Saturday, August 1, 2009

It’s in the genes

Toasted We ran down to my folks today--well, actually, we drove the truck--to return the tables we'd borrowed for the garage sale. In the space of a three-hour visit, my Mom fed us pizza, fruit salad (I didn't have any of that), chocolate chip cookies, and on the way out, she wanted us to try the white cheddar Cheezits she just loves and tried to send some home with us. Oh, and when they were at Aldi's the other day, they had raisin bread on sale for 50 cents a loaf. She said she couldn't believe her eyes, thought that had to be wrong, but sure enough, it was 50 cents.

So she bought twelve loaves, froze them, and sent one home with us.

I haven't had raisin bread for a while, but mmm, I love it toasted with butter on it! Yeahhhhh, TOAST!Thanks, Mom!

I swear, if you manage to get out of their house without eating something, you must have some kind of anti-food mojo going on, because Mom loves to feed people! I'm surprised she let me get away with not having any fruit salad, and didn't just dish me up a bowl and set it in front of me. She comes from a family of southern cooks, and I remember my Grandma being the same way, as well as all of Mom's sisters. They all cooked so similarly, and when we'd have family get-togethers, you can imagine the tables laden with food, all homemade. You don't see that so much anymore, which I find kind of sad. There are some things that taste pretty good out of the store, but it would be a cold day in hell before I took any kind of store-bought salad or other dish to a reunion or get-together. It's a matter of pride.

Anyhoo, we had a really nice visit, with talk of family matters--good and not-so-good--and travel. Dad has been retired for 30 years now, and they've been able to travel to many places in the country, including the northwest (they loved Mount Rushmore) and the southwest. I guess Ken and I both come by our travel bug honestly, because my parents have always loved to travel (The first time they went to Florida was in 1951...can you imagine how cool it was then, with the old motels and pre-interstate?), and so did Ken's folks.

Not only did I get my Mom's stocking-up gene, I guess I got the travel gene, as well. I suppose there are worse things to inherit from your parents, like, you know...bitchiness or psychoses.

**Last minute update before midnight: Rabbit rabbit rabbit!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Beth’s Music Moment – Punk Rock

Beth's music moment6 When I was running errands today, I was playing one of my newer CDs. I rarely buy CDs in stores, but love going online to places like BMG (now YourMusic) and Amazon to search for bargains and cool bands that I've never listened to before. I love the feature on most websites where you can listen to a 30-second clip of the songs, and decide whether or not you're interested. I've gotten pretty good at picking out CDs that I think I will like, and I've been very happy with some of my recent purchases.

In the car today, I was playing "Waterloo" by a band called Dirty Pretty Things, and although they're a relatively new band, formed in 2005, I was struck by what a punk sound they have, and it got me to thinking about my love of punk rock. My love for it has never gone away, and neither has punk rock!

This isn't about any band in particular, although I'll put up videos from the Ramones and the Sex Pistols. Here are the Ramones with "Blitzkrieg Bop." Hard to believe that the core members of the band, Joey, Johnny, and Dee Dee, are all gone now. The first two from cancer, and Dee Dee from an overdose. R.I.P., guys.

Punk was a musical force from about the mid-70's to the mid-80's, and although a brief run, what a ten year run it was. Into the midst of lame-o 70's AM rock (There were some fun songs from then, but a lot of it was crap. I give you "Afternoon Delight" by Starland Vocal Band. The prosecution rests, your Honor.) and God help us all, disco, exploded these nasty, sneering, street punks who stuck safety pins in their faces, yelled unintelligible lyrics, and played their instruments at an insane volume and pace. I generalize, because not all artists of that time fell into that mold. That was certainly the perception of middle class America, though, when the Sex Pistols crossed the pond and embarked on a two-week tour. I can still remember Shane and I listening to our parents talk about how awful it was and how disgusting these people were. Shane and I were already into it by that time, and I'm certain that we exchanged glances during these discussions, then headed off to the bedroom to listen to records and read liner notes!

Shane and I always had a knack for sniffing out new bands before they became highly popular. I think it was just a matter of being in-tune with what was going on and reading magazines like Creem, or watching "The Tomorrow Show" with Tom Snyder (he interviewed lots of punk bands), or watching the new acts on "Saturday Night Live." Whatever it was, we could really pick 'em. We were into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers as soon as we heard "Breakdown" on the radio, and that was well before he hit it big; we loved Blondie before "Heart of Glass"; we loved Cheap Trick before they were "Live at Budokan"; and we were B-52's (more of a New Wave group) fans as soon as we saw them perform "Rock Lobster" and "Dance This Mess Around" on SNL, long before they hit mainstream popularity with "Cosmic Thing." I'm sure there are more, and maybe Shane can help me out here, but those are the ones that really stick in my mind.

