Wednesday, November 30, 2011

With a Grateful Heart

Today, I reach the end of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' series, but by no means have I reached the end of my blessings.  I barely scratched the surface of all the people, places and things I'm grateful for.  Each morning when I wake up, I'm thankful for my life, my family, my friends, ... the list is never ending.

I had grand ideas to post an appeal for world peace in this final entry, beseeching each of us to 'Just Love' each other.  And I don't mean the people who are easy to love, like your family, your spouse, your kids, your friends.  I mean the people who make you boiling mad, who make you foam at the mouth, the stranger (or country or ethnicity or religion or political party ... you fill in the blank) that you verbally abuse or berate via status updates.  It's not enough to wait for them to change or extend the olive branch.  It must start with us.  It must start with you and it must start with me first.

As much as I detest admitting it, the Beatles (and John Lennon in particular) got something right with 'All You Need is Love.'  Jesus, though, is a hard act to follow:
He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence - and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself."
To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.
I never said it would be easy (and neither did He).  I can do my small bit to bring about peace and hope in my small corner of the world.

And as we approach the season where we celebrate the Greatest Gift ever given to such unworthy recipients, I would like to share two final quotes.  The first I consider my 'life verse' and refer to it frequently when I need a reminder of where to keep my thoughts and the second is an excerpt from the lyrics of a contemporary Christian hymn that often plays as a soundtrack of thanksgiving for my mindscape.
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.

Give thanks with a grateful heart
Give thanks unto the Holy One
Give thanks because He's given Jesus Christ, His Son
And now let the weak say, "I am strong"
Let the poor say, "I am rich
Because of what the Lord has done for us"
Give thanks.
Give Thanks by Don Moen
* * *
And I wish to thank all of you who stayed with me through this month of blogging.  I assure you I will now return to my regularly scheduled programming, meaning the occasional book or movie review with an occasional odd tidbit tossed in for some added vim and vigor.  I sincerely appreciate that you took the time from your busy lives to peruse my musings.  I pray each and every one of you has a wonderful life and spreads good cheer to all you meet.

Oh, one final suggestion.  I thought I'd share our family tradition (since the mid 90s) of re-watching the Muppet Christmas Carol each year around Christmas time. How can you go wrong with Dicken's classic Christmas story, A Christmas Carol, and Muppets?  The music isn't half bad (I even bought the songbook) and the narrators are always good for a few laughs.  Once Derek, Royna and Rachelle arrive (two before and one after Christmas), we'll sit down one evening and re-live the 'good old days' with Scrooge and Bob Cratchit.

So I'll close with the lyrics to my favorite Muppet Christmas Carol song, written by Paul Williams, called 'A Thankful Heart':

With a thankful heart, with an endless joy
With a growing family, every girl and boy
Will be nephew and niece to me (Nephew and niece to me)
Will bring love, hope and peace to me (Love, hope and peace to me)
Yes and every night will end, and every day will start
With a grateful prayer and a thankful heart

With an open smile and with open doors
I will bid you welcome, what is mine is yours
With a glass raised to toast your health (With a glass raised to toast your health)
And a promise to share the wealth (Promise to share the wealth)
I will sail a friendly course, file a friendly chart
On A sea of love and a thankful heart

Life is like a journey, who knows when it ends?
Yes and if you need to know the measure of a man
You simply count his friends
Stop and look around you, the glory that you see
Is born again each day, don't let is slip away
How precious life can be

With a thankful heart that is wide awake
I do make this promise, every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise (Used now to sing your praise)
And to beg you to share my days (Beg you to share my days)
With a loving guarantee that even if we part
I will hold you close in a thankful heart

I will hold you close in a thankful heart

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

I realized a couple of weeks ago, when we received our new refrigerator, that I had been neglecting my sourdough starter when I removed the crock from the shelf.   I remembered to feed the starter this morning so that I could bake a loaf of bread this afternoon while a roast cooked in the crockpot.  Since I'm up to my elbows in flour, I thought it fitting to focus my next-to-the-last entry in my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' blog posting series on making and baking home-made bread.

I much prefer to bake my own bread.  Yes, I occasionally breakdown and purchase a loaf at the grocery store, but for the most part, I prefer to control all the ingredients and I just adore the smell of fresh baked bread.  Nothing says 'Welcome Home' like bread baking in the oven.  My preferred flour, graciously available via my local Dillons grocery store, comes from the King Arthur Flour company.  I live in Kansas, the wheat state, where the prized hard red winter wheat is grown specifically for King Arthur Flour, which based in Vermont since 1790 (KAF is 221 years old, 71 years older than Kansas, which is celebrating it's 150th birthday this year).  In addition to having my flour shipped back from Vermont (albeit it conveniently by my local grocery store), I do special order yeast (by the pound), toppings and other handy gadgets a couple of times a year.  In fact, I recently took advantage of a free shipping sale to re-stock my pantry.  That's the kind of spam e-mail I like to receive (and why I specifically opted in for their newsletter and e-mail notifications of specials).  I even ordered my sourdough starter (plus the crock shown above) from KAF, because it's a descendant of a New England sourdough that has been bubbling away there for over two hundred and fifty years!

Once the sourdough starter bubbled up (three to four hours after feeding), I decided to take the 'easy route' today and make a Rustic Sourdough loaf in my bread machine.  The link above includes both a traditional recipe and a bread machine version. I will include the latter in this blog posting:

Rustic Sourdough

1 cup "fed" sourdough starter
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Place the ingredients in the bread pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer.  Select the basic white cycle and desired crust and allow the bread machine to do the rest.

If you prefer to shape and bake the loaf in your oven, then select the dough cycle.  Remove the doug and gently shape it into an oval loaf, placing it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until very puffy, about 1 hour. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 425°F.  Spray the loaves with lukewarm water. Make two fairly deep horizontal slashes in each; a serrated bread knife, wielded firmly, works well here.

Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes, until it's a very deep golden brown. Remove it form the oven, and cool on a rack.

* * *

Besides sourdough, I enjoy making Italian supermarket-style bread, Honey Whole Wheat variations and White Bread (made special for my dad).  For more of my recipes, which are frequently variations on recipes posted at the King Arthur Flour web site, please visit My Bread Baking Epiphanies web page.

Belated Thanks

I'm three days behind in posting for my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' series.  I'm going to include links to those three entries hosted at my WordPress blog to save time and consternation (since Blogger frustrates me to no end). 

Day 26: Living on the Edge ... of the Terminator (Sunrises/Sunsets)

Day 27: Expectant Waiting (Advent)

Day 28: The I's Have It (Interstates)

The next two posts will return to the regular formatting you know and love. 

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday Underground

I spent Black Friday attempting to avoid shopping.  Our one foray out in the late morning gleaned no deals we couldn't walk away from.  Derek and Royna found a couple of items for her Ipad 2 and wandered around a mall for an hour while Terry and I snoozed in the Bonneville.  After all that excitement, Terry and I headed back to Denton to help Rachelle transport her new Yamaha keyboard to the Abbey Underground for that evening's performance of "All in the Family: Putting the 'FUN' in Dysfunctional" by the North Texas Opera on Tap performers.

