Saturday, February 26, 2011

Question of the Day: Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise?

We have the Italians to thank for the invention of the mechanical clock in the 13th century which followed the use of other contraptions for time telling. Candle clocks for instance, were sticks of incense that burned at a fairly consistent rate of speed providing a rudimentary style of telling time. Egyptians calculated time with water clocks. A stone vessel filled with water dripped drop by drop into one of twelve columns with calibrations correlating to the hours. How complicated. "Junior, you need to be home at 4 hash marks on column three. Got it?" How would Junior tote around a stone vessel filled with water not to mention the 12 columns?

Another method of time telling was the gnomon. This is the gizmo inside St. Sulpice of DaVinci Code fame. Sunlight entered through the tiny hole in the window and measured the hour of the day along the brass line in the floor reaching to the obelisk. Using this method would give new meaning to the phrase watching the clock.

I love this one. It's the first public clock in France dating from 1370. Most of the original public mechanical clocks in Europe were in towers in or near the church as the greatest need for knowing the time had to do with attending services and moveable feasts.

So that gets us to the question. Why clockwise? Especially when we run track counter-clockwise. Don't tell those horses at Churchill Downs to run the other direction. Mass hysteria will ensue. The earth's rotation on its axis allows for the shadows from the sun to move across a sun dial in a clockwise fashion. The hands of a clock were made to mimic that movement.

That reminds me of a clock story. Of course it does. This is my grandmother's cuckoo clock that she won in a raffle during the depression. First, I can't imagine my frugal grandmother spending money on a raffle ticket unless it was for some church activity and then I can't imagine that either because playing a game of chance at the Dutch Reformed Church just doesn't gee-haw with what I know about them. Anyway, my siblings and I always loved the soothing sound of the swinging pendulum at Gramma's house. And then just like clockwork, the little bird would hop out and bring great joy and laughter to all who heard his happy arrival. Here I am! Gramma would let us under strict supervision pull the pine cone weighted chains that reset the weight driven mechanism. Every night she caught the pendulum and put it to rest so that we and the little bird could sleep soundly.

My mother carefully boxed up this treasure and took it home with her when she closed up my grandparents' home. That poor little bird was caged up in the clock in a box in the basement for years. We'd beg Mom to get that clock out where another generation could enjoy the happy announcement of the passing of time. All to no avail. Gramma's cuckoo clock became a fixation for us. Who would end up the proud owner of what was really one of the few cherished heirlooms? (After all, I did get the plastic hot dog shaped condiment dispenser.) We asked if we could draw straws for the clock. Could we put names in a hat? How about guessing a number between one and 4 million? Can someone just have the clock and enjoy it? Pa-lease?

And then a few years ago one of my sisters and I got to talking with my dad about the clock. He said, "You know, I think _________ has that clock." What? We nearly jumped off the deck in distress that the clock had been passed on without some sort of family meeting. (Family meetings give new meaning to the term "nuclear family." That's why we never had any.) My sister and I couldn't believe that we'd been left in the dust. Just like the clock, we were pretty wound up. But after a night's rest we both calmed down and more or less let it go. Then lo and behold, Sister found the clock box downstairs. Step by step we toted that thing up the stairs, our feet and the box heavy with the guilt of our crummy attitudes. By the time we reached the top of the stairs the strangest thing happened to me. I didn't want the clock any more. It wasn't a sour grapes kind of thing. I just didn't want and need the clock like I thought I had all those years. It now hangs proudly in Sister's living room. I'm really glad she has it. And I'm shaking my head that the heirloom item for us is a cuckoo. How appropriate.

Friday, February 25, 2011

American Idol Part Four: Nest

Mornings after a storm are particularly beautiful. Even the little redbud tree outside my study seems to have extra clean scrubbed bark. There's one little adventurous flower attempting to pop out and announce that the coast is now clear. Winter has surrendered and death will once again spring forth into new life. The side yard is a veritable three ring circus. Two squirrels are performing a tight rope act atop a narrow tree branch ferrying their heart-heathy berry and nut breakfast to one another. Talk about a spring in one's step. Do they ever just walk?

