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Truth of the Ages

It seems that life gets stranger by the day. The more we learn the less we seem to know about it.

Why?

Maybe we forgot that the truth is far simpler then we think.

If it is a simple thing, what is stopping us from knowing it?

After thinking on this question for a few days I came to a conclusion.

We are naturally inquisitive creatures and spend a good amount of time investigating our world. There is a lot to dig into, especially with the development of the internet.

But at some level we do arrive at a general truth or the truth about a particular issue. Most often, we reject it because it is not what we want it to be. In spite of this, we continue to dig, rarely finding what we expect is hiding just below the surface. We gain facts, but no wisdom and become increasingly discontent as a society.

(Wisdom is the positive and efficacious use of facts guided by experience and good judgment.)

Today more then ever, our high standard of living and our reliance on technology to solve every problem imaginable – physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual – is reinforcing our method of searching for expectations and not the truth.

Consequently, it is pushing us farther away from the simple truths that are right in front of us. Sad to say, most leaders from around the world seem to suffer from the same faulty thinking.

The history books I have read over the years have shown me that this kind of thinking appears in many societies at many different times. When it becomes the dominate perception on all levels of the society, it usually ends poorly for all involved.

So, what might a few of those simple, over looked truths be?

The ten commandments. For any culture to thrive it needs a moral standard that is unalterable. Build your house on rock, not sand.

Use the tools at hand. Most of the tools we need to succeed have been given to us on the day we were born! We just have to identify what they are and learn to use them wisely.

Take responsibility for your own life. It is yours and no one else’s.

Our biggest obstacle and opportunity is our own personality. Employe the ancient Greek maxim – Know thyself. (This was the first of the three maxims inscribed above the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi – circa 6th century B.C..)

Listen to the older generations. Everything we are doing, and have yet to do, they have probably done. There is so much wisdom to learn from them if we listen.

Be generous, be kind. Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.

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Chicken Grillin’

For the last few years, I have been cooking chicken breasts for my wife to put on the salads that she takes to work.

The plan was to create a simple and quick recipe, this way I would be able to prepare it every week, no matter how busy I was. Having gotten this process to a place of semi-perfection, (nothing I do ever gets to really be called perfect, just exceptional near misses) its’ time to share what I have learned.

Essentially, I am marinating two large boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a 12 oz freezer bag and letting them infuse with flavor over night in order to be cooked off the next day. I use a basic marinade base – 6 oz salad oil to 2 oz of white vinegar. Different ingredients are added to this base to create a specific flavor. The addition of an acid, the vinegar and lemon juice, break down the protein and tenderize the chicken. The addition of salad oil spreads the flavor over the chicken as well as aids in the grilling process by not allowing the breast to stick to the grill grates.

If the juice of a citrus fruit is added, you may want to reduce the vinegar a little. On the marinades with heavier flavors, try red wine vinegar instead of white. On the liter flavored marinades, try rice wine vinegar instead of white.

The first step is to pound down the thick side of the breasts. (When the handles of my old rolling pin broke off, I converted it to a cutlery bat.) Place the breasts in the freezer bag and close the zip lock. Now, firmly and steadily pound down the thick side with a cutlery bat or the flat side of a meat hammer. Don’t pound is so hard that it tears; five or six good hits all around that area should be sufficient. Flattening that thick end helps them to cook more evenly; locking it in the bag keeps the raw chicken from flying all over your kitchen.

The chicken can be cooked on the grill, or, the entire contents of the bag can be poured into a small roasting pan, covered with foil, and baked at 400 until done. Try cooking it one way, then the other, and you will taste a significant difference in the flavor and texture.

All recipes were seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

A few more comments that may be useful.

When adding the flavoring to the bag, put half the ingredients on one side and half on the other.

If you are able, flip the bag over a few hours after it goes in the fridge.

Put the bag in a container, it may leak. I learned that the hard way!

When storing the chicken after using the baking process, leave behind the oil, but keep the herbs and onions, or garlic.

Below are the combinations that my lovely wife chose as her favorites.

Ingredients

Dionysus Delight.

1 – 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped with stems.

Juice from 1/2 Large Lemon. Sometimes I rough chop the squeezed lemon and put that in the bag too.

2-3 Large cloves garlic, peeled, chopped.

Roman Holiday

Basil, 3 – 4 Tablespoons, chopped

Parsley, Flat, 1/2 cup, chopped, leaves and stems

Lemon, Large, 1/2, squeezed for the juice

1-2 Large cloves of fresh garlic, peeled, chopped.

Sub salad oil for olive oil.

Mexican Holiday

One half of a medium sized onion, peeled, med dice

Cilantro, 1 cup, chopped, stems and leaves

Cumin, 1Tablespoon

Chili powder, 1/2 Tablespoon, optional

Liquid smoke, 1/4 Teaspoon, optional

Picnic in Brittany

Basil 3-4 Tablespoons chopped, leaves and stems

Parsley, Flat, 1/2 cup, chopped, leaves and stems

1/2 Teaspoon green peppercorns, in brine, crushed

Half of a medium onion, peeled, med dice

Picnic in Brittany – the following weekend

3 Tablespoons of rosemary, chopped

1/2 Lemon, large, squeezed for the juice

1/2 Table spoon, capers, chopped

1 Garlic clove, peeled chopped

Happy Cooking and be thankful for what you have !

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July 4th Reading List

Happy birthday America!

Here is a reading list for every lover of liberty, individual rights, property rights and religious freedom.

In these turbulent times, with tyranny threatening out liberty more then ever, and from every conceivable quarter in our society, we owe it to ourselves and our posterity to keep alive the ideas in these great works. If we do, we will keep the light of liberty shining for another generation.

God bless America.

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Curtains and Light

Some days, when I am walking from one room to another, the sunlight shines through a window in just that particular way that it makes me stop and admire it for a moment.

Those images are like subtle details the realist master worked in behind his main characters, an incidental line describing stillness and silence from a poem written about a larger theme.

Sometimes, its worth giving all your attention to that little detail, as if it was the main character, the bigger theme.

As if stillness and silence were the deepest wells of beauty and meaning the world has to offer.

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Summer Reading List

Have you ever considered how many great books there are to read? If the printing presses stopped today, there would surely be several life times worth of joyous reading to get lost in.

This amazing possibility, which I have given some thought to, usually brings to mind a companion thought: If I was a trust fund baby, and did not have to work eight or nine hours a day to support myself, I would set two goals to occupy my time.

1: To eat three meals in every city of the world. One at the most famous restaurant, one at the newest, trendiest restaurant, and one at the most renowned food cart out on the street.

As best as I can tell, without making a career out of researching this and only visiting cities of one million or more, there are 267 cities across the globe to eat in. If you eat one meal a day, spent four days traveling there, and to the next one, and did this continuously with out a break, you could accomplish this culinary world tour in about 5.12 years. That is an ambitious time frame no question about it, but possible for the motivated globe trotter full of youth, cash, and enthusiasm. However, it would be an awkward fit with my second goal.

2: To make a list of every book that caught my attention as ‘great’ and read each one one the shaded portico of my tile roofed, stucco walled villa over looking the ocean in the south of France. (Think of Cary Grant playing John Robbie in To Catch A Thief, replace the rosebushes with stacks of books.) I could definitely milk that for a lifetime and then some.

Where am I going with this? To the nine book summer reading list of course.

If you find yourself sitting in an Adirondack chair overlooking the gently rippling waters of a mountain lake in upstate New York, of lounging in a beach chair under an umbrella at the ocean in the south of France, you may need a good book to read before dinner at the lodge, or a long night of roulette at the gaming tables. Here is a list to help you out.

Just one qualification, these titles may appeal more to men then women, though I have known some to be read and enjoyed by female readers.

KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL – Anthony Bourdain

Here it is, the food lovers, restaurant goers, gourmet and gourmand’s essential summer reading. Take it from a chef, this is the way it is in the kitchen. No heavy philosophizing, no post existential deconstructionist, Freudian polluted musing on what it means to devote your life to the craft of cheffing. No, just the a chef reliving the glory days in full story telling mode of the highest order. He is the modern bard of the kitchen, New York version of Francis Parkman exploring the lore and legend of the cookhouses and galleys that crank out millions of meals a day, yet remain virtually unknown to the dinning public. You don’t have to of worked in a kitchen to enjoy the ride.