Years later, when Green Day debuted their first CD, I remember talking to Shane and saying, "This is punk! Have you heard this?!" We were always a little ahead of our time musically, and it turns out that so was punk. It persists today in bands like Green Day and the Offspring and any other band that plays loud, simple chords.

For two kids in the Midwest who loved music, punk was exciting and a little bit...dangerous. It was diametrically opposed to the sweetness trickling from the radio, and we welcomed it with open arms and open ears. A lot of it was angry, especially the stuff coming out of the UK from bands like the Clash and the Pistols. A lot of the band members were poor working class kids, and they had a big chip on their shoulders. I can't say that either Shane or I were what could be called angry teenagers, but for whatever reason, we loved the music. Maybe we just liked to rock. That still endures, as does punk.

Here are the Sex Pistols doing "Pretty Vacant." Johnny Rotten did angry very well, snarling "We're so pretty, oh so pretty, we're vacant...and we don't care!"

*Note: All words and thoughts here are my own, but for an extensive discussion of punk rock, including subsequent bands that were influenced by it, the Wiki punk entry is pretty good!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Trying to understand

Racist eggs [sigh]

I don't really want to write about this...but feel I need to.

This morning, I read a column that my pal Lisa had posted on Facebook. It was from the Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts, and I know he's one of Lisa's favorites. He's one of mine, too. I always find his columns thought-provoking, and I think he tries to get people to understand where others might be coming from. This particular column from Pitts was about the recent arrest of Professor Gates and the subsequent brouhaha, culminating tonight (at least for now) in what is being called the Beer Summit, when the President, Prof. Gates, and Officer Crowley sit down at the White House for a beer and some talk. My friend Milwaukee Dan #1 is calling it Beer Bong Thursday, and I kind of like that!

Anyhoo, Lisa's thread got a little out of control (partly my fault) when someone posted that they thought the police did nothing wrong, then someone else posted that they felt it was mishandled and Gates should never have spent four hours in jail, then I posted and said that it's naive to think that race did not play a part in this, even if it was a matter of assumptions on the part of the neighbor, or on the part of the police...then the original poster wrote that they always side with the police and that they think Gates was the racist here.


That made me a little sore. I wrote that I suspect my cousin might disagree with such blind faith in the police, since he was shot in the back of the head on his prom night by a police officer, who dumped his body in the woods. He would probably disagree with that...but he's dead. Lisa, I apologize if things got out of hand, and just say the word and I'll remove my comments. My cousin was indeed murdered by a police officer about 40 years ago, and it's something that my family rarely talks about because it was and still is so painful. Apparently there was a girl cousin was dating a girl that the cop had a thing for, and none of us will ever know exactly what happened that night. The cop did go to jail, though. For about a year. ONE YEAR.

Maybe that's why I tend to not have blind faith in any given profession. There are crummy accountants, crummy doctors, crummy microbiologists, and yeah...there are crummy policemen. I think the majority are not, and I have great respect for those who protect and serve. But I'm certainly not going to assume that they were in the right merely because they were wearing a badge and uniform. I'm not saying that the officer involved here was racist, or that he's a crummy officer, because I just don't know. It's also quite possible that Gates over-reacted, but I think Mr. Pitts was trying to make a point that so many people just don't seem to get. Those of us who are not black will never understand the fear that blacks carry with them because of racist behavior on the part of others. How can we know that? We can't. I would imagine that the frustration of trying to get into his own house (apparently after returning from an overseas trip and probably travel-fatigued) and having the cops called on him was maybe just the final straw.

Racism Can we not put ourselves in his shoes? Maybe it was all finally too much, and he snapped and yelled at the cop. I just don't know, because I wasn't there. The police reports say that he was belligerent and shouting at them. The fact of the matter is that racist behavior has taken place in our past and is still taking place today. Wouldn't that make you have a bit of a chip on your shoulder? It sure would me.