Before long these bare branches will be covered with the bright green fresh leaves of spring. But for now, for a final few days I can still see all of the nests tucked in among the limbs. I can quickly count eight of them right outside the kitchen. Once busy nests full of feathered or furry little creatures, last year's nests are now empty and quiet. Exactly like my nest. Well, not exactly. Benjamin will be here shortly. But my little chicks have left my nest and are feathering their own.

A few times a year my chicks are all back in this nest together and I experience a feeling that's hard to describe. Not mere sentimentality. Not a desire to press rewind back to their childhood so all is as it used to be. Not wishful thinking of what it would be like to have all of them here all of the time. After all we wouldn't want to ruffle anyone's feathers. What I'm trying to say is, well, everything is how it's supposed to be. And I'm grateful. The chicks were fed, grew, have flown the coop, and as far as I can tell with all of my motherly antennae and intuition are doing well.

So why mess it up talking about idolatry? Because for a mother it is so easy to find the golden calf in her nest. Not idolizing her children because they are so adorable, (even the terms we use indicate a bit of a problem but just look at that little face) but idolizing our performance as parents. When there is peace and tranquility among the chicks in the nest it's so easy to take the credit. Haven't I done well? Just look for yourself. And when the twigs in the nest are bent out of shape and feathers fly we are so prone to lament what a terrible parent I've been.

It's all my fault. I wonder if Eve said that when Cain murdered his brother. In 1 Samuel we read the account of Hannah praying in earnest for a son that she would give to the Lord all the days of his life. Couldn't the mother of Samuel, such a great prophet of God, the one who anointed David King of Israel assume that she could take at least some of the credit? Turn over a few pages to read what is surely among the top ten bad boys of the bible stories. Hophni and Phineas the corrupt sons of Eli are legendary in their wickedness. Is it a case of the sins of the fathers continuing through generations? But then the boy Samuel served Eli the priest under the same roof and look at him. What about David? Precious shepherd boy musician, giant killer, King of Israel rears sons that are listed in Who's Who for all the wrong reasons. Then the ultimate. Mary the mother of Jesus. She was mother to her son who was also her Savior. How would she, could she, assess her parenting? That's just beyond my finite mind's comprehension.

God in His faithfulness has given us His word to instruct us and to change us and our children:
*Love the Lord and teach your children diligently all that you learn. Deut. 6:4-9.
*Assuming and exercising your parental authority is a blessing to your child and is like an ornament around his neck. Prov. 1:8,9; 3:1,2;4:1,2;4:20-22;6:20-23.
*Trusting in the Lord and His providence applies to us and our children. With the Lord there is a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11.

Once again it's not all about me. I am double-yoked as Jesus says, with Him. Wearing the yoke enables the "yoked" to do what she's meant to do. As a mother I am to rear my children as unto the Lord, by the instruction of the Lord, to the glory of the Lord. There is not room in the nest for the calf of my performance. How silly, out of place, and inappropriate is the sight of a cow in a nest. Just take a look. Just think about it.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Runs With Turtles

Just an update here concerning the perilous existence of the box turtle. Yesterday as I was driving through the delta out of the blue appeared DOZENS and I mean DOZENS of box turtles moseying across Highway 49W just north of Belzoni. "I told you!" I exclaimed tho' there was none to hear me but the turtles. "I told you they needed to be picked up!" And they did. Mr. Farmer Somebody was in the process of draining his catfish pond, blissful "shell-ter" to all of these now homeless testudines. Those which were still alive anyway. The remainder of them having shall I
All together now. Pickin' up turtles, put 'em in your pocket. Pickin' up turtles, put 'em in your pocket......

Monday, February 14, 2011

Shell Games

When I was growing up it was not unusual for my dad the traveling salesman to bring home a surprise in a box. A turtle. He'd stop to pick up box turtles and present them to us in the same way other dads bring home t-shirts. We didn't think it strange. We were too busy getting lettuce or raw hamburger from the fridge to feed those poor turtles that had endured a long drive home after a hard day's work selling sandpaper with my dad.