THE LAST COIN James P. Blaylock

This novel’s unlikely hero, and his know-it-all side kick, are written with much humor. So much in fact, that I laughed out loud dozens of times. Blaylock has honed his skill for writing maniacal dialog. He is right up their with the likes of Stanley Elkin and the Marx Brothers.

He also has a skill at weaving an equally maniacal plot, a conspiracy of biblical proportions and cosmic consequences, that works rather well for a mystery/adventure book that seems to have the primary purpose of making you laugh.

Reading through the first few chapters I thought the humorous style made the novel a bit shallow. But, as I got deeper into the book I changed my mind. These characters are struggling to save the world, or dominate it, no matter how hapless their actions are, or how handicapped by their own foibles they may be.

Perhaps the author got his inspiration from real life? Blaylock’s characters, just like humans, lack sufficient knowledge of the complex situations they find themselves in, but think they have it pretty well figured out. So they go along and make plans to change the out come of their situations; which only work half as well as they intend them to. If a being of vastly higher intelligence were watching the workings of our world, with a similar view of events as the reader has in this novel, it would find most of what we do just as hilarious as Blaylock writes his characters.

If you are looking for a few good laughs and a mystery to puzzle over, you found your next read.

FOOD IN HISTORY – Reay Tannahill

Essentially, the history of food is the history of culture and of human existence in general. This book approaches it’s subject from that prospective. The author touches on multiple aspects of food down through the ages and how it has shaped societies.

Obviously, food effects everyone on this planet; we are what we eat in more ways then one. Yet, most people know next to nothing about the thing that sustains them and its history. Considering how important food is, and every aspect of it, I would think it wise to be knowledgeable on the subject. Tanahill’s well researched and authoritatively written classic is a great place to start.

THE TWELVE CAESARS – Suetonius

If TMZ, bought Oxford Press, these kind of history books would be all they would publish.

Did you ever want to have a learned, high brow, aristocrat stoop low to dish the dirt on the Greatest Emperors in western history? Then this is your rag to read. It is easy to read, and easy to relate to even though it was penned two thousand years ago.

After all, gossip is gossip.

But I did learn two things from this book, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and Jesus Christ came into the world at the right time to save us all.

THE ARMS OF KRUPP – William Manchester

If you are going to read this entire book on your vacation, make sure you have a month and no plans to do anything. This is as thick as an old fashion telephone book, but a hell of a lot more interesting. Manchester must have done a massive amount of research to write this. It definitely paints a full and detailed portrait of one incredible family of industrialists.

There is a tone of ridicule that surfaces every so often in this book. It is actually funny at times, but I am not sure if Manchester intended it to be that way. It makes me think that he had a contempt for the entire Krupp clan, which he did not have the will power to keep it to himself for the duration of writing these 700 pages. Why would you write a massive tome about a subject you disdain? (Because his publisher offered him a wheel barrel full of green backs to do so?) In any event, this is a very enjoyable book. To follow the history of this family is to follow the history of the steel industry, the arms industry, as well as the history of Germany and Europe, from a behind the scenes perspective.

THE PERFECT STORM – Sebastian Junger

My brother-in-law, a fabulous writer and wit, told me I might like this book. He was right, a white knuckle sea adventure that old J Conrad and Melville would not be able to put down. It is written with a powerful, streamlined style that moves along at a fast pace and keeps you engaged. The most chilling thing about this is that it is true.

THE PINE BARRENS – John McPhee

I picked this book, The Pine Barrens by John McPhee, up from Barnes and Noble when I first moved to the Archipelago. It was obviously positioned to sell, being displayed on a table at the front door of the store. It was the first book a shopper would see once they entered. Why B&N displayed it so prominently I have no clue. It was not a new addition, the author had not been interviewed on TV recently, and no new documentary was made of the guy. Strange.

However, I had driven past the pine barrens of New Jersey several times, but never penetrated its foreboding boundaries. I was always rushing to get to the sunny beaches of the Jersey Shore. Perhaps it was my fate to encounter this book.

So, I thought a peek between the covers of this slim volume, might be of interest for a moment or two. There might be some historic tidbit or nugget of nostalgic information worth reading. I had no great hope of finding anything worth laying out money for. Even though the writing was rather plain, it drew me in so I bought it.

Little did I know that McPhee is not just an author, he is a word sorcerer, a grammatical spell-caster, a literary genus in every sense of the word. I never read an author, before or since, who could write an engrossing, intensely interest book about a topic, that on the face of it, is boring to read as an IRS form or one of Biden’s speeches.

How could a writer make something as dull and tedious as thousands of acres of pine trees exciting? Just the title of it ‘ The Pine Barrens’ brings to mind a landscape of mind-numbing monotony. I will leave it to you to find out how; I don’t want to give anything of this book away.

This is definitely a classic in my world. Just writing about it makes me want to dig it out and read it for the third time.

THE BRIDGE OVER THE RIVER KWAU – Pierre Boulle

One Friday night my friend and I were having a few beers at Peter McManus Cafe on 7th avenue in downtown Manhattan. I was complaining that I had read a string of mediocre books and was losing faith in the writing talent of the human race, or, I was loosing my knack for finding enjoyable books. The next time we went out drinking he gave this book to me.

It is an odd novel in the fact that it reads like a long narration of Boulle describing the novel he wants to, or was going to write. Maybe that oddness, that strange narrative style, is what made it work so well.

THE CURSE OF LONO –

Hunter S Thompson & Ralph Steadman

I saved this book for last because I do not want to scare the faint of heart. The combination of Hunter S. Thompson and Ralph Steadman can permanently injure the physic centers of those unfamiliar with their twisted world view.

I don’t approve of what was Thompson’s lifestyle, or much of his politics, but I do admire his writing style. It is a strange and powerful literary elixir for sure. He has a rolling, stream of consciousness narrative with a dark edge of paranoia that puts him in a separate class of American writers. When I read the darkly rhythmic, alliteration, of Poe’s The Raven I think of Thompson. For me, he achieves the same effect, not with words, but with the repetition of ideas and images.

In The Raven and Curse of Lono, there are two common themes. Poe classic poem examines the narrator’s obsession with his lost love and how it adversely effects his thinking. Thompson shows the same effect through personal observations on his constant efforts to procure, and us, recreational chemicals; or more accurately, the gleefully abuse of said chemicals. This may done inadvertently on Thompson’s part due to his compulsive honest with his audience.

Both authors touch on a second theme as well; how larger, cosmic forces are at work to manipulate and antagonize the narrator in the Raven, and Thompson on his travels to, and around Hawaii.

They are kindred spirits in method and subject.

Steadman’s illustrations are a perfect match for Thompson’s writing. Whoever hooked these two up should have gotten a casting award at the publishing equivalent of the Oscars.

If you want to step into one man’s intellectual maelstrom, and ride his run away roller coaster, whirling dervish, tarantella inspired commentary, then Curse of Lono is the dark door to enter.

There you have it, your summer homework assignment.

Happy reading!

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Smoky Lentil Soup

On the 19th day of April the nights were frosty again in the prairie archipelago, and, we had a morning snow storm, as if to emphasis the point. Two weeks prior we had one day with a high of 80 degrees. This made me realize that I still had time to post a winter soup recipe. Here is my spin on an old classic. ( Look under the soup tab. ) I have been using this recipe, in one form or another, since the 1980’s when I graduated from cooking school.

If you are not a meat eater, I have a few suggestions to keep it delicious without the smoky pork bits – ( we aim to please at Prairie Beacon! )

No matter how bad your day gets, cooking can make it better.

I hope you enjoy it!

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Reflections on being a Father

1

There are few things more important for a boy to become a man then his relationship with his father. A father is there to develop in him all that is good, minimize what is bad, and sooth what threatens. There are few things more important to make a man complete then to do this for his son.

2

One responsibility of a father to his sons and daughters, is to show them a constructive example of power and masculinity by always taking responsibility for his actions, building bridges between people, and above all, defend what is right and just.

