Friday, December 21, 2012

Joy in the mundane.

Like many of you, I've had a lot on my mind this week. It's hard to feel spirited in the midst of a national tragedy when it seems like the world is completely f-ed up and spinning out of control. But as a wise hobbit once said, "There's still good in the world, and it's worth fighting for."

To wit:

Music. Puppies. Kittens. Fat little squirmy babies. Lunch with friends. Music. Holding hands. Melty cheese. Champagne. Napping on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. Music. Dancing like a fool till you hurt all over. Tacky Christmas decorations. New adventures. Have I mentioned music already? Iced mocha. Foot rubs. Sunshine. Soft green grass. The moon in the sky. Wind chimes. Making stuff with your own hands. Hats. Sleeping late. Old movies. Walking barefoot on the beach. Reading to a child. Learning a new skill. Teaching someone a new skill. Random kindness from strangers. Otters. Hot homemade bread. A bra that actually fits. Cute shoes. Music. Wine. Homebrew. Hugh Jackman. Art museums. Double rainbows. Lilacs in bloom.  Peace, love, and understanding. True friends who have your back. Unconditional love. I did mention music, right?

There is joy in the mundane, although sometimes it is admittedly hard to find. You may just have to look a little harder, but I promise it's there.

I want to leave you with a link to a story about finding joy in simplicity. Maybe you've heard it before, maybe you haven't, but give it a listen either way: John Henry Faulk's Christmas Story.

Till next time, try finding the good that's still worth fighting for.

Friday, December 14, 2012

What I want for Christmas.

I read the news today, oh boy. . . I mean. . . I just. . . there's nothing I can say.

I don't have any children, on purpose, but there are children in my life who I love like they were my own. We have a reasonable expectation that our kids will be safe at school, of all places, but apparently they aren't anymore. This was never a concern when I was an elementary school kid in the 70s, and I'm deeply saddened that 40 years later, it's at the forefront of our thoughts. It breaks my heart.

It's not right. Children shouldn't have to worry that they'll go to school in the morning and never come home.

Today, what I want most for Christmas is just for our next generation to be safe. They shouldn't have to live in fear. None of us should.

Till next time ---- if you love somebody, tell them, dammit.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Ah, the holidays.

I confess I have a love-hate relationship with the holidays. I love the music, and the decorations, and the food, and the socializing, but being the introvert that I am, all that socializing WEARS ME OUT, and then I have little motivation (or time) to do my own holiday decorating/crafting/cooking/whatever. And as much as I try to plan ahead, every year about this time it's WHENDIDITGETTOBEDECEMBERWHAAARRGAAARBL, which is where I am right now. The house is a mess (normal) and we haven't even brought the decorations or wrapping paper up from the basement. Maybe next week.

Christmas cards? I'm working on it. Last year we didn't send any because we were preoccupied with our new puppy, who was at the doggie hospital with parvo. (Yay, us.) Luna survived and is now a little cuddle-monkey who wants to jump up on the sofa with me anytime I sit down to start working on things like Christmas cards. I usually make my own because I can't stand the sappy greetings on commercially made cards: "May the childhood joys of the Christmas season be yours now and always." Who talks like that?

And then there's all the fuss about what to call it. Some people insist on "Christmas," others insist on "holidays," and people like me don't really care. To me it's always Christmas, but I don't get bent out of shape over "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings." I call it what I call it, and you call it what you call it, and it's all good as far as I'm concerned. If you want to wish me a Happy Hanukkah, I'm good with that too. How hard is it to accept someone's good will in the spirit in which it's given?

People always complain about the overcommercialization of Christmas, but nobody really does much about it. We all still shop, and I'm as guilty as anyone. I do give a lot of homemade gifts, but not everyone is into that (which I think is WRONG, but that's a whole nother story). I'm at the point where I don't really want anything for myself. I already have too much stuff that I'm trying to get rid of. And if any of you think the bastardization of Christmas is a new thing, let me direct you to the words of this carol from the 1600s. Yes, I said 1600s: Christmas Is My Name .

Christmas is a lot of different things to a lot of different people, and I think that's okay. Regardless of whether  or not you celebrate it as a religious holiday, it can still be a time of reflection and fellowship, goodwill and charity. And really, shouldn't we celebrate those things all year? There's always room for peace, love, and understanding.