So naturally I pick up turtles to take to my grandchildren. There are lots of them on Reunion Boulevard that I imagine are running a marathon of sorts from the lake on the north side of the boulevard to the pond on the south side. The problem is that some people think it's strange to rescue turtles from their perilous existence on four lane traffic.

Like my son-in-law who considered putting himself up for adoption when I showed up with the first box turtle. Just look at him now. I've had others stop when they see me bent over the yellow line on the pavement picking up "Shelly." Need help, lady? No, thanks. Just gettin' a turtle. Some men see a turtle and ask why? I see a turtle and ask why not?

It was difficult to choose just a few from my many favorite turtle photos but this has to be at the top of my list. Meg, Charlie and Benjamin trying to coax the terrified creature from its shell. Notice that Charlie's packin' some heat. "Come on out little turtle. We won't hurt you. Pay no attention to the fact that our grandmother is wearing an apron and has a huge pot of water boiling on the stove. She won't hurt you. Much." Oh right. That time. The time that I found Shelly the Turtle on Highway 463, carefully placed her in the back of my SUV and then promptly answered my cell phone, went to Mary Kelly's, probably the grocery and service station after that, followed by a couple hundred loads of laundry, and a trip to Timbuktu. Forgot all about that little critter wandering around the back of my car. In the middle of summer. When the temperature is at an average of 483 degrees. In the shade.

Before you call PETA on me look at the outcome. Just like a pack of M&M's that hard outer shell works every time. If that turtle didn't melt in my car, believe me it isn't going to melt anywhere. But if Shelly won't come out for that cute Benjiheimer she isn't ever coming out. Never.


Behold. Round two of the sweet treats. I burned the previous 24 perfectly round, pale pink, light as a feather macarons. One minute they were happily lined up on the baking sheet like 48 little soldiers marching toward their service in Valentine happiness. The next they were charred, hard as nails, meringue bullets. Had to shoot 'em down the drain. Casualties, every one of 'em. No macarons for my Valentine. But it kind of evens out....he has an elders' meeting tonight at the church.

This is Spike, my Valentine of nearly 18 years. We met at his church where I worked as a secretary. My baby girl spied him at night church and suggested "we" get to know him. I told her to mind her own business. He told his friend, Coach, that he was thinking of asking out a divorcee with three daughters. Coach raised his brow and his voice as he scolded Spike, "Are you CRAZY?!!" 38 year old never married bachelor goes after 41 year old divorced mother of three girls. What's not to love?

On our first date (interview) he asked me all kinds of questions that were none of his business. I answered them all. As we drove down County Line Road he asked me when I needed to be back home. I said Monday. He swerved into opposing traffic and I considered whether or not I needed a psychiatrist. That was before the huge palmetto bug flew between us in my kitchen as we had the awkward end of the first date conversation. Well, at least I'd had a nice steak and found out what it's like to drive the wrong way on a four lane boulevard. HE was back on Monday and in about three weeks gave me fair warning that this was headed somewhere. That alarmed me since I knew I was headed to the beach with my daughter's drill team. Marriage for him, high steppin' with 18 year olds for me. A match made in heaven. I overheard my boss telling someone it was going to take a special man to marry THAT girl. He was right.

1 Peter 3:7 "Husbands, live in understanding with your wife." Spike is very athletic. I do nothing to make me hurt, sweat or smell bad. Spike eats only meat, green beans, bread and sweets. I like "weird stuff" as he calls it like broccoli, gnocchi, and stuffed eggplant. He operates a motor vehicle the same way he plays basketball. First one to the goal wins. I prefer to arrive conscious, upright, and breathing. Public speaking gives Spike the hives and an overwhelming hope that Christ will return before he takes the podium. I could spend all day teaching and for the most part not think a thing of it. He doesn't do dishes and I don't do yard work. Spike wants and needs to know every detail and I figure if it's something I need to know they'll tell me. His idea of a fun evening is watching a sporting event on TV. Any sporting event. My idea of fun is trying to come up with the 36 Events that Changed the Course of Human History listed in the catalog that arrived Saturday. Spike is an ace at living in understanding with THAT girl and loving on his grandbabies.

