Monday, February 8, 2016

Regional Differences

Things were a bit different for our family when we first moved to Wisconsin.  Our children learned very quickly that manners were less important there.  Loud laughter filled the classroom when my son promptly stood and said, "yes ma'am?" when the teacher called his name.  Children were on a first name basis with parents of their friends.  The water fountain was called a "bubbler."  And so many little things, unimportant to adults but crucial to a middle school child.  But being adaptable kids, my children soon learned the ways of the region.  But they still had to say "please" and "thank you," "yes ma'am" and "yes sir."  I insisted on that.

My husband and I learned new things as well.  That hardly any restaurant served grits for breakfast. That people ate more brats than hot dogs.  That every bar and most restaurants had a fish fry every Friday.  That a popular Milwaukee appetizer at parties was called a "cannibal."  Made with raw freshly ground steak mixed with raw egg, it was served with onions, capers and seasonings and served on rye bread.  BTW:  there were at least three major e. coli outbreaks linked to eating cannibals while we lived there.  And no, I never once wanted to try one although they were often served at parties we attended.  That the break rooms at work were often filled with hard rolls and butter.

And in February the office was abuzz with everyone talking about punch key [sic] day.  Folks looked rather amazed when I asked what on earth punch key day was.

It seems that the word that sounds like punch key or pontch-ki is actually the Polish word "paczki."  I always thought of myself as well-read but somehow I had never encountered that word.  But you won't live in Milwaukee during February without learning all about pacskis.  They are heavy, luscious, deep-fried pastries,  usually filled with a jam and/or custard filling.  Glazed with icing or powdered sugar they often are decorated with orange zest.  Paczkis look like filled doughnuts but are made with a much richer dough.  They are a special treat on Shrove Tuesday, the Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday.

They originated in Poland in the Middle Ages and became a popular way for Christians to use up their remaining sugar, lard, and fruit, all of which were forbidden during the Lenten season.  Unlike many metropolitan areas, Milwaukee still has large numbers of small local bakeries, especially on the South Side.  The bakeries opened no later than six on Shrove Tuesday (some as early as 4:30) to allow workers to purchase paczkis to take to work.  So people in the office would pick up a dozen of them (plural is pronounced "poonch-ki"), filled with their favorite jellies and bring them to work.  The tables were laden with these delicacies on Paczki Day, otherwise known as Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

Photograph taken from Wikipedia
(This bakery spelled paczki incorrectly)

Fat Tuesday is appropriate for the folks who overindulge in paczkis.  The average filled paczki has about seven hundred calories and 50 grams of fat.  The most popular filling is prune.  Fortunately I never cared much for them so they were easy to resist.  But I have seen people eat three of them at a time.  I have no idea how that would sit like a heavy burden in one's stomach.  I fear no amount of coffee would keep me awake after eating even one paczki.

I must admit, it was such fun to learn the regional differences between the South and the Mid-West.  And Milwaukee was such an ethnically diverse city, one could find almost anything from any country.  It was a great place to live although I would not like the winters there as much as I did when I was younger.

[Non football fans, you don't need permission, but you might want to leave this post now if you wish:]

You will be pleased to know that despite the results of the Super Bowl yesterday, the sun did indeed rise over North Carolina this morning.  I was delighted with the game.  The sassy upstart was sacked six times, went 18 for 41, threw an interception, did not make a touchdown, and made two critical fumbles each of which led to a Bronco touchdown.  I was hoping he might learn a bit of humility after playing so poorly, but he once again showed his lack of maturity by walking out of the post-game press conference.  A reported asked about his disappointment with the outcome.  The quarterback, face almost obscured by a hoodie got up and replied, "I'm done" and rudely left the podium.

If you celebrate Mardi Gras, have a wonderful Tuesday.  And if you don't celebrate Mardi Gras, have a wonderful Tuesday anyway.

Friday, February 5, 2016

We Love Lucy

We've definitely had a strange first week of February.  We started with deep snow on the ground.  And then the rain came down.  And came down.  And came down.  The triad of milder temperatures, lots of snow to melt and heavy rain resulted in flash flooding all over western NC and especially our county.  Many roads were closed because of the high water.  Fields along the river basin were flooded with water so high the fences were not visible.

The following photograph is from our local newspaper and shows a flooded campground along the Davidson River in Pisgah National Forest.  The distant area in the middle of the photograph shows the normal size of the river.  The steps do not normally lead down to the river; they lead to the picnic area.  The tables are either underwater or have been washed away.  Curious as I was and as much as I wanted to go see the swollen rivers and waterfalls, I knew it was better to keep off the roads.  Most forest trails were closed for safety of visitors and for protection from further damage.