Till next time --- don't let the holidays drive you crazy. Namaste.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

I ain't ever satisfied.

I am, and always have been, my own worst critic. It's painfully apparent to me, and even people who don't know me all that well have said, "dang, girl, you're too hard on yourself." While I've learned to be nicer to myself, I still have a habit of beating myself up if I feel like I didn't live up to my own expectations, whether it's cooking, knitting, fiddling, singing, dog training, whatever. I always think I could have done better.

I realize this is the bane of most artistic people, and the depression doesn't help. Artistic people are statistically more likely to suffer mood disorders, so there's the double-whammy. Chronic depression often orders up a side of anxiety, because the double despair burger with extra angst sometimes isn't quite enough. WHEE. And then? Then you find yourself having that Smeagol/Gollum conversation with yourself.

Gollum: I suck.

Smeagol: You don't suck. Sure, there's always work to do, and improvements to be made, but that doesn't mean you suck.

Gollum: I totally suck.

Smeagol: Think about what you're saying here. Why do you suck?

Gollum: I forgot a verse/repeated a verse/forgot the words/flubbed a note/my voice cracked/my D string was all fuzzy/insert random reason for suckage here.

Smeagol: You're the only one who notices those things.

Gollum: I suck. Suckatola. Suckorama. Makin copies. SUUUUUUUUUCK.

Smeagol: If you sucked, would people keep inviting you back?

Gollum: Maybe they're just being charitable or they can't find anyone else.

Smeagol: I know you don't really believe that.


Smeagol: What about the little kids? Little kids LOVE you. And they don't say things just to be nice.

Gollum: They don't know I'm not real.

Smeagol: Not real? If I poke you in the eye with a knitting needle, you'll squall like a little girl. You're plenty real.

Gollum: I'm a velveteen rabbit.

Smeagol: Nope. No way. Because all the Velveteen Rabbit needed to be Real was to be truly loved. And you are definitely that.

Gollum: Okay. But I still suck.

And on it goes. Sometimes reasonably content, but never completely satisfied with the output. I don't write this to elicit sympathetic "you don't suck" responses - I write this because I know many of us have this same struggle. Logically I know everyone has been a beginner, everyone has sucked at some point, and no one sprang full grown from the head of Mozart with immediate prodigious ability at anything. There's always work to be done - often the real challenge is taking the first step to Just Do It. And don't we have a plethora of excuses for not taking that first step? Too old, too tired, too broke, not enough time, blahblahblahblahblah.

I always tell people that excuses are crap. Why don't I follow my own advice? I know what I need to do to suck less. So why don't I buck up buttercup and DO IT? It's not like I have anything to lose.

Well. Till next time - think about what you have to do to suck less, and JUST DO IT.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are you excited?

What gets you excited? I mean, really excited down to the ends of your toes? What makes you so glad to be on this big green marble that you just CAN'T STAND IT? Furthermore, can you answer that question sincerely without having to think about it?

Well, I can this morning. For me it's music and knitting. I know that's no surprise to any of you, and really no surprise to me either, but today is different. Today I am re-excited.

It's way too easy, in the midst of the mundane - the day job, the laundry, the cat box - to forget the things that excite you, and exactly why they excite you. Now, alla y'all know that I knit and play music all year long, but when you do something all the time, it's easy to revert to autopilot and forget to savor the moment. Oh hey, here's another gig out in the cold. Oh hey, another pair of socks. Woohoo. Happy happy joy joy. I can hardly wait. Y'all know what I'm talking about. You scoot right along on that autopilot and then, if you're lucky, you get a swift hard kick in the rear.

I got mine yesterday, thanks to a couple of strangers asking me about my knitting project (why, SOCKS, of course) in the doctor's waiting room, and from a gracious group of fine musicians who suffered this infant to play along with them last night. I can't tell any of them exactly how grateful I am, because the words don't exist. (Damn you, English language!) All I can say is Thank You, but I can express my gratitude by going forth with renewed enthusiasm about the things that have excited me all along. And maybe, just maybe, I can get someone else excited too.

Till next time --- GET EXCITED!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Other things to think about besides politics.

