No More Noogies

Last night a family friend died. In fact Rick was more like a second dad to me. He, his wife, and my mom all belong(ed) to the same Sunday School class/group, and the long-time members often helped my mom with my sister and I.

From what I understand, Rick was at a Rangers game with his daughter and granddaughter and had seen the grand slam by Josh Hamilton. On the way out he stumbled, recovered, and then collapsed. This timeline strikes me because he was at a wonderful game with his only child and grandbaby (who is about seven months old). As Rick lived in Midland, going to the game was pretty significant, as was being with family. Therefore if nothing else, I’m glad he died surrounded by family and feeling happy.

Naturally, I wish that Rick didn’t die. He was a significant part of my life as a child. He regularly gave me noogies well into my adult years. I always wore my hair down when visiting him to ensure he could have maximum impact with his knuckles. It was our thing, and I have to say, I don’t have many things with people, which made it extra special to me.

I remember how devoted he was to his wife, as shown by his work on the house to allow her independence and maximize her mobility as well as putting up those 8 to 14 Christmas trees and other holiday celebrations. (I think when Kay died the number of trees was up to 14, but I’m not sure.) Also the house was filled with black-and-white cows, which everyone found for Rick’s wife.

Rick also regularly demonstrated his love of his family and friends. He helped his daughter remodel her house (he loved building things), which I always found impressive as I’m a bit of a klutz. When Mom and I returned to Midland from Hobbs, he let me stay at his house a few weeks early so that I could attend summer band. Funnily, someone in the school administration was smart enough to figure out my sister’s relationship to me, and since I was initially listed as having Rick’s address they called to report her absent to him. Fortunately for Glenda he didn’t tell my mom.

Rick also demonstrated a strong sense of community and service to others. He regularly helped with Christmas in Action (formerly called Christmas in April), where groups of people worked together to help fix up the houses of people in need. Mom’s Sunday School group regularly took on houses requiring more than a coat of paint, and Rick was instrumental in working on those houses each weekend until the group was done. He and Kay both had season tickets to the high school football games and went also to basketball games (for Midland, not Midland Lee), even when his daughter wasn’t somehow participating.

It’s hard to believe Rick’s gone. I know his soul is happy to be reunited with Kay, but he will be missed here on Earth.

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My thoughts this 10th Anniversary of 9/11

Since 2001, the anniversary of that day has become a national day of mourning and reflection; actually, it is a global day of mourning. We’ll remember where we were when it happened or when we found out in addition to the people whose lives were lost, we may reflect on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we can reflect on how that terrible day changed us. I want to take this opportunity to ponder this day and reconcile my thoughts with my recent exposure to Franciscan tradition.

A quick side note: This last week, I finally started working (Full Time) at Neumann University, a school founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. Part of the orientation includes a discussion of Franciscan values. Historically, St. Francis changed the course of his life when he hugged a leper. This encouraged him to focus his attention on these unfortunate people who were forbidden inside the walls of the city or castle. Usually the walls kept in the desirables, i.e., the affluent, and kept out invaders and the unfortunate.

In this discussion, I was struck by the comment that Sister Marguerite said, that she wonders who would be on the outside of her or society’s walls today, and that these are the people we should now be focused on helping and accepting. I was reminded of personal prejudices and how I should be more accepting of people who fall into these categories. Today I remember my struggle to accept the reality of life following the attacks and come to terms with my feelings and perspectives about these Muslim-extremist terrorists.

I’ve wondered if I can accept Al Qaeda as being worthy of anything positive. I’ve struggled to understand their point of view and why they think it is acceptable to randomly kill people to publicize their causes. In them, and in us, I can see a fear of the future as the world we live in has changed so rapidly and will continue to evolve. I also see a common fear of the degeneration of society and tradition as a whole. Many of us desire to return to a time where life was “simpler” with more absolutes. For us the goal seems to be around the 1950s. For Muslim Arabs I surmise the world was better before European Colonialization or before the Zionists went into Palestine to create or reestablish Israel.

