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Monday, November 24, 2014

About the Feast on Thursday...

On Thursday, we are doing Thanksgiving in the UK this year. I haven't done it for a while and hadn't planned to do it this year. Instead I thought I would attend the Restoration Dinner at church on Saturday. They have what practically amounts to a traditional American Thanksgiving day menu and it would be fun, I thought.

But my son and his girlfriend announced with great excitement that she had managed to get the day off work so that she could celebrate Thanksgiving with us! It would have been churlish to say 'no', wouldn't it?  So I've been digging out favourite recipes and deciding who to invite to join us for the occasion. It is now all in hand -- the turkey is de-frosting in the kitchen and the pies are ready to be baked.

In the past, before retirement, we would celebrate on the Saturday following the actually holiday -- which is always the 4th Thursday in November. Now we are free to celebrate on the day and for me I much prefer this. Robert's girlfriend, Cat will be arriving Wednesday night so it will be nice to have company and help during the day. Thanksgiving is a holiday that it is difficult to imagine if you are not American. Many of my British friends have likened it to the way the British celebrate Christmas. But, in fact, it really is not like Christmas at all -- even if the food is similar.

First of all, Thanksgiving is all about the food and friends and family. My tradition is that of  New England -- the weather is always frosty and the sky almost always leaden. The sound in the morning is the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and later American football. My mother usually served dinner at 2,00 p.m. Dress was very casual. Guests always brought a dish of some speciality of their own. Besides Turkey and stuffing, there would mashed potato, sweet potato with marshmallows (big yuck from me!), cranberry sauce (two kinds) cranberry relish, creamed onions, and various other vegetables which changed from year to year. My mother always made four pies: pumpkin, apple, apple crumb, and mince. No one ever went home hungry or without 'care' bags of makings for turkey sandwiches made with stuffing and cranberry sauce!

Meanwhile at about 7.00 pm family members could be seen around the bird's carcass going for the makings of their own sandwiches -- and which I enjoyed more than the actual dinner itself! The next day was Black Friday, which in my day was just the Friday after Thanksgiving, and preparations for Christmas would begin. Thanksgiving weekend was the worst weekend for traffic jams. From the air the jam on Wednesday evening could be seen from Washington, D.C., where I lived, to New York City. The New Jersey Turnpike was unbelievable. Sunday night trying to get back to Washington was equally abominable. The last time I was in Connecticut for Thanksgiving I flew in from the UK a week earlier and left a week after. I did not venture out for Black Friday. Most sane individuals say well clear now as it's more of a shopping nightmare...

I see that Britain is advertising Black Friday sales. Somehow, I don't think it will ever be the same -- at least I hope not -- though I wouldn't mind if they adopted the Traditional American Thanksgiving Holiday every year on the 4th Thursday in November!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Freaking Out!

Christmas is Everywhere ... !

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Golf, Gardening, and Entertainment -- Just Another Day in School!

Well, I've been back in the UK since late last Wednesday, the 5th. All in all it was a very satisfying trip, with lots to take in and think about. I would have liked to have stayed a few weeks longer, so probably I left South Korea at the right time!

The last few days were particularly memorable and enjoyable. Chris and Heejung, left the children behind and we enjoyed the few days without having to give the attention that they, quite fairly, demand! We did, however, go to see the younger boys' school and that turned out to be a very enjoyable and surprising occasion.

We walked around the grounds and Chris pointed out to me the golf driving range in the corner of the playground. In the far distance we could see a large area for the children to plant vegetable and flower gardens.


Driving range target. Golf balls are caught in the net!

The school's garden has both vegetables and flowers...


As we went to venture toward the rear of the school we met the principal, a very welcoming woman. The state run school is a very special place with no more than 10 to 12 students in a class. The principal asked if we would like to visit the boys' classes and, of course, we said 'yes'!

In a few days time, the children were to have an open  house and they had been rehearsing a program to present to parents and visitors. Because I would not be able to attend the children in Louis' class gave us a preview! Louis is the child in front on the far right.

 

Unfortunately, South Korea has many problems after the children attend primary school. It leads the world in the adolescent suicide rate -- many if not most children attend school from 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and then attend another school for private lessons, not getting home until 10.00 or 11.00 p.m. My son teaches in one of those schools which specializes in English. 

Teachers in Korea do not stay with any school more than two years. After that time they will be assigned to another school -- by the education department. While I can see the disadvantage to the individual teachers and also the headmasters/mistresses or principals -- it does seem a way of ensuring that the quality of education throughout the country is equalized. Somehow, it seems entirely unlikely that this is a policy that would or could be adopted in the West!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Little Bit of History Never Hurt Anyone!

Those of us of a certain age will probably remember the television show MASH with a great deal of fondness. To this day I enjoy watching the reruns and laugh all over again. However, the historical details of the Korean War never really made an impact on  my psyche. The only city I remembered was Seoul.

En route to Daegu, which is where my son lives, we stopped about 45 minutes away in Waegwan. My daughter-in-law was born and lived there until she was married. Waegwan is on the Nakdong River, the longest in Korea. Historical the river at Waigwan was as far as Japanese tradesman were allowed to go in order to sell their wares at the market. In fact Waigwan means "Japanese Dwelling". During the Korean conflict part of the strategy was to destroy the bridge at Waegwan, including several hundred refugees trying to escape the North Koreans. The Americans believed they were North Korean soldiers in disguise.

Nakdong River at Waigwan
 In 1950 the North Korean Army threatened to overtake the Korean peninsula from the mountain
overlooking the town. From this vantage point, they would have been able to fire mortor on Daegu at the northern point of the Busan Perimeter and from this position cement their possession of the whole country. But for the UN troops entering the fray, the South Korean army would have been defeated. My daughter-in-law's father, a North Korean soldier, was wounded in the battle for Waigwan and may have been treated by an American MASH unit. He never returned to North Korea.