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Thoughts About The Mind, Change And God

Writing in my journal this morning, I realized that the first mystery we encounter is our own mind.

We use it continuously, study it at length, yet we know so little about how it works.

It is the greatest, unsolved mystery and it is what we are!

Neuroscience cannot be an easy field of study. The complexity of the brain is that of the entire universe, if it was residing in a space the size of a coconut.

What little I know of how the mind works is strange indeed.

Consider this; the universe makes countless stars and planets, black holes and nebula, based on it’s enormous, ever increasing scale. It is so large we will never know its’ limit.

But the mind creates a universe of infinite size within itself. Can we count the number of thoughts, memories and awareness we made, found and lost? We also do the same in the minds of others. Yet the brain is infinitely small in comparison to the universe, and never changes in scale.

The contradictory nature of the brain, and our relationship to it, led me to think that perhaps, contradiction is what the physical universe is based on.

If we did not have the contradiction of two forces working in opposition to one another, there may never be change in the universe.

If the the universe did not change then time would not exist, or the history of anything for that matter.

The universe needs some form, some level of contradiction.

So, is change the only constant in the universe?

It maybe, but to say that seems like a contradiction too.

What if at some time, past or future, the constancy of change has or will, itself change.

Would that have to happen to make true the statement that the only constant is change?

Which lead me to yet another thought; change is not the only constant, the nature of God, the God of Abraham, maybe the only true constant in the universe.

Consider the characteristics of God.

He is eternal in nature. He always existed, exists at this moment and will exist for eternity after this moment – simultaneously. He is pure existence.

He resides inside and outside of time as the prime mover, the being that created all that is.

The added bonus of being eternal, and the creator of all things, is that he has knowledge of all things and at all times in which they exist, have or will.

If this is the true nature of God, then change is not the only constant in the universe, God is.

Over time, all things change but God does not.

He is the unchanging thread that runs through the center of an ever changing universe of time and space.

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Tomato Soup w/Potatoes and Peas

I was in the mood for tomato soup the other day, but I wanted to make it differently then my usual recipe. To get inspired, I resorted to the method I used when I was a professional chef. I opened up the refrigerator and looked over the ingredients. I just let my mind wander over the items on the shelves. As I thought about their aromas, textures, and tastes, ideas bubbled up in my imagination and I wrote down the out line of this recipe.

This is what I came up with. I hope you try it and enjoy it!

2ea. 28 oz cans of tomatoes peeled in juice + 3-4 ounces of water.

3ea. Cloves garlic

4-5ea. Yukon Gold Potato

1ea. Medium Size Carrot

1ea. Large Yellow Onion

4-5T Olive Oil

4-5T Vegetable or Soy to brown potatoes in

3ea. Bay Leaves

1ea. Large Oregano Sprig

3ea. Large Basil leaves

1/4 Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley

2oz Green Peas

Ingredient Prep: Puree tomatoes, peel and dice very small the carrots and onions, peel and cube large the potatoes, peel then crush the garlic, rough chop the oregano and the basil.

Cooking Instructions:

  1. Brown the crushed garlic in the olive oil. Set aside when done
  2. On a medium heat, lightly saute the carrots and onions in the same oil, stirring constantly. When done add back the browned garlic, also, the pureed tomatoes, oregano, and basil leaves. Bring to a simmer. Spoon off most of the foam that may rise to the top of the soup. Cook for 15 minutes.
  3. While the tomatoes are cooking, brown the cubed potatoes in the vegetable oil. Work them frequently so they don’t stick. After the tomatoes have cooked for 15minutes add the the browned potatoes and peas. Cook until the potatoes are soft.
  4. The last five minutes of the cooking add the flat parsley, stems and leaves. You can tie it in a bunch so it will be easy to remove later. Make sure it is completely submerged.
  5. Season to taste. Remove the parsley when serving the soup.
  6. A toasted slice of crusty Italian or French bread and lite red wine, are a perfect match.
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Notes on Coffee Before Sunrise

Crows calling

in the deep blue/black, star filled dawn;

invisible among the bare tree crowns and frosted roof tops.

Restless, wrathful

the dark id side of night’s sweet slumber.

A drunken mob fleeing

from what they have done

searching for another.

Fleeing above the here and there house lights,

the glittering pearl sparkle in a black

ocean vast but fading

before the rising tide of morning.

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The Lessons of the Seasons

Winter has made the Archipelago a barren landscape of ice and snow. Gone is the smell of summer rain, the microbial magic in the dew covered soil of the garden and the floor of the woods. The carefree bird song and warm summer breezes no longer play like music in the leafy crowns of the trees outside my open window.

This morning I saw the grey squirrels huddle on the bare branches. I watched their desperate digging deep into the lean times of January, to find one small acorn. A meager meal buried beneath Octobers fallen and forgotten colors.

It is easy for my mind to turn gloomy and my heart to grow empty when the world is cold and dark. My world becomes very small when the divide between warm shelter and the frozen landscape outside is sharply defined.

Prayer has always gotten me through these bleak and barren months. It is my hour of laying in the grass and watching the clouds roll by, which I carry with me through the day.

But watching the squirrels digging in the snow I was struck by the fact that the change of the seasons could be thought of as four lessons on the full arc of a human life.

Spring is our youth, a time we learn about what we are and what the world around us is. We watch, do and learn, take instruction from those who came before us and discern how these two halves fit together.

Summer is the first season to go out into the world and use what skills, talents, and wisdom we have developed in spring. Still learning but mostly doing to accomplish.

Autumn is a time to collect up and store the results of applying our talents and wisdom in the long days of summer work.

Winter is the lean time of old age and death. The harvest of our efforts, which we developed in spring, applied in summer, gathered and stored in autumn. What we have accumulated is the foundation of our comfort in old age. It determines our place in what lay ahead.

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11

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Notes on Separation

Most often, we don’t know what we really have until it is gone.

I was reminded of that when my adoring wife left the Archipelago to visit her mom; who was recovering from dental surgery. We enjoy each other’s company and spend a lot of time together. If someone’s absence is going to leave an empty space in my life it would be her’s.

Texting and telephone calls can connect two people, but it is no replacement for being together in the same room.

When I was writing this, a similar situation came to mind. It is not on the same level as my sweet heart leaving town, but it did change my thinking about lose. A small change of thinking, but one that made a big difference.

One time I had dropped off my car for repairs at the mechanic’s garage, which is on the other end of the city from my house. I had to take the bus back home. A ten minute trip by car turned into a 40 minute trip by slow poke public transportation; with the added bonus of unwanted entertainment from a few ‘colorful’ passengers. On the ride, I realized a few items were needed from the grocery store for dinner. For that, a two minute car ride to the store would be a fifteen minute walk. As the bus lumbered along the emotional space of lose, created by not having my car, just got bigger and emptier.

For that entire day my life was defined by what I did not have. It had become the context for what was missing; which was not right. When I finally got home I was determined never to think that way again. I would never define myself exclusively in negative terms.

The root of my attitude change was not the lack of independent transportation, but a lack of appreciation. I lost sight of the fact that I had many other good aspects to my life beside my car, because I was focused on the aspect I lost. Consequently, I created that empty emotional space and put myself in it. It was unnecessary and I did not enjoy it either.

Being the practical sort, I made a mental list of all the positive aspects of my life. The next time I moved my thinking into that emotional space of lose, I would use it to remind myself of all the good things I had.

After I made this list I found that the most positive things on the list, and the ones that made the biggest difference for me, where the people I had relationships with.

Seeing that I had a good number of people who were a positive influence in my life I wanted to make sure they knew I appreciated them. I made it a point to show them that more often.

Over time I realized that showing appreciation was reaffirming my love for them. It acknowledged a positive bond between us which gave me joy in good times and strength in hard times.

Even after this emotional change, I still miss my wife when we are apart for a few days. But appreciating her every day, and all the other good people in my life, made that lonely space much smaller. A part of appreciating is focusing on the time I had with her and not pine over losing time with her.

Like anything you want to change in your behavior, it is a process of improvement. I have to work on it everyday to make that space as small as possible, and I don’t have to be an example of not really knowing what I have until it is gone.