Ephesians 5:33 "Women, see to it that each of you respects her husband." Spike loves the Lord more than anything or anyone else. He loves my girls and their husbands. He lets our grandchildren crawl all over him and mess up his perfect hair. He is a business man of the highest integrity. His 6'5" frame is filled with humility. If I say any more he will croak from the attention. Trust me.

Ephesians 5:25 "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her." Living with understanding is one thing. But dying for another is something else entirely. While I see Spike defer to me in a thousand ways, I live each day with the confidence and assurance that like my Savior, my husband is willing to give himself for me even unto death. The tornado that roared just north of our home on that early Saturday morning after Thanksgiving 10 years ago took the possessions of many and the lives of a few. Ever calm in a crisis Spike was determined that the whirlwind might take him but not THAT girl. I was stunned and still am by the display of selfless love lived out before my eyes.
So it's really ok that he wakes up every morning at 4:30 rattling around the house. It's ok that he loves that black cat named Jezebel that hisses and swings at me as I pass by. It's ok that we haven't had stuffed eggplant or gnocchi in 18 years. It's ok that he'll be meeting with the other elders on Valentines night because who's thankful beyond words for the gift of her husband? THAT girl.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Early On a Frosty Morn'

This is day #3 with snow on the ground in Madison, Mississippi. I heard the weather guru say this is the 6th winter weather event in Mississippi since December. Six in one year. Normally it's one every six years.

This morning it is 18 degrees. But never fear. By Wednesday we should be back near 70.

And this is our Meg. She's six and one of the sharpest pencils in the pack. When we had a really big snow last winter (six inches or so) I asked Meg if she knew what a blizzard was. "Yes, ma'am," she replied. "I get one on my foot every time I get a new pair of shoes."

Day three of snow. You'd better get out there and buy some new shoes.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

That's what the Austrian government asked during the eight long years it fought Maria Altmann over ownership of five paintings. They weren't just any paintings. They were paintings by Gustav Klimt. They were paintings that belonged to her family when Germany annexed Austria in 1938. You probably recognize The Kiss. Reproductions of it have shown up on everything from coffee mugs to notebook covers. The painting is part of the collection of the Galerie Belvedere in Vienna.

Perhaps the painting you're not so likely to identify is this one of Maria Altmann's aunt, The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer. (1907) Adele was the wife of wealthy Viennese sugar industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer who was a supporter of the arts in general and of Klimt in particular. The 54" square painting, a work of three years, done in oil and gold on canvas, hung in the dining room at "Aunt Adele's" where Maria Altmann ate her Sunday lunch. In 1925 Adele succumbed to meningitis. She had asked her husband to donate the painting at his death to the Austrian State Gallery. Then came the Nazis with their Wehrmacht, forcing the Jewish Ferdinand to flee to Switzerland.

The Nazis confiscated his property and his paintings. Truth is, the Nazis confiscated thousands of art treasures across Europe. Adolph Hilter, a frustrated water colorist himself, and Hermann Goering plundered countless works of art - paintings, sculptures, altar pieces - for themselves, burned others deemed degenerate, and hid train car loads of art in the castles and salt mines of Europe. (Another post for another day.) The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer remained somewhere in Austria as Maria, a 21 year old bride watched as her husband was seized by the Gestapo and shipped off to Dachau in an attempt to force his brother to turn over the family textile factory. Maria and her husband eventually escaped to Holland and later to the United States. The family portraits and paintings were not recovered.

