Cranberry Redemption

cranberry-stuff
     I have a confession to make. I’ve never been a fan of cranberry stuff at Thanksgiving – not sauce, relish, whatever. It seemed like some sort of Holy obligation — I had to eat some because of the sacred tradition.  My mom always opened a can and dumped it on a plate like some sort of  gelatinous cylinder…festive, flavorful, and to me, kind of industrial looking. It would be passed around the table like communion and folks would take a spoonful and deposit it on the side of their plate but not let it touch any of the other food…it was something apart.
     Now there are many ways to prepare cranberries and my mom experimented with different recipes but she had her hands full with everything else. We knew that it was best to stay out of the kitchen. I recall one year when there were flames roaring out of the oven and my mom and my aunt were franticly throwing stuff in the oven to put out the turkey. Another year the turkey lurched out of the oven and bounced across the floor. She picked it up and crammed it back in the oven and the look on her face said…”I dare you to say anything…it will be the last thing you ever say.”  So the little plate with the cranberry cylinder was fine.
     The cranberry plant has an odd life. It is sort of a vine-like shrub   that lives in a sandy, wet bog in rather cold climates — a very acidic environment. The common North American version (Vaccinium Macrocarpon) is somewhat different from the European variety but I have no idea what that difference is. We have several varieties or species of cranberries that have some differences in growing requirements or berry color but Vaccinium Macrocarpon is the one that seems to be widely cultivated. The Indians loved cranberries and probably introduced them to the hungry Pilgrims. I suspect you have seen the commercials with the two guys standing hip deep in a pond extolling the wonders of cranberries. The berries float so the farmers flood the bogs with enough water to float the berries above the submerged plants and then harvest the floating berries. The bogs are then drained after the harvest and the plants get ready for next Thanksgiving.
     As I said, I’m not a fan of Thanksgiving cranberry stuff. I generally like the flavor of cranberry juice and I like dried cranberries. There are lots of cranberry relish recipes all over the internet. The recipes seem almost like a desperate attempt to make something out of cranberries. Some have nuts, some have a mixture of other fruit, some have lemon peel, some attempt to replicate the same stuff that comes out of the can. None of the pictures look like anything I would want to eat much of. A chopped up cranberry mixed with other things that I can’t identify is not very inviting. My mom’s experiments with real cranberries didn’t seem to be an improvement over the convenience of opening a can while the smoke poured out of the oven.
     My days of big Thanksgiving dinners are behind me. I live 1,000 miles from most of my relatives so it is just me and my daughter  — who lives a short distance away —  conjuring up some sort of plan for the holiday. Neither one of us want a great deal of leftovers so we keep it small. Last year we decided to forego cooking all together and made reservations at a local restaurant for the whole parade of traditional Thanksgiving  delicacies…including cranberry relish. Even in this situation, the cranberry concoction was served up in it’s own little Holy sepulcher …not part of the main attraction.  It was of the chopped or minced variety…not the semi-transparent gelatinous form. I pondered it for a minute or so. My plate was full of turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing (all drenched with turkey gravy) and green beans and candied sweet potatoes plus a basket of warm bread. That little dish of red stuff peered back at me…”Try me” it said, almost winking.  This seemed like too public a place to partake of the cranberry sacrament. Well…nobody was looking…I made a run for it and discreetly took a sample….and behold(!), I saw that it was good!  I tried some more…I was not deceived. It was quite good…very good.  It was clearly some sort of marriage of cranberry and orange marmalade.  Maybe I’ve been deprived all these years but I never considered those two flavors working well together. We enjoyed our dinner. My daughter also enjoyed the cranberries which I considered a good sign….it wasn’t just me. Perhaps the spell has been broken — we have reached cranberry redemption!  Shout Hallelujah!!!
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2018 Architectural Tour: Taos — New Mexico Architectural Foundation

It all begins on a fall Friday afternoon. The weekend is chock-full of Taos sites for the soul. Registration includes meals and site entry fees for the Saturday and Sunday tours. If you’re unable to join us Friday, we look forward to seeing you first thing on Saturday morning at Hacienda de los Martinez. 2018 […]

via 2018 Architectural Tour: Taos — New Mexico Architectural Foundation

Speaking of Gratitude

One of the things I struggle with sometimes, and what my New Year’s Resolutions always try to address, is showing gratitude. I’m not the best at showing gratitude and when I do it seems contrived and fabricated as often as not. It doesn’t come naturally, and I don’t always know where to draw the line with expectations of other people. When is gratitude appropriate and when is it gratuitous?  Huh… Isn’t it odd that gratitude and gratuitous come from the same Latin root word: Gratus – meaning “grateful“ or “pleasing”? Gratuitous morphed into something like “free” or “without expectation of benefit” and then, after a while, to “unwarranted”.  Gratuity – as in a tip to a waitress – tends to retain some of the original meaning.