The American army under General MacArthur were able to turn back the North Koreans in Waigwan. all the way to the Chinese border. It was then that the Chinese army, with Russian help, were able to force back the UN forces to what is the present line of demarcation -- back and forth in what was really a war of attrition until 1953 when the demilitarized buffer zone was established -- and which remains to this day. The following link shows the above situation quite effectively ...

"Korean war 1950-1953" by Roke - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

From Fireworks to Silk Worms...

I have now traveled most of the length of South Korea -- from the airport on Incheon Island near Seoul to the second city of the country, Busan (pronounced Pusan). And in between I have visited two Buddhist temples. Today I visited a huge, but typical local market and took many wonderful pictures of the various wares on display. We were there looking for a round pumpkin for my son, who wishes to make a jack-o-lantern. Round pumpkins are more difficult to find -- most of the pumpkins are round and flat.

Once home, I was anxious to have a look at the pictures I had taken, only to find that my memory card was still in the computer and, therefore,  I had nothing to show for my constant snapping away!

Below is Busan waterfront. We were there last Saturday for the International Asian Fireworks Competition -- beautiful setting and hundreds of thousands of people. Unbelievably we were able to find a very good parking place not too far away and in a reasonable position to escape without to much difficulty. The streets immediately beyond our parking went through the market place and our drive was slow enough for me to be able to take more pictures.


The bridge above was the backdrop for the firework display. Underneath the bridge in the background are the lights of cruise ships that have come from Japan to witness the display.


The picture on the left is of a large indoor market and on the right Korean dumplings are bubbling away in huge pots. Korean people love these places and there are multitudes of fast food places offering enticing and not-so-enticing delights. I was completely turned off at the sight of one particular delicacy: silk worms -- piles of them waiting for the frying pan -- and the frying pan sizzling away -- silk worms a-plenty in a spicy sauce! 

Much more appetizing and delicious were the tempura shrimp I had in the market today -- The photos that never were!!



Monday, October 20, 2014

The Mystery of Ignorance

This is the first time in my life I have been in a place which is in every way unintelligible. The language is impossible to read, except for the occasional road sign in English. My sense of direction is non-existent and I have no idea how to communicate enough to even go into a store to buy something. It is very frustrating -- especially as there is so much exploring  I would love to be doing.

There is a great bakery called 'Paris Baguette' where I could get a coffee and pastry and probably manage to get what I want with sign language and pointing. And by taking out some money manage to pay -- but I don't think I could get home again even though home is but a short distance away.

I must admit I have a much greater appreciation of how over-whelming it must have been for Asian immigrants when they arrive for the first time in the West. I  have met several of Heejung's friends and relatives and have been very touched my how welcoming they have been -- even though perhaps no word of English is spoken. Yesterday, an old school friend of Heejung, who is the owner of a nearby Baskin Robbins franchise, gave me a large box of freshly packed ice cream -- with my choice of flavours! He didn't speak a word of English. We bowed to each other and when we shook hands he put his left hand on his arm -- which is a mark of respect when meeting someone who is older than you.

Tomorrow Heejung is going to walk me over to the bakery with Sam -- after that, there will be no stopping us!

In the meantime I have visited a Benedictine monastery and Buddhist temple complex. The monastery gift shop had the most bizarre crucifixes I have ever seen. Most bizarrely of all, is that the photographs I took of them were blank!  This has never happened before and all the pictures I have taken since, with the exception of the one which included a monk,were also blank ...

Tonight we are having Korean pancakes -- oh yum!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

ReUnification!

Mother, Sons and Brothers...
Tomorrow it will be a week since I left -- whatever 'time' means! The time difference between New York and South Korea is 11 hours and between here and London it's 7. We arrived in Incheon Airport on time at noon on Thursday the 9th of October -- having left from Manchester, England Wednesday, 9.05 a.m. It was 1 am my time when our final plane finally touched down.

One of the last through immigration, which did not take very long, I was surprised to discover the luggage was waiting for us and the carousel emptied! Impressive... Soon we were through and being greeted, hugged, and kissed and maybe even a tear or two!

Soon we were on our way -- 5 hours to our final destination: Daegu, South Korea -- a long way from home!
Leaving Incheon Island for the mainland and south...

On our way I discovered the rice fields were golden and ready for harvesting. And these golden fields were surrounded by mountains, very similar to the Appalachians -- old and worn, but tree covered. And all the towns we traveled by have tall white tower blocks of apartment buildings -- dozens of them towering into the skyline with mountainous backdrops. The Korean people prefer to live in these towers to having their own house. In fact there are very few private houses anywhere around.
Typical apartment towers. From my son's rooftop...

But first we stopped in Waegwan for Sam's brothers, Galen and Louis, who bounded out of the apartment building within seconds of our arrival! The picture above was taken about two minutes later. My abiding memory will be one of lots and lots of NOISE for the next several hours!

Below: Sam is over the moon to now be taller than his 4'10" Mom!



Monday, September 29, 2014

Eastward, Ho!


Earlier this year, after much thought and discussion, The Man and I decided that I would return Sam to his parents in South Korea come autumn. Being responsible for a budding teenager and the fact that we are not getting any younger are the most important reasons for this decision. This is a time when a young man really needs the strength and vigour of his parents and two years away from them and his two brothers are quite long enough.

So a few days ago, I booked our flights and we will be eastward bound on the eighth of October. Yikes! That's next week! I must admit, never having been to Asia, I am quite excited. My son and his wife live about 300 miles south of Seoul, near Taegu and I will be staying with them for 4 weeks.