I had planned that my  twenty-fifth installment in my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' would be about family vacations, but instead I feel very thankful for live music.  The Abbey Underground venue provided a fantastic atmosphere to enjoy the company of friends and family, relax with your favorite beverage and appreciate the talents of local vocal performers, including my daughter (an under-graduate at UNT), graduate students, doctoral candidates, UNT faculty and Dallas Opera regulars.  The selections consisted of arias, duets and ensembles from several operas, including Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte (Rachelle sang a Dorabella aria) and the Marriage of Figaro; Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck; Handel's Serse (or Xerxes); Verdi's MacBeth and La Traviata; Puccini's Gianni Schicchi.

My husband noted the nice stage size and excellent sound system available for live performances.  Compared to some of the places his band, WolfGuard, has performed, the Abbey Underground facilities shined.  And even though we were in the basement, everything was well lit and clean and the patrons refrained from smoking (at the courteous request of the vocal performers) so we were spared the usual night club haze and miasma.  The only thing that keeps me from attending more local live music venues is whether or not the club hosting the concert allows smoking.  I refuse to subject my lungs to the second hand smoke.

Another aspect of live performance in a small venue that I love is the opportunity to meet performers and experience the energy often generated in the feedback from the audience to the performance.  It's live, it's impromptu at times, and it's definitely not Memorex, even though I did capture a couple of the numbers with my video camera.  I'll get those uploaded to YouTube later this weekend (the camera is in Denton and I'm currently at my son's apartment in the Colony).

Opera on Tap finished off a great week and and put paid to Black Friday, bringing great opera performances to the masses congregating underground in Denton.
North Texas Opera on Tap (Abbey Underground, Black Friday Show, Nov 2011)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

North Texas Thanksgiving II
And so I've reached the penultimate day in my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' series.  No, it's not the final day, since this marks the twenty-fourth posting with six more to go, but it is the traditional holiday date to give thanks for all my countless blessings.

I'm extremely thankful that I didn't actually have to roast a turkey.  Thanks to a friend of my daughter's, we had an exquisitely smoked turkey as well as a marvelous spiral cut ham to go with our many traditional side dishes.  We did somehow manage to leave the cranberry sauce in Denton but no one is pointing fingers as to who rushed who out of the apartment.  He did make an excellent gravy.

We've just cracked into the pies.  The sticky buns batch I made this morning disappeared within a few minutes of coming out of the oven, so the pies are all that's left to fill in whatever gaps might be left in our stomachs.

Rachelle and Terry seated at Derek's Transformer-like Table
We had some lively dinner discussion topics around my son's interesting dining room table.  Their apartment's kitchen is a vast improvement over the one they had at the other apartment.   The chairs are very comfortable and we enjoyed the food and the debates with equal relish.  Some of us have drifted off into a food coma, others watched a movie, or played video games or, in my case, snuck off to write this quick blog post to recap the highlight of my November for the last three years.  The long drive to North Texas from Northeastern Kansas is well worth the backaches and road hypnosis to spend a few precious days with my kids.  No matter how connected we may think we are thanks to the Internet, or technology, or cell phones, or tex messages, it just can't beat the up-close and personal reach-out-and-hug-your-loved one kind of experience.

This may be our final North Texas Thanksgiving gathering with both kids attending.  It will all depend on Rachelle's graduate school auditions and selection process.  Next year, I may have to decide between a Colorado or Chicago Thanksgiving with Rachelle or returning to North Texas to visit Derek and Royna.
But I won't dwell on a situation that doesn't yet exist and may not be an issue as I just remembered that we will be in Texas next November no matter what for the inaugural Formula One race to be held at the Circuit of the Americas scheduled to occur just four days after my husband's birthday.

Today, I'm just thankful to be here with my kids, their significant others and my husband, all together under one roof.  If only Roxy and Apollo could be here as well, then my life would be complete.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family and friends.

Sticky Buns

I am thankful to have made it safe and sound through two states to visit my children.  So, for my twenty-third installment of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness,' I wish to share their (and mine) perennial favorite:  Sticky Buns (follow the link for the recipe and detailed instructions with photos).

Nearly the first thing I did upon arriving at my daughter's apartment was to inventory her pantry and then head to the largest Kroger grocery store in the state of Texas.  As expected, since it was early evening on the day before Thanksgiving, the aisles were jam packed, especially the baking aisle.  We survived with most of our limbs intact and only forgetting one item, which we had forgotten to place on our grocery list.

Once back at the apartment, I installed my old bread machine and began mixing up a batch of the sticky buns, using the dough setting on the bread machine.  Since it was close to eight o'clock, I knew I would be up way past my bedtime.  While my husband and daughter's boyfriend headed over to a friend's house who had graciously agreed to smoke a turkey for us, Rach3elle and I streamed a couple of old Star Trek: Voyager episodes from the sixth season, ones I didn't remember but were quite interesting none-the-less.

We decided to go ahead and bake the first batch of sticky buns last night, using my daughter's large 9x13 inch glass baking dish.  I wasn't completely satisfied with the way the dough mixed and rose, so I wanted to be able to test taste it in case I needed to re-do a batch early in the morning.  Another strange new experience for me: cooking with gas.  My daughter's kitchen apartment includes a Hotpoint gas range.  I have only ever cooked using electric ovens.  Interesting.

The sticky buns came out of the over around 11:30 but when we flipped them over onto a large cookie sheet, several rolls around the edges stuck to the sides and came unraveled.  Prime targets for a taste test.  The results were superb but I would need to make another batch in the morning to fine-tune the recipe.  While I had purchased what I thought was non-fat dry milk at the grocery store, it was actually labelled 'instant' (I really should where my reading glasses while shopping), so I put an eighth to a quarter cup of half-and-half in the liquid portion of the recipe.  This morning, I decided to forgo any dairy aspect of the recipe and the dough does look like it is rising better.

I sometimes make this recipe up for friends and family, but I don't bake it for them.  I send them a batch in a disposable aluminum foil pan with instructions on refrigeration, rising and baking so that they can enjoy this treat fresh out of the oven, sticky, gooey and hot, just like it's meant to be enjoyed.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New-Age Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

For my twenty-second installment in my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I thought I'd share one of my favorite Thanksgiving traditions: Baking an old-fashioned pumpkin pie with a slight twist.  I have no idea why it's called an 'old-fashioned' recipe; that's just what my mother always called it.

The changes I've made to her recipe include eliminating egg yolks and using fat free half & half instead of condensed or evaporated milk (these two changes were to accommodate my husband's dietary restrictions).  I've even used the Splenda version of brown sugar in previous years in an attempt to reduce the sugar footprint of the pie (back when my husband's doctors were concerned about blood sugar levels).  But my favorite ingredient has to be the dark molasses; sometimes I include three tablespoons instead of just two.