Ken and I watched a movie the other night called "The Great Debaters" with Denzel Washington and Forest Whitaker. It was excellent, and I highly recommend it. It tells the story (based on truth) of a black Southern college debate team in 1935. Part of the movie deals with the racism they sometimes faced, and in one scene, as the team is driving to another college for a debate, they come upon a lynching, a man hung from a tree and set on fire. The lynchers spot them in the car and go after them. This is part of our history, people. A shameful one, but it cannot be denied. Do we honestly think we can say, "Oh, that was in the past--get over it already" and people will say, "You know what? You're right." We may not see lynchings today, thank goodness, but there is still mistreatment and racism happening. The racism ingrained in those people who would string up a man and set him on fire does not disappear with a snap of the fingers.

The election of a black man to the Presidency seems to have stirred up many of those feelings again. I get the impression that President Obama welcomes the dialogue, and his speech on race was quite eloquent. I believe that we do need to talk about this and make it, as the President said, a teaching moment. Part of the process needs to be to understand that the experiences of white Americans are different than that of black Americans or Latino Americans or other ethnic groups. I cannot say that I know what it feels like to fear that I will be stopped by the police for the color of my skin. But I acknowledge that it does happen to others, and that is a fear that others carry around with them every second of every day. To ignore this is to lack empathy for what others have had to deal with in their lives, and are still dealing with.

To top it all off, we get this from Glenn Beck:

Hey, Beck? Fuck you. And the horse you rode in on. No, not the horse...I like horses. So fuck you two times. How dare he say such a thing? I've sent my email to Faux News saying that Beck owes the President an apology and every single American an apology. His remarks are incredibly offensive. They're also incredibly stupid and full of shit. In the space of a few seconds, he goes from saying "Obama hates white people" to "I'm not saying he dislikes white people" to "Obama is a racist." What the fuck? Pardon my language, but this is the kind of crap that needs to stop. Do I believe that being Caucasian is a requirement for being a racist? No. There are racists of all colors and stripes. But for some pasty-faced blow hard to start calling Barack Obama a racist is the height of ignorance and does our country no favors. If you would also like to voice your displeasure, you can write to Fox at This insanity is inflammatory and needs to stop.

Okay, I think I'm done. I guess I'd reached my snapping point, too, and had to write about it. My plan is to return to lighter fare tomorrow...of course, at Nutwood, anything can happen!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our visit to Biltmore Estate

Biltmore house On Sunday, we spent about seven hours at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. Ken had never been there, and it had been over 15 years since I had, so it was a very enjoyable stop. You can read his take on it at Bucko's World, and see his slideshow.

It is a remarkable place, designed after 16th century French châteaux...but on a very large scale. It has four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. It required six years to build, and when it opened in 1895, as the private residence of George Vanderbilt (a bachelor at that time), it was the most state-of-the-art home in the country. It is still owned and operated by the family, and George Vanderbilt's vision of a self-sustaining estate has been realized. The Estate relies on no government funding, and generates the money necessary for restoration and maintenance by profits from the winery and from tourism.

Biltmore 09Incidentally--and surprisingly--it is the most-visited winery in the country. Having been to Napa Valley, we were skeptical, but it's because so many people visit the house. While they're there, they think they might as well visit the winery, too, even if they aren't oenophiles. (I love getting to use that word!)

The two most interesting things to me about the story of George Vanderbilt and his amazing home are the library and the land. Vanderbilt was quite the scholar, with a reading knowledge of eight languages. He collected 23,000 volumes over his short lifetime, and 10,000 are on display in the home. I took the time to look at a few of the volumes, and there were biographies, art books, philosophy books...the guy was remarkably forward-thinking and intelligent, and apparently very fair to his workers and his servants. (The servants' rooms were bigger than our bedroom!)

As part of his ability to see a grander vision, he hired Frederick Law Olmsted (the guy who laid out Central Park) to do the landscaping. Both Vanderbilt and Olmsted envisioned a way to manage the forest responsibly and sustainably. Instead of the current practices of the time, clearing a forest of all timber (leaving it a barren wasteland), their plan was to harvest timber responsibly and preserve and continue the environment. In fact, the Biltmore land was the first managed forest in the country. (It originally consisted of 125,000 acres, and after George's death, his widow sold over 86,000 acres to the federal government, adding a huge tract of land to the Pisgah National Forest.)

Biltmore strikes me as almost Utopian. It put thousands of people to work--with decent wages and treatment--when it was being built, and still employs thousands to this day. I believe it is truly an American jewel, and the family's love of and dedication to meticulous and accurate restoration is amazing. When restoring four new rooms recently, they found wallpaper remnants under trimming and an inch of original upholstery under subsequent layers. They hired artisans from all over the world to replicate the original furnishings, and the results are gorgeous.

