A European Sort of Morning

A summer morning dawned with the usual slanted light as the sun moved north. Crisp, chilly air with a hint of flowers/urban scent/hardness eased in through the part-open window. The hour was early. At least two hours would pass, perhaps more, before it was time for breakfast. For a moment I thought I was in Central Europe.

Nope, still in the High Plains. It was a strong reminder of just how much the little details set the scene, in this case the light and the “feel” of the morning air.

I’ve spent so many Junes on the road to various places that I’ve become attuned to the differences in light. Out in the desert southwest, sunrise is at least an hour earlier than back home, wherever home happened to be at the time. So I’m up and about well before the Hour of Food, trying to sneak around so I don’t wake up those who are sleeping the sleep of the just. It’s a good time to go stretch one’s legs, take photos before the light gets too direct and harsh, and have a moment of quiet time with the birds. The wildlife, however, does require due care and consideration. The light is clear, with edges, often chilly and always dry.

Central Europe . . . In the cities, the hint of diesel exhaust is one of my markers, because trucks are only allowed to do deliveries early in the mornings. Cool soft air, full of moisture unless a cold front has passed, covers everything. The light is soft, filtered by clouds or humidity, and begins very early. By 0500 I can read without turning on the lights in the room (most of the time. Not always.) By 0530 I need a hat and long-sleeves when I venture out. Often the place is still and calm, with birds and perhaps the distant rumble of early traffic the only sounds. No, I take that back. A soft, steady Shhhh, shhhh, shhhh of a broom on cement and stone reaches my ears as an older woman in the faded floral-print uniform of matrons all over that part of Europe sweeps in front of her house or family business. We ignore each other as I pass, as one does. If she acknowledges me, I smile back. The city or town or hotel grounds are mind to meander as I please. No babble of voices comes from the market square, save on market days. The river or town stream murmurs in liquid tones as it dances through the little channels in the streets, or along its bed where the wall once stood.

Sometimes, that same light, the same cold late-spring air washes over the Texas panhandle, and for a moment I’m in a different place.

Food and Taboos

“Fish is brain food.”

“Fish will make you cold and slow and will block medicine power.”

“If it doesn’t have fins and scales, it is unclean.”

Don’t compliment a baby or you will bring down the evil eye. Don’t sit so that the sole of your shoe or the bottom of your foot is pointed at someone. Don’t touch someone on the head lest you interfere with their chi. Don’t eat within one hour before going swimming. Women shouldn’t bathe during . . .

Every culture has things that Must Not Be Done. Some of them seem odd to outsiders, and on occasion, even those inside the culture can’t explain precisely why you Don’t Do That. When anthropologists and folk-lore students start finding patterns, well, then it gets interesting.

Many Plains Indian peoples had taboos about fish – don’t eat them. Either they are just bad luck, or their are bad for medicine power, or they will make you slow, or . . . Up and down the Great Plains of North America, freshwater fish were taboo. Which made ethnographers wonder what the connection was, since these groups all moved to the Plains at different times, and had somewhat different cultures. What probably made fish bad news was the lack of fat. Most parts of the Great Plains, especially the western parts, lack carbohydrates but have lots of lean-meat protein sources. Eating too much lean meat without access to fats and carbohydrates can lead to medical problems, and that may be the origin of the prohibition. Season-dated Paleoindian bison kills show a preference for females in the fall (when they are fattier than males), but males in the spring (when females are far leaner than males.) Some archaeologists have speculated that rules of hunting might have included taboos, although we can’t tell.

The Jewish and Muslim rules about not eating pork are probably the best known food taboos in the western world, although they are not identical. Jewish rules hold pork to be unclean, but pigs may be raised and sold to outsiders. In an emergency, pork may be consumed if the alternative is starvation. Finding a package of bacon on the front step of a synogogue does not render the place of worship ceremonially unclean. The same is not true of a mosque. Pork and pigs are abominations in Islam, and are to be avoided at all costs.

Many food-related taboos are tied in with ideas of ritual purity and cleanliness. Insects and things that creep on the ground may be “dirty.” Likewise many cultures have a ban on consuming carrion eaters, because they eat decayed (and thus corrupt and unclean) flesh. For the Comanche, fish are unclean, and they won’t eat dog because Coyote is close to dogs. Other Indian peoples have no problem with consuming dog meat (the Cheyenne and Maya, for example) but the Kiowa eschew bear meat.