So while my pies are baking in the over, I'll provide you with the recipe for your own Thanksgiving experimentation:

New-Age Old-Fashioned Pumpkin Pie

2 pie crusts (9-inch)
2 15-oz cans pumpkin
1 1/2 c brown sugar
3/4 c egg whites
3 T butter, melted
8 oz fat free half & half
2 T dark molasses
4 t pumpkin pie spice
1 1/4 t salt (optional) ... I did not add this ingredient to my pies.

Heat oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare pastry, flute.  Mix ingredients with a hand beater or on low speed in a mixer until combined.  Pour filling into pastry shells.

Bake for 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and continue baking at that temperature for an additional 45 minutes.

Makes two 9-inch pies.


My husband and I hit the road tomorrow, heading south on I-35 to join our adult children and their significant others for our third annual North Texas Thanksgiving family gathering.  Since we are staying with our daughter tomorrow night, and her Internet provider screams along about as fast as early 90s dial-up, you might not hear from me until Thanksgiving, when we'll be at my son's apartment enjoying the fruits of our cooking, baking and smoking.

I wish all of you safe travels tomorrow and wish everyone a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Maphead by Jennings

For my twenty-first installment in my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I am grateful for my sense of direction, my spatial awareness and love of maps and geography. This post will do double duty as it also masquerades as a book review of Ken Jennings' recently released Maphead.

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography WonksMaphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks
by Ken Jennings

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
(actually more like 3.5 stars, but GoodReads doesn't allow half star ratings)

A quick read, similar in format and informality to Ken's inaugural Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs book. All twelve chapter titles included a cartographic definition together with a quote. For example, the first chapter entitled 'Eccentricity' with the definition 'the deformation of an elliptical map projection' and the Pat Conroy quote 'My wound is geography.'

My favorite chapter falls in the center, halfway from nowhere to somewhere, Chapter 6 'Legend' with a definition of 'an explanatory list of the symbols on a map' and the C.S. Lewis quote 'Most of us, I suppose, have a secret country, but for most of us it is only an imaginary country.' I did a double-take when I read on p. 113 that Brandon Sanderson and Ken Jennings were college roommates. I heartily agree with Brandon's assertion that 'The hallmark of epic fantasy is immersion' and that's why he always includes maps in his books. Brandon goes on to relate to Ken that he 'started to look and make sure a book had a map. That was one of the measures of whether it was going to be a good book or not." When Brandon first read The Lord of the Rings he thought, 'Oho, he [Tolkien] knows what he's doing. A map and an appendix!' Ken states a few paragraphs later that 'Fantasy readers like that abrupt drop into the deep end and the learning curve it takes to keep up' further affirmed by Brandon's confirmation that 'By the end of a big epic fantasy novel, you'll have to become an expert in this world that doesn't exist. It's challenging.'

Pauline Baynes' map poster of Middle-earth
published in 1970 by George Allen
& Unwin and Ballantine Books.
I felt affirmed and validated for years of pouring over maps of fictional non-existent realms. I once thought to recreate the map of Middle Earth as a tapestry to hang proudly in my living room or library. One of the first prints I purchased from a newly favorite epic fantasy author, Janny Wurts, was a large format (40x30 inches) map of Athera, solely because I wanted to be able to trace (without squinting or resorting to a magnifying glass and the loss of the center of the map to the no man's land in the binding of the books) the routes of Arithon, Elaira, Dakar, Lysaer and other characters intrinsic to her Wars of Light and Shadow epic fantasy series. The first thing I did upon receiving the next Wheel of Time novel was to skim through for any new maps interspersed in the chapters and sections. Back in the mid80s, I purchased both the Atlas of the Land and the The Atlas of Pern by Karen Wynn Fonstad so I could pour over even more imaginary maps while waiting for the next Pern or Thomas Covenant novel to be published. But I digress, tangentially, from the book at hand.

In Chapter 9 'Transit' (definition: 'a piece of surveying equipment used by mapmakers: a theodolite with a reversible telescope'), Ken sparked my interest in road rallies (something I always wanted to do when my husband was a member of the local SCCA). I always excelled at those trick-question instruction test in school, so I might just try Jim Sinclair's annual St. Valentine's Day Massacre (a contest by mail where you travel a circuitous course across American from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Statue of Liberty entirely by maps) next year. That is if I can find a way to sign up; an Internet search came up oddly sparse.

Ken introduced me to 'geocaching' in Chapter 10 'Overedge' (definition: 'the portion of the map that lies outside the neatline border'), which so intrigue me that I grabbed my Nook Color and signed up at, even though I don't even own a GPS unit (outside of the one in my dumbphone which doesn't have any 'free' software associated with it to assist in finding or placing geocaches).

Overall, I enjoyed the few hours I spent geeking over cartography and geography with Ken Jennings as my tour guide. I learned a few things and I laughed out loud a couple of times. I can't think of a better way to spend a weekend, especially if cold November rain greets you on the other side of the door.
View all my reviews

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wholly, Holy Bible

For the twentieth day, and third Sunday, of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness,' I thank God for His Word.  I have at least ten different translations in print on my shelves at home (and one in my desk at work), including the Good News Bible, the KJV, several NRSV study Bibles and a couple of NIV devotional ones.  I may even have a few children's editions and the teen editions from when my kids attended youth group and Sunday school at our local church.

But my favorite place to read and study the Bible is on my computer or my Nook Color via a website called Bible Study Tools.  It's my one stop shop for research, searches and a plethora of translations.  When I'm looking for just the write devotional or inspirational verse, I can always find it there.

As an example, let's review my favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:8, first from the King James Version:
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
As compared to the NRSV edition:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Or the Good News translation (popular back in the 60s or 70s I believe):
In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable.
Or one of my favorites for a really modern devotional paraphrase warm fuzzy translation called the Message:
Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious - the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.
And for the occasional status update on Facebook or Twitter, I like to use the New Century version:
Brothers and sisters, think about the things that are good and worthy of praise. Think about the things that are true and honorable and right and pure and beautiful and respected.
If I want to delve deeper into a verse, passage or chapter, I'm just a click away from a dozen study tools.  The site also can help me read the Bible in a year, has several daily devotions and study guides and provides a daily verse.  And I'm just scratching the surface!  I follow the site via Twitter and receive daily trivia questions that I can sometimes answer without having to look it up.

While I always take my study bible with me to an evening Bible study gathering, if I'm leading the discussion, I do most of my research and preparation online.

I am so very thankful for the abundance and availability of God's Word, leaving me no excuse not to read His Good News whenever I can.

Thank You, Lord!

Saturday, November 19, 2011


As I steep my morning cup of Irish Blend, I am thankful for all varieties of teas on my nineteenth day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness.'  Except for a brief flirtation with flavored coffees a decade ago, I cleave to my morning cup of green tea with an occasional afternoon bracing black tea to spur me on through the rest of the workday.