Um…But let’s get back to the topic of gratitude. (You see how my mind wanders, right.) I don’t consider myself to be an “ingrate” because if that was the case I probably wouldn’t even recognize my dilemma. I have seen and reacted to other people treating waiters, attendants or employees very badly when some expression of gratitude was called for. I’m a pretty big tipper in restaurants and bars because I’ve seen some deplorable patron behavior in this regard. That doesn’t seem to be the issue. I’m more uncomfortable with showing gratitude in closer or more personal relationships.

I recently had the opportunity to attend a brief class/lecture on “Exploring Gratitude” offered by a local Rabbi. This was unfamiliar territory for me as I’ve never been around a Rabbi except unknowingly maybe on a bus or simply in a casual encounter. This was a Rabbi doing Rabbi stuff and it was a woman Rabbi on top of that. My little traditional Lutheran head was prepared to spin but I came away with some very thoughtful and helpful ideas. There were about forty people in the room and the session was a somewhat interactive experience.

There’s internal gratitude and external gratitude and we most often think about external expressions of gratitude. That’s what comes to mind when out in the public world. Saying thank-you when someone opens or holds the door or tipping might be common and casual expressions. But what about internal expressions of gratitude. Part of the discussion focused on some Old Testament phrases from the Book of Isaiah or other passages that brought home the concept of being grateful internally and to oneself. In most cases it isn’t exactly a gift from God to have a roof over your head, clothing, ample food, the most recent iPhone, and a Lexus…those are details. Instead, we are given certain gifts and talents and endowed with the means to put them to good use. An intellect and a recognition of right and wrong and how to interact with others.  Maybe God has a hand in that broad stuff or maybe it’s good genes and good parenting — you can be the judge. We can be grateful for waking up in the morning and for the gifts and talents that we have found within ourselves or have been revealed by others. The Rabbi’s talk partially focused on chanting as a personal practice of gratitude and before long she had forty people chanting in Hebrew with only a slight understanding of what was being said. This was a practice of mindfulness and most of the reactions were positive. Some of the discussion that followed compared the chanting to meditation or Tai Chi which I and a dozen or so others in the class were familiar with.  When I practiced meditation (I was an early practitioner of TM) and Tai Chi I experienced a certain healthy, clear headedness that brought some lasting clarity to my daily routine. I was more responsive and open with other people. Over the years I have gotten away from regular practice and this session and discussion served to remind me of some of the self-gifted expressions of internal well-being – self gratitude.  Okay – this might be part of the path that I’m seeking at least on the internal part.

So, let’s say (or pretend) my internal issue is solved. What about external expressions of gratitude to family and friends?  This would usually be a face to face encounter requiring an expression of gratitude. My usual approach is to assume that this is implied by my behavior or actions but there’s no guarantee that the other person sees it that way. We go through life thinking we have all our bases covered but maybe we are not perceived in the way we think. When I was working as a program manager before I retired my employer would occasionally require us all to go to various inspirational sessions or participate in team building exercises. Sometimes these would require an assessment by subordinates of the manager’s style or relationship with employees. I was usually disappointed and realized I was not always perceived as I thought I was…as I tried to be.  I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the most common outcome of those exercises – that managers perceived themselves differently from the employees’ perceptions — but it was still bothersome. We can be oblivious to our relationships with others. I don’t recall ever asking my wife, now deceased, if she was truly happy in any direct way over the thirty-plus years of our marriage.  We relied on the other’s verbal or nonverbal clues and we had an exceptionally strong friendship and loving relationship. To me, at least, it was an obvious deduction based on behavior and verbal expression.  I see my daughter at least once a week and we are very comfortable together and typically don’t have discussions or expressions of gratitude. We do things for each other unasked and those actions typically pass without any expression of gratitude. That’s how we roll…so to speak. My point, and the nagging little stone in my shoe, is that we should probably be more explicit in our relationships and our gratitude.