Ritual cleanliness also places a lot of limitations on women of child-bearing age. A woman having her menses is often ritually unclean, or might have the unfortunate ability to break medicine-power or certain blessings. In some cases, women were strictly confined away from sunlight and the rest of society, under the strict care of a post-menopausal woman, until their cycle had finished. In other cultures, the rule was that women of child-bearing age could not go near where the shaman or medicine man lived. Sometimes, women were to avoid hunters for a set number of days before a major hunt, to ensure that hunting magic would remain strong, and that the “scent” (real or spiritual) of blood would not contaminate the hunters and scare away the game.

Some cultures have a lot more taboos than do others. Entire slices of society might be under strict limitations because of a caste system, to the point that if the shadow of a certain person touches the possessions of a different person, the offender is to be executed for polluting the one of higher rank or spiritual authority.

The west doesn’t have as many religious taboos as many cultures, although we certainly have unspoken customs and limitations. Don’t talk about your income or job. Don’t tell dirty jokes or swear in mixed company. Certain cuts of clothing are not suitable for daytime or business attire. Don’t forget to leave a tip for a waiter or waitress, unless the service has been truly terrible. Men should remove their hats when entering a place of worship unless that faith requires the head to be covered. Don’t talk about sex, religion, or politics at the supper table. (Note that “religion” can include college or professional athletics in some parts of the country.)

And never, ever comment on a no-hitter baseball game in progress, or a smooth ride on a flight, or say anything like, “Boy, this equipment test is going really well!” Every fan, pilot, and tech or engineer will turn well-deserved wrath upon thee.

For an intriguing academic look at food taboos around the world:


Armed Forces Day

Somehow, it turned out that most of the friends I’ve made as an adult (over age 18) are either military, worked around military people, come from military families, or have some other connection to the armed forces of the US, Australia, or Canada, or Great Britain. I didn’t set out to do that, it just happened. (Granted, the aviation community leans that direction, especially rotorcraft, but still…)

Today in the US is Armed Forces Day. The third Saturday in May is set aside to honor the men and women who currently serve in the Armed Forces of the US (including the Reserves and National Guard). Originally there were separate days for the four (then five) branches of the military, but the SecDef lumped them together in 1949. Note that this did not and does not replace things like the Marine Corps Birthday and commemorations of the founding of the other branches. May is also V-E Day, and Memorial Day.

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The Danger of Laughter

I’ve been reminded recently that one of the most dangerous things in the world is laughter, especially when aimed at bureaucracies. I was reviewing some things about the Cold War, and found a brief description of Vaclav Havel’s early play The Garden Party. The dialogue makes no sense. It is a pile of cliches and double-speak and nonsense, all spoken by the protagonist and bureaucrats. The protagonist’s glory is that he has, at last, mastered how to navigate the bureaucracy of Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. The very absurdity and nonsense of the play is the point of the story.

The Soviets and other totalitarians fear laughter, even when it is not aimed at them. Laughter is an escape. The Grand Ayatollah Ruahola Khomei famously declared that “There is no joy in Islam.” At least not as he understood the faith. Living a life in full submission to the deity was far, far too serious a business for humor or laughter. (Aaaaand my mind went to the old cough drop commercial, replacing “Ricola™” with Ruahola. I’m a naughty blogger, yes I am.)

As you would expect, jokes flourished under the Soviets and inside the Warsaw Pact. And outside of the Warsaw Pact. People who can laugh at themselves tend to do better under stress, and have a more realistic view of the world.

You might be a Calvinist if . . . you believe that the 12 Apostles are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, James the Brother of Jesus, Thaddeus, Peter, Augustin, Jerome, Luther, John Calvin, and John Knox.

For Stalin and others, the Cause or The System is far too important to laugh at it. For others, some things are too important not to laugh at them, or with them. I was amused to read that the Biden Administration hired a consultant to do research to find out what would be the most effective insult for political opponents. Their researcher worked very diligently, including holding focus group meetings to test the response to various terms. It took six months. Contrast this with the rapid speed with which said insult was turned into jokes. The Administration was Very Serious and believes very deeply in their cause. The opposition is not very serious, but also believes deeply in their cause. You can fill in Administration and opposition as you like – political, theological, historical, bureaucratic . . .