Of course, not everyone would agree that these were the respective golden ages of society. At least here in the US we had more overt racism and sexism (never mind anything regarding sexuality). I firmly believe many of the points of discussion about social issues existed then; they were mostly ignored by the majority (at least that’s what I think occurred). These social issues I refer to include racism and sexism, in addition to physical and sexual abuse by loved ones, rape, pedophilia, incest, etc. As I don’t know enough about the Islamic nations before colonial times, I cannot conjecture about their realities other than to say human nature does not truly change.

As to their views on Europe and the United States, I can understand their anger at our imposing our world view on the Islamic states, and their anger at our act to send our undesired future Israelis to impose their own rules on an area considered to be Muslim. Remember during the early 1900s the US had deep distrust of Jews and firmly believed in segregation. Much of that feeling still exists in Europe as well. Unfortunately, several Americans continue to distrust Jews.

We must accept as fact that Americans are a rather arrogant nation. These extremists believe this to be true, and as our allies also believe this I don’t think we can deny this aspect of ourselves. Our patriotism is good, but our blindness to other perspectives is a major weakness. We must also accept the times are changing and will continue to do so. We must determine how to thrive and succeed in today instead of clinging to nostalgia. In fact, everyone needs to do so, not just the Americans. We also need to understand or try to understand other perspectives and use this knowledge to our benefit, if not everyone’s benefit. I know this point of view is idealistic, but I truly believe this is the only way to defeat the terrorists as well as to continue to be a world power.

As these terrorists are certainly on the outside of my internal city walls, I’d like to think I’ve come to accept their opinions and beliefs about almost everything. To this day I continue to struggle with their belief that attacking random innocents to promote the terrorists’ cause. The beliefs of St. Francis suggest we should work with these outsiders to improve their lives and therefore our lives, without destroying another group’s lives. Probably this opportunity existed back in the 1980s. Today I don’t think we can help these terrorists. Yes they’re outside the walls, but they’re not outsiders but rather invaders. I doubt St. Francis meant for us to accept their violence. Al Qaeda certainly indicates we’re outside their city walls.

I still can’t accept the violence.

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Memories of Pigzilla

I’m a dog person, I swear. However, while I lived in NY after college my coworkers thought I was a cat person, as demonstrated by various gifts I received. I understand their belief in my being a feline aficionado because I would continuously tell about the adventures of my Dad and Stepmom’s cat, Tigger.

What most people didn’t know was I used to hesitate around cats. As a child my Mom had a ferocious-looking cat named Mousetrap. When my Stepmom joined the family her cat Whiskey also seemed decidedly unfriendly. In addition my Step-Grandma’s cat Moshie also discouraged my overtures. By that time Mom had two other cats, Rat and Kitten, but the damage had been done. Also, we had four rambunctious puppies who chased cats, resulting in the cats being separated from us (they were much friendlier than the other three I mentioned). To be fair to these intimidating creatures, my sister had no problems with Mousetrap and I think she managed to befriend the other cats. However, she is definitely a cat person – a strong indication my liking dogs may be hereditary rather than merely behavioral.

After Moshie’s death, Vivian (my step-grandma) eventually lured two cats into becoming permanent pets: Blackie and Tigger. While Blackie demonstrated a sweet disposition, Tigger induced my metamorphosis into a “cat lover.” Originally named Junior, Tigger first visited my family as a kitten living next door, and we enticed him to leave his owner (an eleven year-old boy) to become a major household fixture.

This guy charmed the heck out of everyone! All our neighbors knew Tigger thanks to his leaving dead rodents as gifts in addition to hanging out in their more formal gardens. Friends and family quickly came to adore this feline. He was a large cat who made everyone smitten. Piggy hunted birds, insects, rodents, and our fish Clyde! One day he fell into the tank while balanced on the edges (no screen blocking any attempts on his part). I did not see him during this adventure, but I could so easily imagine everything. Tigger was also impressively flexible.

Tigger on the Hunt

I’d twice seen Tigger curl himself into a ball to groom his rear end, and his back feet were almost touching the ground behind him while in this ball! He had huge paws, and we’d joke that he had an octave stretch.