I can only speak for myself, but I'm tired of all the political weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Personally, I'd like to rest my brain on some other things right now, and I imagine some of you would too. So, in no particular order, here are a few things I think are worthy of your brain waves. (I'll start with the heavy stuff so you can't miss it, but if you stick with it, you'll be rewarded with the fun parts.)

1. There was a big-ass hurricane on the East Coast, followed by a big-ass snowstorm. This hasn't gone away yet, y'all. People still need your help.If you don't want to give to the Red Cross or the Salvation Army, spend a few minutes on the Google and find a charity that suits you. It's cold up there and people are homeless and hungry. Give them a few minutes of your time. Every little bit counts.

2. Did you know human trafficking is the second largest organized crime in the world? Yep. Slavery. Still happening. And in spite of its status on the organized crime scale, it gets almost no press. Children and adults are sold into the sex trade or held for forced servitude around the world - including the United States. Yes, I said INCLUDING THE UNITED STATES. You want freedom in this country? Let's put the smackdown on human trafficking:

Now for the fun parts.

3. Celtic music. No, Celtic Woman does not count. Just because a pretty Irish girl sings "My Heart Will Go On," that doesn't make it Celtic. I'm talking about music so hot you'll need a cold shower when you get home. If you are lucky enough to live in or around Nashville, you have McNamara's Irish Pub:!our-music . If don't live around here. . . well, that's your misfortune, but I'm sure you can find something pleasing to your ear. Visiting your local establishments and supporting your local artists is always a worthy goal. Slainte! (p.s. - go vote for McNamara's at Urban Spoon so they can be #1.)

4. Puppies. With devil horns.

6. Cats. In grocery bags.

7. Cider.  Strongbow, Magners, Fox Barrell, Crispin, Woodchuck, Woodpecker, homemade, whatever. Cider. It's what's for dinner.

8. Movies. Lincoln, Les Miserables, and The Hobbit. WOOOOOOHOOOOOOOO! Daniel Day-Lewis, Hugh Jackman, and Martin Freeman all in new movies. That's some of the best acting in the world right there. If you can't get excited about any of that, well, I'm sorry, but you can't be helped.

9. Chili. Beans, no beans, meat, no meat, hot, mild, Cincinnati style, however you like it. It's time for chili. Preferably with Fritos and shredded cheese. Goes well with cider.

10. The Holidays. Well, it had to be said, didn't it? Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away, and Christmas is the day after. (okay, not really the day after, but it kinda feels like that sometimes.) For all the hassles they tend to create, I still love the holidays. I love cooking for the meals and I love making gifts. Heck, I'm all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

See? Plenty of things to busy your brain with besides political rhetoric. Take a break, y'all, before somebody has an infarction. And till next time ---- keep calm and drink cider.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is it worth it, part 2.

Oh, Election Year. How do I detest thee? Let me count the ways.

On second thought - no, I don't have time for that. But let me ask you again: is it really worth it?

I think all of us on Facebook have seen our share of acrimonious exchanges regarding political views amongst our friends. Now, I have no problem with intelligent, civil discourse; in fact, I enjoy it. A good debate with a worthy adversary is always welcome. And when we're finished, we say, "well played," and leave it at that. But sadly, that doesn't seem to be the way of things right now.

Here's a typical exchange. A Tweedledum supporter will post a link/story about Tweedledum and how he's the best man for the job. Tweedledee's supporters then begin chiming in with things like "that's not true because I read something on the Interwebs from a tertiary news source that says so" or "you're crazy if you support Tweedledum because he's a communist/fascist/religiouswingnutjob/whatever," then supporters of both candidates jump into the online fray and it ends with someone shouting "I'm not going to be friends with you anymore WHAAARRRRGAAAARRRBL."

Really? Not friends anymore over POLITICS? Come ON. I can think of a few good reasons to tell someone to take a hike, but politics isn't usually one of them.

Look. I have a lot of friends. Many of them have different opinions than me on a variety of subjects. A couple of them even make me wonder from time to time what they've been smoking. But here's the thing: we're friends because we agree more than we disagree, and the things we disagree on aren't nearly as important as the things we do agree on. If we can have a good time swapping stories and sharing laughs, then I'm sure as heck not going to disown you because you voted for The Other Guy.

I can honestly say that my life is so much the richer for knowing people who have different opinions and ideas. Do you really want all your friends to be just like you?

