Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Today in History

The title of this post is taken from one of my favorite features in the newspaper ('member newspapers?) when I was a teenager. I loved to see what was happening throughout history on the given date. (Of course, today we have the same feature in Wikipedia. Amped up on about 18 espressos.)

Years ago, Cincinnati Enquirer cartoonist Jim Borgman did a piece titled"You can't be elected president if." John Kennedy is shown standing under the word "Catholic" crossed out, Jimmy Carter under the word "Southern", and Ronald Reagan under the word "Divorced," holding the paint and brush, waiting to hand it off down the line of un-crossed words -- black, female, etc.

Today, of course, is history. Today, the next step of that cartoon is accomplished as Barack Obama becomes President of the United States. A black man will take the oath of office with his hand on a Bible used by President Lincoln. A black man becomes not just our leader but the leader of the western industrialized world. In 15 years or so, the Beloit College "Mindset List" for incoming freshmen will say that the incoming college class can't remember when a black man had never been president.

This changes so many factors in our country, our world, that it's difficult to absorb it all. My family, all three of us, worked for the campaign, including last minute door-to-door canvassing on Election Day. At times during this amazing journey, my breath has been taken away by the reality of what's happening, and this week more than once I've found myself near tears.

I am proud of the choice we have made, hopeful for the future we are building, and watchful for the naysayers who will do anything to stop the true change this country so desperately needs.

Two historic figures understand, I think, what's happening today. Lincoln himself said, "The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country."

St. Paul is on the same page. "Now is a very acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation."

So here's to Barack Obama, Michelle, Malia, Sasha -- God bless you. Our hearts are with you.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Vacation Food

As promised, more vacation details.

We stayed in Charlottesville, VA, the night of June 5th, at the Holiday Inn Fifth Street. I went out "foraging," as my wife puts it, and happened on Feast, at the Main Street Market in the historic downtown area. A great little deli; I got olives and cheese and salame and sandwices and fresh crostini and a great white bean/ citrus dip I'm planning on trying to replicate. Dessert was fabulous organic strawberries, dense and fudgy double-chocolate chip cookies, and an individual carrot cake (for me).

The next morning, breakfast was also in the historic downtown area, at Blue Grass Grill & Bakery. A terrific, tiny, funky, charming place, with a dozen or so tables and mismatched coffee mugs and silverware and plates. Outstanding coffee. We each had a breakfast biscuit sandwich. The biscuits, like all other baked goods, are made fresh. These were towering tawny beauties, with a mix of whole wheat and white flours, a real buttermilk sour punch, and perhaps a hint of molasses. The eggs, cheese, and breakfast meats inside each were perfectly balanced, perfectly cooked.

On to the beach. Our house was a Sat. check in, but we stayed on the beach at a motel that night. Lunch that day was at Goombay's, on the beach road in Kill Devil Hills. What a fun place; the ceiling is a soft sculpture of the sea, and surfers, and fish and such -- looking UP FROM BELOW! My wife and I had terrific softshell crab sandwiches with a horseradish dijon mustard. Ian had a tuna melt, medium rare, that was very good. We split a splendid chocolate cake for dessert.
Breakfast the next morning was the venerable Sam & Omie's , where Vickie had a bacon and eggs breakfast, Ian had a great Eggs Benedict (I've had their Crab Benedict in the past), and I had eggs, grits, biscuits and a fine fish cake made from Mahi Mahi -- Dolphin, as it's known thereabouts.
No eating out at the beach; I get fresh seafood every night and prepare it in our kitchen. I made tuna steaks baked with thyme and other seasonings, a shrimp boil (with the leftover shrimp and corn made into a salad the next day with black beans, green onions, and such, bound with a little Duke's Mayonnaise.

We did grab pizza at Lisa's Pizzeria near our beach house in Rodanthe. Lovely, really good. Fried chicken strips on a fine crust with garlic pesto, vegetables, and cheese.
I should also mention the Atlantic Coast Cafe in Waves, NC. We've never actually eaten a full meal there -- a quick breakfast or snack or light lunch or coffee and a muffin on our way out of town -- but everything we've had is terrific.
We headed to DC on Saturday, June 14. It is as always a nutty busy commute, but this year was worse than usual; it was good we guaranteed our hotel (Marriott Metro Center) for late arrival!