FEED ME!!

We often called him Piggy, Piggers, etc. because he tended to gorge on food. At one point a cousin was living with my folks, and Jeanne had a difficult time placing Piggy on a diet. She soon discovered that Richard succumbed to the pleading for food by Pigs as the first to arise in the morning. When Jeanne discovered Piggy was being fed by both her and Richard, she did manage to gain some control of the situation. Later when I visited, I would write Jeanne a note telling her Piggy had been fed so she wouldn’t be fooled by his crying. Dad, Jeanne, and I were talking about these notes one day, and Dad accidentally confessed to feeding the me-oinker after Richard had fed him (not knowing that Tigger had already conned Richard). Thus, Tiggs had managed to get three breakfasts a day. No wonder he gained weight!

If you won't feed me, then I will

We regularly had fun creating comments regarding Tigger’s gluttony. Dad would say Tigger didn’t meow, he me-oinked, and I finally hit on the nickname Pigzilla, due to his size in addition to his appetite and enjoyment of hunting. Tigger figured out a way to expedite his feedings. He would first sit on your chest and purr in your face. For step two he would pat your face with his paws (claws sheathed). If you remained stubborn, he’d then comb his claws through your hair –an unsettling feeling. If you returned to bed after feeding him and left your door open, Pigzilla would finish his meal and try again! At that point I pretended I would feed him only to shut the door after he led the way.

Piggy had a swagger to his step and protected his area from everyone. This Christmas (after Tigger died last summer), a new UPS delivery person asked us what was up with the cat. Jeanne and I thought she was referring to the cat who comes around now, whom we call Snaggletooth or Snaggy, so we ran outside to see what was wrong. It turns out the UPS person was asking why one of her coworkers had told her to watch out for the attack cat! On his frequent delivery trips Tigger would hiss at him to let him know exactly who was boss.

Sadly, Tigger died the summer of 2009 due to a jaw cancer. He lived to be between 12 and 14 (I remember him joining us in 1996, my stepmom remembers 1995). We all still miss him to this day.

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Favorite Authors – Italo Calvino

In general I prefer authors who write satirical or straightforward pieces, i.e., I don’t need to concentrate on determining any symbolism, as well as older classical literature. I admit I gained what appreciation I have of modern authors (or whose writing makes me feel sophisticated because I’ve read them) during my college years. For example, I discovered the joys and darkness of Jorge Amado in addition to the fun of reading Isabel Allende. Fortunately for me I also discovered the joy of reading Italo Calvino after college.

I first devoured Italo Calvino’s Italian Folktales, a colorful narration of various folk tales: you could almost read the 713 pages without pause (except for hunger, thirst, exhaustion, going to the bathroom, and work, etc.). Apparently Calvino was asked to work at becoming the Italian version of the Grimm Brothers, and I think he achieved this superbly. So enchanted was I that I went out and immediately purchased If on a winter’s night a traveler and The Baron in The Trees.

Somewhat foolishly for me, I first read If on a winter’s night a traveler; I needed approximately five chapters to figure out the structure of this truly unique book. The first chapter starts with you (the reader) preparing to read this book, meaning having to find a quiet place and escape everyone and everything else. I thought the story actually began in the “second” chapter, as it occurs in a train station and actually seems to be a story. In the “third” chapter (called chapter 2) you discover the book has returned to you the reader, but you’re the protagonist who was reading the “second” chapter and discovered the book has some sort of weird typo going on. The “fourth” chapter starts another story unrelated to the previous two plots. The “fifth” chapter returns to you, and you discover the book vacillates between different stories that may or may not be related to one another and the story of how you the reader seek to find the different stories in this book as well as determine the story behind this book you are currently reading. By the way, you are now a male and have a female love interest. The girl not only shares your questions about the book but is also paramount to why the book is so deliberately uneven.

You may ask why I say I “foolishly” started with this book. Simply, the book pushes many bounds of what you expect in a story, and the fact I didn’t know going into the book that this story would be so intentionally fractured caused me a great deal of difficulty. I had bought these books purely because of these amazing folktales and instead found this confusing and frustrating book. Did I make a mistake in falling in love with the writings of Italo Calvino?