So the next time you get the urge to go all WHAAAARRRRGAAARRRBL on someone because you don't appreciate their political jab/opinion/newslink/whatever, ask yourself if it's worth it. Is it furthering your mission in life? Is it right? Is it kind? Is it true? No? Then DON'T DO IT. Go do something positive instead.

Till next time --- Kinky Friedman for President.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Why I do this.

Well, here I am, back again after family emergencies and a busy fall season. I'm grateful for a little down time before the next round of performances and other commitments. Things are a little normal for right now, but I don't expect it to last long, what with THE HOLIDAYS coming up and all.

I've been reenacting since 1995. I know a lot of people think it's a strange hobby. I'm okay with that, and frankly I don't care. We all do what enriches us, whether it's bunjee jumping or sleeping in a canvas tent in freezing (or unbearably hot) weather. Add historic music into the mix, and it gets even weirder, I guess. I mean, who spends most of their time listening to 200+ year-old songs? I haven't listened to contemporary radio regularly in eons, and everytime I get a small earful of it, everybody sounds alike to me - but that's another story for another time. The last music I got was Woody Guthrie's Centennial collection, a birthday gift from Mister. Yep. Definitely behind the times.

I know folks wonder why I do this. Well, I'll tell you.

It's the people.

The people who help you put up your tent in the dark and make sure you have everything you need for the night. . . the people who tell you not to bring any food because they've got it all covered. . . the people who loan you extra blankets because you didn't plan on it being so cold. . . and the people who bring you ice when you didn't plan on it being so hot. The people who share all their best resources with you so you can learn more. . . the people who walk you through a new tune so you can play along without looking like a complete idiot. And of course, the people who appreciate what you do enough to come back year after year and sit through all your shows.

But the best thing of all is. . .well, I'll just have to show you the picture. Even with all my schooling in how to finesse the English language, there are no words to tell you how much this birthday card means to me, given to me by a young lady I see maybe twice a year. I will cherish it always, and it is in these things that I am rich.

Till next time - make sure you count your wealth in the things money can't buy.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ask yourself if it's really worth it.

This has been a hard year. It's just one thing after another. Right on the heels of several deaths of friends, my older brother had a surprise heart attack complete with a double bypass, and just this week he had emergency surgery to remedy the C-diff infection he contacted while recovering from the first surgery. This is going to mean huge adjustments for him, but without the surgery, he would have died. HE WOULD HAVE DIED. As I write this, he is still under controlled sedation and probably will be for a couple more days.

My mom was supposed to be on vacation in Atlantic City, and my brother was supposed to be feeding gorillas at the zoo. He was looking forward to his summer job. (He retired a few years back and now does pretty much whatever he wants.) But instead, Mom's getting worn out running back & forth to the hospital, where my brother, who used to take me to the movies at Christmas and buy me records, is currently unconscious.

So let me ask you: is it worth it?

Is it worth it to get the last word in every discussion or debate, even f someone's feelings are needlessly hurt?   Is it worth it to speed up so the guy in the car next to you can't change lanes, because you're in such a freakin hurry? Is it worth it getting irritated at a squalling child in a public place? Is it worth it to always get your way? Is it worth it getting pissed off at some ridiculous comment someone posted on Facebook?

Well, is it?

I'm not saying we should never get angry, or that we should never fight for something worthwhile. Anger is often the root of many great accomplishments, because it spurs people to action. No, I'm talking about all the mundane stupid shit we're so quick to get irritated about, and yes, I'm as guilty as anyone. But this last month or two, and especially this week, I've been giving that a lot of thought.

How hard is it, really, to just slow down for two seconds and let a fellow driver over? Unless you're driving a police car or an ambulance, you're not in that big of a hurry. The universe won't collapse if you pause for two or three seconds. How hard is it to say "okay, fair enough" and let someone else have the last word? How hard is it to give away just a sliver of lovingkindness? It doesn't cost you anything. To paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, it neither picks your pocket nor breaks your leg.

And instead of judging strangers, how hard is it to remember that everyone is fighting a battle of some kind? Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. We never know someone's circumstances.

Think about it. And till next time --- open your heart as well as your eyes, for the heart often sees more than the eyes can comprehend.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thoughts on July 4.