We ate dinner Saturday evening at Chinatown Express in (where else?) Chinatown. Outstanding noodles and dumplings, hot and sour soup, egg drop soup, and good company; we were seated at a large table with a couple that lives in DC. I highly recommend this place. Actually, I now fantasize about going to Chinatown and eating my way up one side of the street and down the other.
Dinner Sunday (Father's Day) was at Ella's. This wood-fired pizza place isn't cheap, but it sure is good. I had the pizza melanzane with red and yellow peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, red onion, and goat cheese. It was sensational.

As an extra, on our way home Monday, June 16 we stopped at Wright's Dairy Rite in Staunton. Everything is cooked to order, so there's a bit of a wait. It's worth it; we loved the terrific burgers. but the standout for me was the onion rings. Crisp, hot, and not at all oil-laden. You know when you have greasy onion rings and your fingers glisten? My fingers were quite dry. Simply the best onion rings I've ever had.

We came home to an empty fridge of course.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

The Big Five-OH

Tuesday, I turned 50.

It's a nice round number, in a society that seems to love and need to commemorate nice round numbers. At the very least, it's forced me to admit I'm not forever young -- as if my greying hair and beard and the various new seams in my face would let me deny it for long. (There's a reason I don't wear my glasses when I look in the mirror after I shower.)

I had tried to get my wife and son to allow us to celebrate as in past years: Let me meet them after work at Coney Island Sunlite Pool for swimming, some Skyline Chili or LaRosa's pizza, and maybe a beer or two.

But no. They decided to surprise me. They made me get up and get dressed up and drove me around, ending up in downtown Cincinnati. I thought maybe they were killing time while a surprise party assembled at our house.

Imagine my surprise: Dinner at Jean Robert at Pigall's, the only four-star restaurant in a city that used to boast three five-star establishments. Indeed, the place inhabits the site of one of those fine dining places, the legendary Pigall's, where my mother dined with dates as a young woman.

It was heavenly. Formal, but not stuffy. Fresh, innovative, expertly prepared, presented, and served. Each menu item better than the last, accompanied by terrific wine and fine service.
But the best part was the company.
Growing old isn't so bad, said Mark Twain, if you consider the alternative. He was right. Growing older with my wonderful wife and our terrific son is the best gift of all.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Perfect Antidote to a Busy Month

We took our annual sojourn to the Outer Banks of North Carolina this month, followed by a couple of days in Washington, DC, followed by most of a week at home.

I'll talk more about the trip over the course of the week, because there's lots to tell. We had the best trip ever, I think.

This time each year, because of our peculiar schedules, is the only time we're all together all the time. It's great. I recommend it highly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Emerging from Fear

For the last four months, my wife has been undergoing a series of medical tests to decide the course forward for a case of pulmonary hypertension.

A fluke medical exam caused a series of events to unfold that resulted in this working diagnosis; while her blood pressure is low-normal, the pressures involving the vessels between the heart and lungs were quite high.

This wasn't a trifling matter. When Vickie was in nursing school back in the '80s, life expectancy for pulmonary hypertension was not terribly good. In short, we were all three very afraid. Our son, Mr. Straight-A's last quarter, actually got a C on an assignment.

Last week, she had a cardiac catheter test to see for sure. (She has taught use of the Swan-Ganz catheter for 15 years, but this is the first time she has ever seen the business end of one.)

Result: The echocardiograms she had previously received -- including the one that morning -- were in error. Vickie is fine; her pressures are about normal. There is no pulmonary hypertension.

I let my acquaintances know the good news, and received the following from a classmate at the Athenaeum of Ohio: "How do you know? Maybe she had elevated pressures but, because of God's intervention, she doesn't any more. We never asked him to fix the echocardiogram." I'm prepared to accept that this may have been the Spirit. Because whatever the reason, I am very relieved, and the Spirit has helped bring that about.