The Soviets and their puppet governments took laughter Very Seriously, which is part of why they fell apart. The rest of the world was serious about laughing at them, and at ourselves. Aggies tell Aggie jokes. Teachers tell teacher jokes. Christians tell church jokes, Jews tell rabbi jokes. Humor is healthy for the body politic. And dangerous, terribly dangerous for bureaucrats.

How many sopranos does it take to change a lightbulb? One. She holds the bulb and the world revolves around her.

The article below is a wonderful discussion of political humor in Soviet-controlled Europe, and has some really good jokes as well.


May ’22 State of the Author update

Short version – busy. This is crunch week 2.0 at Day Job, with the year wrapping up.

I’m at 50K words on Overly Familiar. I’ve also sketched out the next main-series Familiars novel, and am starting to work through some ideas for Familiar Generations. I hope for an August release for this one, and perhaps a September or early October release for the next Familiars after that.

Noble, Priest, and Empire is with the editor. I don’t expect to hear back until late June, for a mid-July release. I have the cover art already.

Blogging will slow down in June. If things go as they appear to be going, I will be without internet for several weeks. I hope to have three or four posts per week, and I might turn off comments, just so people don’t get trapped for three weeks or so in Moderation Limbo. We’ll see.

Product Review: Furminator 2.0

Short version: Wow, does this thing work wonders on a double-coated cat!

When the Furminator™ pet comb first came on the market, MomRed got one. It worked OK on the cat, very well on the furniture. The black comb with larger teeth seemed to get more fur out of Athena’s two layers of pelage. However, over time, she became less tolerant of the black comb. [As I’m typing, she’s begging for treats.] The Furminator™, however, she would put up with. This became more and more important, because her arthritis makes it hard for her to reach all the places that need to be groomed and tidied.

Enter Furminator 2.0. The new and improved version has slightly different teeth, and a built-in device that slides forward and cleans the fur out of the comb. Mom got one the day they became available around here.

This is AFTER she was washed and trimmed and de-furred.

Athena T. Cat came back from the groomer that day. The groomer and DadRed had to tag-team the cat in order for the groomer to use the clippers and shave off about half the mats. They stopped then, because Athena was getting very stressed (so were the humans). Mom then began working on Athena with the new Furminator™ at home. The picture above shows the results, and is from the third time that day Mom had combed the cat. The clump of fur closest to the camera has been compressed to about the size of my palm. The other was just removed from the cat, and dropped off the Furminator™.

The thing works beautifully. Athena tolerates it. We are getting enormous amounts of fur out of her, which is good, because she is “blowing” her undercoat (as Maine Coons do). The cat is happier, the people are happier, and the gizmo is easy to use with a good, ergonomic grip.

Two paws up, highly recommend.

UPDATE: If you want to see the product on the Furminator site, with reviews: https://www.furminator.com/products/deshed/cat/undercoat-deshedding-tool-medium-large-cat-short-hair.aspx

FTC Disclaimer: This item was purchased for personal use and no one in the household received any remuneration or benefit in exchange for this review.

Consider the (Day) Lilies of the Field . . .

OK, iris, but in my defense, they both grow on tall stalks, have large leaves, and need support when the wind starts howling. Like Tuesday, when it was 70 MPH with visibility in town of 1/4 mile in dirt. (Followed by mudballs, then rain and hail. Gotta love May.)

Iris and roses.
Yellow iris and red Columbine. The yellow Columbine have not been as aggressive this year. Yet. . . Yet.
Iris, dianthus (the low pink thing), spring Buddleia, and rose.
Old faithful miniature rose. It hangs out beside the patio and is the sole survivor of twelve years and six roses.
Yes, spring has sprung and the salvia are out to conquer the world.
As I was saying . . . even the garden shark is threatened by the salvia.

Cheater’s Pasta Salad

So, this was one of those “It Came From the Cookbook and then got lost” sorts of things I used to make fairly often. Pasta salad kept well, as did chick-pea salads, and I could make it in advance. Also, both are cool, a boon when you stagger in from a flight drenched in perspiration, too exhausted to cook, and too broke to get carry out.