(2/5) I realized over the past two days that my comments on If on a winter’s night a traveler sounded as though I loathed the book. Once I caught on to Calvino’s intentions I did enjoy the book, but I worried I would find the remaining books as troublesome. I have to admit, if nothing else I will always remember this story. However, I dislike lacking the opportunity to continue most of these other tales elsewhere. Only the portion from War and Peace can be found.

Interesting idea… did Italo Calvino use an Italian translation of the Russian War and Peace chapter, and did the English translator work with the Italian version? (I assume the Italo Calvino maintained the primary language of the book — but he could have used French or German instead.) If so, I wonder what changes in the double translation could be found. Alas, I don’t want to consider that situation on this posting or possibly ever…

I next read Marcovaldo, or The seasons in the city (which I had since purchased along with Cosmicomics). Marcovaldo follows a struggling family man living in the city, in which each chapter reveals an episode about a specific seasonal event in this man’s life. Most are pretty funny, such as when the family “medically” treats neighbors using stinging bees, but all have a poignancy you can’t ignore. I have no idea whether these are told in sequence of time other than by season, but in all you get about three or four years worth of stories. Maybe all events occurred in the same year, who knows. What I do know is that after reading Marcovaldo I felt I had affirmed my appreciation.

Having these two novels out of the way I venture forward with The Baron in The Trees. This title exactly summarizes the story. A young man with the rank of baron decides to live his life in trees and is actually successful at it! He goes up the trees at age 12 to avoid his sister’s awful food options (grasshoppers, toads, mice, rats, etc.) and his father’s abusive insistence the boy eat this food among other actions. He travels Europe in the trees, occasionally stopping on a roof or mast of a boat, and observes others while living his own life. This boy becomes a man in the trees! I enjoyed this story, as the whimsical decision to live life in a unique manner is unexpected but surprisingly believable as you read. In reviewing other websites, I also discovered the story could be interpreted as an allegory about freedom, which makes sense, but as I earlier said I do not usually look for these types of interpretations.

To date my last read of Italo Calvino was Cosmicomics (although I have since purchased Invisible Cities and Mr. Palomar), which I have since loaned to my mom – or it’s hiding really well. Again, Calvino takes a different approach to this book, as it is short stories about the protagonist and a few others in different periods of time and evolution (so to speak). For this discussion I’ll call them essences. These essences orbit in space one chasing the other until it somehow becomes the second chasing the first, they split from each other due to the Big Bang, they’re dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures, amoebas, beings who can jump between the moon and the earth, essences playing marbles, and so forth. Some points are no longer considered scientific factual, but all are entertaining. The protagonist throughout is named Qfwfg – good luck pronouncing that!

Italo Calvino likes to explore facets of the universe and life as we know it, both what is accepted and what is rejected, asking ourselves why we do so. He enjoys challenging our ideas of an ordered and sequential timeline while ensnaring us with poetic language and evocative images. The majority of his most successful books are described here, although he wrote on a variety of topics. His favorites were the ones exploring topics he enjoyed as a youth.

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Creative Passwords

In this technological age, we must create codes to identify ourselves. For our protection, not only do we need user ids or other account numbers, but we also need personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords. Unfortunately, one aspect of this technological age is that many numbers and words with meaning to us can be easily exploited against us. Also, we’re always told to never write down these codes or store them near where we need it, despite the fact these locations are the most expedient for us. Thus we must use whatever creative capabilities we have to develop sensible, easily remembered passwords that are not easily determined.

So you’re thinking about coming up with a four-digit PIN number. Many personal dates will be simple for the laziest thieves to decode. Your personal birth year and birth date are ones these goofs will try first. Your anniversary date and year also may be too easy to determine. You might be able to use your spouse or your children’s birth dates and years; if you’re divorced the date of official termination may work, provided you wish to remember. However, these make me a little nervous because they are a matter of public record. More challenging dates to use include years of high school or college graduation, but for those of us in our 20s or 30s, these are not extremely difficult to crack, as the numbers in the middle will be the same, e.g., 1992 or 2003. If you must use a date, use a friend’s birth date, provided it isn’t too close to your own. NEVER use any part of your social security number.