For many years I associated the taste and smell of green tea, with just a touch of milk and sugar, with childhood colds.  Whenever I had a scratchy throat or an irritating cough as a child, my mother and/or my grandmother would fix me a cup of green tea to sooth away the soreness and quiet the cough.  As I grew older, I learned the value of tea beyond just the common cold ailments of childhood.  I expanded my tea horizons to other blends, trying Darjeeling (my next favorite after green teas), Earl Grey (never again ... I'd rather drink coffee), English Breakfast (my next favorite black tea after Irish Blend) and various herbal fruit blends for summer iced tea adventures.

Queen's Pantry (Leavenworth, Kansas)
Once I discovered Leavenworth housed a quaint British shop, the Queen's Pantry, just a few miles north of my home, I eschewed the tea bag and dove head first into the world of loose tea.  I found all the necessary utensils and accessories as well as gallon sized jars of loose teas with samples I could smell and sometimes try in the shop.  I discovered Japanese Pan-Fried Green tea among the jars and now keep several ounces stocked at home along side my Irish Blend.  In addition to tea, the shop sells gifts and foods imported from Britain and at one time had a cafe that served British cuisine.  It's a delightful spot so browse and shop on a Saturday in downtown Leavenworth; a little slice of British heaven in the Heart of America.

The Book of Tea
by Okakura
At very nearly the end of 2010, on the 28th day of December, I decided to read several short ebooks found in the public domain at such sites like Project Gutenberg or Feedbooks.  I stumbled upon The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura (published in 1906) with this brief blurb:
Minor classic of the Orient. Perhaps the most entertaining, most charming explanation and interpretation of traditional Japanese culture in terms of the tea ceremony. Introduction, notes by E. F. Bleiler. "Provocative and entertaining, this edition is particularly pleasing in format." — Guide to Asia Paperbacks.
I quickly read it and gained insight into Japanese disciplines and art.  The descriptions of the tea room and the tea ceremony evoked vivid visuals I can still perceive in my minds eye.  I highly recommend for all tea aficionados.

I take my tea cold as well as hot.  If I'm not drinking water, I'm usually drinking tea (iced or otherwise).  I rarely sweeten my teas (unless I need an afternoon kick-start with plain black tea).  While I like my hot teas steeped strong, I prefer my iced teas unbrewed, relying on Tetley or Luziane's to steep either in the sun or on my kitchen counter.  Just a hint of tea flavor is enough for my palette.

In closing, I'd like to offer up some interesting quotes, proverbs, poems and sayings about tea:
You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. ~C.S. Lewis a religion of the art of life. ~Okakura
 Drinking a daily cup of tea will surely starve the apothecary. ~Chinese Proverb
 Bread and water can so easily be toast and tea. ~Author Unknown
 If man has no tea in him, he is incapable of understanding truth and beauty. ~Japanese Proverb
 Tea is liquid wisdom. ~Anonymous 
 Tea does our fancy aid,
Repress those vapours which the head invade
And keeps that palace of the soul serene.
~Edmund Waller, "Of Tea"

Is it tea time yet?  Somewhere it must be.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Birthday Day!

Derek and My Dad (July 2011)
Derek and My Dad (July 2011)
Today I wish my father "Happy Birthday!" and express my gratitude for all he does for me and my family. I baked him a fresh loaf of home-made bread this morning and will treat him to dinner sometime this weekend at a restaurant of his choice.

I will take a stroll down memory lane when I revisit this post in a couple of days, once I've had a chance to recover from a medical procedure I underwent yesterday. But I at least wanted to post a quick blurb for my eighteenth day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' and shout out to my dad:

Happy Birthday!

Multidimensial, Real or Virtual, Art

Mother's Day Gift from Rachelle (circa 2007) 
Another place holder for my seventeenth day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' ... I know, a day late, but I have a really, really good excuse. I had outpatient surgery yesterday that wiped me out for the entire day. The first time I've spent fifteen straight hours in bed in ages.

Anyway, sometime in the next couple of days I'll circle back to this posting and explain why I'm thankful for art and all the artists in my life, both in the family and among friends.

Rachelle (self portrait circa 2007) 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Food Thoughts and Water Wishes

I am grateful for the food I have to eat and the wayer I have to drink on the sixteenth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness.' I will expound on this theme in a couple of days as I am not feeling well at this time. I apologize for the delay.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Music to My Ears

I am thankful for my sense to hearing, and specifically music, which will be the focus of the fifteenth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness.'

At age five, I started taking piano lessons from a close neighbor (close being a relative term out in the wilds of northwestern Leavenworth County). Reading music came to me just about as easily as reading words. Oddly (because I love mathematics), my only long-standing issue is my (un)willingness to count out a song in my head so that I get the rhythm and tempo correct. I didn't spend much time in a band environment (only played flute for two years before middle school), so I rely heavily upon a percussionist if I play and/or sing in a praise band. And my audio memory of how a song should sound. Yes, I'm lazy. Probably why I'm not a professional musician.

Rachelle posing as a diva a couple of years ago
As I've mentioned before, my husband is a hundred times, or more likely, a thousand times better musician than I will ever be. He has impeccable timing and near perfect pitch. He has the patience and technical skills to practice a piece to perfection.

My daughter inherited most if not all of her musical ability and talent from him (I can still play piano better than her, but she knows more music theory than I'll ever understand).

Rachelle started singing about the same time she learned to talk. She surpassed my measly vocal abilities way back in early high school. Along the way, she learned how to play violin, guitar, saxophone and piano. However, her voice is her most finely honed instrument. As she approaches her final semester as an under graduate at UNT's College of Music, I look forward to attending her senior recital, which will include all of the following songs Rachelle recently recorded for her graduate school auditions (click on the song title link, then click on the play button):

The Nurse's Song by Benjamin Britten
Rachelle Moss, Mezzo Soprano Violetta Zharkova, Piano

Smanie implacabili from Cosi fan tutte by Mozart
Rachelle Moss, Mezzo Soprano Violetta Zharkova, piano

Ah scostati! Paventa il tristo effeto d'un disperato affeto! Chiudi quelle finestre Odio la luce, odio l'aria, che spiro Odio me stessa! Chi schernisce il mio duol, Chi mi consola? Deh fuggi, per pietà, fuggi, Lasciami sola. Smanie implacabili, che m'agitate Dentro quest'anima più non cessate, Finchè l'angoscia mi fa morir. Esempio misero d'amor funesto, Darò all'Eumenidi se viva resto Col suno orrible de' miei sospir.

English Translation:

Ah, move away! Fear the sad effect of a desperate affection! Shut those windows, I hate the light, I hate the air that I breathe I hate myself! Who mocks my pain, Who will console me? Oh, leave, for pity's sake, leave, Leave me alone. Implacable restlessness, that disturbs me Inside this soul, doesn't cease, Until it makes me die. A miserable example of fateful love I will give to the Furies, if I live, With the horrible sound of my sighs.

Auf dem Kirchhofe by Johannes Brahms
Rachelle Moss, Mezzo Soprano Violetta Zharkova, Piano

Auf dem Kirchhofe

Der Tag ging regenschwer und sturmbewegt, Ich war an manch vergessenem Grab gewesen, Verwittert Stein und Kreuz, die Kränze alt, Die Namen überwachsen, kaum zu lesen.

