Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Basketful of Music

I've recently spoken ill of country music, both on this blog and a few facebook comments, so I'm going to make a few amends.  Sort of.  You'll have to read through to the end to find the best part.

Country is probably not my first choice in listening, but if one is in the car, and one is sleepy, and one has only a few stations from which to choose, I have found that country is a musical category that one can listen to, even when one is not familiar with the songs being played.  I don't know why that is.  Oldies, too.

But hip-hop, or rap...  Boy, if you don't know the songs, it just sounds like ever so much noise.  Perhaps that is due to my age?  My oldest daughters seem to have no trouble at all with new dance songs...

Regardless of my preference, the radios stations in my neck of the woods are somewhat limited.  I can pretty much always tune into a country station.  I can pretty much always get NPR.  And if it's during daylight hours I can get AM talk radio and an oldies station.  In the name of full disclosure, I can also, if I choose, get a variety of sports and Christian stations, but generally, I do not generally choose them.  I am not a sports nut, and I prefer to get my Spiritual Food from other venues.

Last night on the way into Thief River, I tuned into the Public Radio show, American Routes.   It's a show I've found interesting and entertaining in the past.

One of the reasons I rag on country and pop music is because of the blatant and subtle messages so often promoted.  But I heard an oldie last night on American Routes that totally cracked me up. I suppose that contemporary country and pop and rap have no monopoly on "untoward" messages. After So Round So Firm, So Fully Packed by Merle Travis was done, the announcer explained that back in the days when both cigarettes and commenting on the female shape were more in vogue, this song brought the two together metaphorically.    Apparently that description in the title is of the preferred kind of cigarette.  Hmmm.

I heard another very cool segment, an interview with Sonny Landreth, who has apperantly made a specialty of blues slide guitar.  I'm married to a quite adept guitarist, but I've never heard tones like this.  It was amazing. Mr. Landreth calls it the finding the voice of the guitar, and truly, it had a very vocal quality. 

I kind of lost interest in American Routes later in the show, and I'm quite glad I did.  I tuned in to a country music station. Yes, I did.  And I heard a song I really, really liked.  Good voice, good background music, and best of all terrific lyrics.  Good job, Craig Campbell.



There's dirty shirts to wash
Dishes in the sink to do
And there's how many times
Does 17 go into 52

There's bedtime prayers to pray
Sleep tights and I love you's
And then there's a pair of eyes
I get to lose myself into 

 Sounds like my life.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mission Impossible: The Great Inhaler Chase

Prologue
Once there was a family who had several kids and a mom with very infrequent and mostly mild asthma.

Because of the infrequency of the mild asthma attacks, keeping up-to-date inhalers on hand was always a bit of a challenge.  Usually the mother of this family was on the ball, and made sure that she had at least one that was full on hand, before the winter cold and flu season.  This year the family started the winter with one inhaler, partially gone; and two inhalers, nearly full.

But according to the actions of Murphy's Law,  when one of the children needed an inhaler, the only one able to be found was the nearly empty one.  After three days' use, that one was empty.  And so began the Great Inhaler Chase.

One day, after school
Elsie: Mom, we really need to find those other inhalers.  This one is empty.
theMom: Matt, where is yours?
Matt:  I don't know.  I thought Elsie had it.
theMom: It's probably under my heaps of junk.  Try to make it through the night and I'll call the clinic in the morning.  It shouldn't be a problem.

The next morning, after the pharmacy and clinic were opened for business
theMom:  Hello, Mr. Pharmacist.  Could you please check these names for me, to see whether I have any refills left on these prescriptions?
Mr. Pharmacist: What names please?
theMom: Mary, Matthew, Elsie.
Mr. Pharmacist:  No, Ma'am, I'm sorry you do not.

theMom:  Hello, Ms Clinic Receptionist.  Could you please have the good Doctor write up a prescription for new inhalers for myself and Matt and Elsie?
Ms Clinic Receptionist:  No, Ma'am.  I'm sorry, the good Doctor is not in today.  But you could call the pharmacy and have them fax us the previous prescriptions and we can fax them back a new prescription.  This takes 24 hours.
theMom:  I have a daughter who can't breath.  She is not a Japanese pearl diver, so she is not trained to hold her breath for 24 hours.
Ms Clinic Receptionist:  I can have our 2-hour nurse call you back.  Perhaps she could help you.  But in the future, please have your daughter plan her asthma attacks 24 hours in advance.
theMom:  Right.

Later that same day
Elsie:  Mom, I feel like I can go to school now.  My breathing is a little better.  I don't want to miss the whole day.
theMom:  Let's wait to see if the 2-hour nurse calls us back.

Still later that same day, the phone rings
theMom:  Oh, I bet this is the clinic now.   Hello.
Voice on the phone:  Hello, this is the Nice Office Lady at the School.  Your little Sophie is running a fever.  Can you please come get her.
theMom:  I will be there in half an hour.  Thank you.  Bye.
Nice Office Lady at the School:  See you in half and hour then.  Bye.

theMom:  Elsie, get ready to go.  Dad, I'm going to take Elsie to school in Oklee, then run over to Plummer to get Sophie, and then run down Fosston to get an inhaler for Elsie.
Dad:  Did they call back?
theMom:  No, but Elsie needs an inhaler for the night.  You know that's when it gets bad.  I will just fight with them until I can get her one.

theMom now drives 15 miles to Oklee, 11 miles to Plummer and then 30 miles into Fosston.  She arrives at the clinic.

Ms Clinic Receptionist:  Did you have an appointment, Ma'am?
theMom: No, I spoke to someone this morning about getting some inhaler prescriptions renewed.  She said she was going to pass my information on to the 2-hour nurse.
Ms Clinic Receptionist:  What in the world is a 2-hour nurse.  We don't have one of those.
theMom:  I'm only repeating what she said.
Ms Clinic Receptionist:  I'll see if I can find someone to help you.

Later that same hour
Nurse Twohour:  I printed up your records.  I checked all your records. We don't show that we've ever prescribed inhalers for you.  You'll have to go to the pharmacy and have them fax us the records.
Ms Clinic Receptionist: And next time remember to have your daughter plan her asthma attack to meet our 24 hour requirement.
theMom:  Sure, I'll get right on that.
Nurse Twohour:  I'll stand by the fax machine while all my other patients die, so that I can accommodate your unscheduled asthma attack.

The Mom is thankful that there is a pharmacy in Fosston.

A few minutes later
theMom: Hello.  I spoke to someone this morning about some expired prescriptions.  I just came from the clinic.  They said I needed to have you fax them the records.
Mr. Pharmacist:  Oh, yes, here they are.  I'll send them right over.
theMom:  Thank you.  I'm going to run a few errands and be back in 20 minutes.
Mr. Pharmacist:  If I have the reply by then, I'll have the prescription ready.
theMom:  Nurse Twohour said she'd let all her other patients die in order to await your fax.
Mr. Pharmacist:  I'm just sayin'.
Mom:  Right.