I actually arrive on the 9th of October, which is a very interesting holiday in South Korea. This holiday is called, Hangul and celebrates the creation of the Korean alphabet:
It was created in the 1440s by a committee of scholars commissioned by King Sejong. King Sejong, also known as Sejong the Great, was a fervent supporter of literature, science, and technology in his day. Some 200 years before the founding of the first scientific academy of the enlightenment, Sejong convened a group of handpicked scholars for his “Hall of Worthies.” One of their major assignments was to come up with a writing system to represent the Korean language. 
At that time, Korean was written with Chinese characters. Learning to use Chinese characters, along with the adjustments required in adapting them to the Korean language, was an arduous process, requiring years of education and training. This meant that literacy was only available to a tiny elite. Sejong wanted to open literacy to the general population, but that would require a system that was easier to learn.
I will most definitely be on a learning curve!  My son confidently told me I could learn this alphabet in 30 minutes! But I know someone a lot smarter than I, an American, who said it took him 3 years! I'll be reporting back on that...

In the meantime, there is a lot to do and dinner to cook.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Just over Two Months

Despite all my careful planning in the end T-Mobile/Orange/EE let me down with their Travel Boosters in France. No problems at all for the first day.  I suspect the cell phone companies are really pissed off  at the EU ruling that roaming charges in the member countries must be reduced and then end next year. Which is why my cell phone provider drastically changed its costs this year -- last year I was able to buy data for up to a month -- this year all the charges were on a daily basis. But having no choice but to rely on their travel boosters if I was to have any Internet access at our little house in rural France, I was willing  to pay the fees.

However, on day two of my sojourn, when I attempted to buy my daily 'hit' I received a text back saying: "We are sorry, but there's been a technical error and we couldn't add the Internet Trave Booster to your account. You haven't been charged. Please try again later."

I continued to get this message several times over the next 3 or 4 days before I succumbed to calling the 'Help line'. Absolutely no 'help', but assurances that the problem was being looked into and would be fixed as soon as possible. Despite three more calls to the 'Help line' the problem was never solved over the 6 weeks I was in France! I was able to connect to the Internet periodically, when visiting friends with an Internet connection and on days when we passed through the local towns and were able to connect to the free service provided by local tourist offices -- fortunately as my online mailbox was bulging and needed to be cleared.

Needless to say, blogging was off the agenda. Just before I left for France, I received word from my sisters that my mother was very seriously ill and in the hospital. She was not expected to make it. After much consideration, we decided that I would still go to France, as people would be able to contact me on the Internet! The best laid plans, as they say...

I won't even mention the cell phone bill for 112 pounds which included 8 international phone calls that I never made! That is now being investigated with said provider!!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Summer is Good!

June and July have been busy and in addition the sun has been shining most of the time! Wonder of wonders...

Early in June, much to my surprise, a local printer contacted me to ask if I would be interested in doing some work for him! It's been a while since anyone actually wanted to pay me for my labours! He knew I had done work for the church that involved desk-top publishing and he had a job that required someone who know how to use Microsoft Publisher.

Then he asked me what I charged! I've been out of the job market for quite a long time and had absolutely no idea! Fortunately, my son and his girlfriend are living here for a while and she is self-employed and has an idea of what ongoing rates for this kind of work are! I came up with a 'negotiable' fee and we worked from there. The work is now finished and in a little while my employer will be coming by to check out final touches for the finished product!

In the meantime, The Man has gone to France and I have been having a lovely relaxed time with the rest of the family. The best thing is we share the cooking! We are also indulging in having food that The Man doesn't like, but the rest of us do! Never let it be said that some apartness is a good thing! Even if I do have to fly RyanAir in order to join him in France! In the meantime all the spider webs have been cleared away and the place opened up and the garden cleared. He also got the television slightly re-tuned so we once again able to indulge in what British television may or may not have to offer.

One of my projects while on my own has been to watch once again the English version of House of Cards. My sister-in-law recommended the American version so highly and so insistently that I immediately ordered the first series and sent it down to France with The Man. Last night I finished the last two instalments of the third series, The Final Cut. Even though it is somewhat dated, nevertheless, it was well worth watching and very much enjoyed. Ian Richardson was fabulous as Francis Urquhart --- referred to throughout as F U!! Now I am ready to see the translation to Washington, D.C.

As for reading material -- my absolute favourite birthday present this year was the 4th volume of Robert Caro's autobiography of Lyndon Johnson. It was all I could do not to pick it up again after my quick perusal of its contents left me hungry for more! All this and vin de Provence, Brie, and French bread, coming up soon!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Time Flies When You're Having Fun -- I Guess...

My goodness but it's been ages since my last post -- at least it seems so to me. Every day I say to myself -- I really do want to blog today for sure and then I don't get down to it. Sometimes I don't even open the laptop -- even just checking e-mail on my phone.

On June 2nd my son Rob and his girlfriend, Catrin (Cat) arrived back in England after a two year sojourn in Vancouver, BC. No blogging for me that day! And then the following weekend it was the annual Art Exhibit, which is a job I love doing, but no time for blogging that's for sure. The following week was busy getting used to a full house again -- Rob and Cat will be with us for the foreseeable future while they decide where they want to live and work.

Saturday night we had guests for dinner and after much hemming and hawing about whether or not it would be warm enough, we elected to barbecue. The Man did an excellent job with chicken and sausages. I was up early to prepare the 'fixins' all the time wondering why it was that some people can start their preparations at the last minute and have everything ready and piping hot on time and also look like a million dollars. We decided to serve the first course outside and then go in for the remainder of the dinner. However, to our amazement, the temperature stayed mild right through dessert and we didn't go inside until after 10 o'clock!

And then on Sunday, Father's Day it was my birthday and a great day it was, too! Robert is a very good cook and together the two of them presented us with very fine food -- and my favourite wine! At church earlier in the day, the Vicar even dedicated his sermon to me, for reasons that are difficult to explain, but which made me laugh. But it was a very good sermon about what is 'bad religion' and what is 'good religion'.

What I particularly liked was a story he told about present day 'good religion'. When he was a very young man he had a job with a packing company and for a time was sending packages to Sierra Leone. As a result he became very familiar with the towns and cities of that country, with the result that the place became of interest to him. He explained that the President of that country, that is 70% Muslim, is Christian and that the Vice President is Muslim. The intriguing thing is that while 70% attend the Mosque for traditional Islamic worship, these same people attend the Christian churches on Sunday as well...