My personal favorite to use for PIN numbers is the last four digits of a phone number. I don’t recommend your current personal phone number, cell phone number, or office phone number – they are too easy to trace back. Instead I recommend using phone numbers from your past or of friends you frequently call (and hence remember). For example, you can use your parents’ phone number or a phone number you once had (if like me you moved frequently). Again, if the number has two or more identical numbers sitting together, that number may not be advisable for a four-digit number. If you use the full phone number I think you may be able to get away with two numbers together. With these numbers, although it may be possible for a criminal to research these possibilities, I would have to give credit to the industrious ingenuity this person has demonstrated and recommend law enforcement hire this person rather than incarcerate them.

As for passwords, we’ve already learned most of the rules most programs provide. Never use any word that’s intelligible, try to use numbers and switch cases around, and if possible use special characters. Unfortunately, these rules remove most of the passwords we can easily remember. Some people I know use names with personal meaning and substitute numbers and symbols at certain points, like an 1 or ! for an “i” or an 8 or @ for an “a” or a 0 for “o”. I also like $ or a “z” for “s”. Unfortunately, mixes for your own name are not a good idea, as those are fairly easy to determine. As for less associated password ideas, I like using acronyms or phrases you can combine as one password. Acronym examples include Every Good Boy Does Fine for the lines on a treble clef staff, and My Dear Aunt Sally for the basic order of operations for mathematics. However, these acronyms should mean something to you and also be difficult for someone else to remember. Sentences and phrases can work if they’re short, such as jackhatespeas, and don’t repeat too many letters. You can also try using a favorite book title or author, again changing the letters around as you desire.

I hope these ideas help you. In fact, by writing this little entry I’ve given myself ideas so that I can replace some of my favorite passwords in the near future.

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Crustless Quiche/Baked Frittata

In the pursuit of a healthier lifestyle (or to soothe the qualms of my family and doctor, depending on my mood) I’ve placed myself on a strict diet. This diet consists of about 5 to 7 meal replacements offered by the company making the nutritious meals (about 90 to 110 calories) and one complete meal. My regular meal necessitates a specific amount of (very) lean protein and about 1.5 cups of cooked vegetables; vegetable options omit carrots, corn, potatoes, peas, squash, and other starchier vegetables. One protein choice permits two cups of egg substitute or consuming three eggs – the diet recommends forgoing real eggs more than once a week. As two cups of egg substitute replaces eight eggs, methods of food preparation can challenge the strictest user of cookbooks. (Can you imagine the plate of scrambled eggs? Yikes!)

Fortunately, my mom, stepmom and step-grandma have given me hints that, put together, allow me to use these two cups of egg substitute without my facing gargantuan mounds of scrambled eggs. One, Jeanne and Vivian regularly used leftovers in quiche. Do you have some chicken and vegetables that you want to feed to three or four people — make a quiche! You don’t need a fancy recipe to follow, and most people are satiated. Or you can create a frittata, which also works in a pinch. In addition, my mom always says the crust accounts for most of the wasted calories in a pumpkin pie. Hence she makes a “pumpkin flan” — pumpkin pie filling baked in a pie pan without the crust.

Using these lessons, I developed what I usually call a baked frittata, or more appropriately a crustless quiche. (Maybe egg flan?) Because of this diet, I spray my pie pan with Pam and pour in the two cups of egg substitute. Then I add whatever handy vegetable physically present. Because I live alone I usually add previously frozen vegetables (for this situation I recommend cooking the veggies a bit and pouring out the excess water first). I also add whatever herbs I like, sometimes curry powder and turmeric which reduces the need for more salt. Then I place the quiche in the oven preheated to 350° F and bake for almost 35 minutes. I find 30 minutes usually results in a quiche that falls apart upon serving while 35 minutes results in a coalesced frittata, but lately I’ve been trying 34 and 33 minutes without any trouble.