The mom runs a few errands and even resists the temptation to buy some very pretty fabric at the variety store.  It was really pretty, did I mention that?  She heads back to the pharmacy.

theMom:  Have you heard from Nurse Twohour?
Mr. Pharmacist:  Yes, I can't refill any of them.  You all will need to be seen by a physician.
theMom (barely not crying):  Couldn't they have told me that when I was there?  My daughter is in Oklee.  I'll never get back here before the clinic closes.
Mr. Pharmacist:  I'm sorry I can't help you Ma'am.
theMom:  I understand.  It is not your fault.

A few minutes later, back at the clinic.
theMom (through gritted teeth):  Hello, they told me at the pharmacy I need to make an appointment.  How late are you open today?
Ms Clinic Receptionist:  Oh, we don't make appointments here.  Please follow me through this door and I'll take you to Ms Appointment Lady.

Epilogue
After all is resolved, Elsie has a 6:30 appointment at the evening clinic.  Of course, by that time the handy-dandy pharmacy in Fosston will be closed. 

TheMom drives 20 miles back to Oklee, to pick Elsie up from school.  Elsie is not happy.  TheMom is not happy.  So at least they are both not happy together for the 15 miles back home.

After a quick supper, Elsie and theMom drive back down to Fosston (35 miles) to be seen by a Physician Assistant; and who is very nice, and sympathetic to our plight.  After that appointment Elsie and theMom drive the 35 miles back home so that theDad can jump in the car to drive the 30 miles to the Wal-Mart in Thief River Falls, because their pharmacy is still open.   He will then drive 30 miles back home so that Elsie who is not trained as a Japanese pearl driver can take her second breath of the day.  Her first was after the PA gave her a nebulizer treatment in Fosston because her bronchioles, or whatever they are called, were so tight the PA couldn't even tell what she was hearing.

All told 221 miles for an inhaler. 

Not to mention the appointment at the evening clinic, which is no doubt more costly than at the regular clinic; and the nebulizer treatment with the little vial of albuteral/saline solution that probably will cost, oh, I'm guessing, $50 extra dollars.  Or more. 

I'm not really frustrated anymore. 

Not really.

Nope.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A Taste of Summer

For a little glimmer of summer in the midst of deepest winter, try one of the following counter-top fermented salsa recipes. Once you have the process down, you can tweak it to do your own thing; but because they are fermented at room temp, you may want to stick to one of the originals for your first try.

What does counter-top fermentation mean and why do it? Good questions. When we ferment foods prior to eating them, they pre-digest a bit, and they also grow a colony of pro-biotic cultures that help us digest more efficiently everything else we eat. This leads to better over-all health because we are getting more nutrients into our blood stream.

Those who advocate using fermented foods recommend starting the day with a tablespoon or so of fermented food and then including little something at each meal. The more traditional American choices would include dairy type items such as yogurt, raw cheese, kefir, buttermilk. But don't limit yourself to dairy. Sauer kraut, kimchee, or any kind of pickled vegies, if eaten raw (not canned), will do the same.

For more information on counter-top fermentation, see Sally Fallon's Nourishing Traditions or the featured titles.

And now on to salsa. Making salsa with this method results in one of the freshest, summeriest foods I've ever eaten. Hope you enjoy it.  The first two are just cut and pasted from other sources.  The last one is what I do.  Roughly.

Cat's Salsa
Based on Emillio's TexMex Cafe` recipe in Blissfield, Mi.
2/3 cup of onion
4 cloves of garlic
2 tsp celtic sea salt
2 serrano peppers (more if you like hot hot hot less if you like mild)
1-28 ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
2 tablespoons of whey
1 handful of fresh cilantro leaves or 2 tablespoons dried

Place all ingredients in a blender or processor, blend until a fine puree is obtained. Ferment 2 days. (If you can. Mine rarely makes it that long before someone is eating it)

Cilantro Salsa From Eat Fat Lose Fat:
Makes 1 quart, about 20 calories per 1/4 cup

28-oz can organic whole peeled tomatoes, liquid drained off
1/4 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano
Juice of 1 lemon or 2 limes
1/4 cup homemade whey
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Place all ingredients except cilantro in a food processor and process until smooth. Stir in cilantro. Place in quart-sized wide mouthed mason jar. The top of the vegetables should be at least 1 inch below the top of the jar. Cover tightly and keep at room temperature for about three days before transferring to the refrigerator.
Bulk salsa
6lb 6oz can28-oz whole peeled tomatoes, liquid drained off
1 large onion, coarsely chopped
8 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
4 died chiles
4 tsp sea salt
1 tsp dried oregano
Juice from 8 limes (or do a couple of lemons instead; or use a combination)
1 cup homemade whey
4 large bunches fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

Combine everything in a large bowl and mush a bit with an immersion blender.  A food processor or traditional blender would also work.  Process to your preferred chunkiness.

Cover loosely.  I usually set my bowl on a round pizza pan if it's really full.  The contents may grow a bit as it ferments.  It's advisable to catch the mess if it should occur.

Stir frequently (perhaps every 3-5 hours).  This keeps the pro-biotic cultures and the lactic acids mixed evenly as the fermenting takes place.  We had one batch spoil on the top layer because we forgot to stir it.  

You can taste as you stir.  It will keep getting better and better.  The time it takes to fully ripen depends upon the temp of the counter area at which you have it sitting.  Ours usually take 2-3 days.

When it's ready, refrigerate.  

To answer, "When is it ready?" is a bit hard.  It will get more tangy as it's fermenting. And the flavors blend and ripen (they actually seem to grow in richness).  And it may be a very slight bit bubbly.  But if it starts to taste like beer or wine or yeast, it's probably beyond its prime.  It is still usable, still pro-biotic.  But it's not as palatable at that point, and the flavor will continue to deteriorate once it reaches this point. 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Unfortunate Anniversary and an Egregious Situation

Today marks the anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision that opened the floodgates to legal abortion in our nation.   In the 38 intervening years, the chance at life for some 53,000,000 babies was snuffed out. 

And interestingly enough, just two days ago, Kermit Gosnell was arraigned on eight murder charges stemming from the way he ran his abortion clinic.  The following video contains graphic descriptions.


Elizabeth Scalia, the author of The Anchoress blog did a really nice job of assembling information and links on this horrific case.  Just reading the things she highlights makes me shudder. I don't think I can do as she suggests and read the entire report.