Der Tag ging sturmbewegt und regenschwer, Auf allen Gräbern fror das Wort: Gewesen. Wie sturmestot die Särge schlummerten, Auf allen Gräbern taute still: Genesen.  

English Translation:

In the churchyard

The day was heavy with rain and disturbed by storms; I was walking among many forgotten graves, with weathered stones and crosses, the wreaths old, the names washed away, hardly to be read.

The day was disturbed by storms and heavy with rain; on every grave froze the words "we were." The coffins slumbered calmly like the eye of a storm, and on every grave melted quietly the words: "we were healed."

Les Berceaux by Gabriel Faure
Rachelle Moss, Mezzo Soprano Violetta Zharkova, Piano

Les berceaux

Le long du Quai, les grands vaisseaux, Que la houle incline en silence, Ne prennent pas garde aux berceaux, Que la main des femmes balance. Mais viendra le jour des adieux, Car il faut que les femmes pleurent, Et que les hommes curieux Tentent les horizons qui leurrent! Et ce jour-là les grands vaisseaux, Fuyant le port qui diminue, Sentent leur masse retenue Par l'âme des lointains berceaux.

English Translation:


Along the quay, the great ships, that ride the swell in silence, take no notice of the cradles. that the hands of the women rock. But the day of farewells will come, when the women must weep, and curious men are tempted towards the horizons that lure them! And that day the great ships, sailing away from the diminishing port, feel their bulk held back by the spirits of the distant cradles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Happy Birthday Honey!

Happy Birthday Terry!
Today I am grateful for my husband, Terry. Today just also happens to be his birthday. So, for my fourteenth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' series, I will take you on a walk down memory lane.

I met Terry in the fall of 1983, just a few weeks after leaving home in Leavenworth County to attend college at Wichita State University. My first room mate in my dorm was a valley girl; seriously, she was from that infamous valley in Southern California. We couldn't have been more different, but we made the best of it. She invited me out one weekend and we tried one of the local clubs called Backstage. Remember all that horrible pop music from the 80s ... everytime I hear Lover Boy or Duran Duran or Def Leppard, I flashback to that night.

I wandered around while Jill fit right in. I ended up in the balcony, watching the lighted dance floor. A guy approached me and asked my name. I told him it was Jon. His immediate reply was 'Don't give me that shit.' I was a bit taken aback by his aggresive response, but I was also used to people's unbelief in my name. I whipped out my driver's license, which I had placed in my back pocket, having left my purse locked in Jill's Volkswagon bug. After a somewhat rocky start, we spent the evening dancing and talking.

Over the next few months, I got to know Terry very well. He took me out on his dirt bike to the motocross courses carved out of the Big Ditch by him and his buddies. I listened to him play his Ibanez Artist (the same one he still owns and plays) and his trumpet. I'm still amazed at his musical abilities, which he seems to have passed on to our daughter, Rachelle.

Three years after meeting Terry, we had our first child, Derek. By that time, we had moved in with his father, whose health was beginning to decline after years of smoking. We purchased a house in Benton (about twelve or fifteen miles east of Wichita) and soon after Rachelle was born. We spent several good years in Benton, until we discovered Terry's health took a nose dive. After months of test and inconclusive diagnoses, a hematologist determined Terry had sarcoidosis, but not of the 'normal' variety which attacks most people's lungs; rather, his variant attacked his kidneys.

Faced with the prospect of a chronically ill spouse who would probably need my help to cope, I felt I needed a support network or safety net to help with raising Derek and Rachelle. With the passing of Terry's father in 1991, that left only his sister living within an hour of us. I had no family living in or near Wichita. I also knew I could make quite a bit more income moving to a larger metropolitan area like Kansas City.

I found a new job without too much stress or effort, but selling our house became a problem. Terry and Derek stayed behind in Benton. Terry single-handedly remodeled our one hundred year old farm house as best he could, while still suffering from the effects of his disease. Rachelle moved in with my parents and I worked a ton of hours, sleeping in my brother's attic and visit my parents (and Rachelle) on the weekends. Finally, in the fall of 1997, we were reunited, renting a house in Lansing so the kids could attend school in that school district. We also ended up renting the Benton, House, since we could not find a buyer before Terry and Derek migrated north.

Terry soon found a job working for H&R Block's call center in Lenexa. He steadily moved up the chain of command, but suffered the axe during a reorganization and lay offs in the early 00s. We did manage to find a beautiful home to purchase in Lansing and some nice automobiles (including a luxurious Buick Park Avenue Ultra and a nearly new Firebird Formula). Terry joined the local SCCA and won F stock in Solo II and Rookie of the Year.

Terry found local judo and jujitsu instructors for both Derek and Rachelle on post. He fully supported Derek as he competed locally, regionally and nationally as a judoka and in wrestling at Lansing High School.

We also joined a local church and eventually became the inaugural members of the praise band for the expanded contemporary service of that church. That endeavor forged a lasting friendship between Terry and the bass player, Sean. Even though neither of them play for that particular praise band, they still play together in their band WolfGuard.

We've come full circle now, with the children grown, off on their own, either married or still pursuing a college education. We're left with the Rotts and a nearly empty house. Thanks to Terry's previous experience in construction and at least two other remodels (his father's house and our other house in Benton), he is once again putting his expertise to good use as we update our home in Lansing.

For a guy the doctor's almost gave up on over fifteen years ago, he's still kicking and still looking good. I thank God every day he's still with me.

Happy Birthday Honey!

Terry's Senior Photo

Sunday, November 13, 2011

God's Gift

Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish!
Ephesians 2:8 (The Message)
"Forgiven" by Thomas Blackshear
I am eternally grateful for God's gift of grace, today and every day. So I will pause and reflect on my thirteenth day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' upon faith and grace.

As I imparted a week ago in my post on John and Charles Wesley, I am a Methodist, born baptized and raised one. Yet until I studied to be a local Lay Speaker for my local church that I fully understood what it meant to be a Methodist and showed me the path of discipleship.
Grace can be defined as the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.
Grace centers nearly all Christian sects and denominations. To me, it boils down to love and compassion. Keep it simple, please. Less chance for me to mess up.

But Wesley, ever the scholar, took it one or two steps farther, defining grace in triplicate:
  • Previent Grace: God's active presence in our lives; a gift always available, but that can be refused.
  • Justifying Grace: Reconciliation, pardon and restoration through the death of Jesus Christ.
  • Sanctifying Grace: The ongoing experience of God’s gracious presence transforming us into whom God intends us to be; we grow and mature in our ability to live as Jesus lived.
Excerpts from Our Wesleyan Theological Heritage via

The journey, not the destination, and Wesley provided the map, charting a course that even I can follow, called the Means of Grace. He broke his method down into two broad categories: Works of Piety and Works of Mercy. The former flows naturally out of my upbringing, Sunday school classes and worship service attendance. The personal practices of prayer, Bible study, healthy living and fasting together with the communal ones of Holy Communion, Baptism and participation in the Christian community, flow and grow naturally with regular usage. The latter stresses the outpouring of service to the sick, the poor, the imprisoned and seeking justice for the oppressed.