My husband drove Lucy downtown to the groomer and otherwise we stayed here on the mountain.  As I've mentioned before, Lucy hates the rain.  She doesn't seem to get the message that the longer she takes to potty, the longer we have to stay out in the rain.  She was still damp when she got to the groomer.

On rainy days she spends a lot of time among her pillows.  Who knew she would love them so much?

 You're not going to make me go out in the rain again, are you?

Sunday is the High Holy Day of football.  The Carolina Panthers are playing and you might think I would definitely want my State's team to win.  But you would be wrong.  I hope Peyton Manning leads the Denver Broncos to the biggest win in Super Bowl history.  Perhaps that might take a bit of sass from the NC quarterback.  He is indeed a great player, but a bit of respect for other great players might be nice.  He is without a doubt this year's MVP and I love his habit of giving the touchdown ball to a kid in the stands.  But that does not wipe out the bad taste in my mouth after watching his outrageous post-touchdown celebrations, often designed to try to humiliate his opponents.  So much for gracious winner.

[Note to the aforementioned quarterback:  Contrary to what you seem to believe, you are not criticized or disliked because you don't fit the model of the stereotypical white-guy quarterback.  I don't like you because you are a jerk.  It has nothing to do with the "white guy quarterback" thing.  You don't have to be white to be a jerk.

You said, "I'm an African American quarterback that may scare a lot of people because they haven't seen nothing that they can compare me to."  Well, sorry Cam.  We've seen the likes of Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson of the Seahawks, Terrelle Pryor with Raiders, Josh Freeman with the Buccaneers and others.  They manage to be African American quarterbacks without the flash and glamour you seem to need.  So contrary to your own words, you are not the Prince of Football.  Not by a long shot.]

All right.  Rant over.  Kudos to this quarterback for his excellent playing skills.  And more kudos for his off the field involvement with underprivileged kids and his foundation.  There are some things I greatly admire about him.  But I'd like to see Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos teach him a little humility.

It is fitting that as a lover (and one of the millions of team owners) of the Green Bay Packers I have selected today's quote from the great Vince Lombardi:

The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand,
And the determination that whether we win or lose,
We have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.

Whether you like the football, the commercials, the halftime performances, the companionship of friends, or simply the snacks, enjoy Sunday's game.




Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A Little Break from the Campaign Rhetoric

Folks closely watched the Webcam  as Masai giraffe Autumn headed into the last weeks of a very long pregnancy.  (Average gestation period for giraffes is fifteen months.)  Yesterday morning they were not disappointed as Autumn successfully delivered her little baby.  The little one immediately got on its legs and found its mother's milk.  And everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The birth occurred at the Greenville, SC zoo and gave folks a brief respite from the non-stop coverage of politics.  The healthy baby was especially welcome considering that Autumn's last calf was stillborn.

Mother Autumn and father Walter touch noses as the little baby balances on wobbly legs.
Look at the growth chart on the wall.
The "tiny" baby is six feet tall.
(Courtesy photo from the Greenville Zoo)

We live in the mountains only 30 miles from Greenville so it's an easy day trip for us.  The drive is especially beautiful as it runs down the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment with its dramatic drops in elevation and some gigantic rock formations.  The road is winding with lots of switchbacks so we don't drive it in winter.  We take the long route on the Interstate.

The following photograph is one I took at the Greenville Zoo in 2013.  It's a photograph of Kiko, Autumn's firstborn.  He was a year old at the time and now resides in the Toronto Zoo.

I stood there a long time waiting for Kiko to stand up but he was soaking up the sun.
Didn't even look our way.
Paid as much attention to the camera as Lucy does.

A contest is already underway for naming the little calf.  The zoo has not announced whether it is male or female so contestants are asked to select one name for each sex.

You can watch the Webcam of the three giraffes in the barn and paddock here

For those of you who might be interested, Pisgah Pete predicted an early spring.  After stopping to munch on nuts for a while he also predicted that the Carolina Panthers would win the Super Bowl.  As for me?  I don't trust squirrels of any kind.

Today we are getting another little respite from campaign "news."  It's pouring rain so there are breaking weather reports with the ubiquitous videos of news reporters standing by flooded roads.  More than 2 and a half inches have fallen overnight and it's still raining.  What with the still lingering snow, the heavy downfall has flooded streams and roads.  I'm making a big pot of minestrone soup and we'll hunker in for a while.  Oh, we do have to go out one more time today.  Lucy is at the groomer so we'll run down to pick her up and THEN we'll hunker down.  But it will be for a shorter time than when we got the major snow.

Monday, February 1, 2016

No Groundhog for Us

Here in Brevard we do it differently.  Tomorrow, while eyes across the nation turn to view their resident groundhogs, Transylvania County citizens will turn their eyes to Pisgah Pete, our county mascot.  Pisgah Pete is one of our famous* white squirrels.