Biltmore house4 Of course, as with all historic places, my imagination was fired. Biltmore was a country estate where friends and family were welcomed with open arms. What must it have been like to wander through those rooms? Descending the grand staircase on the way to a formal dinner in the cavernous banquet hall (with three fireplaces in which I could stand upright)? To sneak down to the library when you couldn't sleep at night and find a volume to take back to your bedroom? In the Conservatory, there were many arbors with shadowy interiors and benches...did lovers meet there for a clandestine tryst? Did visiting children run and play in the gardens? Biltmore isn't a stale and stuffy museum. Despite the valuable works of art, many of the windows were open, and sheer curtains were billowing in the breeze. On the hottest days, I can imagine sitting out on the wide, covered gallery, taking in the view of the back yard and the mountains in the distance. In fact, I did take a seat there and look out for a while, imagining myself taking in the spectacular view of over a century earlier.

Man, I love stuff like that.

I made a video slideshow for you! Ken made a nice one using Picasa3, and I was able to make one that I think turned out okay, too. I'm still working on the audio, but I hope it will be done soon. Since we couldn't take pictures inside the house, I took several in the gardens. There are a couple of pictures in there that include hummingbirds--can you spot them? I was fascinated by these huge flowering shrubs. The flowers were red or white, and the blooms had to be about three times as big as my hand. I would say 6-8 inches in diameter. Ken finally saw a label saying what they were: Rose Mallow. I looked it up today, and by golly, it's a hibiscus, what we call Rose of Sharon around here! We have a few, and I can see one out the front window even as I type. Ours don't have such huge blooms, though, and I think I'm going to see if I can find a variety that has blooms like that. One of the Rose of Sharons out front is mostly dead, so it would be a good spot to put a new one. I was so excited to see what those were, and to know that I can grow them here!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I’m no dead quitty fish!

Dead fish I have so much that I want to write about...don't worry, not in this post, but I have started a list of the topics that are already catching my attention! I'll stick to one topic today.

The title of this entry comes from Jon Stewart, whose take on Sarah Palin's resignation riffed on her remarks that she wasn't "quitting," and that she wasn't just floating along in the last days--'scuse me, year and a half--of her term because "only dead fish float." Stewart exclaimed, "You're no dead quitty fish!" That remains my favorite quote from the whole thing so far. My biggest laugh, though, came today when I watched William Shatner's poetry reading of Palin's resignation speech on Sunday. It's posted on my Facebook page, and it's hilarious!

Anyhoo, I've been pondering the whole "quitting" thing, not just with the Palin situation, but in a broader sense. Palin strikes me as essentially a bully. Bear with me while I explain. During the campaign, she felt she had the right to get out there and say anything she wanted about their opponent...terrorist, traitor, socialist...even standing there and grinning as people in the crowd shouted "Kill him!" Rather than stopping such hateful rhetoric immediately, she egged it on. I still give McCain great credit for shutting up the ignorant remarks, at least for one brief, shining moment (the woman who said that Obama is an Arab). Sadly, Palin was under no such moral restrictions, and seemed to enjoy fueling the hatred.

As soon as she was called on her behavior, though, both as part of the campaign and part of her governorship, she cried "foul!" and said that the media wasn't being fair. She paraded all of her kids, including her pregnant teenager and her boyfriend, onstage at campaign rallies, then got pissed off when her family got undue attention from the press. If you want to protect your family, you don't bring 'em out onstage and show them off like your prize 4-H ponies, okay?

I've seen such behavior online and in real life, as well. People believe that they can keep poking the snake with a stick, needling and irritating and bullying, all under the penumbra of free speech, or the illusion of truth (at least their version of it). Yet when poked back, like all bullies they duck and run, hide like the cowards they are, and claim that everyone is picking on them. It's ridiculous, typical, and laughable behavior. I have yet to see a bully not wither under the scrutiny of others, or run away and hide from those who dare--DARE!--to poke back. It's like pouring salt on a slug, or water on the Wicked Witch of the West. Works every time. Cat got your tongue?

I'm no dead quitty fish. How about you?

Monday, July 27, 2009

A return to Nutwood

We're back! Wahoo! (Remember the fish?)

After a complimentary breakfast at the Holiday Inn in Corbin, Kentucky, we were on the road at 9:30. We made great time, especially since we didn't have to stop for lunch. (Crazy to have breakfast at the Holiday Inn? Crazy like a fox! It actually hit the spot and was a nice perk. We've also noticed that most hotel chains are now offering free wi-fi. They should--it's not that expensive, and most travelers want it now.)