Yes, there was and is a method to Wesley's 'madness' or rather his enthusiasm to follow God's will and His vision for all of us, as His disciples, to bring His kingdom of mercy, peace and love to fruition here on Earth.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

So Long Samsung; Welcome Whirlpool!

Whirlpool Gold 
On the twelfth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I am very grateful for our brand new refrigerator.

We finally received our exchange from Sears for the Samsung we purchased back in May as a 25th anniversary shared gift. Six months of dealing with overseas customer service representatives, five damaged and defective Samsungs (including the first one and the last one which was an upgrade to the next better model), abuse from the automated telephone system at Sears for weeks on end and a lost or closed case file.

We had finally reached an agreement with Sears to switch brands (from Samsung to Whirlpool) when all communication ceased for several weeks. Out of the blue, in late October, Terry received a call from his case manager. We were in the queue to receive the exchange and should receive a call in the next few days to schedule the delivery. This past Monday we finally got the call and this morning the new Whirlpool refrigerator was delivered and installed on time and without blemishes or defects.

Second of Five Samsungs Delivered (and Returned) 
With all the trouble we went through during the summer and early fall, we had decided to never ever buy anything from Sears again. In fact, Terry threatened the customer service representatives more than once with selling all of his Craftsmen tools (several thousand dollars worth) and replacing them with Snap-On tools. We had resigned ourselves to living with the defective and disappointing Samsung and leaving said refrigerator with the house when we sell it. However, we have rescinded our previous plans and will take the Whirlpool with us whenever we move.

Friday, November 11, 2011

To All Veterans: Thank You For Your Service and Courage

Veterans Day 11.11.11
I wish to honor and humbly thank all our veterans, past, present and future, for their sacrifice, courage and service in the United States Armed Forces, securing freedom and justice for all.

I find it fitting to publish my eleventh post in my Thirty Days of Thankfulness series at exactly the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of the twenty-first century also known as Veterans Day. As noted in an excellent post by a fellow blogger (ProSe), in less than three years we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, misnamed 'the War to End All Wars.' If you ever get a chance to visit the Liberty Memorial, a memorial to the fallen soldiers of WWI, in Kansas City, Missouri, I highly recommend you make a visit to the National World War I museum housed beneath the memorial. Our modern day Veterans Day grew out of Armistice Day which commemorated the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany, ending World War I, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.

That Special Veteran in My Life

Ron promoted to Colonel during Desert Storm
I am especially thankful for my uncle and his service in the United States Air Force. Thanks to his various deployments around the United States (and the world), I got to see most of the lower forty-eight states before I turned sixteen. Nearly all our family vacations ventured to various Air Force bases in Montana, Arizona, Florida, Virginia and Colorado. I remember when he was deployed to Thailand during the Vietnam War. I caught pneumonia when we visited Ron in Panama City, Florida, because it actually snowed in Florida that year and was warmer back in Kansas and my mom didn't think we would need any heavy winter clothes. I also remember corresponding electronically with him while at college in 1984 via the university's Digital Equipment Corporation VAX while he was deployed to Aviano, Italy, years before most of the world even dreamed about the Internet or e-mail or instant messaging or text messaging. I received Christmas cards from all over the world, including Saudi Arabia before the first Gulf War. I worried about him then and during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I attended his retirement celebration held at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Even though Ron wasn't a pilot, I grew up wanting to be a jet fighter pilot or an astronaut. I didn't find out until my teens that women weren't allowed to do the former (because it involved combat) and the latter involved way more science than I wanted to tackle then, although the math would have appealed.

For the last dozen years, Ron has enjoyed his retirement as a watercolor artist, a writer and a grandfather to five grand children with a sixth on the way (two girls and twin boys recently born to his son Wendell and his wife Kristin; as well as a girl from his son Eric and his wife Cayla, who is expecting their second child early next year). When he's not painting or writing or bouncing grandchildren on his knee, he reads much more than I do. We discuss and debate shared reads and flip books each other's way either by media mail postal rate or electronically via our Nook Colors. When we actually get together for a family visit, I love to hear his stories about his father Ralph's service during WWII and after as well as his own adventures around the world.

Yesterday, in his daily e-mail to family and friends, he remembered how much tougher military personnel have it today than when he was on active duty. Ron did two years of nastiness (amid eleven years of overseas duty) out of his thirty year military career. Soldiers today will spend half of their enlistment or career getting shot at.

Thank You Veterans!

Happy Veterans Day

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Home, Sweet Home

Thank God I have a roof over my head!

On the tenth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I wish to express my gratitude for my home, my abode, my sanctuary, my castle. Since February of 1999, my family has lived in the house pictured at the left. For the last two years, only my husband and me and two Rottweilers rattle around inside.

For the past several months, we've been repairing and remodeling, mostly on the exterior, but we're starting on the interior now. We initially had the roof replaced to fix a few leaks, but the major leak near the fireplace remained unresolved, even though every roofing contractor claimed they could tell right were the leak was and swore it was the roof that was leaking. We finally called a chimney expert who determined our cap was leaking as well as needing some cracked fire brick replaced and some of the brick tuck-pointed. After waiting nearly two months for a torrential downpour (which we received two days ago), we are very happy to report we are completely waterproof around the fireplace. The hole we've had in the great room ceiling for the last ten years can now be repaired in confidence.

I am blessed. My entire life, I have always had someplace to call home, shelter from the storms of nature and life. From a small farm house in rural Leavenworth County, to a dorm room at Wichita State University, to a duplex in south Wichita, to my husband's family home in north Wichita, to another farm house in Benton, back to Leavenworth County, splitting my weekdays in my brother's attic and my weekends either at my parents, where my daughter liver for a year, or back in Benton to visit Terry and Derek, to a rental house in Lansing and finally to our current home. I never left Kansas, except to travel. Depending on what the real estate market does in the next few years, that may change. I hope to follow my daughter to wherever she is accepted for graduate school so I can finally attend her vocal performances in person.

Helping the Homeless

The world's population reached seven billion people recently. Seven billion people, many of whom do not have the assurance of a roof over their head or food to sustain them. In America, it is so easy to become complacent and blinded to the plight of the poor, the homeless, the huddled masses right under our noses. You don't have to look farther than the street corner you just drive by to see the writing on the cardboard. And it's only gotten worse during the 'Great Recession' despite all the political posturing in Washington that does little to provide relief for their suffering. But I'm not one to wait on the government to do what I should be doing in the first place.  

What's the biggest problem and solution facing the world today? I am. If I made more of an effort to support charities and volunteer my time, then surely I would make a difference, however small, in someone's life. I encourage you to embrace that concept.