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Here and Abroad

Whenever I travel to and from the USA there is a kind of 'disconnect' that happens to me as I acclimatize myself to the foreign/familiar surroundings!. I have now lived almost as long in Europe as I lived in the States. I no longer can differentiate what 'back home' means. I am just as likely to say it meaning 'there' as well as 'here'! No matter which country claims you as an 'expat' you rarely ever return to your native land as a 'tourist'. On the other hand life is not going on as normal either. Usually I try to coincide my visit with an event such as Thanksgiving or Christmas or in this case, my mother's birthday. So there were friends and relatives to greet and often they make a point of visiting because I'm in town -- therefore, becoming a special event. My visits are always centered around 'people'.

In the case my mother, there is a lot of television. She likes to watch news programs and in particular every night like clockwork, Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune! Then it's on to MSNBC's political programs which are rather to the left of Center! Being a political junkie this is agreeable for me!

The big story while I was back was all about Cliven Bundy and the showdown with the Bureau of Land Management. He owes the Federal Government around a million dollars for grazing his cattle on Federal land. But he refuses to pay because he doesn't recognize the Federal government! It became a cause celebre for the right wing media star Sean Hannity who promoted Bundy's ideas and helped to encourage men with guns to come and rally around the ranch threatening to shoot the government agents who came to take away his cattle. Wisdom prevailed and the law enforcement agents sent by the Bureau of Land Management withdrew from armed confrontation, much to the joy of a certain segment of the population. Republican politicians rallied around in their support and when Senate Leader Harry Reid called Bundy and his supporters 'domestic terrorists' it became evident there would soon be hell to pay!

Unfortunately, for Cliven Bundy, he couldn't keep  his mouth shut and drunk with the publicity he was receiving went on to talk about some of his other ideas. When he said talking black people on welfare:

"Because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he added in comments first reported by The New York Times and later seen on video. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. "And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
Suddenly, much to the joy of the left wing media, the right wing media and the Republican Party in great part fell over themselves trying to backtrack and wipe the muck of their faces!  It didn't shut up Cliven Bundy -- he kept trying to explain himself and kept making it worse. But the situation at the Bundy Ranch and the State of Nevada continues ...

Not that Britain has not had it's fair share of idiocy -- though mild in comparison. After all, no one here is hoping to take up arms against the government! In the meantime, here in Britain, Jeremy Clarkson of 'Top Gear' fame, was thrown on the coals over an old video clip -- never aired -- using the rhyme 'eeny meeny, miney moe, catch a 'n-word' by the toe... Profuse apologies by Clarkson followed. A 32 year veteran DJ on a 10.30 pm program got fired by the BBC because he played the original recording of a 1930's song, The Sun Has Got His Hat On -- the second verse of which contained the 'n' word. The fact that he did not know this mattered not -- one  person complained! Quite a rumpus ensued and the BBC relented and tried to give the man his job back -- but  to no avail...

In Britain there is a lot of discontent over the issue of immigration and I get the sense there may be trouble brewing for the future. The issue of racism and how we feel has become a 'no-go' area in the media, but it's all over the place in our lives and communities. Mr. Bundy's views are appalling but there are many many people who agree with him and to pretend otherwise is a big lie. After all we must not use the 'race card' even when it's obvious that racism is alive and very well, indeed.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ups and Down

Old age is so tricky! My mother has been living here for almost 10 years now and in that time I have seen how the passage of time has affect many of the residents. Both my parents came here -- mostly because of my father's failing health -- he died the following year in 2005.

Until two years ago Mom was still doing her monthly accounts and organizing her medication. It seemed rather sudden that she was no longer able to accomplish these tasks and my two sisters shared the responsibility. And as I look around the dining room I see similar changes in other residents. It is not very uplifting.

Since I have been here Mom has become more and more dependent on my presence and becomes seriously distressed if I leave her for just a few hours -- no matter how many times I explain where I am going and when I will be back. I even told the front desk so that if she called they could reassure her. Unfortunately, there was a personnel change and the information did not get passed on... I returned to a very confused mother and my own feelings of frustration and irritation!

Needless to say,  I am a bit worried about leaving on Saturday.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Winter's April Gasp

                 
I am back again in the USA. After hours of April showers the pounding wind and rain on the windows subsided and it snowed like hell for several hours. Quite a change from the 70 degree Springlike weather we had a day earlier. The sun now shines and the blue skies seem to promise better things than the prevailing ice and snow. The almanac promises another wintry gasp just in time for my departure home...


I opted not to rent a car for the full two weeks of my stay in Connecticut.  The cost would have been twice what I paid in November. So I will rent from tomorrow. The downside has been being rather stuck herein the Geer Village. This past weekend we celebrated my mother's 95th birthday. The pictures shows her with her grandson, Jon, one of  three grandchildren able to make it for the celebrations.



There were 14 of us in the Private Dining Room on Sunday. My mom looked fabulous and the dining room was just elegant enough!
Even the weather cooperated and for the entire weekend temperatures treated us to a welcome 70 plus degrees. 



Tomorrow I pick up a car and will be happy to get away from my addiction to MSNBC! 
 


Saturday, March 29, 2014

In Support of Gay Marriage

On November 9, 2013 for his Bar Mitzvah Torah Portion presentation, this young man spoke of his support for gay marriage. His reasoning and sincerity were so moving and in light of the long awaited legalization of gay marriage in this country, I think it is appropriate to share his thoughts with you.