After making that list I came up with a recitation; a point to focus on to keep me moving in the right direction. These kinds of reminders work well for me.

Improvement is the first step to perfection, as long as you keep walking.

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Thoughts on Creating

In the past, when I wrote something that received compliments, that for me was a rare and beautiful creation, I felt really good about it. But that joy was mixed with feelings of anxiety too. Now that I had set the bar on a higher peg than usual, by working and achieving what I set out to do, I felt I had to continue that level of performance, or surpass it.

That anxiety arises from the fact that inspiration does not come along everyday. To consistently connect to the deepest, truest levels of imagination and creativity, and pour that out across the page, has a time table of completion I have little control over.

Lately, I have come to terms with this anxiety. I now see it as the natural state of the healthy, creative mind. It is constantly embroiled in the battle between mediocrity and perfection. The creative mind exists to dig into that deeper level, struggle to perfect the creation it makes from what it finds there, and put it out into the world for others to experience. That is the particular instrument God has made them to be.

To embraces this understanding, and fight that battle with gusto, is to live the creative life to the fullest.

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A New Day

There was a glorious sunrise over the Archipelago on the seventh day of Christmas.

Vibrant shades of crimson colored the sky behind the branches of the leafless trees and the angles of the rooftops still filled with night and silence, the dreams of sleepers in their beds.

When I opened one of the small windows in the dining room to look at it, a lone crow was calling in the distance.

I watched it fly for a moment, a fragment of the fleeing night against the morning colors and the curling columns of woolly white chimney smoke.

Morning time, the deep time when the quietude of the world pours into the mind and the soul. It connects me with what is important in my life. What I often overlook in the busy day that follows.

That moment made me realize that I am blessed.

That all things in my world are in their right place.

That the start of that day, and every day, is another opportunity to improve, perfect, accept, forgive or achieve.

That I should be grateful for each day and take advantage of every minute.

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Thoughts On Christmas Day

Two thousand and twenty years ago Christ was born during the era of the Roman Empire.

Even in the best of times, life for most was difficult beneath the crushing weight of tyrannical rulers who were to be revered as gods.

The state was the center of a citizen’s life and war was the ways and means of its’ prosperity.

But in the darkest hour of night is when the brightest light will shine.

On that day the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob had set His light in that darkest hour.

Now is the time to follow its brilliance, for the Savior of the world, the King of Kings, lays beneath it!

He is the one true God.

His word is the center of our lives

His love is our prosperity.

Rejoice, repent and follow Him, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!

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Thoughts On The Shortest Day Of The Year

Since the longest day in summer, night has been reaching further and further into day as it makes itself longer and longer.

Until yesterday.

Now on the longest night of winter, day has it’s turn to reach further and further into night, making itself longer and longer.

Every year the same dance between day and night, light and dark, hope and despair. Lived out against a backdrop of clouds coming and going, leaves blooming and dying, the constellations rising and setting round and round the immobile star of the pole.

We grow and harvest our crops by this dance, set our clocks to it, measure the length of our lives with it. We are creatures of habit by design. Driven by cycles, some we know and some that remain hidden.

We stand at the center of turning cycles, concentric in design, ceaseless in motion. Some we dance with moment to moment, others turning so slowly that our time to dance will never arrive.

Big or small, fast or slow, known or hidden, these are the invisible gears that move our lives through time and space.

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U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Texas Voter Freud Law Suit

John Roberts the chief justice of the United States Supreme Court

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
― Edmund Burke

That is exactly what happened when seven out of nine members of our supreme court, including Justice Roberts, refused to hear the state of Texas’ voter fraud case.

Did each one of these justices swear on the bible that they would up hold the Constitution? Is it not the function of the Supreme Court to weight in on matters directly involving instructions, rights and procedures found in that document?

Yes, and that oath obligates them to defend it whenever the occasion presents itself.

The American Thinker wrote a summery of the Texas case, and the following except states why those seven justices, failed miserably in that obligation.

‘Further, according to the U.S. Constitution, the legislature (representing the citizens) of each state has absolute authority and responsibility for how presidential electors are chosen; the will of legislature being expressed through state law.

Texas claims that the violations of election law in these states created an environment where ballot fraud was enabled and likely to occur.  The lawsuit lists the violations of law in each of the defendant states and provides evidence of fraud (the number of ballots handled unconstitutionally) in each of the states sufficient to change the outcome of the ballot counts.’

I am no legal scholar and I can only look at it from a practical point of view. But if the state of Texas has evidence that Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Georgia violated the constitution in choosing their electors, then maybe Texas’s complaint needs to be heard. After all Texas, and the rest of the states in the union, are being deprived of a fair election process due to the potential lawlessness of these other states.

What matters here is not which candidate gets into office but the integrity of the law that defines how they are put into office. With out that, dishonesty and tyranny will rule the day; not the will of the people.

Please read the entire article in The American Thinker. I am sure you will agree that the Texas lawsuit is more then a conspiracy theory based on hearsay, or an extravagant ploy to change the out come of an elections.

Copy and past the link below into your browser to get there.

https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2020/12/a_summary_of_texas_election_lawsuit_.html

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Vatican Nativity 2020

As a life long catholic I have to post about this.

How can I not?

With all due reverence and respect to the Holy Father, this year’s nativity is not just, unattractive it is offensive. I have no idea what these figures represent. The whole thing looks like it was created by a class of second graders, along with their teacher, who had a woefully incorrect understanding of Catholicism.

Sorry, I would not want this out on my lawn.

However, the Vatican nativity of 2018 I would definitely want out on my lawn. There is no question as to what this scene depicts, which is how it should be.

Rejoice, the savior of the world is born!

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. – Isaiah 9:6-7

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A Day In St. Louis – Part 2

After the art museum we decided to have a late lunch and ended up in a calzone shop in the Tower Grove neighborhood; Sauce On The Side. Nothing like good food and good beer to keep a hungry tourist going! I will say this, I was not hungry after eating that calzone, it was big.

Next stop on our day trip was the Missouri Botanical Gardens. Since it was too cold to see the landscaping and the flower beds, it may not have been the best choice. Also, I was not sure if the varieties in the greenhouse were extensive enough to make the price of admission worth while. However, it was Rebecca’s idea so I did not share my thoughts. But on the ride over she talked about the full size tropical trees in the green house, which changed my mind.

When we pulled into the parking lot I saw that the new, ultra modern visitors’ center was still under construction. Judging by the architect’s renderings I saw online after our visit, we would walk though a small part of that new structure. Despite that area being simple in design, the interior was an interesting division of vertical and horizontal space. The first room evoked a sense of vertical spaciousness, with it’s tall walls, large windows and the light colored materials used in its building. The next room, where the ticket windows are, opens up horizontally and achieves that same open feeling but in opposite direction. I hope this engaging division of the interior space is used through out the entire building. If so, there might be another building in St. Louis to make my favorites list.

The old visitors’ center is next to this building and is slated for demolition. Currently, it houses a Dale Chihuly glass chandelier; which will be relocated in the central glass atrium of the new structure. If you are in the city when the new visitors’ center is completed, just seeing that chandelier is worth a trip over there. I have seen many of Chihuly’s glass sculptures and they never fail to impress and amaze.

The path we took to the indoor garden, or the Climatron, gave me an interesting view of the grounds exposing the layers of architecture that were added over the hundred a fifty eight year history of the institution.

When I left the new visitors’ center, a modern space designed with modern thinking and built with contemporary materials, I was confronted with the old greenhouse, a vintage structure built in the early 1900’s. Its tall windows with their multiple rows of small glass panes, and set in a rough exterior of dark red brick and white mortar, had a vivid contrast to the tall seamless expanses of glass set in the shiny metal walls of the visitors’ center. In one respect, the new visitors’ center was an updated version of the old greenhouse.

Then I approached the Climatron which was a short distance up the path.

When it was built, this structure was also ultra modern in every way. Now it looks dated and old fashioned in its own way.

It is a geodesic dome with a design sensibility straight out of the green movement of the 1960’s. To put it in a cultural context it has California commune and Bucky Fuller futurism written all over it. It reminds me of the biosphere space station from that forgotten 1972 Sci Fi film Silent Running.

