Wednesday, November 19, 2008

"It's a - Family Tradition"

I've loved to cook and bake my whole life, and have always gone overboard for holidays. Holidays mean lights of all types, from soft candle glows and kerosene lamps to bright and cheerful lighted decorations. So the dim candlelight flickers off of the china that holds the meats; turkey for Thanksgiving, and ham for Christmas, mashed potatoes swimming in butter, a gravy boat (owned by my grandmother) standing staunchly nearby. Always homemade yeasty rolls, and pies, pies, pies! Pecan, cherry, and pumpkin, with real whipped cream and lots of rich flavors. My Chocolate Rum Balls have been the downfall of many a poor party-goer; they just taste sooo good, melty and sweet, that folks get drunk off of them without even realizing it! A dear friend who writes a column still blames the rum balls for her interesting post-holiday column one year, and an EMT who shall remain nameless had to come off of the truck and be replaced as he dozed happily on my couch, unawakened by the tones that called him to duty, after indulging in the tiny morsels. (They were warned, but, you know....) Another treat is my Drunken Sot fruitcake. It is not the normal fruitcake with unrecognizable "candied" fruit; it has bananas, cherries, white raisins, walnuts, pecans, pineapple, and whatever else is in abundance that year. The fruits are soaked in a mixture of dark rum, French Brandy, and real butter until they double in size, then are added to the dark batter, rich with eggs and honey, cinnamon and cloves. After they are baked, I brush them all with the butter-rum-brandy mixture, and pop them in the freezer. I usually bake them the first week of November, and brush them again every weekend, then put them right back in the freezer, until I give them out over Christmas. Even people who HATE fruitcake ask for this every year. I don't know why.

Then there's the decorating. I have boxes and boxes and BOXES of ornaments, and I like everything to look just so - from the trees in every room, to the tabletop decorations, to the lights inside and out. Every year I add something else. The village I made years ago, with the houses and streetlights and people, was updated last year with a carousel, this year with a train and skating pond/river. Mike rigged my pickup with an inverter one year so that I can have Christmas lights around it, too. (Some folks may recall a certain hayride...) I love the lights, the music, the sights and sounds and smells of Christmas, and am always on the lookout year-round for the "perfect" addition to my ever-growing collection.

We always have an open-door policy at Christmas; friends who have 'no place to go' are always welcome at the table - and with enough warning we make a stocking for them, too.

Our favorite thing to do in the evenings leading up to Christmas Eve is to sit in front of the TV and watch all of the 'old' Christmas movies - and we are constantly adding to that group too. But we are very particular; brainless garbage or oversimplified remakes are not included just because they have a Christmas tree or someone dressed in red velvet. I and my best friend love "It's a Wonderful Life", but there are others... Rudolph and Frosty of course, and "Miracle on 34th Street" (the b/w one of course, the Natalie Wood one, and the most recent one are all in the library here) , and the one that no one else has ever heard of, "A Wish for Wings That Work" with Opus the penguin and Bill the Cat. Yes, we even like Bill Murray's "Scrooged". And as many times as I've seen them, I still cry at all of the 'appropriate' places.

Presents don't mean that much to us; gifts are something we prefer to give when we find something someone else would really REALLY like, or just to send an email card or make a phone call. We didn't raise our kids to require presents and false feelings of being forced to acquiesce to advertising hype. Just this past week, we loaded up our daughter's truck with all of our son's old He-Man and Castle Greyskull toys, and she took them to him. He had reserved a spot on his bookshelves just for them, and reports say he was playing with them as of old! Hee hee. What could be a better gift to an all-grown-up child than a chance to relive one's childhood?

The things that matter to us are things that bring us and others joy; from the groaning tables of food, thru the brightly colored and happy lights, the music and movies, and even down to the silly little button, "HO-3" we wear... Joy is in the ears that hear, the eyes that see, the hearts that share. These are our traditions.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

$10 Steak Dinner?

Umm, well, yes - when you live in beef country, you can go to a fundraiser for the American Legion and pay $10 a head for donated, sweetly tender, grassfed Angus beef, over an inch and a half thick, cooked over an open charcoal grill, plus a baked potato and multiple salads and desserts and bread, even a drink.