I would also like to share with you the words of American journalist Keith Olbermann that he wrote in 2008 when the State of California voted to outlaw same sex marriage:
I keep hearing this term "re-defining" marriage. If this country hadn't re-defined marriage, black people still couldn't marry white people. Sixteen states had laws on the books which made that illegal in 1967. 1967.
The parents of the President-Elect of the United States couldn't have married in nearly one third of the states of the country their son grew up to lead. But it's worse than that. If this country had not "re-defined" marriage, some black people still couldn't marry black people. It is one of the most overlooked and cruelest parts of our sad story of slavery. Marriages were not legally recognized, if the people were slaves. Since slaves were property, they could not legally be husband and wife, or mother and child. Their marriage vows were different: not "Until Death, Do You Part," but "Until Death or Distance, Do You Part." Marriages among slaves were not legally recognized.
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Get the Countdown podcastYou know, just like marriages today in California are not legally recognized, if the people are gay.
And uncountable in our history are the number of men and women, forced by society into marrying the opposite sex, in sham marriages, or marriages of convenience, or just marriages of not knowing, centuries of men and women who have lived their lives in shame and unhappiness, and who have, through a lie to themselves or others, broken countless other lives, of spouses and children, all because we said a man couldn't marry another man, or a woman couldn't marry another woman. The sanctity of marriage.
How many marriages like that have there been and how on earth do they increase the "sanctity" of marriage rather than render the term, meaningless?
What is this, to you? Nobody is asking you to embrace their expression of love. But don't you, as human beings, have to embrace... that love? The world is barren enough.
It is stacked against love, and against hope, and against those very few and precious emotions that enable us to go forward. Your marriage only stands a 50-50 chance of lasting, no matter how much you feel and how hard you work.
And here are people overjoyed at the prospect of just that chance, and that work, just for the hope of having that feeling.  With so much hate in the world, with so much meaningless division, and people pitted against people for no good reason, this is what your religion tells you to do? With your experience of life and this world and all its sadnesses, this is what your conscience tells you to do?
With your knowledge that life, with endless vigor, seems to tilt the playing field on which we all live, in favor of unhappiness and hate... this is what your heart tells you to do? You want to sanctify marriage? You want to honor your God and the universal love you believe he represents? Then Spread happiness—this tiny, symbolic, semantical grain of happiness—share it with all those who seek it. Quote me anything from your religious leader or book of choice telling you to stand against this. And then tell me how you can believe both that statement and another statement, another one which reads only "do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
You are asked now, by your country, and perhaps by your creator, to stand on one side or another. You are asked now to stand, not on a question of politics, not on a question of religion, not on a question of gay or straight. You are asked now to stand, on a question of love. All you need do is stand, and let the tiny ember of love meet its own fate.
You don't have to help it, you don't have it applaud it, you don't have to fight for it. Just don't put it out. Just don't extinguish it. Because while it may at first look like that love is between two people you don't know and you don't understand and maybe you don't even want to know. It is, in fact, the ember of your love, for your fellow person just because this is the only world we have. And the other guy counts, too.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Pastor of Innocence

I took the phone into my study. A lady's voice on the other end sounded relieved when I interrupted her explanation, to tell her that Sam had explained to me what happened. She was, she told me, in charge of pastoral care at the school and had been asked by the Deputy Head to inform us of the Lad's transgression.

I told her that Sam had been afraid to come home and come in quite late -- after walking around the block several times and hiding in the car in the cellar. I described his distress and shame and that I was quite sure he had learned valuable lessons. In addition, I told her that I had raised three sons and that at one time or another all of them had ventured into obtaining indiscreet erotic material.

Much to my amusement, she said, "That's why I never want to have boys. I only want girls!"

It was at this point I realized that this woman was very  young and inexperienced in what boys, if not girls, get up to. Which made me wonder if giving her the assignment to call us was a bit of a joke and 'baptism of fire' with the Deputy Head! "Poor woman," I thought to myself. And then I had to laugh at the awkwardness of her initial conversation with The Man. 

She wanted to know if I wanted her to return the picture that she had, which I had no desire to have, and which I expect has now been destroyed! She assured me that Sam was a lovely boy and that they had never had any problems with him and that she was sure there would be no more. (I wish I could be as sure!!)

So I've been thinking about this need for boys around this age to look at erotica. There is no mystery about their own gender -- it all hangs out -- so to speak. But women, it's all a mystery that they can't see and boys being boys, they want to get to the 'bottom of it' -- so to speak!

As for The Man: he was horrified when I told him and was not at all amused. I felt like such a strumpet! He would have been less appalled if Sam had been caught fighting than as the carrier of smut! Thankfully though, by the next day he was willing to accept that it really was quite normal -- even if not to him -- and was at least amused by the predicament faced by the innocent pastor explaining it all to him. He then retrieved the remaining cards from Sam and burned them in the Garden!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sam's Recipe for 'Disaster'

Finally, the story came out.

"When you and Grandpa were out shopping, I went into Uncle Andrew's room to look for my I-pad," he began. His I-pad is off limits except during school holidays and then only for two hours a day. Unless we hide it, he goes to wherever it was and takes it and hides it behind or under his bed. At the moment I've found a very good hiding place that he has yet to find. We always know when he has found it because he mysteriously spends hours in his room and is notoriously difficult to get up in the morning.

Back to Sam. "I opened one of his cupboards and I found like, ummm, errrr, a deck of cards..."

"Do you mean to say you were gambling at school?" I asked, a bit taken aback by that possibility.

"No..." he said hesitantly.

All the while tears intermittently streaming down his face and hands continually wiping them away.

"They had pictures of naked women on them..."

And apparently very lewd pictures they were, too!

"I took them and put them in my school bag and took them to school."

"So what were you showing them around and the teacher caught you?" I asked, wondering why considering his age and gender, I hadn't suspected it was something like this...

"No, I told this 'friend' and when I wouldn't show him, he grabbed my bag and went into it and took a bunch of them and wouldn't give them back." He explained. "He started showing and giving them to all
these kids and the Deputy Head found one of them."

So of course when the picture was found and the boy was questioned it all came back to Sam and Sam got called into the Headmaster's office to explain himself! Total humiliation. He was told that his grandparents would have to be told... He was terrified and afraid to come home.

Sam got to the house and walked around the block several times. He then went into the cellar, where the garage is, and hid in the Volvo which The Man insists on keeping. The garage is small and dirty and he hid for a while behind the car -- this getting rather dirty -- and then crept into the car itself. After quite a good while he decided he'd better get it over with and 'face the music'.

