Monday Morning Madness

And a bit of Monday morning mirth. It will wear off, as the day wears on, but starts with a bit of a pop like a Christmas cracker. Streamers and a little gift inside!

Mondays are my favorite day. Whatever went wrong last week is forgotten. I am new. The rough skin of last week is sloughed off, the bruises to the ego have faded, and I approach the week with optimism. A new and optimistic “to-do” list, electronic or paper–maybe both–awaits. There are ideas to be shared, and reams to be written in another chapter or two of my life.

Monday is a day for the inner and outer journey, as they say of Swedish pilgrimage. Mondays are good days for appointments, and they are also good days for slow steady rains, and working indoors, alone, and with focus. This is a glorious Monday, and appropriately busily scheduled. Were it gloomy and drizzly, I would prefer quietly working alone at home.

This is an illusion, but as I cherish it week after week, please permit me: I will pick up what I dropped. I will not have to “humbly repent” the things I have left undone next Sunday. Truth be told, I humbly repent what I have left undone far too often, and quite infrequently in church. I will work harder than I did last week. Disruptions will be fewer, and somehow dross will be turned into gold. And all that without visiting the now-closed Alchemist Brewery in Waterbury, Vermont. (Beer review coming up in another post, but the Brewery is temporarily closed, so don’t rush up there.) I will disregard health issues for today, and begin the week in unperturbed and uninterrupted by unwanted appointments. I do like Mondays!

When I take a morning walk down the path, I may see the small woodpecker, hopping from branch to branch in the neighbor’s bush, only an arm’s-length away. Though I continue on the path by the brook, I will never again see the albino squirrel my son and I saw one early morning as I walked him to grade school. We only saw it once, and we were the only two ever to see it. I don’t put it down to a shared hallucination. But if I had to guess years later, I’d say we saw the squirrel on a Monday.

Ode to Monday:

Monday, the week’s newly opened blossom.
Not shy, but bright and sturdy.
Brazen, unashamed.
Bustling Monday.
Busy squirrels hiding nuts.
Brisk breeze Monday.
Tree tops swaying gently,
Clouds not racing, but
Purposefully traversing the sky.

Fir Tree in Monday Mood by Circespeaks

Fir Tree in Monday Mood by Circespeaks

Remembering those who Perished in the Philippines

Remembering those who perished in the Philippines. Perhaps we all have a touch of empathy fatigue. This is a busy time of year with fall holidays for many of the major faiths practiced in the United States. Have we forgotten, or not yet truly absorbed, the terrible fate of many who perished and others who cling to hope–though there may be no help on its way–in the Philippines?

It is Sunday, a quiet day for many, whether or not they hold it holy. This music suggested by a friend who is a musician in Chicago, is a fitting tribute.

Just in case you haven’t taken Latin recently, or ever, and are not a musician, a requiem is “a hymn or dirge for the repose of the souls of the dead.”

May they rest in peace. May we. who have received some measure of peace, and some rest this Sunday, go into the world remembering that there are many among the living who still need our help. And if we are among those who need help–we all are at times–let us not be ashamed to ask.

And let’s hope I post something cheerful tomorrow! I can almost promise that I will do so.


Eurozone Youth Flight

This information is mostly gathered from the front page and the International Section of today’s New York Times, 2013-11-16. What I choose to cite from a long article, and conclusions I draw, though I am led by the writer, are still my own.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recognizes that unemployment among EU Youth “is perhaps the most pressing problem facing Europe.” Not all of Europe, however; not Chancellor Merkel’s Germany.

No, the problem is most pressing in Southern Europe, where youth unemployment is well over 50 percent, at a shocking 58 percent in Greece and 55 percent in Spain among 15-24 year olds compared to Germany’s 8 percent.
In Spain, young people interviewed blame internal mismanagement, and “the austerity policy prescribed by its international creditors and Germany.” Germany is the only EU nation in which youth unemployment has decreased.

I do not understand how this is possible. Yes, I do know that Janet Yellin and others have suggested that had we employed similar austerity measures in the U.S., we could have found ourselves in another Great Depression.

