Overheard in the Halls: Episode Thirty One

Silent Senior: [pointing with increasing rapidity and intensity at the floor] Squeak!

Sober senior [leaning closer, then sitting up again]: Wow. They really do blend into the carpet!

Me [moving to intercept whatever it is]: Yes, they really do!

I chased the centipede into a corner and whacked at it with my foot until it stopped moving, mostly.

Me [returning to podium]: I need a pair of roach-kickers. Blunt toe boots don’t do it.

Senior snickers followed, and we resumed our discussion of the Hungarian Golden Bull.

*****

The Voice from Above (PA system) chimed. I looked up from writing a lesson outline.

VfA: This is a tumbleweed alert. Those parked in the north lot, be sure to check for tumbleweeds under your vehicles.

Me: SIGH.

Yes, I had tumbleweeds packed under my truck by the end of the day. I started the engine and backed a few meters, releasing the weeds, then turned off the engine and made sure nothing was still around the exhaust. We have not had any flaming tumbleweeds yet, but no one wants to be the first.

*****

Stubborn Junior: But Sister Hygiene, why not?

Sister Hygiene [school nurse, health teacher]: We have a skeleton already. In the closet. I’ll get it out when appropriate.

Jaunty Junior: But Sister, we want the big, giant one. You know, like in the yard at [address redacted].

Sister H. : SIGH! No.

Geek Chorus: Aaawwwwwww.

*****

The fall semester has just begun.

Me [being excited about Salamis]: The Persians attacked here. They outnumbered the Greek fleet—

Speedy Freshman: Clunk. Zzzzzzzzzz. [head hits desk, sleeping ensues]

Me [resigned]: Cross-country season.

Rather later in the semester . . .

Me: This was radical! Locke’s claiming that power was not given to the government by any deity or inheritance, but loaned by the—

Two Tall Freshmen: Clunk. Zzzzzzzzzzzz. [heads hit desk, sleeping ensues]

Me [resigned]: I see that basketball season has begun.

Rest of class nods heads in near unison. Practices for sports are from “oh dark early” until class starts, then again after school.

*****

I’m in the main workroom, checking my in-box for tests.

Mr. Long-Slavic-Last-Name and Mr. Pascal (computer wizard) are studying a small mountain of boxes piled up outside the janitorial closet, waiting to be broken down and recycled.

Mr. Pascal [in best Brain voice]: Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

Sr. Botanica [wandering out of workroom]: We build a fortress and hide from the students?

Four faculty share very broad smiles, then disperse.

Giving Thanks

It is a rare culture or group that doesn’t have some sort of day, festival, or worship service for giving thanks, or showing appreciation for labors and efforts. Harvest festivals are what most of us probably think about, or perhaps offering thanks to the ancestors for deliverance, or thanking a deity for independence, or victory, or the gift of Scripture and teachings, or something. It may be a day set aside on a ritual calendar, or just “when harvest is finished” every year. There’s always been a sense that someone, other than just the people who planted, tended, and harvested, or hunted, or fought, should be given thanks for the good thing that happened.

The US and Canada made that an official day on the calendar. Setting aside a national day of thanks was either the first or second executive order made by President George Washington (historians disagree). The day came and went, and then was made a permanent (this far) holiday, with a set date, in the 1900s. In some places, there are also separate religions days of thanks, like at the church I attended in Not-All-That-Flat state. It was a farming area and a farming town, and every year, when harvest ended, a special service of thanks was held. We also had special harvest and planting devotional guides, and prayer teams for harvest and planting. Yes, it was a very, very important event in the life of the people!

Then we’d have a sort of Harvest Home, minus the alcohol and “corn dollie.” Instead it was hot-dishes, Jellos, ham, and other good things, all cooked by people who did not farm. In part because the farm wives had been doing lots and lots and lots of cooking, and were tired. So the rest of us pitched in instead, and gave them and their families a break. We sang hymns like “Come Ye Thankful People, Come,” and “This is my Father’s World,” and celebrated another year in the bin (as they say in that part of the world.) Harvest was close, it was critical, and we honored it.

Giving thanks means that you acknowledge something outside of yourself. It may be a deity, it may be people who helped you, it may just be gratitude to the world for being so beautiful and good. Looking outside of ourselves is important. It’s easy to get wrapped up in “us,” centered in ourselves in a bad way, and forgetful of what goes on around us. Saying “thank you,” acknowledging effort or generosity makes the way smoother and moves us out of our own heads, so to speak. Thus the frequent religious commands in most faiths that believers are to give thanks to the deity/deities for good things, and to apologize when that thanks is forgotten. It also binds people together in society.