But I do agree with her that it is important that we not soften the facts of the Gosnell case. I think it's important that we realize this kind of neglect and abuse is most likely more common than we, as a society, want to admit.  “Over a period of two decades, government health and licensing officials were repeatedly presented with evidence about Gosnell, and repeatedly chose to do nothing…” from the Foxnews video, Gosnell Patients Talk to FOX 29.  If this is at all indicative of how the abortion industry is regulated, we'd be naive to think this an isolated case.

The slaughter house scenario of this case, although perhaps the most graphically chilling of which I've heard, is not the first time that facts have shown that abortion in America is neither safe for the mother, nor always painless for the "clumps of cells" feminists do not want us to call babies.

Among Scalia's many links is an article by a pro-life woman who flittingly considered abortion. Touching. This reminds me to remember in prayer those women facing such an unplanned pregnancy. It reminds me to do what I can, when I can, to help those in need of support, both emotional and physical.

Please remember in prayer those women faced with such a situation. Please pray for our communities, states and nation and our leaders to give them strength and wisdom in addressing the problem of abortion and unplanned pregnancy. Please pray for those in the thick of the fight. And even pray for the doctors and nurses and support staff involved in this evil, that they come to see their actions as the sin it is, and to find forgiveness in Christ our Lord.

How is it that my kids like country music and how am I going to explain it to my friends and family?

This is really of no import to anyone but myself, but my kids know all the words to all kinds of country music songs because of their hour and a half bus drive in the mornings.

It started with my sister Rachel and Nick's wedding a few years ago.  Somehow, it seems, Rachel has fallen into the country music Karaoke crowd.  I do love you Rachel and well, I guess we all need something...



When my kids came home from that trip out west singing "Big Green Tractor," I wasn't too annoyed. I like tractors after all. I'd prefer a song about a little Farmall SuperM, but we can't have everything.  And if I ignore the innuendo, it's pretty clean cut for a country music song.

At least it wasn't about sitting at a bar drowning my latest broken heart; or getting kicked out of the bed of yet another gal;, or about how it doesn't matter how much you kick me around, dear, I'll always come crawling back to you.

So it could be worse.

But lately, when I turn on the radio in the van, I always get at least one voice clamoring for Cat-Country.  I hear occasional lyrics from the various pop country songs being sung around the house.

Recently a friend posted The Band Perry's "If I Die Young" on facebook and I watched it a couple of times.  I liked the Ann of Green Gables imagery.  But I knew nothing about the band or their style of music and whether or not they were popular.

So today, I was doing some writing and that song comes on the radio.  I said, "Oh, Joe, this is that song Jenna posted on facebook."  My little Sophie says, "Really?"  and she immediately starts singing along with the radio.  I asked how she knew that song.  Clara said that they hear it every day on the bus.  John piped up that he knows it too.



And is there anything wrong with this song or the fact that they know it?  Not at all.  It's a pretty sounding song and doesn't say anything amiss.

But if they know that one, what else do they know.  Is one of them going to come home singing one of those other choice country music songs that I occasionally stumble upon while trying to find a station?  And are they going to grow up thinking that all that junky lifestyle stuff is normal?

Then I think of the songs that are on the pop stations.  Not really any better.  Sometimes much worse.  I was scrolling through stations last night trying to find something to listen to as I was driving.  I found this really cool sounding dance type song.  I really, really liked it musically.  But then the words come on.  OK, yeah, that's not great, maybe it doesn't get any worse... ooh, it's got lots of innuendo there...Oh...my...goodness...did I really just hear that word on my radio?  Yikes.

But not to fear, Mary.  Your kids have had the ONE THING NEEDFUL as a regular part of their lives.  A little music is not going to take that away.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.  Hebrews 4:12 
Since it can do all that, it can protect from any ill effects of all kinds of music.   Trust God's promises, Mary.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Cold is Relative, After All

The sleds were singing their eternal lament to the creaking of the harnesses and the tinkling bells of the leaders; but the men and dogs were tired and made no sound.  The trail was heavy with new-fallen snow, and they had come far, and the runners, burdened with flint-like quarters of frozen moose, clung tenaciously to the unpacked surface and held back with a stubbornness almost human. Darkness was coming on, but there was no camp to pitch that night.  The snow fell gently through the pulseless air, not in flakes, but in tiny frost crystals of delicate design.  It was very warm,--barely ten below zero,--and the men did not mind.  Meyers and Bettles had raised their earflaps, while Malmute Kid had even taken off his mittens.
From "An Odyssey of the North" one of the Klondike Tales by Jack London.

When I came out of Connie's house today, all hot and sweaty from my workout, I felt warm and invigorated.  I had my coat unzipped, no gloves or hat, it was nice.  All of about 5 below.  I wasn't mushing sled dogs, so I only had to get from her door to my car.  Still, it reminded me of this passage by Jack London.

I love Jack London.  I don't know why.  I think it's the desolation of his settings.  There is an appeal in the "man against the elements" themes found in his stories.

Perhaps I've shared the following story with my readers before; please forgive the repetition if one exists.

We had been living in Madison, WI, when my husband accepted the call to serve, as pastor, four northern Minnesota congregations.  Since it was the months immediately following 9/11, and although Madison is not a terribly large urban area, we were still glad to be going to a more remote part of the country.  Times were somewhat uncertain.

We had arranged to arrive at our new home the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.  We planned to leave on Monday and hoped to put at least half the trip behind us before stopping for the night.   After cramming as much of our belongings as would possibly fit into the moving van, we sent it on its way and stayed to finish up the last cleaning tasks.  By the time we had everything done and all kids and stuff loaded into the mini-van, it was late afternoon or early evening.   Our frustration was increased by the approach of a winter storm which was forecasted to hit diagonally across the route we needed to travel.

We made it as far as Eau Claire that night.  The visibility was getting very limited by that time.

The next day we set off early.  Before full light, if I remember correctly.  So that put us into the Twin cities area, yes, at exactly rush hour during a winter storm.  Not a smart move, in retrospect.  But we forged ahead.  Bu the time we had made our slow way to US Hwy 10, heading north toward Motley, we were about the only vehicle on the road.  The snow was about 7 inches deep on the roadway and was still falling.  I was driving that stretch.

I remember thinking that I was entering a different world.  I was 7 1/2 months pregnant at the time (with our dear Sophie, whose birthday incidentally, is today).  We were heading to a new lifestyle as a pastor's family, and to a new home, sight unseen.  The only directions we had is that the church and parsonage were 8 miles north of Oklee and 4 miles east. We knew no one, although we had spoken to a few of the people by phone, and gotten a nice letter from one member.

We were travelling through a blizzard to get to an area of the country with which we were totally unfamiliar.