Since squirrels are fast little devils animals, Pete will not be released from the cage that transports him from his home to the town square.  Thus, he will have no opportunity to see his shadow.  But not to worry.  The town officials have figured out a way for Pete to forecast the weather.  Two signs will be placed, one on the left side and one on the right side of his cage.  One sign will read "yes" and the other sign will read "no."  A designated official will then ask Pete, "Will there be six more weeks of winter?"  Eventually Pete will go toward one side of the cage or the other and that movement will constitute the answer.

Because Pete is so reliable, citizens have been asked to submit "yes or no" questions and a select few will be asked of Pete.  Who knows?  Pete might even tell us who will be the next President.  But I'm going to vote anyway.

Pisgah Pete at last year's gathering
(photo from the local newspaper)

There is no way Pete could see his shadow today.  We still have lingering snow on the ground and much warmer temperatures.  That combination makes for a very foggy day.  And we're expecting rain tomorrow so I don't think he will see a shadow even if that were his preferred prognostication method.

*Famous white squirrels
Florida, 1949.  A carnival truck carrying animals overturns in the town of Madison.  A nearby resident rubs his eyes in disbelief when he glimpses two white squirrels in his pecan grove.  He is impressed by them and thinks they must be albino so he captures them.  He is surprised to find that their eyes are black.  They are not albino at all.  The man gives the squirrels away to a friend.

Here comes the Brevard connection.  The friend had relatives in Brevard and decided the cute little white squirrels would make a nice gift for his niece.  So he brought the squirrels to NC and gave them to his niece.  The niece named the squirrels "SnowBall" and "Frisky."  She loved the squirrels and was disappointed they did not mate.  She kept them for a couple of years and then married and moved away from home.  She did not take the squirrels with her.

Eventually one of the squirrels escaped from the enclosure and ran into the woods.  Fearing the loneliness of the remaining squirrel, her uncle gave the squirrel its freedom.  Released from captivity Frisky and Snowball met up with the native gray squirrels and, as squirrels are wont to do, created many little baby squirrels.  A surprising number of the newly birthed white squirrels began appearing all over the town.  The white squirrels so endeared themselves to the citizens of Brevard that the City Council passed a protection ordinance in 1986.  The ordinance established the city limits of Brevard as a white squirrel sanctuary and made it illegal hunt, kill, trap or otherwise capture any white squirrel within the city.

The squirrels have prospered and at last count, (yes there is an annual count of white squirrels) the white squirrels made up 45% of the squirrel population within the city.  The squirrels have expanded their territory and we occasionally find them here, more than 10 miles up the mountain from Brevard.  In fact, we have seen them in our woods.  They tend not to stay around our house, but some adoring neighbors actually feed squirrels so we will likely see more of them.  We don't even need any ordinance to protect them.  Our community protects all wildlife of any kind.

I snapped this shot of a white squirrel right in our own back yard.
Don't be deceived by its looks.  It's still a tree rat just like its gray kin.

So go ahead and watch your own groundhog or videos of famous Punxsutawney Phil.  Around here folks will be watching Pisgah Pete, the Brevard white squirrel make his prediction.  Any of them will take you away from the Iowa caucus results for a brief instant.

Truth is, spring will come no matter what any animal predicts.  And that makes me happy.

Friday, January 29, 2016

We Love Lucy

How is it possible that the first month of 2016 is ending already?  It seems such a short while since the holidays.

Lucy doesn't seem to notice the passing time.  For her the days are measured by her routine activities.  Go outside first thing, eat breakfast, play for a while, then take a trip to the park to romp and play.  The rest of the day is spent snoozing with short periods of active play and the necessary trips outside.

Lucy has several places she chooses to snooze.  She snoozes more often than not in one of the several beds in the house.  There are two in the great room, there is one in my husband's study, and there are two in the den.  We still have Ellie's bed lying next to Lucy's.  Her crate is still set up in the doggy room and her food/water dishes remain in place.  While Lucy never goes inside Ellie's crate, she does drink from the water dish and sleep in the various beds.

Here she is in her own bed.  Like most dogs, she has a variety of sleeping postures.
Her favorite blue tug lies nearby.

 Other times she sleeps in Ellie's bed.
(You'll have to ask my husband why we bothered to have the beds personalized.)

 In spite of several days of temperatures well above freezing and a bit of rain, we still have a fair amount of icy snow on the ground.  However, all the roads are clear except for the non-paved ones and life is pretty much back to normal.  My mother used to say that when the snow continues to lie around, it's because there will be another one soon.  I'm hoping that is not true; that it's because the snow was so deep.