I have a friend, a retired school psychologist, who lives 1,000 miles away and we often spent time together before I moved to New Mexico. Now we speak by telephone a few times a year and keep track, but months pass between our conversations. I recently heard from her when she was in a minor crisis. It was minor to me but major to her. She inherited rental property in St. Louis and the furnace stopped working.  In the dead of winter, she had tenants in a house with no heat and no idea of how to fix it. She was panicking because she lives 200 miles away and can’t be on hand to deal with the problem. I have several good friends in St. Louis, where I grew up, and made a few contacts and got recommendations for repair companies. I passed that information on to my friend and she reported back that the problem was solved and thanked me for the recommendations. This took probably no more than an hour or two on my part. I didn’t think much of it and was glad I could help. A few days later I received a greeting card in the mail with a gift card for Starbucks and a thank-you note. What a nice gesture of gratitude. It was, maybe, a little over the top considering my investment of time and effort but I helped solve a problem that was very stressful to her. Her expression of gratitude had more to do with her relief in resolving the crisis and her hope and expectation that I could be of help. She is relatively new at this landlord situation and she wanted to be responsive to the tenants’ problems so that was also part of it.

So that is where I am with this. I’m not sure I’m closer to my goal of showing gratitude but maybe I can work on it with a fresher perspective. Maybe I analyze too much but that little stone in my shoe tells me I need to be more aware of opportunities to show gratitude where it is due. At any rate, maybe I’ll take up Tai Chi again. First, I think I’ll go to Starbucks.

carving-of-Cupid

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In Praise of Old Hotels — Las Cruces

Brick and Stone: Architecture and Preservation

I’ve not added much to this series on old hotels lately. It’s not for lack of trying — I’ve been out traveling but not finding anything good to write about. A lot of the “good” old places have been demolished or else my schedule didn’t make it easy to stay at the few promising places that I passed on my journeys.  I’ve been trying out a few 1950s era motels but there isn’t much to write about.

amtrak Deming

I recently had an opportunity to stay over in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after dropping my daughter off at the opulent Amtrak station in Deming where she caught the train to New Orleans. “Never again on that route”, she says emphatically. That’s her story to tell but I’ll just say that it ended with a very long bus ride. Everyone has a story to tell about Amtrak and now she has hers.

My…

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A Fork in the Road

Schoolmate shot in the head by another — playing with a rifle…

That was my first encounter with gun deaths as a kid. Absolutely preventable. There would be more — friends or relatives of friends. We are at a fork in the road. Fifty-eight deaths at a concert. We have been here before but we always take the wrong path forward. That path only leads us to another ugly fork in the road and we always take the wrong path forward — deeper into the abyss of gun violence — fork after fork after fork. We don’t have the guts to take the right path because the wrong one is the familiar way…we don’t know what we will find on the right path and there are forces at work that keep us from going that way. We seem to be running in circles but it is a straight path downward.

Coworker’s son accidentally shot and killed by his father in a hunting accident.

That was my second encounter with gun deaths…some years later. Very sad, devastating indeed, and truly an accident. About one-third of Americans own firearms. About half of that number own only one or two guns. Many are hunters who are careful people when handling their firearms. Accidents happen but not all that often. Many are also sport shooters who are drawn to competitions or enjoy target shooting as a hobby. They are also very careful and usually shoot in a safe and controlled environment. I am technically a gun owner because I own a black-powder flintlock pistol that I once used in target shooting almost thirty-five years ago. It hasn’t been fired in over thirty years but I keep it in a safe place. Hunters and sport shooters are not the problem — but could be part of the solution to the gun problem in America.

Staff member’s young brother shot and killed by a confused and fearful security guard.