I admit it, I am in my element here. No high-priced fancy imported beef - these steaks were, just last week, walking the hills around my town. The potato farm started digging last week; hundreds of flaky potatoes in their skins, not hard and tiny culls and nubbins. Real food, grown and raised by real people who take pride in their work, and who happily donate it to raise money for good causes. But dang, BEEF! Real Beef!! I am lovin it! I could cut it with a butter knife!


Sami's boyfriend shot a deer today, the first day of hunting season. He'll be bringing by the meat tomorrow. .. he just wanted the rack, after all. The wild game this year has been so abundant that each deer or turkey license gets two tags apiece. Sami is so proud of her boyfriend - and so proud too of her Honorable Mention in the District Drama competition. She and the Club go on to compete in the State finals - after, of course, they perform their play for the townspeople next week.

It's not just the food, both wild and tame, here that attracts. It is the people; the openness, the willingness to participate and have fun and share. Over 500 people crowded into the Hall tonight to pay $10 a dinner, chat and visit, introduce and re-introduce, and to just have fun. Paul and Enid joined us in the bar a block away afterwards, and we sat and talked family and hunting and politics and Christmas decorations with Pat and Marty and some other neighbors. Nothing rowdy, nothing obnoxious - Paul taught Marty's kids to shoot pool while we chatted and laughed. Janet came out of the kitchen and sat with us too.

The American Legion now has the money to send some more kids from the high school this next spring to a week-long leadership training, that they do every year in Lincoln for over 400 kids. Since we joined the Legion, we can be a part of sending ditty bags to Iraq, and last week I baked 9 dozen cookies for the Veteran's Day program. There were over 200 dozen cookies donated - more than enough to take to Hay Springs for the Christmas Tour of Lights sponsorship, too. Next week the FFA is entering kids in the Parly-Pro competition - what could THAT be? Why, it's where kids learn Paliamentary Procedure and practice it, and are judged on it. Robert's Rules of Order is practically a religion here; everything is pro forma and run by The Book.

And who provides the funding for all of this? Not some vast government bureaucracy, not the parents, not the teachers, not the School District. But the people that belong to the American Legion and Local Farmer's Union, that teach the children not just books but hands-on, practical, life training. They raise the money from donations and membership fees and fun things like steak dinners and pancake breakfasts and picnics. Everyone participates, everyone encourages, everyone works 16 hour days and still takes time to join in the fun and to volunteer to make life better for each other. No running around with their hands constantly out, their mouths constantly open in a whine, begging for this or that while the kids sink ever more increasingly into mindless stupors of drugs, sex, and hapless, helpless, government dependence. There's 'way too much to DO here.

Man that was an AWESOME steak...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Call of the Wild

Did you ever read it?
Silly question - who reads any more? If it isn't a movie or an audiobook, no one knows it.

It was always one of my favorites. Man against the elements, Man against himself, Man against Man - all of the classic elements in a 'dog' story. The movie didn't do the struggles, external and internal, proper justice - but then they never do.

"Buck" crossed my mind yesterday as I watched my beloved Sasha cavorting in the blizzard. Sasha would have been one of those high-bred, soon-to-die kidnapped dogs, forced to pull a sled until she dropped. Buck would have disliked her immensely - spoiled and fussy, even though her breed was bred for mountains and snow and cold, to take down antelope with a snarling leap like a cougar. She might think she could do it now, but... she likes her sleeping bag and her warm spots far too much. Work? Not my blonde beauty - she would be insulted by the very thought of it. Brush her and snuggle her and call her beautiful, and she laughs delightedly. She can bark, and when she does, it is a deep chesty powerful roar - but it is merely noise. Long gone are the painful, poignant memories of being kept in an 8x10 cage, bred for puppies, starved and broken-tailed and covered in mange.

When I got the email from an old and dear friend about how the black woman told my friend's husband that Barack Obama was going to pay her mortgage and give her free vouchers for gas - and she knew it was true because their preachers had been telling them in the churches for three months - I thought of Buck again.

Spoiled people who have never known hunger, true hardship, true poverty. Spoiled people who have never gone a day without food, or a month without meat, or night after long winter night without heat.