Then in 1998 as the truth behind the great art theft of WWII came to light, Maria heard that the Austrian government demanded the return TO THE GOVERNMENT the plundered art treasures of its Jewish citizens. The paintings and portraits. Her family's painting and portraits. And that's when the problem with Maria began. She fought tooth and nail to recover what was rightfully the property of her family. Few individuals sue national governments and win. But she sued and she won. In 2006, after eight long years, the Austrian government returned to Maria The Portrait of Adele Block-Bauer, along with four other family paintings by Gustav Klimt. Maria was reunited with the family treasures at an emotional public transfer and they were then briefly on display in Los Angeles.
Maybe this is igniting a spark in your memory. Later in 2006 Ronald Lauder (of Estee fame) purchased The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer for $135 million making it the highest price ever paid for a single piece of art. The portrait now hangs in Lauder's Neue Galerie in New York, a collection of recovered Jewish-owned art looted by the Nazi government. Of this portrait Lauder states, "This is our Mona Lisa."

Maria pursued recovery of the painting "with the same resolve she had used in dealing with the Nazis all those decades ago," according to her friend and attorney Randof Schoenberg. And Maria? She died Monday in Los Angeles at the age of 94.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Beef: It's What's for Dinner

This is my friend Jennifer's most marvelous beef burgundy recipe. Another aroma factory that will convince any visitors that Julia Child is hiding somewhere in your house. It's perfect for a day like today where the temperature is falling like a rock and I need comfort food to assuage my grief that spring is nowhere to be seen.

6 strips of bacon
3 lbs. of lean stew meat
1 large carrot, diced
1 med. onion, diced
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbl. flour
2 bay leaves
1 tbl. ketchup
1 10 oz. can beef broth
1 tbl. Kitchen Bouquet
2 tsp. Herbs de Provence
4 tbl. butter
1 lb. sliced fresh mushrooms
Cut bacon into small pieces and cook in large skillet. Remove cooked bacon to a plate, saving the drippings in the skillet.

Brown stew meat well in the drippings until most of the liquid is evaporated. Do you see what appears to be an apparition across the lower third of the photo? It's beefy steam.

This is the hard part for me because it smells really beefy and meaty and I'm not a beefy and meaty kind of girl. Yet. Until it's all finished later. Place bacon and stew meat in a crock pot.

Be sure to use a sharp knife to dice those onions and carrots. Sharp knives are an essential tool for any kitchen. I know because I don't have any sharp knives. Like those other "real blogs" I'm thinking about having a sharp knife give-away contest. Please enter. If you win, you get to give me a set of sharp knives. Hurry. I have to cook again tomorrow.

Saute the carrot and onion in the same skillet, adding salt, pepper, garlic and flour after 3 or 4 minutes, stirring often.

Add one can of beef broth, the ketchup, and the Kitchen Bouquet, which if you've never used it is a gravy flavoring and also makes the gravy darker and yummier looking. It comes in a bottle and is either with the gravy mixes or the ketchup.

Pour this mixture over the beef and bacon in the crock pot, add the bay leaves and Herbs of Provence. If you don't have Herbs of Provence, you can either buy a jar at Marshalls or TJ Maxx, or go to France to get some, whichever is easier. I know which would be more fun.

Cover and cook until meat is tender, anywhere from 4-6 hours, adding more broth if necessary. Saute mushrooms in butter and add those along with a half cup to a cup of red wine the last hour. Serve over cooked rice and be comforted until spring arrives.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Before and After: The Green Fairy

Paris Street; Rainy Day. The most favorite painting I've never seen. It would be difficult to miss, measuring nearly seven by nine feet at Chicago's Art Institute. These two lovely aristocrats resemble in appearance the artist, Gustave Caillebotte, born into a family of textile moguls. An attorney by trade, Gustave took up the brush instead, painting the grand boulevards of Haussman's revamped Paris. Caillebotte's Paris is one of beauty in rain, snow and sparkling sunshine as seen from its sidewalks, balconies and rooftops. This particular painting has an almost photographic style as opposed to the paintings of two of his buddies, Renoir and Monet. Through Caillebotte's eyes Paris is a place of wondrous beauty.