Even its’ name, Climatron, has a 60’s sci-fi feel – Ultron, Atavachron, to mention a few others names from the distant past of my childhood.

Seeing the Climatron immediately after the old brick building was not just a vivid contrast but a jarring one. Unlike the first architectural contrast I encountered, the shape as well as the materials used to build this unique dome like structure, were completely different from the long brick green house of sixty years before.

One employed spherical proportions in its design and an intricate aluminum exo-skeleton framing triangular acrylic panels for its construction. The design and the materials developed in the 20th century.

The design of the other was based on square forms and constructed with small blocks of baked earth stacked up and held in place with mortar and supporting traditional steel roof beams and window frames. Everything that went into making this structure is has been used for centuries.

Probably the only architectural feature these two buildings have in common are the shape of their doors.

It was like looking at Abe Lincoln standing next to Captain James T Kirk. (!)

It also made me think that advancements in technology and engineering continually change the look of everything; just as much as the changing design sensibilities of the next generation of designers and architects do.

Stepping into the conservatory the dry, chilly air of late autumn was replaced with the heavy, moisture laden air of the tropics. We were shaded by full grown trees and surrounded with dense green foliage replete with strange and wonderful flowers, the likes we had never seen before. Flowing through this super sized terrarium was a stream with a waterfall as well as small pools supporting a variety of water plants. I even saw a big gecko clinking to the side of a tree like a garden decoration and heard a bird calling in the canopy above.

For the better part of an hour we walked the path at an unhurried pace and stopped frequently to take photos. Beside us, there was only four visitors roaming through the place, which made me feel like I was exploring and not just visiting.

After our visit to the botanical gardens we had some time before our dinner reservations at a sushi place named the Drunken Fish. It is near Forest Park, not far from the art museum. It is also near the De Baliviere, a neighborhood packed with lovely historic houses and majestic old trees. Several blocks of this area comprise a gated community and the streets are considers private property. It also has two private swimming pools and two private tennis courts exclusively for the use of its residences.

This area was made fashionable for residential living by the 1904 worlds fair; which was located in Forest Park.

When we were done driving around and had our fill soaking up the grand architecture of this charming community, we decided to skip dinner and head home. We were still full from lunch. We also had a three hour ride back and I did not want to do that after a long day of site seeing.

On the ride home the big city quickly gave way to a landscape of barren corn fields stretching out under a wide blue sky. We did not talk much but then we did not need to. We were still thinking about our urban adventure, the amazing art we saw, the jokes we laughed at and the good food we eat together.

It seemed we both wanted to make that time in St. Louis last as long as we could.

Everyday holds something incredible, we just have to look for it.

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The New Pioneer Spirit

An acquaintance owns a store in a high crime neighborhood on the Archipelago island of Decatur.

He immigrated to America from the middle east looking for economic opportunity and a better quality of life. He is not so different from Decatur’s original settlers of the early eighteen hundreds. Though he does not live in a log cabins of his own construction, the wooden building his business is housed in is almost as old as those original cabins.

I call him an entrepreneurial pioneer for another reason too. It can be tough enough to run your own business when the neighborhood is generally safe. But you need the old fashion pioneer’s spirit when surrounded with the heightened crime issues of his location.

A few years ago, he opened up his store in the morning and stepped into the scene at the beginning of this video below.

During the night, while they were closed, a vehicle ran into the side of the building those merchandisers refrigerators are located on.

He realized this when he stepped up to the glass doors and saw daylight streaming into the walk-in behind them, through a very large whole in the wall of the store.

If you listen carefully to the audio, other cars are passing by the store during the accident.

As far as I know the driver was never apprehended and the insurance company never fully compensated him for the damage. Fixing that hole was a very big expense for them to pay for.

It has been three years since that incident and he is still there operating his store. Every so often I drive by and I see some improvement to the property. Recent projects include a new roll down security door and new black top and striping in the small parking lot.

The big hole in the building is gone but not forgotten. The new siding from the repair job, which does not match the older siding around it, will mark that unfortunate event for years to come.

It also marks his determination not to give up on his dream to have a better life in America.

It is a testament to the fact that what he has now is better then what he had in the past and he embraces that and continually works to improve it.

Even in the land of opportunity, he realizes that there is no replacement for positive determination and honest work built on hope in a brighter future.

My relatives that immigrated from Italy had that same view of their new home. They too believed that what they had in America was better then what most had in the world and they were quick to defend it.

In these turbulent times we should be too. We should sing it’s praises, thank God for it’s founding principles and work to build it up.

There are many groups that don’t sing the praises of this nation and don’t embrace our system; a system that offers plenty of opportunities for those who are willing to pursue them. Their goal, their daily struggle, is to tear down what we have built as citizens of this country.

If we believe those that would tear it down what could they replace it with that is better for all?

Five thousand years of civilization has given few, if any, examples of a governmental system that can provide so much opportunity and personal liberty to so many.

As a nation, we must continue the work of the founders to secure our individual liberties, our economic prosperity and our national security. For over two hundred years the founding documents have allowed us to do that. Building on the principle found in those documents will serve us well for another two hundred years and beyond.

Happy Thanksgiving and God bless America.

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A Day In St. Louis

My daughter needed a break from her studying at university. After talking with her about it, we decided to take a day trip to St. Louis; just her and I. The St. Louis Art Museum, the building and the grounds as well as the collections, was the main attraction for our pocket- sized vacation.

A few years back we did a family trip there so this was our second visit. We both agreed it ranks high on our list of favorites.

When I stepped in side I was greeted with the mysterious echo of voices rising and falling through the spacious central hall. They had a wonderfully mystical quality and I stood there for a minute just taking it in.

We knew from our past trip that our level of enjoyment for this museum was comparable to the The Art Institute of Chicago and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan; two institutions we use as standards by which all other art institutions we visit are compared to.

The size and depth of what is on display cannot compare to these other behemoths but visiting every room will definitely occupy your entire afternoon and you won’t be disappointed. (The St. Louis has 34,000 objects catalogued, Chicago has 1,000,000, New York, has 2,000,000.)

Being an avid reader of Roman History I would have been happy with more than just one room of antiquities. But the artifacts on display were perfectly preserved in every detail and matched the quality of any I had seen in the past.

These busts of unknown, but well-to-do citizens, date from the Imperial period.

The examples of tableware were striking in the fact that they were well proportioned, especially the blue bowl. No aspect was exaggerated for the sake of originality. Any decoration was minimal, a relevant symbol of it’s purpose, and well integrated. There is a sense of practicality which in my reading of that culture, is at the very heart of it.

Below are Etruscan earrings dated from the fifth century BC. The level of detail and craftsmanship in this jewelry was impressive. I often think of ancient cultures as not being as sophisticated as modern cultures. But seeing all the objects in this exhibit, made thousands of years ago, had reminded me that aside from scientific, technological and economic understanding, and perhaps a few other ares of knowledge, this is not true.

I will say this, Etruscan women must have had strong ear lobes. Those are some big earrings! Evidently, women suffering in the name of fashion is nothing new.

There were modern cultural artifacts, which were a part of the main exhibition – Storm of Progress German Art After 1800. Included were several examples from the Bauhaus design school: form follows function. A combination of useful form bordering on minimalism but incorporates a visual aesthetic based on geometric forms.

Even though the design of these items and the Roman items were separated by two thousand years of history they had definite commonalities.

The design genius of the Romans and the Bauhaus really shone in the three dimensional objects they made. The consumer goods in both exhibitions were so modern in design and construction as to be interchangeable without noticing the difference in the era. There is a repeat of practicality here.

The same can be said for things outside of these exhibitions – architecture. Compare Bauhaus headquarters building and Emperor Vespasian’s Collusion. They both exemplify the same ethos of form follows function. Also, their is no mistaking who built each of them.

The Bauhaus designers, much like the Romans, achieved their greatest artistic success with practical objects put to everyday use.

The building that houses the collections is an art object in it’s own right.

It was designed by the historically prominent architect Cass Gilbert, who also designed the Woolworth building in down town Manhattan, the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington DC, and the state of Minnesota’s state capital building, among other notable morphological master pieces.