When he finished, I told him that he had been wrong in several ways, but that it was not the worst thing I'd ever heard. This seemed to calm him down a little.  I told him I was also glad he was not in a fight, that that would have been worse to me.

"However, one," I admonished him,  you should not have been  looking for the I-pad, when told you couldn't have it; two, you should not have been invading his uncle's privacy and going through his things;  three you should not have 'stolen' your uncle's property; and  four you should not have been so stupid as to take them to school! You have," I continued, "created your own recipe for disaster." Then I took his blazer for the wash and sent him upstairs to change his clothes.

Seconds later he was back and quite agitated. "I can hear Grandpa talking to the school," he said quaking.

"How is that, I didn't hear the phone ring?" I told him to go change and listened to the conversation. It went something like this...

"Cards, do you mean playing cards?" "I don't understand. They have pictures..." "What kind of pictures?" Then in his most indignant English military officer's voice "I beg your pardon, I certainly do not have any pictures like that in  my house!"

The school had called him on his cell phone -- which was totally surprising considering he almost never uses it, almost never has it turned on, and it is almost never in the same room as he is! It was time for me to intercede. "I know what it is all about" I yelled. "You'd better let me take it." Which he did...

(More anon ...)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Oh, Sam! Whatever Next?

About a week ago on Wednesday, Sam was late home from school. On Wednesday the school day ends an hour early, at 2.10 p.m. Not always convenient, but he should be home by 3.00. At 4.15 The Man said to me, "Isn't Sam a bit late?" I had been so absorbed catching up with my blog reading I hadn't noticed. And to be honest, I had forgotten it was Wednesday.  Also it is now lighter so much later that I often lose complete track of the time.

As he often drops by a friend's house on the way home, I assumed that he had done this and forgotten to call. So about 15  minutes later I called the friend, but Sam was not there. I was a bit worried, but didn't want to panic. About five minutes later I got my coat on and was about to see if I could find him, when much to my relief the doorbell rang.

I opened the door to find a rather serious, slightly disheveled Sam, with a very dirty school blazer. "What happened? I was just about to go looking for you...?"

"I got into a fight," and then, "Did the school call?"

"No," I replied, slightly taken aback. "Did you get in a fight with one of your friends?" I asked.

"Nooo...", he rather hesitated. "Just a boy."

When I asked him "Who", Sam claimed he did not know.

Getting more information out of him was getting more and more difficult. Finally, exasperated, I said, "OK, Sam I am going to call the school," and I turned around to get the number from my desk.

Then he said, "Grandma, I didn't get into a fight."

I sat down again and told him that he had better tell me what happened.

I can still see him sitting on the couch, his face pale with fear and with something else... Sam was extremely uncomfortable. "I don't know how to tell you," he almost whispered and it looked as if his eyes were tearing up. In fact, they were. And the more I urged him to tell me what was wrong, the more upset and tearful he became.

Fortunately, as his distress grew, I became very calm -- but I couldn't imagine what had happened that would have upset  him so very much.

"Did you cheat on a test?" I guessed...

"No."

"We you doing something you shouldn't in the boys lavatory?" Thinking of certain urinary competitions boys are rumoured to sometimes have...

"No."

"Were you caught having sex with one of the girls?"

"NO! How could you think I would do anything like that, Grandma!" Well, at least he hadn't lost his sense of indignation, went through my mind...

"Sam," I explained, "You are going to have to tell me what happened, because if you don't I am going to have to call the school."

"It's a long story," he said, tears welling up again.

"Well, begin at the beginning..." I prompted him.

And so the explanation of his predicament began...

(To be continued...)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ongoing Reflections and Ruminations

The last month has been a solemn reminder that time waits for no one.

For many years I have been very friendly with an elderly couple. With two of my friends, we would visit them for tea several times a year. About a year ago it was no longer possible for them to come to church as their health and physical fitness began to deteriorate. Eric had severe emphysema and  needed oxygen most of the time and Joy had a severely handicapped hip which required her to wear a brace that gave her a lot of pain. This past January they left the home where they had brought up two lovely sons and went into a very nice retirement home. Within weeks Joy health and well-being had deteriorated to the extent that it was necessary to move her into an intensive care nursing home. She died less than a week later. Her funeral was scheduled for last Friday.

The Wednesday after Joy died a very close friend and I visited Eric. He was very realistic, but sad -- and spoke about how much he dreaded the funeral that was to come. On Saturday Eric had a massive heart attack and died in the same hospital as his beloved Joy. They were born 8 days apart 90 years ago and died 10 days apart. Last Friday there was a double memorial service to celebrate their lives. And a beautiful service it was, too.

While all this was happening I was trying to find an affordable flight for me to go to the States once again to help my mother celebrate her 95th birthday. I have a favourite flight that takes me from Manchester to Hartford, Connecticut in a reasonable number of hours both to-ing and fro-ing but it takes patience and nerves of steel waiting and hoping that the price will go down -- which it did when the calendar went from February to March! While there I will be making another trip to Raleigh with my sister to see my ailing brother, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's dementia and who is now living in a nursing home near to his son. Two days ago he turned 64, which from my point of view is 'young'! He has, however, aged considerably since last August when his life turned upside down... (see here)

Until I got older I did not appreciate how death and illness would gradually become more and more part and parcel of daily life. I have become aware that the world has been taken over by the 'young' and 'young' is now defined for me as anyone under 60... Today one of my favourite public characters, Tony Benn, died. I didn't agree with his political views exactly, but I appreciated his integrity and niceness. And I so liked the fact that he 'was' and that his beliefs were so incorruptible.