Here are a few of the charities I actively support as I am able (from local to international):
  • The Salvation Army (Leavenworth, Kansas)
  • City Union Mission (Kansas City, Missouri)
  • Habitat for Humanity (Kansas City metro area) - Their vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live.
  • Heifer International's mission is to work with communities to end hunger and poverty and care for the earth. By giving families a hand-up, not just a hand-out, we empower them to turn lives of hunger and poverty into self-reliance and hope.
  • World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families, and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice.
  • Samaritan's Purse - Operation Christmas Child - You still have time to pack a shoebox and track it worldwide!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


On the ninth day of my 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I am grateful for the discovery of radio waves by James Clerk Maxwell and Heinrich Hertz way back in the mid 19th century, which I benefit from abundantly via multiple wireless communications arrays and devices. I personally use on a daily basis a cell phone, a Nook Color and a laptop, all of which connect me to the Internet and ultimately my family and friends all without wires. I subscribe to satellite television and I listen to local radio stations via my car stereo system. I setup my own wireless router with appropriate security and even added a guest wireless network for visiting family and friends. I am a licensed amateur radio operator who can communicate with other operators with the right radio equipment, antennas and atmospheric conditions (for some frequencies). Who you gonna call to get the word out during the next zombie apocalypse? Me and my amateur radio buddies, that's who!

Amateur Radio

The international symbol
for amateur radio
I followed my dad around as much as I could when I was little. Truth be told, there wasn't much else to do way out in the country with no neighbors close enough to have any kids to play with. Poor Dad! Stuck with a daughter in tow while he visited friends, or did electrical wiring, or help raise an antenna tower, or change the light bulbs for the local baseball field, or ... you get the picture. I earned the nickname 'go-fer' fairly early on. It came naturally that I would end up studying to take the test to become a licensed amateur radio operator. If I remember correctly, I earned that license before I got my permanent driver's license. Back then, you still had to learn Morse code.

Emergency Communications

In the U.S., during an emergency, amateur radio operators can provide essential communication to help preserve the immediate safety of human life and immediate protection of property when normal communication systems are not available and may use any frequency including those of other radio services such as police and fire communications. Similarly, amateurs in the United States may apply to be registered with the Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS). Once approved and trained, these amateurs also operate on US government military frequencies to provide contingency communications and morale message traffic support to the military services.

Which brings me to the top news story for today. For the first time ever in the United States the Emergency Alert System will conduct a nation-wide test. The test will occur at two o'clock Eastern time (that's one o'clock for me and all my neighbors here in the Heart of America). EAS provides a national warning system, as well as local weather emergencies, and allows the President of the United States to speak to citizens within ten minutes in the event of a national emergency.

And in case you're wondering what the title of this article means, CQD was one of the first adopted distress calls. CQ is familiar to most ham radio operators because it means 'calling all hams' but CQD expands on that and means 'calling all distress.'

No, I'm not sending out a general SOS or mayday.

This was only a test.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I Keep Looking Up

View from my backyard, directly overhead,
facing west/northwest at 12:30 am Tue 08 Nov 2011
The first thing I do when I exit a building is look up. The only time I don't do this is during inclement weather (usually defined as rain or snow or just overcast, but even clouds can be interesting). I try to locate the moon, if it's supposed to be visible. If I can hear a flying vehicle (helicopter or prop plane or jet), I search the skies for them as well. I've given myself a crick in my neck and no few twisted ankles gazing skywards instead of watching where I was going. And my family just thought I was klutzy growing up. I decided to feature astronomy and telescopes for my eighth day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' series. The graphic to the left displays the skies above my house as they should appear the moment this post is published. If you're reading this soon after it's published, you're either an insomniac or living down under. I will be sound asleep.

Asteroid Close-Up

Best seen from North America, the little asteroid 2005 YU55 will race far
across the constellations in just 11 hours. Sky & Telescope illustration
The big news for today is an asteroid visitor flying close to the Earth, inside the perimeter of the Moon's orbit. The Sky & Telescope web page article includes a chart and instructions for observing the asteroid (best seen from North America and the instructions even mention Kansas and Kansas City by name!). Look for it late in the day (near sunset).

Sun, Moon, Planets, Stars, Comets, Meteors

I am still blessed with good eyesight, at least of the far-seeing variety. My ability to read without assistance ended about five years ago thanks to my aging lenses in my aging eyeballs. Growing up with the space race in the 60s and 70s gave me not so much the astronaut bug but the astronomy one. I remember the first moon landing in 1969 and the first space shuttle launch in 1981. I still have the National Geographic magazines that featured the stunning photographs of Jupiter, Saturn, Mars, Neptune and Uranus from the Voyager Interstellar Mission (VIM). My grandfather, Daniel, worked for NASA's Ames Research Center as a glass blower and some of his work now rests on Mars from either the Mariner or the Viking missions.


I received my first telescope in the mid 70s as a Christmas gift from my dad. It was a three inch refractor that allowed me to view the moon, the planets and even a solar eclipse (by use of a clip-on white metal plate to project the image of the sun onto and avoid any eye damage). My parents stored the telescope while I was at college and while I started my family. Eventually, they brought it down to our home in Benton, where it sat neglected for the most part thanks to raising kids and working full-time. Sometime during the 90s, or during the move back to Leavenworth County, the telescope was either damaged or lost or both. Last year, as a birthday present, my father purchased a very nice Meade ETX-90 with several accessories and eyepieces, including an SLR digital camera (Pentax K100D - sans lenses). After a few months of fiddling and fine-tuning, I decided I could benefit from the wisdom of others and became a member of the Astronomical Society of Kansas City in the spring of this year. I tend to participate virtually and silently (for the most part) by following the group discussions and reading the monthly Cosmic Messenger newsletter I made it to two meetings this year and have not visited the Powell Observatory or tried the dark sky site, mostly because the cost of gasoline remained high and the weather for most of the summer did not cooperate by providing clear skies for optimal viewing opportunities.


Provided the world does not end next year, I plan to take a vacation involving astronomical observing and camping. We might attend something like the Texas Star Party or just spend a week near Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. I even thought of finding a camp site in the Flint Hills, because when we drove back north through them in early October, the skies were crystal clear and very dark,, with few trees to obstruct the horizon.

Recommended Astronomy Links

Astronomy Magazine -

Sky and Telescope Magazine -

The Astronomical League -

The International Dark Sky Association -

Hubble Space Telescope -

NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day -

Monday, November 7, 2011

Smile! You're About to be Victimized by My Camera

My brother, me, my grandmother and my cousin
(Photo taken by my father, developed and printed in
his darkroom in the 70s)
On my seventh day of 'Thirty Days of Thankfulness' I am thankful for cameras and photography. I was exposed to photographic equipment (in more ways the one) from an early age. My father had a dark room and quite a bit of photographic gear. He did weddings and local school functions (for Homecoming and the prom) and helped out the yearbook staff with snapshots from sporting events and music department concerts. I learned to take direction (how to tilt my head, where to focus my eyes) at an early age. Naturally, I inherited this fascination with capturing electromagnetic radiation.