Today, in the year 2021, it seems as if it is hard to give thanks, at least the usual phrases. Things are still off-kilter, more so than two years ago. For some of us it is better than in 2020, for others not so. But we are all here, and alive, and all of us have someone or something to give thanks for, even if it is colorful leaves and a beautiful sunset, or appliances that work and a car that runs, or a close family member still being with us and healthy.

So we in the US give thanks, eat festival foods, and think about the good things that we have been given. Who gave them? That’s up to you to say. I give thanks for readers and stories, for family and friends, for a non-leaking roof and a truck that runs, for a beautiful world with music and leaves and sunsets and amazing wonders in it.

Teddy Bears and Tableware: An Estate Sale

An older gent, perhaps late 60s to early 70s, approached the check out with an armload of teddy bears. The lady two customers behind him had two quilts, both embroidered with teddy bears. The gent set down the bears, gave a sheepish grin as he pulled out his wallet and said, “Grandkids.” I left the mail with a watching family member and got out of the way.

The dear old lady who lived a few houses up the block fell twice more. Her family decided that, despite the lady’s assurances, she needed more than just a five-days-a-week visiting nurse and family checking in on weekends with groceries and household supplies (they either live out of town, or have jobs with rotating shifts.) We her neighbors were both sad and relieved. Sad that she had to move out, but relieved, because we had nightmares about her getting badly hurt, or having a medical crisis and not being found in time despite her cell-phone and emergency button.

The family opted to have an estate sale, once the lady settled into her new home and had taken all the things from the house that would fit in her apartment. The family also took some things, and I heard one young lady saying that she was glad to get the heavy desk and office chair, because it would save her a lot of money trying to find a newer set that fit her (she’s smaller than I am. I feel her pain.) They hired professionals to clean, the arrange everything, and catalogue the estate. Then came the sale.

She collected teddy bears. Almost a hundred, according to MomRed, who had gone over earlier and returned with some bedding, pillows, and things for Little Bit. And two antique hat pins for me (I need to find caps for them. Those always disappear.) When I went later to deliver some mis-delivered mail, I saw teddy bears being carried out, a steady stream of bears. And bear-embroidered quilts and coverlets, bear-bearing plates, and similar. They went to appreciative homes. Books also went quickly, alas, and small items.

The furniture sold fast, per the woman’s grandson-in-law. So had valuable collectibles, and the lawn furniture and some other things.

I’m glad that people wanted the items, and that they will be used and loved. I hate to see good things going to the dump, although I know styles change and some places just don’t have room for, oh, a china cabinet or wardrobe. The house is quiet. Those of us who live around the lady’s house keep an eye on it, just in case, and the family comes by the take care of the lawn and do more things inside.

Times change, people age. The lady is doing OK in her new residence. Moving did not solve her medical problems, but she has full-time care and is much closer to the hospital and her doctors. That’s a blessing.

Cornbread: Baked Good or Religious Denomination?

Well, it’s that time of year, and “cornbread” seems to be the topic of friendly but intense argument in the blogosphere in 2021. It ranks up there with “dressing or stuffing” among Americans from certain regions as a topic that can be – and is – argued with religious fervor.

A note for my readers from outside the US and Canada, at least those who have not encountered this particular dish before. What Americans call cornbread is made from ground maize. It is rarely eaten outside North America, as best I can tell. The grind of the grain is different from that used for polenta, and the grain is not treated the way maize used for tortilla flour is processed before grinding. The resulting baked good does not rise like wheat bread, and is more crumbly because of the lower gluten content. However, it is a native food, and in some parts of the country, was (or is) the main starch that accompanies many meals. So cornbread is yellow, low-rising, and generally crumbly. You can’t slice it the way you do wheat breads. But we love it anyway.

When you start asking people about family cornbread recipes, the line falls on “sugar in the dough” and “no sugar in the dough.” Some people will allow a little wheat flour and baking powder added in, others add egg, there’s “rye-n-Injun” which is a rye-cornmeal bread, and others prefer fried cornbread to baked cornbread. All discussion of those topics seems to pale when compared with the intensity and fervor that accompanies “with sugar or without?”

