bite...)
  • It's illegal to deny the existence of God. (Ya think non-prophet organizations can get away with it?)
  • It's against the law to paint landscapes during times of war. (So it would seem that painting in itself isn't forbidden... just painting landscapes. Interesting.)
  • It's illegal to use colored margarine in restaurants unless the menu says so ... in two-inch tall lettering. When it is served, oleo can only be provided in triangular-shaped wedges. (Yeah. Vermont is a huge dairy state, and as you can tell, they try to discourage the use of the fake stuff.)
  • It's against the law to paint a horse. (So how are ya gonna have a horse of a different color...?)
  • Delivery men must walk backwards in driveways of homes worth more than five hundred thousand dollars. (???)
  • It's illegal to keep doves in the freezer. (The poor little guys would get too cold in there!)
  • It's against the law to give a baby a comforter. (Not sure if that means a blanket, or a pacifier.)
  • In Barre, all residents must bathe every Saturday night. 
  • In Montpelier, no law was violated on May 14, 2009, when forty-two naked cyclists rode through town. Vermont has no law against public nudity... just on public disrobing.
  • In Rutland, cars are forbidden from backfiring.  (Lotsa luck trying to get those cars to pay their fines.)     


Well, that's about it for now. If all is well, we'll be hanging out with some of our grandchildren this weekend, so I won't be messing around on the Internet. I'll respond to your comments and visit all y'all at your blogs next week. First things first... I'm planning to squeeze all I can in with these folks. Yep, we've got some serious playing to do.

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

                                                  Life must be lived as play. [Plato]                                

Friday, March 14, 2014

Here's to the Irish!

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 last St. Patrick's Day. (Kinda looks like he's doing an Irish dance, too, doesn't it?)

Talking about Irish dances, have you seen this video?

                                                      See? Even the 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 coming up on Monday, 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!

I won't be responding to comments or visiting blogs for a few days. Gonna be enjoying some of our  O'Swiderski grandchildren. Just thinking about it makes me want to dance a jig! (If a chimp can do it, surely this chump can, too...)  Oops, change in plans. A couple of the kiddies are sick, so we'll be postponing the sharing of our germs for another week. 

 Until next time, 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 7, 2014

The Waters of Justice Sometimes Trickle

Thought for the day:  Justice is truth in action.  [Benjamin Disraeli]

EXTRA! EXTRA! [National Archives]
A couple years ago, I wrote a two-part post, Art and the Human Spirit, about the internment of Japanese-American citizens during WWII. Those posts focused on human resilience, but today's post is going to approach the internments from a different angle. From the angle of justice.

[courtesy of Karen Korematsu and the Korematsu Institute]

Fred Korematsu was one of many Japanese-Americans living on the west coast at the beginning of World War II, when President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, which authorized the internment of all people of Japanese descent into what was euphemistically called relocation camps. On May 3, 1942, General DeWitt ordered 120,000 Japanese-Americans to report  to Assembly Centers six days later as a prelude to their incarceration.

[National Archives]
As American citizens, many of whom were born and raised in the United States, these men, women, and children considered themselves to be red-white-and-blue American patriots. They hung banners and signs from their businesses declaring their allegiance, but it didn't matter, because they couldn't change the way they looked.

Tanforan Assembly Center [National Archives]
Twenty-two-year-old Fred Korematsu and his family were to be transported to Tanforan Assembly Center, where they'd be kept in converted horse stalls until assigned and relocated to camp. But Fred didn't believe the government had the constitutional right to imprison its own citizens without benefit of trial, hearing, or filing of charges. So he didn't go.

Waiting to be taken to camp. [National Archives]
He was nabbed on May 30 for looking like a Jap while standing on an Oakland street corner, and on September 8, was convicted in federal court for defying the order to report for relocation. He received five years' probation... but was sent immediately to Tanforan. Then, like so many others, he was put on a train to his assigned internment camp.

Topaz, Utah camp [National Archives]
Like the rest of his family, he was incarcerated in a desolate camp in Topaz, Utah. There, he lived in a horse stall lit by a single light bulb. He said conditions were worse there than in the jails.

Other residents of the camp avoided him, because they considered him to be a troublemaker, and thought his defiance was wrong and disrespectful. He continued to believe in their constitutional rights, and in the American justice system, and he was sure he would find justice in the courtroom.

Supreme Court building [Wikipedia]

The ACLU used his case to test the legality of the WWII incarcerations, and after losing several appeals, his case made its way to the Supreme Court in 1944. There, in a 6-3 ruling, it was determined that your ethnic affiliation can predispose you to disloyalty if you're an American of Japanese descent, and that compulsory exclusion, though constitutionally suspect, is justified during circumstances of emergency and peril. 

But Korematsu didn't give up He continued to pursue his plea of innocence. A special commission formed by President Carter concluded in 1982 that the internment of Japanese-American citizens was a grave injustice based on race prejudice, war hysteria, and  failure of political leadership. That same year, Professor Peter Irons uncovered evidence that the government's lawyers had withheld important information during Korematsu's 1944 Supreme Court hearing. In 1983, the U.S. District of the Northern District of California overturned Korematsu's conviction. Standing before the court, he said, I would like to see the government admit that they were wrong and do something about it so this will never happen again to any American citizen of any race, creed, or color.  And, If anyone should do any pardoning, I should be the one pardoning the government for what they did to Japanese-American people. 

In 1988, Congress apologized, and granted personal compensation of twenty thousand dollars to each surviving prisoner.

[photo credit: Dennis Cook]
President Clinton also presented Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. Until his death in 2005, Korematsu continued to speak tirelessly on behalf of civil rights, and in 2004, in reference to the detainees at Guantanamo, he insisted, No one should ever be locked away simply because they share the same race, ethnicity, or religion as a spy or terrorist. 

Since 2011, January 30 has been celebrated as Fred Korematsu Day... a day to remember him, and to honor his unwavering belief in civil liberties, justice, and the Constitution of the United States.

In the 1944 Supreme Court decision,  in speaking for the dissenters, Robert Jackson said, The Supreme Court for all time has validated the principle of racial discrimination in criminal procedure and of transplanting American citizens.  And that 1944 Supreme Court decision... still stands.

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

P.S. If you'd like to see the two earlier posts, you can find them by clicking on the Gaman tag in the sidebar.