Cass sited the ancient baths of Caracalla in Rome as his design inspiration. The original purpose of this building was to house exhibitions for the 1904 Worlds Fair. The museum was relocated there when the fair was finished.

This visit was a much needed invigoration for our souls and we found we had the same outlook on art. It is a search for perfection by the artist, as well as the viewer. This notion of perfection is embodied in all things pleasing to the mind: in a word – beauty.

Rebecca’s notion of beauty is based on natural forms, landscapes, human form, and animal forms, with little deviation.

I am of the same mind and also find man-made and industrial forms beautiful as well – urban buildings, factories, warehouses, and machines. The geometry of these images, as well as the psychological and cultural implications are intriguing to me.

Oddly enough, we both have reservations about abstract art. We can appreciate it for what it is, the artist’s intent or social messaging but are not naturally drawn to it.

Beauty in the classical sense may not have been captured in every painting but the perfection of the artists vision seemed to be. Each room held a different way of thinking about that vision, each painting a different interpretation of that vision.

I made an immediate and deep connection with so many of these paintings. It was like realizing a profound truth in each one. This inspired me to find this kind of inspiration everyday, wherever I am in whatever I am doing. That is living life to the fullest for me.

Great art is a gift from one soul to another.

Hours later, when we finally left, we agreed that the spiritual and intellectual invigoration we experienced in our visit was a much needed blessing and we were grateful for it.

That was part one of our excursion to the big city.

Part 2 continues with our time at the Missouri Botanical Gardens.

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Stamp of the Week

Fellow stamp collectors, Philatelist and art admirers, had a stress filled week? Do you need separation from the daily grind?

So do I.

Why not join me for a relaxing walk through the American wing of the Archipelago Stamp Museum?

Great.

See you at the definitives exhibitionist.

Oh, your drink is waiting in the Post Master General’s VIP lounge, it’s on me.

Happy viewing !

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Stamp of the Week – Growing as a Collector Addendum #1

31

In the previous stamp of the week post I wrote about growing my knowledge of the printing process by working on a deep collection for just one issue.

Well, it did not take long for my collector mentality to take that over. Now I have expanded beyond the Francis Parkman 3 cent and have decided to collect errors for the entire Prominent American Series, which the Francis Parkman is a part of.

Pictured above is my first acquisition in that endeavor; the 2 cent Frank Lloyd Wright. Two nice examples of mis-perferation, horizontally and vertically. They were reasonable priced too!

This stamp was issued on June 8, 1966 in Spring Green Wisconsin. The Bureau of Printing and Engraving produced it on a rotary press. It is tagged and has shiny gum.

An anonymous comment I found on the web states the following – This stamp was designed by the staff of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The portrait, based on a 1952 photograph by Blackstone-Shelburne, New York City, was drawn by Patricia Amarantides and Ling Po. The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in the background was also drawn by Ling Po. Lettering is by Vernon Swayback and technical revisions by John Amarantides. Howard C. Mildner and Arthur W. Dintaman of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved the vignette, and Kenneth C, Wiram engraved the lettering.

If anyone knows how many of these stamps where printed, let me know.

Happy Collecting !

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Finding Treasure

When I moved to central Illinois, I found the landscape interesting. But that interest only lasted a short time. After I drove over it, biked over it, and flew over it, I discovered that lakes, streams, hills and woods were few and far between. It was miles of empty monotony in winter and rows of green corn plants walling me in all summer long. I began to despise its flat and homogeneous character.

To look at it on my days off was like eating a boiled potato with nothing on it.

My hometown of New York was and is no boiled potato.

For all my time back home, I was fascinated with the landscape. I draw inspiration from its varied character, its history. The treasures, big and small, I found under it, on it, and above it was a daily epiphany. No two miles were the same.

At the time of my grim discovery I began to regret my move. Most of my friends and family told me I would. More and more, I found myself brooding under emotionally gray skies.

How could I have left behind biking along the Hudson River or weekends on the Shungum Ridge, hiking from one sparkling lake to another, atop a mighty wall of white stone a thousand feet tall?

How could I willingly forgo the surf of the Atlantic Ocean tumbling on the white sandy beaches of Long Island and New Jersey?

I can smell the salt water, and the sun tan lotion right here at my desk, 950 miles away.  

 

This was coveted time to rejuvenate my soul in God’s other house of worship, and I willingly gave it up.

Here in central Illinois, driving on my day off through those mind-numbing miles of cash crops to hike in a few hundred acres of woods or fish off the crumbling banks of some rehabbed strip mine was not giving up any treasures to rejuvenate my soul.

Finally, before all hope was lost, I realized the flat tedium of this new landscape had countless small treasures hiding right out in the open.  

It is the winged carnivores that I speak of. Death from above for Mr. Rabbit, but winged saviors for the ‘exiled’ New York chef.

The stately Cicus cyaneus. The tenacious Accipiter cooperii. The ubiquitous Buteo lineatus, Buteo platypterus and Buteo jamaicendid. The largest, most majestic winged carnivore to cast a shadow across the flatdome of the Archipelago of Central Illinois, Haliaeetus leucocephalus.

These could have been the names of fearless commanders that lead great armies in ancient times, or mighty winged gods from prehistoric legends.

Little by little, here and there, I saw them. Eventually, I realized that they were doing the most incredible things all around me, while I was complaining the landscape had no inspiration. So I kept an eye out for them.  

I recall an early encounter that was like a showcase, a veritable preview of what was out there.

One morning I was driving down Interstate 74 after a snowfall. The mercury had dipped down below freezing and the morning sun was not moving it much.  The fallowed fields of corn were covered in snow that the wind had sculpted into long winding ridges and curving shoals over the straight rows of corn stubble running to the horizon. In the distance, beyond the fields, there was a grain elevator, shimmering silver in the blue haze where cloudless sky and empty landscape met. Pretty for a moment’s view but no replacement for the skyline of Manhattan.     

Along the interstate there was a line of fence posts a few miles long. It seemed that every fifth or sixth post was crowned with a Buteo lineatus – red-shouldered hawk – and Buteo jamaicensis – red-tailed hawk.        

From a distance they had the look of the plastic bird statue used to scare off pigeons. When I drove past, I quickly saw their unique character. Each bird had shoulders slightly hunched that gave their stance a pensive look. Each head had a powerful, weapon like beak and large eyes looking off into the distance, which made me believe they could count the whiskers on a rabbit a half mile away. Their ample plumage was a pattern of rich, earthy tones, and I imagined them wearing thick woolen coats of the finest and richest weave as they sat motionless in the icy wind, their powerful claws dug into the weathered wood of the posts.

These birds were big, brawny, and had a commanding presence, unlike the social little birds elbowing one another for a place to eat at the feeder outside my dining room window. For the rest of the ride I was content counting how many I saw, the variations in their colors, and musing on what it was like to live out on that barren, windswept landscape. These creatures were the epitome of self-reliance.

Hawk watching really got exciting when I spotted the Accipiter cooperii – cooper’s hawk – during a lunchtime walk.   

I had just made the usual turn off my street and headed for the Bradley campus. At the edge of my neighbor’s backyard is a big, round bush. That day, it was filled with birds that were making an incredible racket. As I approached, I noticed a crow sized bird, perched on the top of a weathered telephone pole, across the street. Its wing feathers were colored in a rich grey with a tint of lavender. It was sitting there, staring obsessively at the bush. Occasionally it would adjust its wings or lean forward only to return to its original position of intense watching. I had glimpsed this bird a few times as it flew up and down my street. One time, it darted into the thick cover of the blue spruce on my mom’s front lawn. I never thought much about the bird, only that it was larger then most I had seen around. But that day I saw the shape of the head, the beak and the large eyes with that intense gaze. It was a breed of hawk I did not know of and I made a mental note to look it up in the bird book.   

Twenty minutes later, on the way back to my house, it was still perched on the pole. But this time it looked agitated. Repeatedly, it leaned forward and spread its wings, as it was about to take flight, only to fold them back up, look around and call out in its shrill voice.