This excerpt from Choruses from the Rock, 1934 by TS Eliot was read at Eric and Joy's service and it seems very appropriate:

In our rhythm of earthly life we tire of light
We are glad when the day ends, when the play ends;
     and ecstasy is too much pain.
We are children quickly tired:
     children who are up in the night
     and fall asleep as the rocket is fired;
     and the day is long for work or play.
We tire of distraction or concentration,
     we sleep and are glad to sleep,
Controlled by the rhythm of blood and the day
     and the  night and the seasons.
And we must extinguish the candle,
     put out the light and relight it;
Forever must quench, forever relight the flame.
Therefore we thank Thee for our little light,
     that is dappled with shadow.
We thank Thee who has moved us to building, to finding,
     to forming at the ends of our fingers
          and beams of our eyes.
And when we have built an altar to the Invisible Light,
     we may set thereon the little lights
          for which our bodily vision is made.
And we thank Thee that darkness reminds us of light.
O Light Invisible, we give The thanks for Thy great glory!












Monday, February 24, 2014

It Was Midnight When There Came a Knock on the Door

Last Thursday evening, The Man had retired and I had settled down by the fire for a nice cozy time watching some episode of 'Midsomer Murders'. The Grandson was on his half term so I didn't have to get up at the God-awful time of 6.30 a.m. the next  morning. So I was quite surprised to hear a very quiet rap on the door.

"Come in," I said expecting to hear Sam's voice in response. However, much to my surprise it was another voice with a surprising request.

"Can you take me home, please?" It was Sam's best friend, Eddy. Taken aback I turned and saw the lad, shyly looking down and looking slightly distressed. Like many lads his age in the UK he finds it difficult to explain things to an adult. Like many adults my age, I didn't fancy waking my husband at midnight with the request to get up, get dressed, and drive the boy home...

I explained that it was rather late to wake Sam's grandfather up, but Eddy had a ready answer. "My Mom will come and get me." I didn't think she would much appreciate the request any more than The Man and decided to try to find out what had happened.

Eddy and Sam have a very easy relationship -- hardly ever a cross word between them. I tried to get the  boy to tell me what had happened, what Sam had done. The only reply  he could give, as he shuffled his feet and eyed the floor uncomfortably was, "It's difficult to explain."

"Well, let's go up and talk to Sam and see if we can sort this out" I said calmly, turned my back on the telly and the cozy fireside and prepared to climb the stairs. Eddy seemed to like my suggestion and happily enough went up with me. The murderous villains of Midsomer would have to wait.

Sam was sitting up in bed, with a worried and sheepish look on his face.

"Sam, what is going on? Eddy wants to go home. Tell me what has happened."

"Well, we had a disagreement about what something means."

"So, what is it that you disagree about?" I said. In the meantime, Eddy sat down on his bed.

"Well, we disagree about what the word 'asexual' means..."

"Oh," I said, as nonplussed as possible. "So why don't you each tell me what you think it means.

I can't remember which one thought what. But one boy said,

"It means someone who wants to have a sex change operation."

And the other boy said, "It means someone who plays with himself."

I explained, with great authority,and relief, that both of them were incorrect. That, in fact, the term referred to people who were not interested in having sex at all. Then I sat by Sam on his bed and asked them both what Sam had done that had so upset Eddy. It turned out that because Eddy had disagreed with him Sam had called him an 'idiot' and 'stupid'.

So I lectured Sam about name calling and then suggested to Eddy that he learn not to take him seriously when he acts like a jerk. Eddy, magnanimously stood up and walked over to Sam and they shook hands! Sam shed a few tears of humiliation and Eddy got into his bed and Sam turned over and I assume they both fell asleep.

Crises over. Back to murder and mayhem by the fire...

Monday, February 17, 2014

By a Whisker

So there I was cooking dinner Wednesday evening last. The wind was gathering apace as had been promised all day by the weather forecasters. The Man was on the phone in the other room. There was a bit of a shudder and a banging sound. I looked out the utility room window thinking that probably the dustbins had toppled over, but saw nothing really amiss. Outside the bay window in the kitchen I could see nothing in the darkness. I continued cooking and the wind kept on howling.

A little while later and The Man and The Boy came for dinner. At some point I managed to drop something -- I don't remember what -- on the floor and The Man said, "You sure have been dropping and banging around tonight!" I informed him that it was the first thing I'd dropped all evening.

He looked rather puzzled and I explained that something had been crashing and banging outside. Immediately Man and Boy went outside to properly investigate and discovered that a tree had fallen and was leaning against outside the kitchen wall. As we three sat around the kitchen table I suddenly saw that the tree outside the window seemed about to blow over. In fact, the tree that had been leaning against the wall had fallen to the ground! The wind kept blowing.

The next morning I walked into the kitchen to find: Lots of branches!


The view from the utility room showed: An large uprooted leylandii tree!



That had fallen very close to the bay window where we had all been sitting to have our meal, the branches barely brushing against the guttering of the window's roof!


And the tree by the window had snapped in half as the larger tree fell to the ground...

The Man got his chainsaw out and had a very busy day...









Monday, February 10, 2014

And Still the Penny Didn't Drop...

The grandson was getting ready to leave for school. I had just finished opening up the curtains and came face to face with The Man who was holding a wastepaper basket. On top of the pile to be emptied was a lone empty cigarette packet. "Do you know where this came from?" he asked.

The wastepaper basket had come from our bedroom. Since Sam very rarely ever went there, I thought it rather strange to think he might have thrown something like that there. And anyway, he never had given any tell-tale signs of being interested in smoking -- in fact he had always been rather adamantly anti-smoking.

I suddenly remembered that the previous day -- late in the afternoon -- The Man had been helping the adopted grand-daughters from Poland with their homework. We regarded the cigarette packet and I said -- 'It comes from Spain'! They are probably smuggled into Britain by some friends of The Girls' Parents. They both smoke.

Sam came downstairs about to leave for the school bus. We showed him the 'evidence'. Never have I seen such a blank look on a child's face. It was evident that he had never seen it before. Off to school he went. The Man considered the suspicions that the packet had come from Spain. He remembered that we had just seen a program about Gibraltar on TV and that it had dealt with cigarette smuggling into Spain -- because Spanish cigarettes are so expensive -- as expensive as in Britain. So it didn't make sense that Spanish cigarettes would be smuggled into Britain.