Second Generation Shutterbug

I am a poor excuse for a photographer, even an amateur one. I like to think I have a good eye for spotting a great photograph, I just don't always have the right equipment with me, or remember how to use said photographic equipment to it's fullest potential. I really have no excuse, considering I am a second generation shutterbug. For years, I've heard stories from my dad and uncle about my grandfather's photographic exploits before, during and after WWII. I sent them each an e-mail requesting more detailed information and they gladly provided the following tidbits:

RalphHoldingArgusC3 My father told me my grandfather, Ralph, became a photographer while attending Leavenworth High School during the 1930s. He also worked and learned from a local Leavenworth camera shop and portrait studio called Star Studio. My uncle added that photography during the 30s was still an arcane, complicated and a very hands-on hobby/profession.

Even with film purchased from commercial sources, photographic developing and printing (separate processes) involved the precise mixing of chemicals and control of temperature and humidity to develop and fix the image on the film, and to develop and fix the image on the paper. Both processes—plus the actual exposure of the photo-sensitive paper to the projected image from the developed film—required rigorous control of environmental conditions. Ralph took pictures for the Leavenworth High School year book. In 1937, Ralph won statewide (Kansas) honors as the top (or one of the top) science students in public high schools.

Both my dad and uncle confirmed that after graduating, Ralph also worked for the local newspaper, the Leavenworth Times as well as continuing at Star Studio. Some of his work appeared in the paper.

WWII Army Photographer, Ralph Andrea
Ralph Andrea, WWII Army Photographer
My father remembers Ralph being stationed in the Pacific, specifically, New Guinea, during WWII as photo support of air corp operations. For a short time, Ralph stayed in Japan as part of the Occupation forces. During the Cold War, Ralph returned to active duty in the Air Force for Korea, but conducted his work from here in the U.S. Ralph stayed in the Air Force until retirement in 1968, being stationed to various sites around the world, working as tech and photo resource.

My dad remembered Ralph's equipment best. Ralph had several cameras including a 4x5 Speed Graphic; an Argus C3, an early 35mm; and, he did some early color work during WWII, before the film was available to the public. Ralph held a patent on a modification to the old flash bulb to keep them from going off when in close proximity to radar equipment.

My uncle relates more detailed information regarding Ralph's military service: With the onset of World War Two, Ralph volunteered for duty in the US Army Air Corps, enlisting at Sherman Field on Fort Leavenworth. Because of his experience with highly technical photography, he was elected for further training both as a photographer and as an officer (despite his not having a college education).

Ralph resting his arm on his Speed Graphic camera
During World War Two, photography units, such as Ralph's in the Pacific theater of war, performed all the various functions of photography. They took the pictures: aerial photography was in its infancy, ground combat photography, plus the more traditional documenting of people and events. They developed the film and prints, and they also interpreted the aerial reconnaissance pictures. Ralph was the supply officer of his small unit, which included responsibility for maintaining the necessary chemicals as well as support for their mobile, air-conditioned dark room tents.

After World War Two, Ralph earned a bachelor's degree in engineering at the University of Kansas, followed by a master's in photographic engineering at Boston University. His Air Force work included collaboration with General George W. Goddard, the "father" of modern aerial reconnaissance, developing concepts and systems for both air-breathing and satellite reconnaissance.

In his later years with the United States Air Force, Ralph worked at the Defense Intelligence Agency, Headquarters USAF and HQ Air Force Systems Command to identify and procure future reconnaissance systems. During that time, Ralph was involved in the development of computerized systems to record and transmit photographic systems. He retired in 1968, before the advent of micro-computers which revolutionized the capture and processing of images but his work brought the USAF to the cusp of exploiting those digital systems as they developed.

I wish to express my deep gratitude to my father and uncle who provided, at the drop of a hat, the scanned photographs and commentary for this section.

Family Vacation Slideshows

My dad took us (mom, my brother and I) all over the continental United States, following his brother's military migrations and also to visit my mother's relatives in Montana and the Pacific Northwest. Consequently, before I had graduated from high school, I'd been to all but three of the lower 48 states and at least two Canadian provinces. We visited nearly every National Park, massive hydroelectric dams, a few nuclear power plants, a meteor crater, caves, mountains, deserts, a rain forest and historical sites from coast to coast. Once we returned home, and the slides were returned from the developer, we'd gather with local friends and family for a re-cap slideshow of our latest vacation adventure.

Annual Christmas Card Family Photo

Merry Christmas from the Andreas (1974)
My mom, me, my dad, and my brother
(circa Christmas 1974)
Every fall, my dad would gather us together in the kitchen or the living, which he had converted temporarily to a portrait studio, complete with tripods, flash units, reflectors and light meters, to take that year's family photo to be used as our family Christmas card. My cousin, Wendell, still follows this tradition, although with a Star Wars-ian twist some years. I prefer to create a Christmas letter or newsletter, similar to a blog post, where I can include more than one photo, and usually of a more casual nature (as I prefer candids to posed snapshots). At the risk of dating myself (more than I already have), to the left you'll see the Andrea Family Christmas Card from 1974.

Recording My Own Family

Rachelle Climbing Storm Shelter
Rachelle 'climbing the mountain'
that was our storm shelter.
Film still ruled the day when both my kids were born in the mid to late 80s, so photos of my fledgling family are scarcer but all the more precious. I used mostly disposable cameras, since I didn't own a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. Once my kids started participating in sports and music, I invested my limited funds in a camcorder and now I have boxes and boxes of VHS-C videotapes in my basement. Whether or not I ever get them converted to digital format remains to be seen. By the time my children reached high school, I made the leap to digital video and photography. Now, instead of magnetic tape storage, I'm archiving family memories to DVD. I upload some of these videos to my infrequently used YouTube channel.

Sunrise, Sunset

Sunrise (Mar 2011)
I always seem to be in my car or the van when a spectacular sunrise or sunset occurs. So I'm reduced to the capabilities of the embedded camera in my cell phone which has a lens smaller than the eraser on a pencil. Occasionally, though, I'm prepared (or I forgot and left all my photographic equipment in the trunk of my car) and I plan a session from a local park or cemetery. My library has an east facing window, so I can catch the sunrise in the late fall and winter while sipping on my freshly steeped tea. I captured the sunrise to the left from that room in early March of this year. Sunsets are more difficult from my home, because it sits lower than K-7/US-73 to my west and on the other side of the highway is a large hill. So sunsets usually mean packing up everything and hopping in the car to West Mary Street, near the new Elementary School, or to Mount Muncie or Mount Calvary Cemeteries.

Astrophotography - My Final Frontier

Crescent Moon (Apr 2011)
I hope to merge two of my favorite hobbies once I retire: Astronomy and Photography. By then, I also hope to have moved to a location with darker night skies, a higher altitude and minimal obstructions (no close large trees, streetlights or hills). For now, I make do with an occasionally moon shot using either my telescope or just the telephoto lens and a tripod. Someday I plan to photograph Jupiter, Saturn, a galaxy and a nebula.