If you don’t need to follow my diet, you may add meat, cheese, fruit, milk, vegetables, or whatever else you desire. (I wonder what would happen if you added vodka or chocolate…) My strict method amounts to 500 calories for the entire pie pan if I added 1.5 cups of broccoli. Normally I utilize the entire bag of frozen broccoli or whatever vegetable my cupboards and refrigerator offer as a sacrificial carbohydrate.

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Emotional Art Moments

In college, I improved my appreciation of art through three art classes and a music history course (in addition to all of the performance groups in which I played). I found I appreciated Fra Angelico, Duccio, Cimabue, Giotto, Ghirlandaio, Titian, Caravaggio, Da Vinci, Raphael, Donatello, Michelangelo, Van Eyck, Van der Weyden, Albrecht Durer, and Hieronymus Bosch, among other styles and other periods. Musically, I discovered Hildegard von Bingen, Hector Berlioz, and fell more in love with many others. I learned to appreciate different techniques and beauty of the works, but to this day, I can think of only four times where I was viscerally moved.

The first piece of work that provided me with that sharp amazement is the Barberini Faun. I’ve never seen it in person, but in art class I gasped because the satyr’s face shows such emotion that I could imagine this statue being frozen in a moment of time. The faun could be in a period of troubled sleep, dreaming sensual thoughts or possibly a little troubled. Depending on the picture, he could be tossing his head back while reclining or resting on his invisible pillow. The open position invites or dares you to look until you’ve answered all your questions, if you can answer them. Other pieces may be considered more important, but in technique this artist was a true master.

I also felt this emotional completeness from a work of art when I first viewed J.M.W. Turner’s “The Slave Ship” or “Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on.” I had not noticed/recalled Turner prior to my visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and my observation noticed the action of the storm in the sky melding with the water. The sky amazed me with its energy, violence, and colors. I sought the title and artist of this piece as I was truly amazed, only to discover the horrific details of the picture I had missed. How could such a beautiful and powerful painting depict such human depravity? My discomfort at this careless disregard for life struggled with the top two-thirds of the scene. Later I moved to Philadelphia to discover Turner’s “The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons” and again appreciated his ability to capture the essence of fire moving against the sky. While this time the painting does not show humanity at its worst, it still shows a tragedy. In viewing these pictures and later others, I have decided Turner is one of the great artists whose works foretold of trends in painting (another would be Hieronymus Bosch, whose work is extremely surrealistic at times, ala Dali). I also have accepted my appreciation of the “violence” of nature, as I have always loved watching waves crash onto the shore.

Boy with RoosterThis third piece did not cause me to gasp or stare in shock, but rather I burst into laughter and henceforth drug everyone I knew to view this piece here in the Philadelphia area. The statue is called “Boy with a Rooster” by Adriano Cecioni. What makes this bronze worthy of discussion here is the fact that the expressions of the boy and bird are depicted so perfectly. Also, when was the last time you ever had to laugh at something in an art museum (other than at what someone said)? Like the Barberini Faun you easily can envision these two carrying on in their distress in front of you. Perhaps this facet of everyday life (the fact that the child is creating mischief that has comically backfired) makes this so accessible. However, I love it just for the perfection of expression.

I admit I find music easier to appreciate emotionally as compared to art; I best remember the Salem Chamber Orchestra performing Martin Behnke’s “Chants.: This final example is probably not the only time I have transcended myself in my listening pleasure, but it is one of the few times I recognized my absorption and did not encourage myself into this state of being. Part of this enjoyment stems from the fact that Dr. Behnke was my college band director, and otherwise I enjoyed it because the piece was not extremely discordant in nature. I admit, I no longer recall exact moments in time, however I recall the moment I landed back on earth, so to speak. Some jerk did not set his or her phone to vibrate or off, and the ringing infuriated me. Not typically a hot head, if a vigilante group had wanted to persecute this person I would have willingly joined them, my attention was so entrenched in the music’s perfection. From what I understand, the piece was technically challenging to perform, which allows my appreciation to grow due to my recognizing how a difficult piece can force a performer to “cheat”, for lack of a better word.

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