We hugged the eastern curves of eastern Lexington, kissed the edge of western Cincinnati, and licked the outer rim of Indianapolis. Heh heh. All was smooth sailing, except for the occasional irritating driver, and some flashing lights behind us...those turned out to be for the little Echo that passed us a few minutes before. Ken was only going about 6 mph over the limit, so we would have been very surprised if the cop had been coming after us. It was a very good trip, and I hope you all enjoyed the updates and pictures (a few more to come). I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed your comments and your input on things to do, or when some of you mentioned that you lived in places we'd stayed or driven through. I didn't know until Donna mentioned it that Corbin, Kentucky is the home of the first Kentucky Fried Chicken! I think it's sort of a neat communal experience to talk about places we've been and things we've seen and to find out that we have some of those things in common. Thank you all for joining me on our vacation, at least in virtual form. I enjoyed it, and I hope you did, too!

Sheeba has been very attentive since we got home, and I was happy to see our kitty! He doesn't stay away from us for very long, but I'm sure it won't be long before he's his usual inattentive self! (I kid..he's actually a very affectionate cat.) A very big thank you to Cousin Shane for taking good care, as always, of Sheeba!

When we started going through the piles of mail (another thanks to Shane for picking it up for us), I found out that I had two packages. The first was a beautifully decorated padded envelope, with my name and address in calligraphy, and red, white, and blue fireworks designs all over it. Inside was an equally beautiful box tied up with a beautiful ribbon, and inside that were several beautiful Bastille Day buttons from Diane and Cristina, friends of our friend David Dust! It was a veritable Russian nesting doll of a present, with multiple levels of beauty! I had won a random drawing on David's site, and the lovely ladies sent me the lovely package. They have an eBay store, so be sure to check it out! (They have postcards, Laurel!) Thank you, David, and thank you Diane and Cristina!

Godfathers T-shirt The other package had the return address of P. Coyne. OH BOY!

Do you remember when we went to see the Godfathers in Chicago for their first U.S. St. Valentine's Day Massacre show? Do you remember how disappointed I was that we missed the after-party to which we'd been invited? Do you remember that I had an email from Peter Coyne (the lead singer) saying that he was sorry we missed each other, that he'd looked for me in the SmartBar, and that he'd send me a T-shirt and a signed CD to make it all better? He remembered!

He included a note that says, "Hi Beth, As promised--better late than never. All the best to you and hubby! Peter Coyne X"

He also signed the CD, and I was just thrilled. Honestly, how cool is it that a band is so appreciative to their fans, and so accessible? Peter, you are a peach, and I couldn't be happier. Thank you! The really cool news is that they are working on a NEW ALBUM, and I hope that will result in another visit to the States in the next couple of years. I can hardly wait to hear their new effort. For Peter to take the time out from working on an album to send the shirt and CD to me really means a lot to me, and the Godfathers remain one of my all-time favorites. The fact that Peter is a genuinely nice guy is just the icing on the cake. What a nice welcome home!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

One more howdy from the South

This time from Corbin, Kentucky. Which we found out at Applebee's is in a dry county, and they can't serve cool amber beverages--or any other beverage with *gasp* alcohol in it--on Sundays. Noooooo! I'd forgotten that there were still some dry counties in the South. We survived.

A great visit to Biltmore House today, and I'll write more about it when I get some time and some pictures edited. You can't take pictures inside the house, so if you want to see a few, go to and you can find pictures of the interior there. I took a few of the exterior, and several of the gardens. My favorite room? The library, of course. And I bought a book in the gift shop about the restoration and preservation of the house, so I'll be happy to read that and add it to our collection! George Vanderbilt collected 23,000 volumes, and about 10,000 are on display in the library. I've got a good start, but I still have a long way to go if I want to reach that point. I'd better get busy!

After a wine tasting at the winery, we had a little snack at the wine bar there before we toured the house. What a nice surprise to chat up the lady running the wine bar and find out that she and her husband are from Indianapolis! We had a really nice time talking with her, and they love it in Asheville (despite the higher cost of living). It really is a small world inside a great big one, and you never know what sort of pleasant encounters you'll find when you're out and about in it!

We spent about seven hours at the Estate, and then hit the road and put in about four. This will make for not too bad a day tomorrow, and get us back to Nutwood at a decent hour. I had a great time, as always, with my partner in crime traveling buddy, but I'll be happy to get home and see our kitty.

Happy trails!