It felt like a dream driving that stretch of roadway.  I recall being thankful for the thick forest on both sides of the road.  It helped guide my guess as to where to drive.  The stretch I drove was perhaps fifty miles of deep snow, heavily falling snow, and very little traffic.  In that time, I think I only met one or two other vehicles.  When I did, we crept toward each other, neither wanting to crowd the center, but also neither wanting to be the one to suddenly find ourselves off the edge of the roadway.

After we got past Motley the roads cleared up.  By the time we neared our new home, the ground was snow-covered, but not deep.  The moon was nearly full, and we were able to see the expanses of very flat land.  We could see the various woods and groves at the farm sites.  We watched the moon shadow of our car follow us along the last several miles of our own Odyssey.

I was never so glad to get out of the car. I was instantly enveloped in a big hug from Shirley.  Although I had never met her, it was exactly what I needed.

During that first winter, many were the days I would look out and gaze across the very wide view of frozen land.  It seemed never ending.  When I would go to town, I was always nervous about missing my turns.  They all looked alike.  Flat, flat, snowy whiteness with perhaps a woods or farm site.  But even the woods with the barren black tree branches, and farm sites with pale lonely looking buildings, all looked alike to my unaccustomed eyes.

One of my first trips to town, of course, included a stop to scope out the local library.  I didn't really know what I was in the mood to read.  My brain was still full of the move and of our new life and of the coming baby.  So I gravitated to the familiar.  I came home with the Scarlett Pimpernel and a collection of Jack London stories.  I don't think it was the above quoted collection, but one in a similar vein.

Again, perhaps a poor choice in hind sight.  I hoped it would help me feel less isolated to read about real, absolute isolation.  I'm not sure it really helped.  I certainly felt an affinity to the characters as I looked out my windows.  Mixed in with the expanses of white, I could see many farm sites across the miles.  Some of the neighbors I had met.  Many I had not.  Some I still have not met, even after nine years.  It seems strange.

But that first winter, it just felt big, and open, and cold, and oh-so-white.

And somewhat lonesome.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Violent Rhetoric

Madison, WI's, Ann Althouse, had a humorous post on her blog after the Packer win on Saturday.  Her commenters kept up the wit.  Hat tip to Char.

My favorite was this, apparently a quote from George Carlin
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line. 

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Logic of Ridiculous Quotes

I've been thinking lately about logic and how we misuse it.  I only took one logic class in college and I don't think I was really committed to learning yet at that point.  In fact I remember almost nothing about it.  Sadly.

But I've read up on logic and rhetoric since that time and tried to learn what I can.  I still can't always get a fallacy tagged with the proper name (ad hominem, post hoc, begging the question, red herring, slippery slope...), but I'm trying.

I realize now how important to society is the skill to present information in a coherent, systematic manner.  Alongside that is the flip: the ability to analyze the information coming at us in order to determine it's validity.

Two recent quotes highlight the need for the ability to test the information coming at us.  I discovered both of these today, within a few hours of each other.  Congresswoman Harman's quote is from Thursday, this week, I believe.  The quote from Frances Fox Piven is from December, probably old new to some readers.

From Jane Harman, Congresswoman from California's 36th district, in an interview with The Last Word's Lawrence O'Donnell,  "Every responsible law enforcement person in the country supports this."  (At 34 seconds in the linked video).

This quote follows the Congresswoman's claim that there are too many guns in the hands of ordinary Americans, that there is too much ammunition available, and that clips for rapidly fired weapons hold too much ammunition.  In context I believe the quote refers only to the capacity of what she calls rapidly fired clips. 

Regardless of for or against what Congresswoman Harman is arguing, her argument is rendered useless by her use of the adjective, "responsible."  What defines responsible?  It is a relative term.  Who gets to decide the opinions of which law enforcement persons ought to be deemed responsible.  It tells us nothing about what real proportion of law enforcement people support the law.

Besides the logical gaff, the comment is a huge insult to the many hard working law enforcement people who do not support the Congresswoman's ideals.  It labels any law enforcement person who does not agree as irresponsible.

From Frances Fox Piven, professor of Political Science and Sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, "You know I don't have data on this, but I am absolutely sure..."  (at the 1:27 minute mark).

In the entire video clip, Ms Fox Piven pigeon holes and insults those Americans who attend TEA parties.  She knows all about what make us poor naive Americans tick.  The whole scant 4 minutes of the video clip is one slam after another against this segment of society.  She starts with a variety of labels: older, white, well-off, unhappy about the direction of America.  (This last one is a surprise.  Is that why people got involved in political activism?  In context, she means that they are naively clinging to "the good ol' days".  The way she describes it comes across as very patronizing.)  She labels us with being unable to deal with the idea of an African American president and an increasingly darkening populace.  She doesn't call us racist.  The accusation is much more patronizing that that.  We are just so, so shaken up by all the changes.  We (us white, old, well-off Americans) just can't function.  

The quote itself is followed by her opinion that the s**ual revolution has so disenfranchised this older, white, well-off demographic that they are fighting back in the from of "their crazy rallies".  That is the WOW point for which she has absolutely no data and yet is absolutely sure. 

OK, so to get beyond the ever so maddening tone of the clip, and back to the logical fallacy,  I don't really think I even have to say anything about it.  I'll just repeat the idiocy, "You know I don't have data on this, but I am absolutely sure..."

I know she doesn't have any data on anything she said in the speech.

I've been to three TEA parties.  We live in a primarily white area of Minnesota.  So yes, our TEA parties are pretty white up here.  Unless we bussed SIEU members in and paid them to hold signs for us, I wouldn't expect anything different in that regard.   Most TEA party patriots find busing people in for rallies and paying them to demonstrate a little disingenuous.

But we are definitely not mostly older.  We are definitely not mostly well-off.

And I don't have any data on this, but I can absolutely guess that if I pulled up some footage from the many TEA parties that have occured around the country, I'd see young people, I'd see Americans of a variety of color, and ethnic backgrounds.  I probably wouldn't be able to tell by looking, but I could absolutely guess that they would live within a wide variety of income levels.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stickitothemaniosis in Hair and Clothing

I got a new hair cut just before Christmas.  I don't like it.  It's one of those new-fangled shaggy styles.  I know, I know.  It's just a style.  It's cool and hip.  But I'm not cool and hip. 

Besides all that, I like things to look neat, not messy.  I don't allow my kids to wear jeans with holes in them to school.  And ABSOLUTELY REFUSE to pay for or allow them to pay for new jeans with holes. 

But it's not just a neat freak thing.  And I've finally, just in the last five minutes (it's kind of a young philosophy), figured out how to articulate why messy styles bother me.  It seems to stem from a rebellion against what's considered proper.  I'm not saying that everyone who wears holey jeans or has a shaggy haircut is rebellious.  Most of them probably just enjoy being trendy. 