Once again, it's Independence Day in the US, and once again, I'll encourage everyone to watch the John Adams miniseries. John Adams often gets short shrift in history, but he was truly a dynamic figure, and he was completely dedicated to his cause. The Boston Massacre case could have destroyed his career, but he took it anyway because he believed in everyone's right to a fair trial under the law. For just a moment, ponder the gravity of that risk. Then ask yourselves who among us would be willing to take such a risk now. How many would set aside their personal gain for an idea?

These are the times that try men's souls, as Thomas Paine once said - over 200 years ago. That should give you a clue that our country has never been completely free of trying times. The times are always trying; it's only the issues that change, and even then, they don't really change all that much. In 2012 we still have concerns about the state of the economy and the reach of the government's control. Political campaigns were just as vitriolic then as now, even without the influence of social media.

Our country isn't perfect, because we aren't perfect. It can only be as good as we are, and as mere humans, we are inherently flawed. Our history isn't pretty, but it's made us who we are, for better and for worse. I can only speak for myself, but I'm happy to be here. And if you're not - well, stop flapping your jaws about how we're going to hell in a handbasket, and start doing something about it.

John Adams did.

Till next time ---

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Life & Death & Friendship.

My friend Jeannie died suddenly this week from a brain aneurysm. She was the same age as me, 44, and a literature/history enthusiast. I knew her for probably close to 10 years; I stopped counting awhile ago. I never met her in person, though. I only knew her through the Internet and the occasional snail mail, but she was as real a friend as any, and I mourn her loss.

Since I've been online - 15 years, maybe? - I've made many friends that I cherish greatly even though I've never met them in person. I have laughed with them and cried with them, and they have done the same for me. My Internet family is a great support to me, in good times and bad. A personal connection is a personal connection, whether it's made in person or in cyberspace. I value them all. My Internet friends are just as real and valid as my in-person friends.

Sudden death is always jarring. It brings any unfinished business to light. It brings regret over stupid things you said or did that hurt someone's feelings. Most of all, it makes you think: that could have been me. And if it were me, what would I be leaving behind unfinished? Is there anything I need to set right before my time is up? What am I missing that needs to get done? It's an overwhelming feeling.

We've all heard the saying "live each day as if it were your last," but I'm not sure that's responsible. If I knew it was my last day, I'd spend it eating and drinking and getting into mischief, and who can do that every day? Perhaps I take that too literally, though. Maybe it has more to do with finding joy in the mundane and being at peace with your surroundings, taking in every moment you can.

We live in a fast-moving world that just keeps moving faster. It's so easy to get caught up in the hubbub before you know it, and then it's difficult to extricate yourself. I don't think there's really anything wrong with the hubbub, necessarily, but I think we need to take a tip from the yogic tradition here and just be mindful of what's going on around us and how it affects us. If you like the chaos, go ahead and jump in, but pay attention: that way, you get to actually enjoy the craziness, plus, you can jump off the wagon before you get overwhelmed.

(I ramble; please forgive me. My brain is full of things right now that can't get past the limitations of the English language.)

Jeannie, I raise a glass to you, and count myself fortunate to have known you. I will miss your fire, your wit, and your wisdom. Thank you for being my friend.

Till next time --- y'all quit your meanness and love each other. And pay attention.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Greetings, friends. Between a boisterous puppy and numerous sewing projects, I didn't realize it had been so long since I'd written. Since Luna is at the kennel till tomorrow, I have an uninterrupted opportunity to write - that is, unless the cats decide to get into some mischief, which is always a distinct possibility.

 Memorial Day. Day of cookouts and sales, no mail, and no work for many of us. Last year I had the day off because I was unemployed; this year I have the day off because I have a day off! I am gainfully employed in a position that suits me, and that is certainly cause for celebration. Memorial Day, however, is much more than that.

 I think of my 19th century cousin, John B. Feather, who died at Andersonville Prison in 1864. According to the records, he was captured as a straggler after the Battle of Cloyd's Mountain in May of 1864. He died in September of that year, the cause listed as "chronic diarrhea." He was 18 years old, maybe 19. John Feather was a farmer boy from West Virginia. He spent four months in one of the most notorious prisons in US history and died of dehydration.