The birds in the big round bush were still frantic, tweeting and flying in and out.

I stopped a few yards from the bush and watched the guy up on the pole, the commotion in the bush. Something interesting was definitely going to happen.

Then the hawk opened its wings, pushed off its perch and dove across the street.

It was headed straight for the bush.

A few feet above the shrub it did the most amazing thing I have ever seen an animal do. From its full speed dive, it stopped in the air. For a few seconds it just hovered above the branches.  The only part of it that moved was its head as it scanned from left to right the object below it. Then, with a few small movements of its wings, it turned its body perpendicular to the curved top of the plant, and continued its dive, deep into the branches and the frantic birds.

I can still see that moment in my mind. For two seconds this magnificent creature had complete mastery over the air, gravity and every aspect of its own physicality, its perfect engineering! I was stunned, awestruck as I stood on the sidewalk staring.

Then it did the second most amazing thing I had ever seen an animal do. When it was hunting for the birds, it was using its legs and claws like arms and hands! With one leg it moved branches out of its way and with the other it was grabbing for the sparrows. I am not sure how it kept itself from falling out of the bush since its wings were almost useless in the dense tangle of branches. For a minute or two it was moving through the branches with incredible ease, as it hunted the little birds.  

Miraculously, all the sparrows escaped. When they did, the hawk let out a screeching call and zoomed off out of the bush. In seconds it was gone through the leafy crowns of the big oak trees and the rooftops of the old houses.  

Outside of town, on Interstate 74, there were other treasures to be found on the wide-open plains of the Archipelago. Two as a matter of fact. Both, I happened to come across over the summer. I use that phrase because I don’t go out looking for these birds, our paths just happen to cross now and again. I like that pattern. Since you are not expecting to see their incredible skills in action, it makes it more of a wonder when you do, especially when you are driving for work and thinking through a list of problems you have to get done by the end of the day. It lifts you up and out from between the heavy wheels of the daily grind.

The first was a small treasure. A display of aerial excellence I had just a moment to watch as I was driving along. Fortunately, it was a longish moment, I was slowing down for my exit.   

Near the edge of the road there was something motionless in the air 20, or 30 feet above the ground. It was a hawk. Its big wings were fully extended, the feathers on the tips spread out like fingers reaching through the air. These wings pushed against an invisible river of moving air and kept the bird motionless as it scanned the ground below. This wind was strong enough to put the branches of a nearby tree in violent motion. Is there any machine of man’s making that can remain on the wind like that, completely silent and without moving an inch in any direction?

Thinking that it had spotted something to eat, I quickly scanned the field below it. There, about five yards out was a small dark form scurrying here and there on the long, flattened blades of light colored grass. That small, dark form had no idea what watched in the air above.

 The second small treasure took place in a shorter space of time. Literally, five or six seconds because I was driving 70 mph east bound on Route 74.

Against the blue sky is a bird, dazzling white, that zooms down from above, then banks to the left, and zips across the front of my car.  It was five or six feet off the pavement and just a few yards from my front grill. In seconds it had sped across the two east bound lanes, the median and the two west bound lanes before it was gone over a barren field.

There was a semi speeding down the west bound lane and the bird shot out across the front of it, avoiding it with ease.  

When it came out of that dive it’s white under side was facing me. The shape of the bird’s body resembled a bullet or a sleek, airborne projectile. The wings were rounded and swept back; its tail splayed straight and wide. The legs were pulled in tight against itself. The head was turned to one side, it was looking into the direction of the on-coming traffic in the opposite lane – the space it was going to fly through next. Its facial expression was on full display – commanding, purposeful and utterly fearless.

To avoid my car, and the semi 100 feet or so ahead of me in the far opposite lane, it had to been flying at a tremendous rate of speed. If you include both shoulders, four lanes and the median, Interstate 74 is a minimum of 116 feet wide. The far edge of the semi was about 86 feet from where the bird came out of the dive. If my car and the semi are traveling at 70 mph we would have been covering .0194 feet a second. The bird may have been diving at 120mph, a speed it could easily achieve I have been told, and continued on at 100 mph when it leveled off. At 100 mph it would take .586 seconds to fly 86’ feet It would only spend .082 seconds in the width of one lane. If it flew past my car at a distance of 30 feet away, my car would have taken .292 seconds to reach it. If it flew past the truck at a distance of 100 feet away, it would be .974 seconds before the truck reached the bird. Seems to me it had just enough time to fly safely across the interstate.  

It also seems to me that the hawk had figured out the precise timing needed for this exhibition of aerial excellence.  

Why do I assume to know what a hawk is thinking?

Well, in my twelve years of driving on the interstates of Illinois, I can recall seeing only two or three hawks that had been struck by a vehicle. This is a stunningly good statistic; which chance alone could not be responsible for.     

I am thankful that my interest in these creatures has deepened over the years. They have taught me, once again, that the extraordinary can be found in the ordinary no matter where you are. The key to finding these treasures is to keep the mind open, soften the heart, and practice patience. Even when your world looks barren, boring and bleak, persevere. Do those three things and you will always be reminded of the miracle that life is, and you will always be amazed.  

 

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Minestrone Soup

If I was cooking in Villa Santa Maria on a snowy night like this, Minestrone soup would be simmering on my stove. This is a photo of Villa Santa Maria, the town my grandfather lived in before he came to America in 1910 or so. He probably cooked this same soup there on a night like this.

Enrico gave this recipe to my mother and she handed it down to me when I was in cooking school back in 1982. When I opened my restaurant, Dominic’s in 1995, it went on the menu to honor my mother and my grandfather.

When my mom made this for us she often added cannelloni beans or ditalini pasta, sometimes not.

No matter, it was a family favorite and a favorite at Dominic’s too.

I hope you enjoy it.

Happy cooking!

1.75lbs Onion, Large dice

.5 lbs Celery, Large dice

.4 lbs Carrots, Large dice

1 lbs Green Cabbage, Julienne

1 oz Garlic, Chopped large

8 oz. Red Bell Peppers, Large dice

2 cups, Canned tomatoes, Peeled in juice, drained

8 strips, Bacon, Chopped

1 cup, White wine, Dry

4 oz, Tomato paste

10 oz, Olive oil

42 oz, Chicken Stock

.5 cups, Parsley, Chopped

.5 table spoon, Basil, dry

.5 table spoon, Rosemary, fresh, Chopped

Salt & Pepper To taste

  1. Chop the canned tomatoes.
  2. In large pot, on a high flame, brown the bacon and garlic in the olive oil. Stir frequently.
  3. Lower the flame to medium high and add all vegetables except cabbage. Saute until onions are translucent. Stir frequently.
  4. Add the stock and bring to a low boil then turn down the flame and keep on a simmer for about twenty minutes or until the vegetables are soft but still firm. Just a few bubbles breaking the surface of the soup is where you want it to be.
  5. Use a separate pan and lightly saute the cabbage in a small amount of olive oil. Mix frequently so it does not burn. When done, add it to the soup, before it boils.
  6. Add salt and black pepper to taste. If you want to make a lite meal of this, serve with a thick slice of toasted Italian bread.

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The Amazing Frank Leggio

I was talking to my Aunt Florence on the phone recently and the subject of her husband’s singing voice came up.

Since I was a kid the family was always impressed with his singing. They would talk about Frank’s voice like they would talk about Perry Como or Dean Martin’s voice.

However, I never heard him sing.

Some time in the 1980’s he sang a few songs at a family wedding but I was not able to attend.

When I told my aunt this she said an old recording of him singing Smile was posted on You Tube. She said is was not the best quality recording but it got the point across.

When I got off the phone I found that recording and listened to it.

I was amazed. I just never thought he had could sing that well!

My aunt also told me that Frank’s brother Carmen played the saxophone on that recording.

I was doubly impressed.

Now for your listening pleasure, Frank Leggio singing his rendition of Smile.

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Autumn Jazz List

In the archipelago, summer has packed up and left for the warming climes of Argentina. We are left with the scent of spiced apple cider and bonfire smoke drifting through the backyards as colored leaves falling from the trees. It is a great time of the year for a hike in the woods and listening to a favorite jazz album while lazing on the couch wrapped up in a warm wool blanket. Maybe a single malt is close at hand and a small fire crackling on the hearth.