Life, my friends, is good. Make sure you let someone you love know that this week

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Living the Example: The Greatest Love

Nearly two weeks ago, two Colerain Township firefighters died in a house fire. Capt. Robin Broxterman and Firefighter Brian Schira went into the burning house to look for survivors. The floor collapsed under them. They died of burns and inhalation injuries.

Capt. Broxterman was the first female captain in the history of the department. Don Patterson, the fellow firefighter she was to marry was at the site when news of her death came; she had just purchased new gear with her soon-to-be married name. Schira also served in neighboring Delhi Fire Department.

There is no professional bond closer than that of firefighters, I think. They came from all over for the funeral at Cincinnati's St. Peter in Chains Cathedral last week.

My wife volunteered to serve as an extraordinary minister of communion at the mass; she has been a pediatric burn nurse for 23 years, and her uncle was a captain on the local fire department when she was growing up; the husband of her old babysitter now is chief of that department. She has heard the tones calling firefighters to action her whole life, and she has made a career out of healing the wounds fires give their youngest victims. I think, last week, she heard her own tone calling her to action.

It was an unbelieveable spectacle, incredibly moving. The protocol firefighters follow for the funeral of a fallen brother or sister is calm and measured, rife with symbolism of the special calling they hear and obey.

We owe firefighters so much; this community, this entire region has poured heart and soul into letting them all know that at this difficult time.

Dying is not heroic. Heroic is showing up for work every day knowing it's your job to go into a burning building. Heroic is responding to an alarm quickly, efficiently, with calm and purposefulness. Heroic is overcoming our most basic instinct for self-preservation and putting yourself in harm's way for others. Heroic is doing all this not because it's heroic, but because it's your job. It defines you; it's what you do. Such selflessness is heroic. Such selflessness sometimes leads to death.

Firefighers know that. They accept it. They even embrace it. And last week, as the last call sounded over the caskets of Robin Broxterman and Brian Schira, this city let all firefighters know that we are grateful and we join them in their grief.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Matt Maupin. Requiescat in Pacem

I live very near Keith and Carolyn Maupin, the parents of Staff Sgt. Matt Maupin. Sgt. Maupin was missing in Iraq for four years. This weekend, his remains were found, and his parents must now deal with what they must have long suspected. (Here's the latest news on that story.)

The Maupins have been very public in how they have dealt with this difficult time, working at the Yellow Ribbon Support Center to assemble packages of goodies to comfort the troops caught between Iraq and the hard place that is our president's head. And our vice president's heart.

Signs at businesses and schools have kept Matt in our thoughts. Yellow ribbons have been tied to trees, fences, and other uprights all over the region. I had one on my mailbox -- until the Maupins put up the sign in their yard that read "Support President Bush and Our Troops." Obviously, I can't support this president and his megalomaniac aims. And sadly, war-supporting politicians have cozied up to the Maupins to make themselves look good. President Bush called them this week to express his sympathies. He wouldn't even talk to Cindy Sheehan; I guess you have to believe the war is good and right and just in order for the president to sympathize with your grief. I wonder how many of the more than 4,000 other families who have gotten The Worst News from the War heard from him?

My heart aches for the Maupins. My brother was career Army, my younger brother-in-law was in the first President Bush's Mideast Adventure, and my nephew is a Marine who's been over in the current conflict three times. I have been lucky; they've all come out alive. Our best neighbor's son-in-law has just been deployed to fuel this president's mad love of being a war leader. I can't imagine what it must be like, waiting in dread of a knock at the door or the fateful phone call.

War is hell, or so the saying goes. I know it to be true. May the Maupin family and the grieving families of those who died out of the presidential spotlight come through this time of hate and war and emerge into the light of peace.

Support the troops? Oh yeah. Support them in the best way possible. Put pressure on our leaders to end this senseless war and bring them home.

Here is a poem by WWI poet Wilfred Owen.
"Anthem for Doomed Youth."

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.