Four months. Think about that for a minute. Four months with little food, no medicine, and dirty water. FOUR MONTHS. At his age, he should have been off chasing pretty girls and planning for his future, not spending FOUR MONTHS in a military prison, only to die of what is now an easily treatable affliction.

FOUR MONTHS. And he wasn't the only one. More Civil War soldiers died from disease than combat.

I also think of my dad, who earned a Purple Heart in the Korean War. Fast forward to the 21st century, and I think of my step-nephew Frankie, who lost a leg to an IED in Afghanistan on his first tour of duty with the Marines. He survived and is now doing quite well. For the rest of his life, though, he'll have a constant reminder of what he gave up for his country.

Memorial Day isn't just about the soldiers and their sacrifices, though. It's also about their families and the people they left behind. When you raise a glass today, remember all of them.

Till next time ---

Friday, March 23, 2012

Midnight in Paris.

See this movie. No, really. See it. Heck, just go on and buy yourself a copy.

I had heard a little buzz about it, but didn't give it much thought since I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen (too much whiny angst, as Mister says) or Owen Wilson (plays the same character in every movie). Then my big brother recommended it to me. Big Brother has impeccable taste and has never let me down, except for that Christmas when I was 6 years old and he gave me this horrible troll-like stuffed animal-thing, but that's a whole 'nother story. Anyhow, the first time I went to go put it in my Netflix queue, it wasn't available, so I promptly forgot about it. Something triggered my memory a few weeks ago, and I ordered the movie.

Seriously, this is one of the most adorable things I've seen in a long time, in spite of Woody Allen and Owen Wilson. It just so happens that Wilson's natural goofiness is perfect in his role as Gil Pender, a burned-out screenwriter/hopeful novelist who longs to be in 1920s Paris. It's evident from the start that his relationship with his fiancee Inez, played by Rachel McAdams, is ill-fated when she makes faces about walking in Paris in the rain. She has no imagination and her parents are even worse.

Gil and Inez are in Paris for some pre-wedding shopping and a visit with her parents, who are there on a business trip. And then there's the pedantic Paul, a friend of Inez's who is an expert on everydamnthing and is happy to tell everydamnone. (I couldn't decide who was worse: Inez, her parents, or Paul.) It's Paul who makes the comment that people who long for the past are just living in a fantasy world of false romantic notions because they can't handle the present. (More on that later.)

Understandably, Gil would prefer to spend some time alone in his beloved Paris than hang around with these jokers, so that's what he does. While he's sitting on a sidewalk bench at midnight, an antique car pulls up, and the partygoers inside tell him to get in the car - and they promptly drive off into the 1920s.

Gil meets Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, and my personal favorite, Salvador Dali, played by Adrien Brody. He also meets a beatiful French woman, Adriana, with whom he promptly falls in love. Adriana wants to go back to the France of the 1890s.

I don't have to tell you that chaos ensues, in 1920 and 2011. I won't spoil the conclusion, but I will point out that in each of these time periods, someone wants to go Somewhere Else. The artists of La Belle Epoque want to go back to the Renaissance. Is it because they can't handle the present, as Pedantic Paul says early in the movie, or is it simply because they feel a connection to the past?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but I don't think I have any false romantic notions about life before running water, sanitation, and migraine meds that work. I love to study history because I want to know what the people who came before me did, and to keep some of those skills alive. I love the 21st century, mostly, but I think it's prudent to know how to get along if the power goes out. It's great being able to use all the modern technology and whatnot, but we still need to know what to do when those things aren't available. I mean, I don't know about you, but I intend to survive the impending Zombie Apocalypse.

Besides that, we are irrevocably connected to our ancestors. That's a fact. And it's darn near impossible to move ahead without first considering what came before. I know you've all heard the one about "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."

History is part of the fabric of the future, after all.

Till next time ---- get some popcorn and have a movie night.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Why, yes, I do have a little Irish in the family tree.

I just love an election year, don't you? It really brings out the best in people, doesn't it? And I can predict exactly what's going to happen. Thing 1 will win, then the people who followed Thing 2 will cry foul and there will be a great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth from the losing side. It really doesn't matter who Thing 1 and Thing 2 are - this has happened in every election since I've been voting, and even more so since the Great Hanging Chad Debacle of 2000. Fasten your seatbelts, because we've got about six more months of this folderol. But of course, that's not what I came to talk to you about. Being that St. Patrick's Day is two days away, I wanted to talk about my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, or at least what little I know of him.