What confuses me is how and why Germany gets the biggest and best piece of the pie. Hasn’t this happened before? I guess it was even worse when Germany had gotten what it perceived to be too small a piece of the pie. Germany is our ally, largely disarmed, no military threat, so the argument goes. In this era, global destabilization may have more to do with the policies of the International Monetary Fund, and other global economic entities than possession of arms. This is a war that Germany is winning with the Mercedes, the BMW, and the right officials in high places. There are “winners and losers” in the European economy today.

Does this doom the European Union? If benefits accrue to some nations, clearly at the expense of others–that, for instance, carry almost the entire responsibility for immigration from Africa and elsewhere, of political refugees and others seeking simple sustenance–what is the advantage to being a Eurozone nation? We are extremely involved in what has become a national conversation about bullying within the NFL (National Football League) and the culture of bullying within the NFL and the Miami Dolphins, in particular. Should we also be concerned about a culture of bullying in the EU? Germany is not alone. Bullies rarely act alone. But Germany is alone in a decrease in youth unemployment in two age categories spanning from 15 to 29-year-olds.

If I clamber out of bed to my PC, I will attach a graph, also from the New York Time, and time permitting, a poll.

Will no professionals and caretakers remain to run Greece and Spain and take care of senior citizens there because they will have emigrated to the EU nations to the north? This seems like more than cockamamie, Chicken Little sky-is-falling alarmism.

What can be done? Have I misread? Certainly I have not read deeply, or with subtlety, but I have been pondering the situation in Europe. If this is a European Union why is Southern Europe set adrift? Hmmm…. North and South. Sounds so familiar.

You who are economists, who are humanitarians, who are statisticians: how will this new movement of peoples across porous borders affect the EU? How will it affect all of us?

We are all connected.
NYTimes: Young and Educated in Europe, but Desperate for Jobs

The Uncooperative (and Partly English) Patient

The lowly has risen. This isn’t quite as marvelous and self-aggrandizing as it may sound. I just went from being a person with a lifetime of low, sometimes unusually low, blood pressure, to a person who was trying to calm down, so that I could go home instead of to the hospital. I guess 160/100 is no big deal…unless your normal blood pressure has been 110/60.

Was it the coffee I drank? Just those few sips? Normally a drinker of strong English or Indian tea, it was, if so, not caffeine but some other alkaloid contained in coffee.

Suggestions on what to avoid if you happen to have a sudden spike in blood pressure: self-righteous relatives who choose that moment–when you just want to avoid the dreaded hospital, to go home, and to get something to eat–to tell you how “lucky” you are. I am perfectly aware that I am fortunate not to be in the typhoon-ravaged Philippines, or war-ravaged Syria, or drought-and-strife ravaged nations in Africa. And while I am not making the ultimate sacrifice of going there as a foreign aid worker–with no special medical training, I would merely be in the way–I am one of those people who broods over the terrors, natural and man made, that befall people whom I have never met. Hunger is perhaps the curse I brood over most because it is almost one hundred percent preventable. And I am almost always hungry, despite not suffering want.

Not that I am unusually generous, but I give as I feel able, and as thoughtfully as I am able, pouring over Charity Navigator, and over articles on how to help the most people with whatever (small amounts) I have to share. MSF, Oxfam, an UNICEF are usually the international aid agencies I choose for crises. There are also organizations such as FINCA, that provide small business loans, usually to women in third world countries. (Is “third world” not an outdated expression? Non-industrialized nations might be better, but even wealthy industrial nations like Japan suffer tragedy and require aid, as we saw two years ago.) I do not neglect local needs, the people who are my neighbors, either. But I could most certainly do more–much more. As I have written before, the word “charity,” except in its biblical meaning of “love” rankles. Who am I to have money and time that I choose or don’t choose to share with someone else? Lucky, that’s who. Not to mention a bit selfish.

Wherever I go out, I make my best effort to smile to someone who may be having a worse day than I am, even though I naturally tend to be on the morose side myself. Or even to smile at someone who looks like he or she is having a marvelous time. We can all be masterful at deception when we are in public. Yes, this is terribly trite, yet I hold fast to the truism that a smile can “brighten someone’s day.” My smile is probably my best feature–isn’t it everybody’s?–and it is a daily miracle to watch someone become happier simply because I have made eye contact, and smiled at them, without regard to age, gender, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic, and all those other statuses. Sure am lucky. If I didn’t have teeth, for instance, I doubt I’d be smiling, and able to make even that small contribution.