 Still enough snow to do some tracking if you've a mind to.

I will not wax political today except to leave you with this quote.  It's from Minnesota politician Walter H. Judd who worried about voter turnout in the early twentieth century:

"People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people.  Of course, that is not true.  Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing."



Wednesday, January 27, 2016


I turned on the television this morning to get some details on the Oregon shootout.  Should have known better.  Last night DJT said he won't participate in the next GOP debate.  So once again the man has totally dominated the media.  (I use his initials because I refuse to write his name.)

[NOTE:  If you are supporting this candidate, best you not read further.]

Veteran newsman Bob Shieffer has temporarily returned from retirement to cover the election this year.  He told a story that so well describes the GOP lead candidate.  He relates what he calls "the dead cat" maneuver.  That in a meeting, no matter what is being discussed and no matter how important it is, if someone throws a dead cat onto the table, that is where the conversation will focus. And so we have seen this process dozens of times during this Presidential campaign process, especially from DJT.  When the news dares to focus on anyone else, he throws a figurative dead cat onto the table to once again turn attention to him.  Such was his most recent decision not to participate in the next debate.  We've seen it so often.  And we will see it so many times again.  And yet the "media" cannot ignore the dead cat, no matter what else needs to be said.

So I have an idea.  How about we designate or form a television network specifically for this candidate?  That network could take over the 24/7 trash information about his campaign and his latest disgusting outrageous politically incorrect remarks.  That way, the other networks could try to regain some footing and report what is going on in our world.  Anyone who really wishes to hear this man can turn to the channel and watch.  The rest of us can be free from his rhetoric and posturing.

In fact, if he is really so rich, why not have him start the network?  If he believes we honestly care about one word he says, then he would have our undivided attention.

On a side note:  A GOP super PAC is spending massive amounts of money for ads in Iowa.  They supposedly "attack" Bernie Sanders as being "too liberal for Iowa"  because he wants health care for all, access to better education, closing tax loopholes enjoyed by Wall Street.  They have spent half a million dollars so far blasting the airwaves in Iowa as the countdown to caucus is in full swing.  (And so we give one more raspberry to SCOTUS for their Citizens United decision.)  Why, you might ask, is a GOP super PAC trying to convince Iowans of this candidate's liberal leaning?  Doesn't everyone already know that his stance is quite liberal?  Could it be that the GOP super PAC would prefer Sanders as the Democrat Candidate?  More importantly, should a super PAC from one party be allowed to air any kind of ads in the other party's primary?

I urge Iowans and all Americans to support the candidate of your choosing.  Just make certain you are choosing wisely.  Look beyond the promises and rhetoric.  Look at past behavior and actions.  Look for some substantive methods of financing the changes all of us want.  Yes, we want all of those things.  We even want world peace.  But these things are not easy and we need to elect the person most likely to be able to bring us toward meaningful change.  Not the person best able to stir up a crowd.

A line from an old poem keeps ringing in my mind.
"Oh Lord, help us and save us."

Monday, January 25, 2016

And Now the Calm

We still have plenty of snow lying around.  But we're finally enjoying some above-freezing temperatures so we can expect a big meltdown.  Our roads will remain icy for days yet so we don't plan to leave the community for a while.

The birds don't seem to have minded the snow and they surely have appreciated the water we have available.  We have a heated water dish for the sub-freezing weather and the birds really flock to it.  We also have several brush piles deeper in the woods to provide shelter for the birds.  (And some smaller animals, I am sure.)  And some birds actually use the bird boxes for temporary shelter in the winter.

Tufted Titmouse before the snow blew furiously.

The first blast of snow left little on the trees despite the depth on the ground.  It started with sleet and the snow came down in fine flakes rather than big fluffy ones.  So the snow initially fell off the tree limbs.  I'm sure the winds also played a factor.

The snow we got on Saturday night after a very brief respite, was the fluffy kind we are more accustomed to.

 You have to love the bright red of the cardinals in the snow

The little wren appreciated the snow cleared from the deck railing.

We are expecting temperatures in the 40s today and tomorrow and that should really help with clearing the roads.  We are hoping it won't freeze again overnight because we are expecting rain later tomorrow.  So fingers crossed that the warmer temperatures hold.

Schools are still having "Virtual School" days and those will continue for some even after the bricks-and-mortar school days return.  Some rural roads will not be safe for school buses long after school resumes.  The children living there will continue their work on laptops, tablets, or "blizzard bags."

And we are beginning to finish leftovers, pork roast and turkey.  When that's gone we have plenty of food in the freezer and pantry.  So we are weathering the storm quite well.  And are grateful for that.

Thoughts go out to those who are still struggling in the massive weather system.