Like a lot of historical reenactors, I wanted to research my family history to see if anyone fought in any interesting wars. In the beginning, I was hoping to find a Confederate soldier or two and maybe some Irish ancestry, even though I knew a good bit of my forbears were German. I did most of this research back when was still free for basic access - that should tell you how long ago it was. I also had a copy of a huge tome on my father's side of the family, which had been written in the 1980s by a distant cousin. I had a glimmer of hope when I found out that my g-g-g-g-g-grandfather Jacob Vatter (later Feather) married a woman named Mary Connoly. Connoly's an Irish name, right? Well. . . if you've ever done any genealogical research, you've probably found the farther back you go, the less information there is about your female ancestors. All we know is that she was born in 1769 in Pennsylvania, and that she married Jacob, a Rev War vet, around 1790. To this day I have yet to find any information on her parents.

So. Moving on to my mother's side of the family, I discovered they were mostly Dutch, coming to America in the 1600s: first to New Jersey, then New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and finally to Kentucky 300 years later. One of my g-g-g-g-g-grandfathers on that branch, Jacob Van Meter, was a founding father of Elizabethtown, KY, and has a DAR chapter named after him. It's this side of the family tree project that got really fun, because I had to do my own research, and you all know that my geek love of research knows no bounds. And it was my great-grandmother who led me to Daniel McMillin, born in Ulster in 1757.

I haven't been able to find much specific information about Daniel, except that he came to America at an "early age," and fought in a Maryland unit during the Revolutionary War. He was also a minister of the gospel: I'm presuming he was a Protestant, although I could be mistaken. I haven't found anything yet that says one way or the other. For his service in the war, he was awarded a land grant in Pennsylvania, which he later sold. He died in 1838 in Indiana.

Daniel married Eleanor "Nellie" Keenan of Cumberland County, KY. They had one child, Patrick Keenan McMillin. After Nellie died, the good Reverend married a second time and had several more children, but Patrick is my g-g-g-g-grandfather. As I expected, there's not much information out there about Eleanor, except that her father was a man named Patrick Keenan. Hey! Another Irish name! As of yet, I haven't found any more information about Patrick Sr., but I'll keep looking. I did discover that Patrick Keenan McMillin was a War of 1812 veteran, but again, no specific details yet.

And that Confederate ancestor? I found one, and only one. Patrick McMillin's nephew, John D. McMillin, fought in the CSA in a Missouri regiment. My other Civil War ancestors wore blue suits, seeing as how they were from West Virginia and all.  (One of them, John B. Feather, died at Andersonville prison at the age of 19.)

So, this St. Patrick's Day, I'll be raising a glass to the McMillins, Keenans, and Connolys. (It won't be green beer, however, because green beer is an abomination unto man.) Most of all, I hope they'll like the music, because I have a feeling they'll be listening.

Till next time - NO GREEN BEER.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

It's the small successes.

I was going to talk about music today, but that will have to wait till next time, because this is SO much more important.

I made rice. Lovely, fluffy, just-right quick-cooking organic brown basmati rice from Trader Joe's. This is a cause for celebration. Why? I'm glad you asked.

I consider myself a decent cook, all things considered. I come by it honestly as my parents and both my grandmas were/are good cooks. My brother also is pretty handy in the kitchen. I'm pretty good at taking random ingredients and putting them together to create something edible, tasty, and sometimes even healthy. But rice? Rice has always eluded me. Me cooking rice is like Charlie Brown kicking the football. It never quite works out.

Yes, I follow the directions on the package. Yes, I let the lid stay on the pot. I do everything I'm supposed to do and I still get substandard rice, and yet, I keep trying, I guess because I am not going to be outdone by a tiny inanimate grain. I am bigger than rice.

A few years back, my mom got me one of those automatic rice cookers, and I still managed to screw up the rice. Even following the directions exactly, the bottom of the rice got all hard and crunchy, and I'm not talking about the good kind of hard & crunchy rice that is a delicacy in some Mediterranean/Middle Eastern cooking.  This was icky tough wet cardboard hard & crunchy rice. I e-mailed Oster customer service about this issue, and was told that "that's a common problem with rice machines." Oh, okay. That makes it so much better, I suppose. Whatever. (Anybody want a rice cooker?)