My other suggestion: Don’t answer the phone. If it is urgent the caller will keep trying. One doctor’s office called the other, and while I was sitting there, head and chest pounding, sweating, being quite amazed that I had been able to negotiate the heavy Friday afternoon traffic while feeling distinctly light-headed, another doctor’s office called. What was I thinking? I normally do not answer the telephone. The telephone is my least favorite mode of communication. That’s what voice mail is for. I think my mother is starting to understand that you don’t leave a message except in urgent cases: You call, hang up, and the person you have called will call you back if he or she is able and so inclined. I was in no mood to be told to make an inconvenient drive next week to have my blood pressure checked. Every pharmacy has a cuff, and I know to check both arms, and so on. So…I was not impolite, but I was very definite in informing the receptionist that I would not be coming in for a blood pressure check because doing so would raise my blood pressure. Being even mildly terse with the receptionist, and probably labeled an “uncooperative” patient, made me even more stressed.

My blood pressure was perfectly normal at the gym yesterday, at the gym this morning. I like going to the gym: the people are friendly, and if I can’t be playing a real sport, I at least want a good daily sweat. Once I arrived at the doctor’s office, I suddenly felt strange. So I am not going to repeat that exercise unnecessarily. Yes, if I check my blood pressure at one or more pharmacies and it remains high, I will go to my GP, but until then….

It’s Friday evening. Happily, though caffeine was forbidden, beer was not.

I’m really very annoyed at myself for missing the GSW (Golden State Warriors) buzzer-beating game last night. (The GSW are an NBA basketball team based in Oakland, California.) Maybe I can find a replay on ESPN2. This is probably a good day to abandon my usual schedule.

A Quiet Act of Protest

Red Rake in Fall Leaves by Circespeaks

Red Rake in Fall Leaves by Circespeaks

Multiple leaf blowers from the small yard across the street assail my senses. The leaves, dry, brittle, and lightweight, could easily, and probably more economically, be raked by a neighborhood high school student.

The small act of hiring a high school student to rake leaves or shovel snow, not only preserves our sanity and hearing, but promotes community. Since the employer is often a senior citizen, he or she has a personal interaction with one of the many, otherwise nameless, kids who walk up and down our street.

Until our elderly neighbors across the street moved, my son had a fine working relationship with the kind, intelligent woman who lived there. When it snowed, he would not fail to get up early and quickly shovel her driveway and walkway. The person who purchased her home, sadly, runs a lawn care business, and has made certain to preempt any entrepreneurial efforts by local students. The tiny yard across from my larger yard is mowed by one or two persons riding not push gasoline mowers, and not ride-on mowers, but incredibly noisy stand-on mowers. Every blade of brass is surely passed over at least twenty times weekly in summer and in spring, nineteen of which are unnecessary. The noise is unbearable. This post will be brief, not only because I am in the midst of a large project with a deadline, but because I have to leave the area. When I return, and it is safe to go back outside, I will also return to my act of protest.

The implement used in my quiet act of protest is familiar to one and all in suburban America. Will it continue to be?

When my boys were small, one of their favorite books was Just a Dream by Chris van Allsburg. Van Allsburg is more known for his books Jumanji and Polar Express, but Just a Dream has a special place in our collection of children’s literature. In one of the book’s vignettes, noise pollution and air pollution have become so noxious, that people are again using the push lawn mowers–neither powered by gasoline or electricity–that my father used when I was little. May this be more than a dream! One day my yard will no longer be a yard, but a field or vegetable garden, or simply a decorative, “useless” garden, but until that day this household will continue to mount its small, quiet, protest with a common rake.

No November

November in New Jersey by Circespeaks

November in New Jersey by Circespeaks

My father read this poem to me from the Golden Book of Poetry when I was little. I remember not understanding it, not being properly horrified by the nothingness that Thomas Hood dreaded in November.