Purists insist that “bread” means “no sugar.” Unlike wheat breads, where the sugar helps encourage the yeasts to do their thing and cause the dough to rise, or sweetened breads that are supposed to have sugar (or honey, or molasses, or . . . ) cornbread does not need yeast-food. The chemistry doesn’t require sugars. Hot-water cornbread, the ne plus ultra of minimalist cornbread has nothing but very hot water, cornmeal, shortening (lard, bacon-grease, or vegetable shortening) and salt. It can be baked or fried. Cornbread is for workin’ folks, farm folks, it’s not fancy. Light-bread is fancy, and for special occasions only. Cornbread is what you eat to fill the hole when you start running out of bacon or salt-pork to go with the beans and collards (or turnip greens). Or the New England version thereof, because New Englanders leaned on cornbread for quite a while, back when.

Other people add a pinch of sugar, just because. The result should not be sweet. Others make a sweet cornbread, just like some people add canned corn to the mix, or cheese, or jalapenos, or other things. Flour can make a soft, not-crumbly cornbread, more of a fluffy quick bread with corn in it. But that’s not “real cornbread.” One of the blogs I frequent almost had a knives-out argument recently over sugar or no sugar. This is a place where we can talk religion, politics, handgun caliber, domestic or imported motorcycle, you name it (other than cornbread) without resorting to violence. Cornbread . . . is a sensitive topic among a group of Southerners, or at least people who grew up on “poverty food.”

At RedQuarters, we add a bit of sugar.

1 cup yellow corn meal

1 cup sifted all-purpose flour (not self-rising)

1/4 C. sugar (can be omitted. We leave it in.)

1/2 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder.

1 egg

1 C. milk

1/4 C shortening.

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Sift together the dry ingredients. Add egg, milk, and shortening. Beat until smooth. Bake in greased 8″ square pan in a hot oven for 20-25 minutes. Best served warm with butter and honey, or molasses, or sorghum syrup, or apple butter. Or served with butter to go with something that has a sauce that needs to be sopped up (collards, turnip greens, bean soup . . .)

To me, it does not taste sweet.

Note: this recipe does not keep well. It goes rancid in as few as three days if you do not eat all of it, refrigerate it, or use it in other things (dressing for the turkey/duck/goose/ham).

Edited to add:

“Jiffy” is a brand of cornmeal with flour and other things pre-mixed in. It’s like Bisquick™ for rolls, pancakes, and biscuits, except you use “Jiffy” for cornmeal-based baking. https://site.jiffymix.com/

A “chub” of sausage is the small, blunt-ended cylinder of ground sausage (breakfast sausage), usually packed in a soft wrapper so you can either trim off the end and squeeze the sausage out like toothpaste into a bowl or pan, or you can use a sharp knife, cut the chub into slices, and remove the wrapper from each slice. Then you have home-made, thick, sausage patties.

What Purpose War?

It depends on the conflict, the participants, the causes . . . Glory for the ruler, or for the country (and the ruler), gain territory, redress past losses, revenge, gain territory, loot and run, because of alliances, to end oppression and evil, for the glory of G-d and to win souls (which is not strictly limited to the three monotheisms, as it turns out), to gain territory . . .

I got to musing on this because of teaching 1.5 wars (Austrian Succession, Seven Years’ War, American Revolution), preparing for another one (Napoleonic), listening to Sabaton, and reading about the news from Central Europe. Not so much why do men fight, although that is a lot of what Sabaton’s music explores, but why do nations and countries go to war? And what is the purpose.

Those of you who have read my stuff for any length of time know that I vehemently disagree with the “War is good for nothing” line of thought. There are, indeed, worse things than fighting and death. Look at political prisoners in Lenin and Stalin’s Gulags, the Killing Fields, Timurlane’s little trip through Central and South Asia, the Holocaust, the Holodomor, and a few other incidents documented in oral tradition and archaeology. War to keep would-be-Stalins from taking over? War to end Nazi atrocities? War to stop hostile military-aged invaders from overrunning your country ahead of someone else’s armed forces? War to secure a border when a nut-case with delusions of being the next Alexander tries to take over? In the name of his deity? Oh yes. Just War Theory and the international laws the derive from it always allow self defense. Most government laws in the US allow self defense, and the defense of those who cannot defend themselves.