But I would say that the trend toward sloppiness or the urging of messy styles upon consumers by the fashion industry is a rebellion of sorts.  It's analogous to the modern movement in art and literature.  Dada poetry or abstract art.  Yes, such art and literature probably has some deep and meaningful message to the artist.  But there was also a definite and intentional rejection of the forms in the previous styles.

And so with hair and clothing.  Go ahead and wear the holey, shaggy styles if you choose; I'll not hold it against you.   But at least I know now why I don't like such styles

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Crock Pot Mustard Pork Roast wtih Cabbage

For those of you haven't heard of Stephanie O'Dell, she in 2008, committed to posting a crock pot recipe each day for the entire year.  And she did it!  But the best thing for those who have to avoid wheat or gluten, is that almost all of her recipes are Gluten Free.  I think maybe only one or two of the entire year's recipes are not.  Because of this blogging feat, she has become a popular guest on daytime talk and cooking shows and she now has published her second crock pot cookbook.  Again, Gluten Free.  She includes recipes for beverages, baked goods, main dishes, specialty foods and even a few non-food novelty items.

Yesterday I made supper based on one of her recipes, Sweet Mustard Roast for Beef or Pork.  It turned out really good.

I linked the original, but I'll share what I did, since, of course, I rarely follow a recipe exactly.  And as usually, all seasoning amounts are estimates.  Sorry.  I just pour into my hand the amount that looks good.  Use your own judgment.

Crock Pot Mustard Pork and Cabbage Recipe

1 small head of cabbage, sliced into largish chunks
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
1 large onion, slices

Put into the bottom of a 6 qt crock pot

Sprinkle liberally with caraway seeds.

1 T salt
1/2 t pepper
1/2 T garlic powder

Combine and rub on 4-5 lb pork roast.

1/2 c mustard
1/2 c honey
2 T vinegar

Pour over roast.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours (I got mine going late; I cooked it on high for 2 hours and then low for 5-6; it was wonderfully tender.)

I served mine with steamed, buttered, slightly sweetened, sweet potatoes.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Neighbors and Tradition

We are blessed with many wonderful people as neighbors.  When I say neighbor, you must remember that my nearest neighbor is a mile away.  Our neighborhood is roughly our township.  Our neighbors live in perhaps a 5 mile radius of us.  We live in a very flat area and can see many of these farm sites from our windows.  If we can't see one or another, it is only because someone else's woods or building is in the way.  So everyone still does really feel like a neighbor.  "They live at that place just over there."  or "Just past Tom's woods, there..."

This morning I started a new and exciting winter exercise plan with my neighbor, Connie.  It was fun to work out with a friend and I hope that the anticipation of companionship will keep me motivated.

As an aside, you might also notice my new ticker.  I've had a love/hate relationship with tickers that I've written about on occasion.  It got too embarrassing for awhile to keep one up, since I wasn't really doing anything.  A ticker that just sits in one spot isn't really much good for anything but guilt.  Hopefully with this new motivation, I'll be able keep my little guy moving.

As I was leaving Connie's house today, her brother-in-law, Gary, pulled in on his snowmobile (they are generally called snow-cats around here, because of our proximity to Arctic Cat in Thief River Falls, or just sleds).  I had a few moments of feeling like the transplant I am as I thought about Gary and his snow-cat.  Most everyone but us has snow-cats.  Most local people use them to get from farm to farm, since most people have relatives at the neighboring farms.  They also might use them to check on cattle or fences during the winter.  And they are also for fun.  Many people start their kids on the small sleds as young as 4 or 5 years of age.

If I had a snow-cat, I might have ridden it over to Connie's instead of driving the car.  Why start a car when something smaller will do? (Four wheelers accomplish the same purpose for locals during the summer months.)  Sometimes I can almost justify the expense.  There are many times I might run over to a neighbor's for something, but then I think to myself that it can wait.  "Don't waste the gas, Mary."

We don't have a shop in which to take care of maintenance.  Our kids don't grow up dinking with tractors or watching the older guys do so, we don't have fences or livestock to check on.  And I guess, much to my kids' chagrin, we don't really have the money to spend on the kind of toy that takes constant expense in gas and maintenance to run regularly.

So see, we stand out a bit.  Others near us probably must live just as frugally as do we.  And yet they have snow-cats and we don't.  It's a difference of "cultural necessity."  For us they seem like very expensive toys.  But for those who grow up here, snow-cats are just a fact of life.  It is as basic as a pick-up or snowblower or plow.

And that's another difference.  We don't have a pick-up.  We have a family van and a sedan.  The sedan is for the errand running when we have few enough people travelling.  It saves gas.  But a pick-up? That's a luxury. Not for most of our neighbors, however.  They need them for work.

So all this ran through my mind as I saw Gary come into Connie's all bundled up in his outdoor gear.  First we heard the approach of the snow-cat.  Then we see him amble in, bundled from head to toe, taking off his facemask as he came around the corner.

Since I was on my way home anyway, I went out as Gary went in.  I was looking forward to smelling the wood smoke from the outdoor boiler (which most everyone around here uses to heat their homes). But instead of the wood smell, which was very nice upon my arriving at Connie's, I got a kind of wood smoke mixed with snowmobile smell. Not bad in itself, but not what I anticipated.

And now I fear, I come another tangent, because I really like the smell of snowmobiles.  For my first six years, I lived in a rural area of Eastern Washington where they also have winter.  So locals do have snowmobiles (they are not snow-cats there).  I remember snowmobiling with my dad and uncle and cousins and I suppose other friends and neighbors.  Because of the fixative power of the sense of smell, I always associate the smell of snowmobiles with those fun times during my very early years.

I can always tell when my teenaged son, Matt, has been out snow-catting with friends, because the mud-room will smell of snowmobile.  And I often pause to take an extra breath.

Weird.

Only A Child

Mama:  Donna, take your diaper off and try to go potty.
Donna:  My potty chair is all apart.
Mama:  Can you put it back together?
Donna:  That thing is gone.
Mama:  What thing?  Oh, I see, the bowl, you mean.  Where is it?
Stella:  Oh, I saw it downstairs.
Mama:  Eeww.  yuck,  What is it doing downstairs?
Donna:  Inge was playing dominoes in it.

Cringe.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Insensitivity and Argumentation

Yes,... well,... I didn't go through sensitivity training at UW Madison.  The University started that requirement during my time there, but it was only mandatory for incoming freshmen, one of which I was not. So I have an excuse; I was never taught, by the correct governmental entity, how to be a sensitive, caring person.

"Where is she heading with this post?" you may ask.

It just dawned on me this morning, that because of the recent tragedy in Tucson, it may seem inconsiderate of me to post two gun related posts on these particular days.  And that may be true.

One might make such an argument.  In all honesty, I did not make the correlation until after the posts were done.  That said, I can't exactly come to apologize for them, or my timing of them, either.  And here's why.