Curly pasta, or bow-tie-pasta, or what ever you want. One package (a pound or so)

Sliced little tomatoes, as many as you want

one small can of black olives, drained

hard cheese (Asiago, Parmashan, Romano, yes, either cut into small cubes or grated) OR

Cheddar or other semi-hard cheese, cubed

one bell pepper – green or fancy – minced

canned artichoke hearts or hearts of palm (if desired) – chopped

carrots – chopped or cut into small rounds

[in other words, clean the crunchies out of your veggie drawer]

something meat-ish if desired – summer sausage, bits of ham, slivers of pepperoni, cooked real sausage cut into rounds, left-over marinated chicken, left-over marinated pork-loin . . . You get the idea.

Cook the pasta to al dente. If you are going to be keeping the salad for a few hours before eating, or even making it the day before, I tend to cook it a little firmer than al dente, so that the dressing doesn’t make it too mushy. Rinse, pour into large bowl, and add everything but the cheese. Stir well.

Dressing – whatever your heart desires. I usually made a vinegar and oil with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a bit of herbs (basil, savory, marjorum, Italian-type herb blend . . . Whatever you like. Brianna’s Blush White is good but might be a little sweet for some {one with strawberry on label}). Or you can use a packaged Italian or similar dressing. You want something that won’t drown the flavors of the other things. A chilled Asian dressing with sesame oil, soy sauce, ginger, and the like also works.

Put in fridge and chill until you return from your flight, or you are ready to serve. If you have used hard cheese, you can add it earlier. Softer cheeses seem to get “icky” so I wait on those.* Serve with warm bread, or more veggies, or leafy greens. This is a meal for when know that you will really need food but don’t want to heat the kitchen or even poke the microwave. (I never had a microwave.)

*I don’t like slick-textured or slimy foods. Other people don’t mind.

So There We Were . . .

I had two instructors, both from earlier generations, who were both Air Force veterans. They had served in competing, er, that is, somewhat different branches of the Air Force. Fred had flown stuff like B-52s for the Strategic Air Command. Charlie had served in the Army in WWII and then managed to end up flying in the low, slow, and on-the-go side of the Air Force in Tactical Air Command. Fred had been an officer, Charlie a senior NCO. Very senior NCO. Both had stories . . .

So, it was one of Those weeks at Ye Little Airport. Fred and Charlie were both cranky. The airport manager was cranky, the mechanics had been giving us pilots more dirty looks than usual, and the flight school manager was . . . Well, the bills for the big yearly inspections on three of our planes had hit in the same week. Oh, and between winds too high for students, and clouds too low for students and birds both, not much folding green had come in to help with the bills.

So, there I was, seated at the desk behind the main counter. I could just barely be seen, sort of a red tuft poking up over the faux-wood. Fred and Charlie came in in the midst of a warm discussion. Very warm. Increasingly warm, using acronyms about half of which I understood. TAC, SAC, FAC, NDB, MACV, SOG, AHB, and a few other things, interspersed with suggestions of a lack of manhood and an absence of aviation prowess. Things got heated enough that I popped up like a prairie dog with a pony-tail and said, “Sirs, should I go check on the materials in the hangar?” The gents wanted to use salty language, which they would not do if a lady (or me) was present.

Charlie glanced at Fred and nodded. “Please do.”

“Yes, sir.” I went out into the hangar and made certain that the things in the cabinets were where they should be. Some were not, so I put the oil back in the oil rack, the washing supplies into their place, and so on. After roughly five minutes, I returned to the main office. Both gents were glaring at each other, as usual. This was an old, old debate that went back to, well, before I started flying. I’ll leave it right there.

I have no idea why, what devil inspired me, but I opened my mouth and started to sing a little ditty I picked up from a gent who was a career NCO with the [redacted state] Air Guard. It is/was sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.”

“Oh here’s to the regular Air Force/ With medals and badges galore.

“If it weren’t for the [gosh-darned] Reservists,/ Their @ss would be dragging the floor!”

That’s the chorus. The verses are more pointed, and have saltier language.

Both gentlemen turned, glared at me, and snarled. The phone rang and I answered it, so I have no Idea what would have happened next. I do know that by the time I finished rescheduling the student, then booking a photography flight, the gents had turned to attacking their common enemy:

The US Navy.

And so peace descended once again on Ye Little Airport.