What about war for territory? Used to, that was the main goal. It might be territory for a tribe (or super-tribe, a nation), or a monarch, or a deity (the Northern Crusades, jihad, the Inca’s early wars.) Winning made it yours. That was the only justification needed, although reasons and excuses generally followed, after the fighting stopped and the land had been claimed and pacified. Louis XIV was pretty up-front about setting the Rhine as his eastern border, and the lands that bordered the Rhine, and gaining glory for France—which meant glory for Louis. Other rulers were similar, he was just one of the more flamboyant and less successful. I think resource control can come under territory. Old school, very traditional, and frowned upon today. Not that it stops certain groups or individuals from attempting it.

To be honest, I can respect “I’m fighting to conquer land and rule it because I can” honesty. The silken phrases of professional diplomats wear on a person. “We need oil and farm land. You have it. Next question.” I may disagree, but it’s pretty clear what the goals are.

National honor? Well, what exactly does that mean? For China it means conquering Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, probably chunks of Korea and Vietnam, and controlling the territories that border Chinese territory. It means being recognized as the only power in the world, and all the other powers paying homage and kowtowing, possibly even literally (the nine bows and six prostrations). For the US? Um, heck if I know. Helping allies if they are attacked, keeping our word?

What about WWI? I think as much ink has been spilled on the “real purpose of WWI” as on the battles themselves, if not more. To preserve empire? To uphold alliances? To gain territory? To get even with Serbia for assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand? Because everyone wanted a short, hard war to “clear the air” and sort out who the fittest was for the next stage of evolution? Because Europe was due? Aliens? (OK, I have not found that one yet, but it’s probably out there.)

Like anyone who really studies military history, or who has been in the military, I don’t want war. War is an evil, although a lesser evil compared to some. Just as killing in self-defense is still taking a life, no matter how justified. War is hell, war is terrible, war can bring out amazing and wonderful things. It is something to be avoided if possible, and fought when needed. For there are worse things than fighting a war. No matter the original purpose of the war.

Mid-November State of the Author, 2021

Mildly frazzled. However, I will attest that the customer service sides of both AOPA and the FAA not-in-house-user computer people are very good. I just wish I had not needed their services. It was a case of “if you know how to use the system and what makes it tick, it’s an intuitive system” versus “Why is it not doing what I need it to do? It won’t tell me.”

I’m at 34K words on City, Priest, and Empire. This is going to be a longer book, which fits the story – the resettlement of the lands between the Comb Mountains and the Five Free Cities on the Northern Ocean. Halwende is . . . an intriguing character. His first big collision with the Northern Emperor is about to transpire, setting up the love/intensely-dislike relationship between them.

I hope to have the Lone Hunter story done soon. I need to finish one scene, but Life keeps happening.

I know how to work the three unfinished stories in the next Familiars anthology, it will just take time.

After that? We’ll see. I will have a lot less time over Christmas than I first thought. And next term is . . . full. Very full.

Just Give Me a Master Caution, OK?

DadRed’s car has too many lights. Far too many lights. I can’t tell what is “car is about to die” important and what is “Hi, I see you are driving. Would you like to use my template?” If Microsoft’s un-lamented Clippy was a car, it would appear on the dash of this vehicle.

When everything has a chime, horn, indicator, or light, the driver (or pilot) develops information overload. Like an electrical circuit, this leads to load shedding. What is important? Or what looks most important? That gets my attention. Ideally, this is the road, the mirrors, and then the speedometer and so on. In reality? whatever is orange or red and flashes catches my eye. Even if it is only a report that the speed limit on this bit of road is now 45. This is not helpful.

Apparently, car people don’t talk to airplane people. Aeronautical engineers have already learned that pilots tune out warnings that sound too often, or too early. Minor alerts should not be large, red, and flashing, or people get conditioned to ignore large, red, flashing lights. Too many similar sounding warnings causes the same problem. We ignore the honking. This leads to the (in)famous “Why didn’t you hear the Tower telling you that your landing gear was still up?”

“I couldn’t hear the radio over the warning horn, sir.” Which the pilot ignored, because it always sounded when he did this, this, and that. Since he had to do those things every time he landed, well, you know what happened.

My pickup has a master caution. Alas, it also only tells you what needs attention once, when you start the car. Thereafter the light stays on, and you might not be sure if this is “change the oil” or “gas cap is dangling” or “pull over because you have no oil and the engine is about to lock.” Give me a dedicated engine-things light, please, or a secondary things-of-pending-need light. Or just trust me that I know when to change my oil.