Gun rights did not cause this tragedy.

My enjoyment of the safe and legal use of firearms did not cause this tragedy.

And Steve Lee's music certainly did not cause this tragedy.

Jarod Laughner caused this tragedy.  Blame his mental illness if you want.  Blame his "handler",  the mysterious missing person, if you want.

But as much as I am saddened by the shooting; as much as I feel for those injured and for the families of the dead, you can't blame me or my views.

I pray for the comfort and healing of all involved.

I pray for the healing of our national conversation.

But perhaps my timing of the most recent post might even be put to some good purpose.  The video clip I included portrays well the difference between articulated arguments and angry, attack speech.  It seems to be a popular analysis, that somehow the angry tone of our cultural conversation is to blame for Jarod Laugner's reprehensible behavior.  I don't think anyone ought to make that link, until he has, or until something can be found in his life and writings, that might connect the two .

I'm finding conversation after conversation on the main Stream Media (MSM), on Conservative Talk Radio (CTR), and on the blogosphere either implying (or defending against those implications) that somehow CTR and its said affiliate, the TEA party movement, caused Jarod Laughner to try to kill Gabrielle Giffords.  (And as an aside, why is she consistently seen as the target, anyway?  Has everyone in the media forgotten that a Federal Judge was shot dead.  How do we know he was not the intended target?  But that's another conversation.)

Last I checked, reports were that Jarod Laughner was not political.  There was no indication he listened to talk radio.  He does not claim to be a TEA party patriot.  He does not appear to be aligned with what some might want to call the "extreme" right.  So don't blame us.

Please, no matter upon which side you find yourself politically, or if you prefer to not have a side, as you listen to or read your choice of current events coverage, please remember that there is a difference between senseless name calling or personal attack speech, and a well articulated argument.  An effective argument will include facts on which you will be able to check.  It will include history that is documented.  It will tie its premises together into a logical conclusion.  It is designed to teach or persuade.  Senseless name calling or personal attack speech, are sometimes linked to facts that cannot be checked, or that upon further checking don't hold up.  Sometimes those facts are valid, but they are strung together in a way that is not logically conclusive.  Often attack speech is phrased in such a way to compel the reader or listener feel a certain emotion strongly.  Often it makes a listener or reader feel smug satisfaction.  Mostly, it is just noise.

Our country is at a time of strongly differing opinions.  But difference does not have to be violent.  Discussion does not have to be fighting.  Well made arguments can build consensus.  But only if we listen and think.

And only if we perceive the noise for what it is.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fun Future of Hunting Clip

The vitriolic name calling in the letter Kevin Hoyt reads, exhibits well how difficult it sometimes is to discuss issues with people from an opposing viewpoint.  I hope I never cling to my stereotypes with such vehemence and senseless attacks against a person. 

But in spite of the silliness of it, or perhaps because of it, the letter makes me laugh every time.

I like the brief statements kids make that add up to a simple but pretty well articulated answer to the ad hominem attack of the letter writer.

Besides the historical, economic, constitutional, and practical arguments presented by the kids, Keven Hoyt finishes up by saying simply, he likes guns.  As a fitting finale, the clip ends by including Steve Lee's "I Like Guns" video. 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Another Steve Lee Winner

"She Don't Like Guns" is the third song from Steve Lee's I Like Guns album, for which he has released a video.  I love the age related pun and the guns as instruments scene.  I like seeing more of Steve's wife and her frequent smiles toward him.   And as with the Lee Family videos I've watched, they all seem to really enjoy what they do.

Apparently this song has a dual role, being featured in both the family album, Welcome Road, and in an acoustic version on the Guns album.  If you, too, like guns and haven't seen the original I Like Guns video, be sure to check it out.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

S.N.A.G.

A certain facebook thread (you know who you are) inspired me to diddle away yet more of my "mom's day off" with a short post on the concept of the Sensitive New Age Guy.

I believe the term originated with a song by singer-songwriter Christine Lavin.  I first heard of her song in the early 90s.

A writer over on Article Base, Raiha_Evelyn wrote her own 10-step program to becoming a SNAG.

There's also an article over on askmen, but there's too much junky stuff in the margins to link it here.   The article actually was pretty entertaining, as far as I read before the kids came in the room.  Yes, that kind of marginal junk, not even "marginally" appropriate.

One of the Urban Dictionary's entries defined a SNAG thusly,
Sensitive New Age Guy (S.N.A.G). Similar to the Metrosexual, but more timid and sensitive.  Dense clusters of Snag's can be found at woman's issues rallies. Extreme examples have been known to experience regular menstrual cramps.
Phil Donahue (extreme example)
 So, since there are not really many articles I can link, and even the videos of Ms Lavin's song are not really that great...I'll just link her lyrics in here and stop tryng to be interesting.

But I will say that she doesn't mention pedicure's in her song, I think you're safe, my friend.

Where is Banbury Cross?

Ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse
With rings on her fingers and bells on her toes
She shall have music wherever she goes 

While searching for a certain folk song for another writing project I have going, I stumbled upon some interesting tidbits about the origins and history of this rhyme.  Which then led my poor, undisciplined mind to a few other pages, which led to this post.

I fear my other writing project will not get done today.

Banbury is in Oxfordshire, about 70 miles northwest of London, England, Europe, Earth.

From Banbury Town
The name Banbury may be derived from 'Banna', a local Saxon dignitary who is said to have built his stockade here in the 500's. By the time of William the Conqueror 'Banesberie' was mentioned in the Domesday book. In the 13th century it had grown to become an important wool trading centre bringing wealth to the local population.
 From Banbury Cross
Banbury stands at the junction of two ancient roads: Salt Way, still used as a bridle path to the west and south of the town, led from Droitwich, Worcestershire to London and the south east of England, its primary use being the transportation of salt; and Banbury Lane, which began near Northampton and fairly closely followed the modern 22-mile-long road before running through Banbury's High Street and on towards the Fosse Way at Stow-on-the-Wold.