I was on a forum today, reading about a woman whose husband is being transferred, and she wanted to know of a place where: She could buy a house no more than five years old, preferably in a planned community; the schools were excellent; the playgrounds immense and planned activities for her three elementary-age children omnipresent; where malls and boutiques and coffee shops were all close by. I thought of Buck again, shivering in his dug-in hole in the snow in the Alaska wilderness, fighting over gristly meat tossed out to a pack of slavering, starving dogs that had been driven and beaten to put forth their efforts.

No, the three great struggles that forge the human (and canine) spirit are no more. Man against the elements? We whine that someone should house us and pay for our fuel to heat our homes and drive our vehicles. We complain about rain and snow and sunshine, darting from our warm or air-conditioned house to our warm or air-conditioned car to our warm or air-conditioned work, never getting out and challenging the elements, growing our own food or heating our own home by the sweat of our brows. Man against Man? No, everyone has to win a prize, or it isn't FAIR. Competition means a level playing field and fair play and smooth sailing, not overcoming the bumps and swamps and pathos of our lives. If someone gets a little less than they have been told that they deserve - whether from fate, or from a lack of direction and purpose, or from sheer laziness and self-indulgence - why, give them what they want anyway. They DESERVE it.

Man against himself? What does that mean? Why would you want to compete against yourself, why should you feel that you should prove yourself at all? So much easier to strut around and bark loudly and proclaim to the world that you own it, without ever having done anything to gain it or earn it. Turn on American Idol, or Survivor, or politics, and watch someone else pretend to overcome something, from the comfort of our living room recliner, and cheer or cry crocodile tears for emotions we cannot feel and never know. Emotions that we have not earned. For how can you know pleasure without pain, love without hate, fulfillment without despair, passion without ennui? Simply, you cannot. You can argue that you do, even think that you do. But it is false, tissue-paper emotion, ripped swiftly by our tears and cheers, meaning nothing, holding nothing, accomplishing nothing.

Yes, Buck knew what was important.

Survival. Mutual work output for mutual goal accomplishment. Deep trust, deep loyalty, honesty, and deathless love. Fulfillment of the body, use of the muscles and brain to accomplish, succeed, survive, and to do it better than you ever thought possible of yourself; and fulfillment of the soul, the passionate and raw emotions, tempered with common sense and matured with an ever-growing understanding.

Look around you. See that anywhere? Or are you like my Sasha, knowing and believing that the food bowl and belly will always be full, that she will always be petted and snuggled and spoiled and made much of, without ever having to lift a paw?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Election Whoas

Stopit. Knock it off already.

Any one who has any brain function at all already knows for which candidate they are going to vote - or has already voted absentee. I realize that that lets out about 60% of the population, not counting the ones who are slavering over this candidate or that one, believing whatever rhetoric stirs their hearts and gonads this year, but still.

Doesn't stop the phone calls, the emails, the constant barrage on the TV news of course. THEY have to act as though they are the ones who invented sleaze, political mindgames, and lying as an art. Yawn. I'm not even going to watch the news tomorrow - inevitably they'll have that little town in - is it Maine, or New Hampshire? - that votes first in the country, and the rest of those crappy news stories that pompously pontificate, predict, and prevaricate all the way til poor little Hawaii closes its polls. Ho-Hum. They only thing that matters is the results - and with all of the accusations of voter fraud, the mismanagement of polling places, the failure and susceptibility-to-hacking of voting machines, and the lies, vote-buying, intimidation, and briberies of ACORN, even the certified, sanctified, results will be in doubt. How low is your chad hanging?

Leave me alone. Stop calling me. Go jump up my ass, my state already voted last week by absentee ballot - a necessity in rural communities. Go away. GO. AWAY. DON'T leave a message on my answering machine.

I have a life. You need to get one - and to realize that it isn't the Commander in Chief who will make those all important decisions, but the lawyers in the House and Senate. And unless either side does what the Conspiracy Theorists fear and comes knocking on your door to take you to an internment camp or Gitmo, or to take away your guns, what they decide tomorrow won't change tomorrow, won't affect your job or your life tomorrow, or for the next three months or so anyway. Go away. Get over yourselves. You are not as important as you insist that you are.

Sheer hysterical enthusiasm cannot override pure unadulterated cynicism. I already did my duty - go do yours and shut up already. No! STOP! Not on the LAWN! Too late - another rambling voiciferous idiot did his doody, right out in front for all to see. And it is the rest of us, the cynics, who will have to clean it up. Sigh. What else is new?