No sun – no moon!
No morn – no noon –
No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member –
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! –
Thomas Hood

November, the real November that we are supposed to have, with overcast skies, almost continuous drizzle, and the occasional whiff of snow borne south, has gone missing. I miss the real November. This impostor November has been cold enough to bring bright colors to the leaves, most of which are now fallen. The drought worries me. The sun is getting on my nerves.

Dear Sun,

Could you please tone it down a bit?

Thank you,


The drought, ongoing since mid-July, is a concern. We did not water as we should have done. Of course I watered plants and bushes in the heat of the summer, but by the time I thought of giving the very largest trees a deep soaking–which I started to do a couple of days ago–the nights dropped below freezing, and all water to the outdoors is turned off.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts a snowy winter, but following hard upon a very hot and dry summer and fall, I fear losing more trees and worse when the snow falls on dry and brittle branches.

Besides which, I confess: I love rain. Sunny days are pleasant now and then, but there is nothing like a nice, rainy day to put me in a good mood. Unless of course it is a thunderstorm on a sweltering summer day. So off to the Northwest with me? Seattle? Portland?

I think I caught the one overcast moment (I exaggerate, but not much) of this entire fall last Sunday afternoon.

Do you miss the rain? Do you miss November?

Swedes to the Swede

You may or may not have never heard it, but there is a silly old expression, written by some Shakespeare fellow, in a play called Hamlet. The scene is quite disturbing; Hamlet’s mother is scattering fresh flowers on Ophelia’s grave. The sweets are the flowers, and the “sweet” is the deceased Ophelia. But I am not currently channeling my English professor incarnation, so I will be brief. Hamlet stumbles upon the scene with his mother and the dead Ophelia. He immediately leaps into her grave where he wrestles with her brother, who was first to jump in in order to embrace her one last time. The impropriety of their behavior is perhaps not so remarkable in the context of the play: Hamlet has recently murdered Ophelia’s father. I have nothing quite that potent for you today.

The brassicaceae family of vegetables is, however, a pretty potent bunch, both in bitterness and, in the case of the “Swede,” both cyanophytotoxins, and beneficial phytochemicals. (Here I must give credit where it is due, to the online resource, Wikipedia ( )).

Swede that I am, it is probably not surprising that I enjoy the bitter taste. Some people have two copies of the same gene that makes the Swede turnip intolerably bitter and inedible to them. But I’m a weird veggie omnivore and have been caught crunching on or sauteing red hot chili peppers (while “Under the Bridge” plays in the background) or even on a jalapeno, depending on the heat of the seeds. I find myself explaining to servers in restaurants–Indian, Thai, and Mexican–servers who are often Anglo themselves, that though I may have pale skin, I really do mean it when I ask them to make it fiery, an 8.5 to a 9.5 out of 10.

This I would not do in San Diego, much less in the company of people not accustomed to the often hyper-sensitive Anglo palate. I have a relative by marriage who eats only salsa without garlic, jalapeno, or any hot peppers. Fortunately, my Anglo palate is not hyper-sensitive, and this seems to be genetic, too. None of us enjoys dinner food without garlic, and a few of us even eat anchovies on our pizza.

Naturally my origins are not 100% Anglo. Whatever your creation narrative might be, religious or scientific, many of us agree that we all originated together somewhere at approximately (or exactly) the same time and place. So of course I’m not 100% anything other than human. My world seems to be dominated by men: If my brother, or either of my sons, were to read that last statement, they could not possibly let it go unchallenged 😉

Both rutabaga, or Swede turnip, and celeriac root, the knobby-looking vegetable in the photo foreground, must be peeled, and then roasted or boiled. Either is excellent in soup, or mashed like potatoes. Unlike potatoes, I believe that rutabaga and celeriac can safely be blended or pureed without turning grey or slimy. If any novice chef who will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, is reading this, take my advice: Do not use a Mix-Master, blender, or any electronic device to mash your potatoes. Mash them with a potato masher, or whatever you have handy, and then whip them a bit with a whisk or fork if you want an even finer texture. If you are not a vegan, add a stick of butter–preferably pasture-raised, highly flavorful butter–while the potatoes are still hot. Your mashed potatoes will be a success. I am an advocate of adding salt to mashed potatoes, and of adding roasted garlic, too, but Thanksgiving purists may prefer their mashed potatoes as a simple backdrop to more flavorful dishes.