To celebrate my favorite season I put together a list of jazz album that after years of listening to them are as fresh now as the day I first put them on the turntable.

My first pick here is Jazz at Massey Hall. This is not a ground breaking Bebop Statement that so many of Charlie Parker and Dizzy’s records seem to me. It is a musical conversations recorded between a group of jazz giants and one of my favorites. There is an energy as well as a musical interaction that reminds me of the sales meetings I attend at for my work.

Good salesman are a gregarious and witty bunch. They love to show that off, compete with one another for attentions but also contribute their wisdom of the trade to raise the level of conversation and what they can accomplish. This album is all that but in musical form. Been loving it for years.

Next up is Thelonious Monk. This native New Yorker’s music is angular, off centered and deeply emotional. To understand Monk’s music is to experiences it as if confronted by a sonic force of nature which is accompanied by a rhythm section and a strange pattern of dissonant chords that somehow holds together as music.

I cannot begin to tell you how many Monk CDs I own, that’s because I am not sure myself. But I can tell you that the complete Riverside recordings, which my darling wife gave to me one Christmas a long time ago, is my favorite deep well of Monk inspiration.

I once read a piece by a famous critic that wrote how Monk, in his later years, had achieved wealth and fame and therefore became a sell out. He exchanged his art for money and ended up a parody of himself as a musician. He cited Monk’s years with Columbia as an example of that disappointment.

But that depends on how you listen to those albums. Unlike his early days, Monk was no longer searching for his voice. In my opinion he had finally found the band that could follow him, that internalized his musical ethos and supported him in a way that sounded Monk-like. Because of that his sound became complete and he turned to refining the musical language he had created in his youth. Actually, these recordings could be the most concise and developed statements of his musical thinking.

Obviously, I don’t agree with this critic’s thinking when he equated searching with creating as an absolute. He was more concerned with appreciating and studying Monk’s creative process then the absolute joy of being immersed in his quirky sonic universe. He should have recognized that before labeling those perfectly great recordings as sell out seconds, not fit for the bargain bin at the Dollar General or the Pound Stretcher.

Some songs and musicians evoke a mood through their music. The next two albums evoke an entire culture for me. An urban culture in a city named New York, during the nineteen forties and nineteen fifties.

This music was recorded before I was around, so the cultures they depict are really personalized legends that I have constructed over time. But that is the magic of great art, it moves the mind to comprehend and internalize over time what ever the artist created as it’s essence.

Bud Powell’s master piece is my time machine to the uptown Manhattan of the late forties early fifties: 52nd street is slick with a dirty rain and the neon lights of the club marquees splash their harsh glow down the pavement. The big yellow cab dropped me and Ruby off in front of the 3 deuces. At the front door I can hear Bud racing through an electrified rendition of Tea for Two. I throw the stub of my Lucky Strike to the pavement and rummage around in the pocket of my trench coat for the deuce to tip the doorman and get the usual table and a French 75…

Now fast forward to the mid late 1950’s and Red Garland’s Monteca. This album catches the essences of modern, mainstream jazz as I have come to know it. Red’s straight forward piano playing can sound deceptively simple but its often lite and always streamlined quality make it thoroughly modern. If I could build a room to listening to Garland’s music it would look like this – white walls, polished wooden floors with a view of the Hudson River. Comfortable in dimensions it would be sparsely appointed with a few plywood molded chairs, a Bauhaus mid century modern sofa between them. A large Gomez painting hung on the wall over the couch and in front of it a very modern area rug. Oh, and a young Grace Kelly sitting on one end of that sofa handing me a dry martini!

As evidenced by the album’s title, Monteca, the cuts have an Afro-Cuban flavor with Ray Beretto’s percussion. So, the final touch to the Garland pad would be the faint aroma of fried plantains and Cuban pork wafting in through an open window from Little Havana down the block.

Of course there are scores more that can easily make this list but I have to stop somewhere. There will definitely be another tally of personal favorites in the future.

Until then you groovy hep cats, happy listening.

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Election Day Addendum #1

Writing the previous Election Day post left a thought rattling around in my head. That thought would not go away, but it would not stay in one place long enough for me to see it clearly.

A few days into this situation, I drove out from the Archipelago to a job site that was 154 miles away. I left the house before the sun came up and headed out on interstate 74 into the fields of corn, brittle and brown from the cool autumn weather. Somewhere around mile 100 I pinned down that evasive thought and put it into words.

The past is the foundation of the future we are building on today.

This was the unconscious motivation for my writing of that original post. It is the deeper view in which I saw the months leading up to the election, the election itself and the urgency I felt about commenting on it.

Pointing out the imperative need to understand and appreciate the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and Thomas Payne’s Common Sense was not enough.

These documents had to be placed in their original social and historical context to be fully appreciated. Edmund S. Morgan’s The Birth of the Republic 1763-89 did this like no other book I have read on that period in our history.

Morgan puts the reader squarely in the middle of the struggle for freedom. He depicts the lifestyle the colonialist enjoyed, how England tried to change that lifestyle, and how the colonialist reacted to it and why.

Morgan’s writing style is clear and concise. His scholarship focused on trying to recreate what actually happened, not revising events to fit a personal or political narrative. In our day and age, this has become a historian’s greatest service. It is a joy to read one who understands this.

If you need to deepen your understanding of the context of our founding, this is a must read. It will surely enrich your understanding of our principles, our traditions and our unique place in history as the light of liberty for one nation and the entire world.

God Bless America.

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Election Day

When I started this website I said I would not write about politics. I wanted this to be a place to escape the daily grind. A digital space for visitors to enjoy and take a piece of that enjoyment with them when they left. However, with so many groups working to thoroughly transform, our government, culture and economy for the worse, I have to make an acceptation.

My aim is not to convince you to vote for one party over another, or one candidate over another. My aim is to convince you to do two things before you vote.

Read Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Then read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.

Read them for yourself, not someone else’s interpretation of them. Read each one in it’s entirety, several times if need be. They are very important.

Our country was founded on these documents. They contain political wisdom that transcends the ages. The truths these men wrote of are as profound and relevant now as they were in the 1700’s. They must be understood, cherished and defended, now more then ever.

Wisdom and truth never goes out of fashion, never becomes obsolete.

The truths here are very simple. 1) Each human life is sacred and must be treated with respect. 2) The power to rule is a corrupting force that must be limited in it’s reach and used with discretion.

To embrace these truths, and put them into action, is to live free and prosper.

Thomas Paine rightly believed that power should never be concentrated in the hands of the government, or any institution or individual for that matter, because it leads to the abuse of human life. The higher the concentration of power the greater the opportunity for the abuse of the individual.

The Declaration of Independence gives specific examples of the abuses that arise from the concentration of political power and why they should be viewed as injurious to the individual. This document affirms that we have rights and they are inherent in every person. They are not given by the government, but by ‘nature and nature’s god’. Therefore, they cannot be taken away by the government but must be defended by it.

The Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, gives instructions on how these inalienable rights can be protected through the structure of our federal governmental and it’s basic operation and obligations to the citizens.

In essences, these two documents allow every citizen to live his or her life in the United States without the undo interference of the federal government, the destructive actions of foreign powers, or anarchist groups from outside or within the county’s borders.

This political system put in place by the founding fathers is not perfect. No political system is perfect. However, some are better then others. The system that these brave and brilliant men risked their lives to set down is far greater and freer then any that has come before it. It has given more freedom to more people then any other in the history of the world. The civil war, fought to abolish slavery, and the four year struggle to defeat the Axis powers and free the world from their totalitarian grip of evil is proof of that fact.

There is no reason to be ashamed of this magnificent country but every reason to celebrate it.

The present struggle by many groups and organizations to fundamentally transform the system, even tearing it down completely, will only lead to tyranny for all but a chosen few. If you believe in liberty, equality, and prosperity, then the struggle is to support, defend and expand what the founders have created and established.

There is only one question to ask your self when you walk into the poling booth –

What candidate will further advance the principles embodied in the Deceleration of Independence and The United States Constitution?

God Bless America.