I looked at the packet again. "You, know," I said, "I think it's in Italian -- in fact, I'm sure it's Italian -- not Spanish." At this point the penny should have dropped for one of us, but it did not ...

We decided that Italian cigarettes were cheap and could have been smuggled into Britain and could have made their way to The Girls' Parents. The man and I agreed it would be a good plan to present the guilty cigarette packet before The Girls and see how they might try to squirm their way out of ...

A penny was slowly inching it's way ... In a few days we were having friends for dinner and they would spend the night. "Did you empty a wastebasket into our wastebasket" I asked The Man.

"No..."

"Only, I thought maybe you went into Andrew's room and emptied his wastebasket..."

"Nnn ... Uhhh, oh, wait! I -- no -- yes!" The penny dropped ....

Andrew was with us over Christmas, but his room wasn't used since he went home to ITALY! And, yes, Andrew smokes!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Chuffed, I Felt, Really Chuffed!

One of the problems with getting older is that many people treat me as if I'm past being able to keep up with the modern world. So when the opportunity to show what I know and get it right comes along it's a great feeling of still being part of the world as we know it!

Like many of my contemporaries, I am very interested in the offerings of the Internet and the possibilities it offers for our lives -- socially and practically. I am a keen holder of a smart phone and a tablet, as well as a laptop computer. My bank accounts are accessible online, I do a lot of shopping as well, and also belong to facebook, which I quite like, and twitter, which doesn't 'float my boat!

My affiliation with the Internet didn't start until we returned from our 5 year hiatus living near Munich. That is where I first heard about 'e-mailing' and learned how to use 'Word for Windows'! I even managed to save 2,000 Deutschmarks to use for buying a new computer when we returned to England. When I think back to that first computer, which we had made to order, and how expensive it was it's amazing to consider how things have changed since 1996! For example, when considering how much space there would be on our hard drive, we were assured that 2 Gigabytes was more than we would ever ever need!!!

In 2000 I had my own business as a 'virtual assistant'. The business was not a tremendous success, but I did learn a lot about software, and email accounts and so on. I even built my own website. My website building skills are now way out of date, but I did learn how to write html code and that still comes in handy from time to time. Often when using blogger! It also means that I have over the years learned how to work with techies when I need to call places like Internet Servers.

My rather long-winded point is that it was a great joy to me to be able last week to solve an e-mail problem being suffered by a friend of mine -- to the point that she was about ready to quite her job! I had been telling her for weeks that I thought I could fix the problem. It entailed enabling Gmail to be downloaded into her Microsoft Outlook program.

It was one of those problems that until I actually looked at her computer I didn't know from her description for certain what was going on. All I knew was was that this person and that person had not been able to fix things the way she wanted them fixed. For example, when I asked her whether she had Outlook as her email program she looked at me blankly, like I was speaking Greek. Anyway, arrangements were made and we got together and I looked at her computer. Sure enough she wanted Gmail downloaded into Outlook. This is quite straightforward -- all things being equal.

But all things were not equal. First, I needed her username and password for Gmail. I got a blank look in return for that question. But after a brief pause she reached forward and took down a note and there it was: "Password for Gmail". But to no avail. Nothing -- nada. Finally, a few discouraging hours later I went home. Feeling like a dunce, I might add. Once back home I checked my settings and thought I saw my mistake. I texted my friend that I wanted to try again. I think she was really feeling desperate because she texted back to say she could pick me up at noon the next day!

So back I went. I tried again, using the exact same settings in her Gmail and Outlook that I had on my computer.  I asked her if she was sure about her password. She was. I then had an idea! I would see if I could set up her Gmail account on my phone -- she has the same phone as I. She plugged in her details. I clicked on 'done' and the response was 'wrong username or password'!!!

"The password is not right." I declared calmly.

She looked again among her notes and found another little piece of paper with the magic words: Gmail password! I plugged the new information in the Outlook wizard and Bingo, 330 emails from Gmail were downloaded to her Outlook Inbox! Seconds that took! Not only that, but the emails are still accessible from her husband's phone and her phone, too.

The next day I received an email from her husband. " Thank you, Broad! You saved me from putting an axe through the computer -- or my wife's head!"

And last night I even fixed an error in my tablet's outgoing email settings...

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Another Year, Tick-Tock

Happy New Year and all that stuff! I think I've been hibernating -- lazy more like! Every day I think today I will get back to blogging. And then I consider what I have to say and a big 'nothing to write' figures heavily on my psyche.

But it's more a case of being unable to get away from what has really been on my mind, which is 'worry'. It seems that a lot of the bloggers I've been reading have also had the same sorts of thoughts -- all to do with aging, with energy levels, with matters of health and well-being. It's all well and good right now. No major health issues that haven't been more or less sorted so that I'm on an  even keel. But the over-riding sense of the clock ticking is with me all the time. The days seem to rush by and at the end of them there is a sameness that is as gloomy as the weather has been.

I expect it started when visiting my mother last November. We had a lovely visit and we were both very happy to be together again -- but underlying the visit was the fact that my mother is waiting for death. Part of the problem is that most of her life revolved around being a wife and mother. Now the children are gone their own ways and my father died in 2005. She never learned to drive, which was a great disadvantage for her living in the country and so dependent on my father to get her to and fro. Fortunately, by the time he died they had both been living in the retirement home and had got used to being without a car. However, it also meant that she was not used to living her own life. Many lessons to be learned -- at least for me.

In the past few months two couples that I am very fond of have been facing similar problems. In both cases the women do not drive and have relied on their husbands. Now both husbands have had serious health issues and their wives are very distressed about the practicalities of how they could possible manage without their husbands. One actually bullied her husband into getting fit enough to drive because she is very lame and 'taxis cost the earth'!

Ho-hum! Tick-tock, tick-tock...