I have not given the celeriac root, hybrid relatives of the celery stalks that many Americans dice and add to their Thanksgiving bread stuffing (or dressing), my full attention because I have only cooked it once myself.

Does anyone have any recipes to share?

Remembrance Day: Karl Mander Gravell

Karl Mander Gravell, George Cross Recipient by Circespeaks

Karl Mander Gravell, George Cross Recipient by Circespeaks

The text of the caption is too small to read in my photo. Please see the caption text, verbatim, below:

George Cross
A Wireless Air Gunner under training, Leading Aircraftsman Gravell was awarded the George Cross for his courage and daring in time of emergency. Involved in a training aircraft crash, his first thought was not for his personal safety but for that of his pilot. Ignoring the fact that his own clothes were ablaze, and himself severely wounded, he endeavored to release his comrade. Had he immediately proceeded to extinguish the flames on his own clothing, he would probably not have lost his life.

Karl Mander Gravell was the only child of my grandfather’s sister. The oldest child in a family of six from Sweden, Anna-Lisa moved to Vancouver, B.C., married there, and had only one child, Karl Mander. Were he still alive today, he would be my mother’s oldest cousin. His mother died in her early nineties, after many years alone, save for the company of a companion and caretaker. What a different life she would have enjoyed had her only child lived. He was 21 when he died.

Karl Mander was a student-in-training when the accident occurred. He died in a fruitless attempt to save his flight instructor, who had died on impact. I will have to ask my mother again, but it is my recollection that he crawled into the burning wreckage, not only with his own clothing and the wreckage on fire, but with a broken back.

Every year the Queen of England honors the fallen who have earned the highest honor, the Purple Heart. Those men and women have sacrificed their lives to save others in the line of enemy fire. Every other year she also honors the recipients of the George Cross, who have sacrificed their life in service to their country, but not under enemy fire. My mother and I hope, one day, to go to London to attend this ceremony and reception, during which the Queen meets and speaks with the families. My mother had the George Cross itself at home for many years. I remember seeing it when I was a young child. It is now with other crosses, and with a different photograph of Karl Mander, in an appropriate place of honor. I am the only person who sees this photo, which hangs near my front door, daily.

Canadians celebrate Remembrance Day rather than Veterans Day. I met a young Canadian while checking out at the grocery store on Friday evening. He wondered where there was an American Legion hall in our area because he needed a poppy to wear. There is not one nearby, so I hope my recollection that poppies are given, and donations accepted, outside the grocery store on Veteran’s Day itself, is correct. In Canada, he explained, all civil servants wear their poppy, for Remembrance Day, for the entire month of November.

Please join me in remembering Karl Mander, his life, and his sacrifice today.

Higher (Cost of) Education

Let me first say that my son is at the school of his dreams, in the place of his dreams, with people who are extremely important to him, enjoying learning and being part of a community far more than he did at, oh, one of the top high school in New Jersey. So…I couldn’t be happier for him. I have have much to be grateful for, and only wish he were not quite so far away, as making the 7-hour drive there and the 7-hour drive back frequently is not possible. But Vermont is his true home. He can’t wait to go snowshoeing and camping in the snow, and I allowed the purchase of a student pass to Stowe and Mad River Glen, a skiers delight. Now we need some snow!

I honestly do not mind economizing. Nevertheless, I was meditating on the issue of ever-increasing college tuition, and how that is shaping our society. Bigger children, bigger problems, as the cliche goes. The same is true of wants, needs, and expenses. There are probably preschools in Manhattan with tuition that rivals or surpasses the cost of college tuition in Vermont, but since we have never lived in Manhattan, nor sent children to “competitive” preschools, college tuition is our biggest expense child-related expense thus far.

We are educating our child at our personal expense. This wouldn’t seem so strange if we did not have European backgrounds, and his first cousins in Germany weren’t simultaneously receiving their university educations largely at the expense of the society which will benefit from the investment. Since Germany is home to the “one percent” of Europe, with the healthiest economy, best healthcare, lowest unemployment rate, and and among the most stringent policies of admitting immigrants. Someone must be paying. Presumably the people in Southern Europe, whose economies are in shambles, and who don’t have generous parental leave, and can’t afford to have children, are the people having their pockets picked for the good times in Germany. But that is the situation in Europe today. Maybe there will be a change when Italy leads the EU, as it will soon do, when Germany’s term as head of the EU is up.