In the year 913AD a band of Danes, who had settled in Northampton, travelled along Banbury Lane and ravaged north Oxfordshire. The Danes were known to be great traders who established market towns. The outcome of their attacks is likely to have benefitted Banbury by aiding the development of the town centre. This is reflected in Banbury's Market Place, its triangular shape being typical of the Danes.
There is apparently much debate over who the fine lady in the nursery rhyme is.  Some sources say, as I had heard, that is was Queen Elizabeth I.   According to Capella University Nursery Rhymes and Lyrics and Origins page
The words of the Banbury Cross nursery rhyme are often attributed to Queen Elizabeth I of England (the fine lady) who travelled to Banbury to see a huge stone cross which had just been erected. The words 'With rings on her fingers' obviously relates to the fine jewellery which would be worn by a Queen. The words 'And bells on her toes' refer to the fashion of attaching bells to the end of the pointed toes of each shoe - this fashion actually originates from the Plantagenet era of English history but was associated with the nobility for some time! Banbury was situated at the top of a steep hill and in order to help carriages up the steep incline a white cock horse (a large stallion) was made available by the town's council to help with this task. When the Queen's carriage attempted to go up the hill a wheel broke and the Queen chose to mount the cock horse and ride to the Banbury cross. The people of the town had decorated the cock horse with ribbons and bells and provided minstrels to accompany her - "she shall have music wherever she goes". The massive stone cross at Banbury was unfortunately later destroyed by anti - Catholics who opposed the notion of pilgrimages.
But from that same site, at least one source says
The woman in question was in fact Lady Katherine Banbury, wife of Lord Jonathan Banbury. Miss Amy Banbury, sub matron of Auckland hospital, New Zealand (my grandfather's cousin) recalled after World War I her grandfather, Squire of Burford near Banbury in Oxfordshire, telling her that he distinctly recalled the white horse on which the "fine lady" used to ride. Among Lady Banbury's jewels were many very beautiful rings of which she was very fond. The bells were the tiny bells often used in those days to trim the edges of a lady's velvet saddle cloth.
And yet according to  the above linked Banbury Cross page,
The "Fyne" lady is generally thought to be a member of the Fiennes family, ancestors of Lord Saye and Sele who owns nearby Broughton Castle.
And from the Banbury Town link above,
More likely it was a local girl who rode in a May Day procession.
And I've also heard and seen references to that woman being Lady Godiva, but nobody seemed to have any history of that claim.

I don't really care, who it was, but I found all the debate over a nursery rhyme interesting.  A few other interesting morsels
  • The original cross was pulled down at the end of the 16th century. The present cross was erected in 1859 to celebrate the wedding of the then Princess Royal to Prince Frederick of Prussia.
  • The town is famous for Banbury Cakes, a special fruit and pastry cake, that are shipped to fans around the world.
  • Kraft Foods has the world's largest coffee processing plant in Banbury.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's That Most Blah and Funky Time of Year.

Funky as in predisposed to bring on a funk.

It's also the time of year to start a new exercise program, right?  Unless of course you are a responsible type and exercise all year long.  I suppose you can read, too, but, well, forgive me if I don't offer you much.  My post is for the regular sort of us.  Those of us who struggle to stay motivated.

I've tried tickers and they worked until the novelty wore off.  Actually they worked very well for me for quite awhile.  But at some point, the inertia holding me in place outweighed (yes a pun) the desire to move that ticker.   So I've been considering since Christmas time a variety of motivational options.  I tend to hibernate during these long northern Minnesota winters if I don't have some sort of motivation.  Hibernation may be good for bears and skunks, and a variety of other mammals.  And I do think winter is a good time to slow down and refocus.  However,for me, too much of it can easily become a rut from which it is hard to climb out come spring.

Two of Joe's cousins are considering running a 5Ktogether.  I've always wanted to do one.  I ran cross-country during one of my college stints, but I've never run an "official" 5K..  During a facebook interchange on exercise, Joe's cousin, Steph, mentioned the possibility of me joining them.  When I answered with some amount of interest, my sister, Sara, recommended the Couch to 5K program.

The claim of the program: "to get just about anyone from the couch to running 5 kilometers or 30 minutes in just 9 weeks

Basically, it's a training program that is mapped out for you using the idea of alternating in small intervals, between brisk and slow movement, and sustaining this pattern for the duration of the workout.  The rate of fast to slow intervals gradually increases over a period of weeks.

But here's what I really like about this.  Many people have done this.  And because the internet is such an amazing place to share all sorts of information, these people have created all sorts of downloadable materials to which you can listen while you work out.  Many will tell you or indicate by a change in music style, when to slow down and when to speed up.  There are apps for phones and Christian themed podcasts; there are blank ones that just tell you when to switch your pace, and to which a more technologically inclined person than I can apparently add his or her own choice of listening material.

I like the look of this Podrunner: Intervals site.  It apparently includes musical cues to tell when to change pace.  The author has several varieties of plans depending upon whether you want to work toward a 5k, an 8K, a 10k or just bump up your pace. The accompaniments are based upon a certain number of beats per minute.

Now all I need is an mp3 player.  I did finally splurge and buy one when Louisa went to Hawaii.  She was supposed to read Great Expectations for school and was afraid she would not be able to muddle through it.  Since I am such an indulgent parent, (I'd get a major eye-roll at at that one) I allowed her to download it to listen to on the plane.  But since her mp3 player had been confiscated awhile ago, I bought one (for myself, with the winter exercise season in mind) and allowed her to borrow it. 

Unfortunately, it seems to have disappeared into the heaps of stuff I have waiting fro me to get to.  She says she gave it back and I have no reason to doubt her word...

Maybe if I just get up and start sorting all my heaps, I wouldn't need a training g program.  I'd probably get a pretty good workout, just dong that.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Hobbies, Old and New and Revisited

I love how one hobby can lead to another.

Or how about when you have something you enjoy, but really know little about, gradually your interest in this certain something wanes.  Then along comes a related thing 20 years later that connects somehow to that past interest.

Or what if your teen aged children show interest in some pop cultural phenomenon from your youth, or back further than that even.  And they begin to know more songs or music or groups from "back in the day" than you yourself do.  And so you join them in learning.

Now what if all these things collide.

OK, yeah, I have something specific in mind.  The story will probably end up longer than I want.  They always do. 

When I was young, I really was too busy playing to pay attention to culture.  My older sister was the cultured person.  She could draw and talk about books and historical places.

I envied her.

But not enough to take the time to learn any of these things myself.

She also followed pop music.  She listened to Casey Kasem's weekly top forty after church each week.

I only embarrassed myself if I tried to talk about such things.  I generally knew just enough to put my foot in my mouth.

When I progressed through my high school and college years, I discovered social life and that, pretty much was all I did.  Some of the youth knew about pop culture.  Some of the youth knew about historical culture.  I had a great memory.  I could I listen and soak things up, but I always felt a bit like a "culture plagiarist".  I could remember what others said and talked about, and I could spit it back out, but it wasn't my own.  I didn't really know anything about what I was repeating.

During my time at one of the several colleges I attended, I took voice lessons.  I loved the Italian arias I had to learn.  The melodies were beautiful and the tones that I could only dream of producing were haunting.

But that lasted only one short year.  I later studied Italian, in the hopes I'd be able to appreciate the songs and even opera itself someday.  But my study of Italian, too, it seems, was short lived.