Enter Edgar Degas, also a son of aristocracy and the de Gas banking family. Don't say "Day-ga."(Say de with a short e sound while you're thinking of the oo sound.) He, like Caillebotte, studied the law but found his niche in a box of paints not on the grand boulevards of Paris, but instead among the partiers of Pigalle and Montmartre. Meet two of his buddies; actress Ellen Andree and Marcellin Desboutin at the Cafe de la Nouvelle Athenes partaking of a sip of absinthe. Absinthe is a distilled, highly alcoholic sugar infused spirit known for the wallop it delivers in short order. A wallop that is said to hang on for days. So powerful that the "green fairy" as it is called has been illegal for over 100 years. I guess so.

George Moore, an Irish art critic and contemporary of the Impressionists said of this painting, "The tale is not a pleasant one, but it is a lesson." Before or after? Hmmmm. Before. No question.
P.S. Notice that the tables have no legs. Really? Or have you been tasting the green fairy?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Flexing My Mussels

These two big guys are holding up the balcony at the Tribunal of Commerce in Aix-en-Provence in southern France. The creativity of the architects and artists who have designed these wonders is startling to me. No telling how many photos I have of door knobs. And not just any door knobs. They're all too-too-faboo. I'm working on my French.
It was in Aix that I first tasted this shelled delicacy called the mussel and I've been hooked ever since. Turns out they're sooooo easy to prepare and cooking them makes your house smell like Julia Child lives in your kitchen. Here's what I tried tonight:

Mussels in Parsley Creme Sauce

1 lb. mussels (for this recipe I used a box of frozen mussels from Kroger)
1 cup white wine
1/2 bunch Italian flat leaf parsley
1 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
1 tbl. finely chopped onion
4 tbl. butter
1 tsp. Herbs of Provence
1 tbl. olive oil
1 tbl. heavy cream
juice of one lemon
1/4 cup (or so) bread crumbs

In the bowl of a food processor with the blade attachment place the parsley leaves and garlic. Process until well blended and parsley is shredded. Add onion, butter (cut into three or four pieces), herbs, olive oil and the juice of half of the lemon. Process again until blended. Add cream and pulse a few times until the mixture is fluffy. Set aside.

Remove the frozen mussels from the bag and place in a heavy skillet, covered, over high heat. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Stir and add one cup of white wine. Cover and cook over med-high heat, covered, an additional 3 minutes. Remove mussels from the skillet with a slotted spoon and place on foil covered baking sheet. Discard any shells that failed to open.

Arrange the mussels on the baking sheet and place a dollop of the parsley mixture on each mussel. Top with a good sprinkling of bread crumbs. Place in oven preheated to 400 degrees. Bake for 8 minutes until the parsley butter mixture is melted and bread crumbs begin to get brown and crispy.

While the mussels are baking, melt 1/2 stick of butter in the drained skillet. Add 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/2 cup white wine and any parsley butter mixture that is left over, along with a tsp. of lemon juice. Warm the sauce, but do not let it boil.

Remove the mussels from the oven and carefully transfer to pasta bowls or other broad bowl. Ladle the sauce over the mussels and serve with hot French bread for dipping.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Simply Irresistable

You can't have them. Just wanted to make that clear from the get-go.
These are two of my favorite people in the world. They are my local grandbuddies, Prince Charlie on the left and his brother, King of the Birthdays, Benjamin. He just turned four Sunday with a blue cake and everything including about 800 pounds of wooden blocks.
I didn't know much about boys after having had three girls, so these grandsons have been not only fun, but good for my education. For instance:
*Boys devour an incredible amount of food. They are the cutest, sweetest swarm of locusts I've ever known.
*Boys have an interesting aroma from day one. All they have to do is think about going outside and they smell like sunshine.
*Boys have an innate ability to make a wide variety of mechanical noises and other sounds that my mother told me not to talk about in public.
*Boys can take the knee out of a new pair of jeans just moments after pulling them on.
*Boys do not feel compelled to come inside to use the bathroom.
*Boys don't sit down often or for long.
*Boys think up cool projects like making a satellite dish out of an umbrella.
*Boys think that a good decoration for their room would be a zip-line.
*Boys are not as concerned with getting clean at bath time as they are with practicing their diving skills.
*Boys are just as sweet, lovable, cute and delightful as any little girl ever was.
Just ask me. I have three of them. And I wonder what I ever did without them.