Chances are that the young man currently in Vermont will, not long from now, be employed and paying a handsome portion of his paycheck into social security. He is, in fact, employed part time right now, so though I have neither opened his mail, nor looked at his pay stubs, he is very likely already making such a contribution. Society will also benefit from his college education, because once he has a college degree, he is less likely to be unemployed. No guarantees, and rare is the individual who is not unemployed at some point, but statistically speaking, he is likely to be a net contributor. Will that make him a happier person? Probably not if he is forced into the corporate or wage-earning world. He wants to work in environmental agriculture, to help create a more sustainable world, and until he grows old and tired, will flourish in an outdoor environment rather than behind a desk. His will, therefore, be a double contribution: his career choice, as he sees envisions it now, will benefit all, not only himself and any eventual dependents or co-dependents. Food–and the water, and chemical and radiation-free soil on which food depends–are his concerns. He would probably make more money if he elected to major in economics and work in the business world. His brother majored in environmental economics, and will practice law one day soon, hopefully also protecting the environment.

Wherein will the greatest benefit to society lie? With the typical business major, or with the student working to save and protect our environment? Brokerage statements are of low nutritional value. One study showed that rats who ate Corn Flakes cardboard boxes, and nothing else, lived longer than the rats who ate only Corn Flakes cereal, and nothing else. So I could be wrong. Maybe your statements are printed with soy ink on hemp paper, and are extremely nutritional. Check with your broker, and be sure to have them sent via post, not only online, if this is the case.

Our young student will not be burdened by loan payments after he graduates, but many of his peers will. What, then, is their incentive to bother with college, and ever-higher tuition? Should we expect a generation of autodidacts and entrepreneurs not ensnared by government loans? The interest rates of student loans remain unconscionable! Why, when their degrees will benefit the elders in our society, do these same elders stack the deck against the struggling student, and for the profiteering banks? Why are student loan rates higher than mortgage interest rates, and far higher than the rates at which banks borrow money? Who is profiting from these high interest rates? Banks, the U.S., and other governments? The “starving student” is no mere cliche, but a sad fact of American life. It is also unfortunate that our culture has become such that all must, or at least should, attend college. We depend on a variety of people, but as trade unions are weakened, the paths through university or even professional school–not without their burdensome costs–have become more alluring.

Preschoolers do grow up and many practice a trade or use their college education. That this benefit to society-at-large should burden the individual and family is unethical. Along with raising the minimum wage, we must lower the barriers to equal educational opportunities.

An education is not, however, all a child needs. It all starts with parents, preschool, and cupcakes. The intangible needs and wants are costly in terms of time, productivity, and earnings. And that cost is mostly shouldered by mothers. Hence the enduring gender gap in pay and career advancement. But parenting is an occupation that provides the richest rewards, as well as heartbreaks unlike any other.

Thanks to Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for supporting students, and honoring the contributions they make to our society, and for helping keep interest rates on Stafford loans reasonable. Not low, but at least reasonable. Or so it seems to one who is not struggling to find a job and pay back a loan that matures with graduation, even if the student’s maturation isn’t quite so instantaneous.

Click on the link to see and hear Senator Warren speak about student loans:‎

And in case what I wrote about the fee schedule–or basic lack of same–at institutions of higher education in Germany seems entirely too good to be true, here is a recent article on the subject:

Now We’re Rocking & Rolling!

A Superb Set by Circespeaks

A Superb Set by Circespeaks

This superb set, once owned by Frank of Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, now awaits a drummer to bring it to life! As any drummer can probably see, this was set up by amateurs, and one of the amateurs even moved the cymbal around, so that it would fit into the photo. Little did I know that drum sets come with keys, and special little seats, and a blanket stuffed into the bass drum.

The bass drum sets the entire house rocking, and if I thought the neighboring high school band was loud on football days like today, well now I know loud! And a part of me really loves it.