I started substituting couscous as a side dish. It's hard to screw up couscous. This is fine for most of the meals I make at home, but sometimes, you just gotta have rice. On my last trip to Trader Joe's, the bag of organic brown quick-cooking basmati rice called to me seductively from the shelf. "Try meeeeeeeee," it wailed. "Take me hoooooome." So with a deep breath and plenty of doubts, I put the rice in my cart. I figured I have wasted more than $3 on less noble pursuits.

All week I've been wanting to make channa masala for dinner to go with the garlic naan from Trader Joe's, and channa masala really calls for rice. With much trepidation, I took the bag from the cabinet and read the directions. "Ready in 15 minutes," the bag said. (Brown rice usually takes about an hour to cook, so 15 minutes is pretty ambitious.) Put rice and water in a saucepan, let it boil, turn it down, put the top on, blahblahblahblah. I know that drill. It's the same drill I follow every time and I still get crappy rice. But I endeavored to persevere, so I tried once again.

When the clock read 5:12, I took the lid off the pot, expecting to see either water still in the pan or a mass of undercooked chewy rice, but it looked perfect. Yeah, right, I thought. It's probably all chewy. I took a bite. And then the angels sang.

I had perfect rice! Not mushy, not dry and chewy, but PERFECT RICE! And it actually tasted good! Quick-cooking rice sometimes doesn't have much oomph, but this was great. I realize this is probably just a fluke - the rice gods are taunting me and next time will be back to the old status rice quo. But in the meantime?

Hell yeah, I MADE RICE.

Till next time - celebrate the small victories.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Welcome to the Year of the Dragon.

Yeah, I know. I'm late. Ah well. Stuff happens.

Luna, aka Jaws, has continued to thrive, although just as she was done with parvo, she came down with giardia. Whee. Giardia is this little protozoal parasite that lives just about everywhere, and lots of people and animals carry it without ever getting infected. This is most likely what makes you sick when you drink water that hasn't been properly purified, and dogs usually get it from drinking out of puddles & whatnot. But that's not what I came to talk about.

I came to talk about mental health. Y'all can sing along when it comes around again on the guitar.

Over the last few months, a couple of my favorite bloggers have shared their struggles with depression: Hyperbole and a Half ( and The Bloggess ( These two ladies talk about their experiences with honesty and humor. I can especially relate to Hyperbole's cartoon self curled up into a little ball behind the couch, because I have been that little ball behind the couch.

I bring this up because I think it needs bringing up. About 25% of the population will experience clinical depression at some point. And in the world we live in right now, who could possibly be surprised at that? Everything seems to move faster than our feeble mortal minds can keep up with, not to mention the deplorable state of the economy, which has caused people to lose their jobs, homes, and self-respect. Can you blame anyone for being depressed? Most people won't get help, because of stigma, pride, finances, or denial, among other reasons.

Now, you have to understand, there's a difference between clinical depression and having a bad day. Depression is having a terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day 24/7 for at least two weeks running. Mine went on for about a solid year.

Yes. I spent a year in one terrible, horrible, no good very bad day, where I ran off to the bathroom at work so I could go cry - for no good reason, except that I just felt like it. This was the nadir of many years of denial. (The irony is that at the time, I worked for a mental health organization.)

Yes again. I did say YEARS. When I finally got help and came out the other side, I was like, what the hell took me so long? And that's one of the bizarre things about depression: you don't know how sick you really were till you get better. It's cruel, for sure, but that's how it is. While depression is a temporary situation for most people, for others (like me) it's chronic, and the best we can do is manage it.

It's been over 10 years now. I should have gotten help 10 years before that. It was one of the best things I ever did. I have the tools now to recognize when things aren't right and the knowledge to fix them, or at least take care of myself till it passes. So I guess what I'm saying to you is, if you're having a perpetual 24/7 Bad Day, don't ignore it. Don't wait to get help. DON'T SUFFER. Visit the Mental Health America website at and look for the affiliate office nearest you. Call them. They can put you in touch with the resources you need, so don't assume that because you're broke and/or have no insurance, you can't get help. Chances are, you can, and you'll be glad you did.

Till next time, take care of yourself. And Happy New Year.