My next encounter with a gun death was absolutely preventable. He was a young black kid, a pre-teen, playing where he shouldn’t but was viewed as a threat by a startled security guard. The boy was with friends and they were doing what kids do. Somehow there was confusion in the dark and the security guard had a gun and used it. Guns are everywhere and fear is a great motivator to use them even when there is no real danger. About 3% of Americans own half the guns in this country. That’s somewhere around 180+ million guns. The average among that group is seventeen guns but some own many more. So many more that the average for all gun owners is somewhere around eight per owner. Some of those gun owners are legitimate collectors. Some might be legitimate gun vendors. Some, maybe more than some, are compelled by fear or some misguided notion of paranoia. I had a neighbor who pulled a gun on a fellow driver in a road rage incident. He was usually a calm person and not excitable but something happened that made him think he needed a gun. Then something happened that made him think he needed to use the gun. No one was hurt in the incident but a short time later it turned out he had a brain tumor. There is a lot of fear pushing people to own guns, mostly hand guns, and most of it is unwarranted.

A close friend and colleague gunned down by a white supremacist when he answered the front door.

My fourth encounter with a gun violence death was not that long ago. A good friend and colleague  was killed — they call it “assassinated” because he was a government official — by a white supremacy nut job who apparently acted on orders from an Aryan Brotherhood cell. The case is still open though the shooter was killed in a car chase. Someone put him up to it. There are crackpots and gun-crazy people and criminals and mental cases who should never have access to a gun. Kids should never have unsupervised access to a gun. The more guns we have the more they are circulated and end up where they don’t belong. About a half-million guns are stolen in this country every year, from private gun owners or from gun shops. Last December two guys stole a large Ford truck and drove it through the wall of a local gun shop and stole “several” guns…the number was not reported. They got away with the guns and have never been apprehended. About 1,600 guns are stolen in America each day. As gun advocates like the NRA pressure state legislatures to roll back gun possession and control laws the theft rate in those states increases. The guns fall into a black-market pipeline that funnels them into cities with stricter controls. A gun is stolen every minute in America.

A former coworker’s husband, a law enforcement officer, shot himself in the head on a quiet day on a quiet street for no apparent reason — a suicide.

A person bent on committing suicide will often find a way to accomplish it unless there is some intervention. Having a gun handy will speed things up — no intervention possible. It often destroys more than one life.  I live and grew up in a middle class community. I had the benefits of being educated and gainfully employed non-stop for 36 years. I mostly lived in “white” neighborhoods where one would not expect a great deal of gun violence. I know more people who died from firearms than I know who died from traffic accidents. I’m sure my experience with gun deaths is almost nothing compared to the experience of someone living in a ghetto or barrio or a gang controlled neighborhood.

Double homicide — jilted guy shoots and kills his girlfriend and her husband as they come out their door to go to work…an ambush killing.

This happened two doors away from my daughter’s house in a small town in rural Missouri. Gun violence is not just a city thing. The guy got away and was finally caught several hundred miles away. He had a gun and thought it was OK to kill people and figured he could get away. If he didn’t have the gun he wouldn’t have been waiting in the dark to squeeze off a couple rounds into his “problem” people. He wouldn’t have considered that to be a solution to his problem. There are about 310,000,000 guns in America with more added every day. We need more guns like we need a hole in the head.

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“It’s all Holy Land” – Rio Grande del Norte

El Malpais

“It’s all Holy Land” – Anonymous

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Rio Grande del Norte National Monument is one of several national monuments designated over the past few years by Donald Trump’s predecessors that are now targeted for reduction in size or changes in administrative rules. This monument was established to preserve water and land resources along the Rio Grande as well as the cultural and religious sites important to the local Indian and Hispanic people in the area.

The Rio Grande Gorge offers scenic and recreational opportunities as it slices through the Taos Plateau. This is all part of the Rio Grande Rift and the area is dotted by ancient volcanoes…including San Antonio Mountain.

Large elk and deer herds gather here during the winter. Local people had an important role in establishing and supporting the monument which is administered by the Bureau of Land Management. Historic grazing rights established under Spanish and…

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September’s Morn

Writer's Cramp

Each year we gather our painful remembrances
of a sun swept day.

It was a Tuesday, not unlike many others…
an election day.

We stopped to cast votes as we went to work. We were
confident and young.

A short line to vote…Not too much of a delay
—But it was enough.

We walked holding hands. First came noise, then came the news
as people ran past.

The sunlight was dimmed – sirens wailing…a crushing sound
as towers crashed down.

We remember it – it was a roaring silence.
So impossible.

We walked together. Thousands walking together.
Walking in silence.

Friends and lovers – gone. We remember those we lost and
cherish those we found.

The scenes are burn scars – always to be encountered —
on September’s morn.

Single Red Rose

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