Now pan forward in time, about twenty years.  I really like bonnet movies.  Yeah, those girl ones that have all the old time language and dresses and romance.  My two favorites are the BBC Pride and Prejudice and the 1995 Sense and Sensibility.  And in those two movies, the female heroines both sing lovely arias.  After a little research, I  found the vocal scores to Marianne's songs in Sense and Sensibility. These are both original vocal arrangements by Patrick Doyle, written specifically for this movie.

Later I discovered that the aria Lizzy sings at Pemberly, in Pride and Prejudice, is an older song.  It's from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, which you've probably heard of in it's English title, The Marriage of Figaro.  It's Cherubino's song, Voi che sapete, or "You Know what Love Is", or as it's translated for the movie, "You Who Have Tasted Love's Mystic Spell."  I found music for that in a 1913 collection of music we picked up used, The Ideal Home Music Library. This song is in Volume VIII, Songs from the Opera.



And so things come full circle.  An interest I had in college, but had no context in which to pursue, has now been revived because of a literary and even pop cultural interest in my adult years.

And on a final, kind of funny, tangentially related note, I found a piano book of pop songs in the same used bookstore.  The Very Best of the Superstars.  Abba, John Denver, Kris Kristofferson, Helen Reddy,...One of my favorites in there, "Bohemian Rhapsody", the rock opera by Queen.  I don't have it down pat yet; there are lots of key changes and accidentals.  But I'm getting better.  The harmonies and intricacy of the music touches me somehow.  And one of my great pleasures is when my son, Jeremy, who is a senior in high school, comes in and sings over my shoulder as I muddle through it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Few Moments of Pleasure

This video production of the Hallelujah Chorus by the fifth grade class in Quinhagak, AK, is worth the time it takes to load.   My friend, Sarah, posted this on facebook today and I wanted to pass it along.  It made us smile, chuckle, and even laugh out loud with the joy this few minutes brought.

Connie Delaney at Suite101 gives this commentary that expresses well some of the reasons the video is so pleasing.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Just What is it About Jane Austen?

A friend recently compared (the book) Pride and Prejudice, to a soap opera, that had entertaining dialog.

That got me thinking about the appeal of Jane Austen.  What is it that compels primarily women to read her books over and over?  Sometimes ripping through the entire collection on a yearly basis...Is it the soap opera quality?  I shuddered to think that might be it.  Is it the perpetually witty dialog?  Or some intangible facet of her writing?

After some thought and a new start on my next round through Jane Austen's titles, I have a ready reply.  It is most emphatically NOT the soap opera quality, if even such exists.  I'm not convinced of that aspect at this point.  Yes,  I love the dialog and the character typing.  I love the language that to our modern ears is so fun.  but to me, the most compelling aspect of an Austen novel is her profound grasp of human nature.  She hits time after time, page after page, the idiosyncrasies of various personality types and those foibles that the readers see in themselves and others.

Since I started my foray into this latest round of things Austen with Pride and Prejudice, I'll restrict my quotes to that book.  In fact I can think of several examples just from the first few chapters.  But each chapter of each title is a feast for study of human nature.

Her well-known opening line of P&P is a good place to start.
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
This quote is perhaps not quite as poignant to us today, since our economic system and the freedoms women have today is so markedly different than it was when Jane Austen wrote in the early 1800s.  But it doesn't take much imagination to understand the point of the sentence.  And with a small amount of contemplation, most of us can even think of a person or two  who hold similar presumptions.  What do we consider an eligible bachelor today?  One who has a college degree or a stable job.  Better yet perhaps if he owns his own home, leases a nice car or has a boat.  Such a man certainly must be in the market next for a good wife, right?

On the trustworthiness and inevitability of idle gossip, Ms Austen has this to say.
...a report soon followed that Mr. Bingly was to bring twelve ladies and seven gentlemen with him to the assembly.  The girls grieved over such a number of ladies; but were comforted the day before the ball by hearing, that instead of twelve, he had brought only six with him from London, his five sisters and a cousin.  And when the party entered the assembly room, it consisted of only five altogether; Mr. Bingley, his two sisters, the husband of the eldest, and another young man.

In my book this is all of eight lines and yet Austen captures these aspects of gossip: people will gossip, we will get things wrong, and people will be affected to one degree or another by what is reported.

On the attractiveness of wealth and manners, (please keep in mind that Mr. Bingley, as opposed to his friend, Mr. Darcy, had a mere five thousand a year.)
Mr. Darcy soon drew the attention of the room by his fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien; and the report which was in general circulation within five minute after his entrance, of his having ten thousand a year...the ladies declared he was much handsomer than Mr. Bingley, and he was looked at with great admiration for about half the evening, till his manners gave a disgust which turned the tide of his popularity; for he was discovered to be proud, to be above his company, and above being pleased; and not all his large Derbyshire estate could then save him from having a most forbidding, disagreeable countenance, and being unworthy to be compared with his friend.
Firstly, the possession of wealth can effect an opinion of the one who possesses such wealth. Secondly, upon further acquaintance, we can get beyond the wealth to the person who possesses it.  And third, we hope to still find in such a possessor of great wealth, some redeeming personality trait.

And on the particular character trait of pride, and the prejudice against such pride Austen plays the entire length of the book.  But that's another post. Pride and Prejudice, after all.

On the different ways a man and women appreciate a social occasion, Mrs. Bennet, upon returning home, relates the highlights of the assembly to Mr. Bennet (male readers beware, just reading the following may vex you as it did Mr. Bennet),
Only think of that my dear; he actually danced with her twice; and she was the only creature in the room that he asked a second time.  First of all, he asked Miss Lucas.  I was so vexed to see him stand up with her; but, however, he did not admire her at all: indeed, nobody can, you know; and he seemed quite struck with Jane as she was going down the dance.  So, he enquired who she was, and got introduced, and asked her for the two next.  Then, the two third he danced with Miss King, and the two fourth with Maria Lucas, and the two fifth with Jane again, and the two sixth with Lizzy, and the Boulanger--"
     "If he had any compassion for me," cried her husband impatiently, "he would not have danced half so much!  For [goodness'] sake, say no more of his partners.  Oh! that he had sprained his ancle in the first dance!"
     "Oh! my dear," continued Mrs. Bennet, "I am quite delighted with him.  He is so excessively handsome!  and his sisters are charming women.  I never in my life saw any thing more elegant than their dresses.  I dare say the lace upon Mrs Hurst's gown--"
    Here she was interrupted again.  Mr., Bennet protested against any description of finery."
Perhaps I'm taking too many liberties with my prejudice toward both men and women, but probably most married people can relate to this interchange.  We women prattle on and on about those details we enjoy and our husbands think to themselves, "Enough already!  I"m sorry I asked."

And I could go on and on with such examples of Jane Austen's brilliance in portraying these "truths universally acknowledged". But really, if you never have, just read the books.  Or even if you've already read them fifteen times, isn't' it time for another plunge?