SIGH. Car people have not learned. The cluttered display gets ignored. DadRed’s car, at one point during a normal drive, had twelve different alerts, indicators, and other things on the main instrument panel, plus the speedometer and the gas-efficiency indicator. No tach, no oil pressure, no engine temp. You know, the important things. Toss in the secondary computer display, and gadzooks, there are too many lights.

Is Your Goose Cooking?

You know, your Martinmas goose. What do you mean, you don’t eat goose on Martinmas? What are you, Protestant? American?

Today is Armistice Day, and Veterans Day, and Remembrance Day. It is also the feast of St. Martin of Tours, patron of soldiers, conscientious objectors, wine makers, tailors, and the poor. St. Martin had some . . . difficulties with one goose in particular, and so eating goose on his feast day became a tradition. This also happened to be a good time to start slaughtering livestock in many parts of northern Europe, so that played a role as well.

Image used under Creative Commons Fair Use. Original source: https://rustbeltvoice.blogspot.com/2010_11_01_archive.html

In the US we remember the end of WWI by remembering all veterans, anyone who served honorably in the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marines, and Air Force. Memorial Day is reserved for the dead of all wars. In Britain and Europe, and the Commonwealth, November 11 is Armistice Day, when the dead of the wars are honored. (Germany sets aside a separate day as well, a Sunday, for commemoration and prayer.) At St. Angus-in-the Grass, we have a special chapel service with veterans speaking. Fr. Pax continued the tradition, and our current headmaster, Fr. Martial, is a former military chaplain. We have a number of alumni and parents and teachers who all served or are serving (Reserves, active-duty, National Guard.)

The US is a young country and we had a relatively “good” experience in WWI. Europe . . . didn’t. Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Canada, all sacrificed to help Britain, and bear similar scars, even if they didn’t suffer the bombings and severe deprivation that hit Britain. Armistice Day is Remembrance Day and is a grave, solemn event. In the US we honor the living on this day.

Thank you to all who served, and who are currently serving.

Autumn’s Coin

The sun shone through gold leaves and brown on Saturday afternoon. Huge tan platters, slightly curved inward, rustled and skittered down from the sweet-gum tree outside my office. It sheds bark first, then large leaves that catch the wind and rustle and dance across the yards when the wind is right.

The light has shifted, slanted and clear. Summer’s smoke and dust have faded away, leaving sunlight with an edge and a golden cast to it. Or is it the gold and yellow and tan and crimson in the leaves that tint the passing light? We’ve entered the season of weakening sun. I can go outdoors bare headed and in short sleeves and not crisp. Oh, I’ll still burn if I’m not careful, but not instantly. The light and milder heat feel good in the crisp air. The sun blesses instead of punishes. It provides energy, encourages hurry—harvest is ready, now is the time, the fields are golden and the late fruits are ripe. Gather what you can, while you can, in the fat weeks and months before winter.

Not everyone loves the falling leaves. The community tabby picks his grumpy way between the largest of fallen leaves. He cannot sneak when every step crackles and crunches. The orange cat minces, one white foot carefully placed, then the other. He steps with great care among the brown. Or he clings to windowsills, edging along above the fray until the windows run out and he is forced to return to the ground.

People are busy. Some rake leaves, others mulch them in. At RedQuarters we wait for a generous carpet, enough to make the neighbors concerned about propriety and tidiness, then run a mulching mower over everything. One neighbor is out planting late-season flowers and hauling sacks of mulch. Another replaces brackets for Christmas lights, while promising not to put the lights up until Thanksgiving. House painters work down the street, touching up trim. Dad and I will wait for the last hold out of the trees to scatter its burden before we tackle the gutters. That tree’s leaves always end up in the gutters, even if we use gutter guards. It’s a plot, Dad’s certain of it.

A few birds have moved through. Waxwings and robins, the kites, all came and went. I saw a heron the other evening. The bats seem to have migrated south as well. I await the winter owl, the goldfinches and snowbirds. We have not had many geese yet. They might be waiting, or may have diverted to better-watered routes. Last month I heard sandhill cranes pass overhead. None since then, that I know of.

The light shifts, the sun slides south, the year turns. Orion’s heralds have appeared in the east.