Sunday, February 28, 2010

Surgery’s Hangover

Something they gave me before rolling me into that surgery center just didn’t agree with me and I’m suffering its after-effects.

by Charlie Leck

I’m suffering some after-effects and they’re not much fun; unless, of course, you consider constant dashes for the bathroom, a stinging urinary infection and regular stomach cramps great fun. I know this is no way to begin a blog on a Sunday morning, but, what the hell, you may as well suffer with me. I had cataract surgery on Friday morning. A friend of mine, who I guess is a few years older than I, attended a meeting with me a few weeks ago, only a day after her surgery.

“It’s a snap! Don’t worry about it.” She flung her arms out to her side like a young ballerina and turned her hands so that the palms faced straight-up, showing off a kind of dexterity that escaped me many years ago. “It’s really not a big deal. You’re in and out in no time at all.” She looked as if she were about to sing something from Camelot.

Well, somehow my situation got lost in translation. I had a follow-up examination the morning after my surgery with some young physician that his superiors threw to the wolves. There were a number of people in front of me. My appointed hour got delayed as I sat with an awful stinging sensation in my groin and a prayer on my lips that, if I could only go into the restroom and stand there at the urinal and make it all go away, I would be a believer and faithful servant forever.

I’m sure you know that the most horrible mistake you can make in a situation like this is to complain to your nurse about being kept waiting so long.

“We’ve no control over such matters,” the old veteran whiplashed out at me. “We don’t exactly know when people are going to come in with significant hangovers from their surgery. Now sit down in that chair and let me examine that eye.”

I wanted to debate with her a bit, but I was in no shape to let this conversation escalate to fisticuffs. Nevertheless, waxing quixotic, I told her it would be helpful to at least be informed in the waiting room that appointment times were running behind, say an hour or so.

“My wife and I have another appointment in this neighborhood and we could have gone and taken care of that.”

“Sit down. Put your chin right up here and look directly at that blue light with both eyes.”

It was clearly the conclusion of my morning’s conversation with her. When I tried to mumble something about a few awful, post surgical mysteries that were gurgling around in my insides and causing me some significant pain, she made it clear that her conversations with that complaining bastard were over.

“The doctor will talk to you about those matters in a few minutes. I just need to have you put this paddle over your right eye, look at and read that chart up there on the wall.”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said with a touch of surliness.

“I don’t like being called ma’am,” she said with some vehemence.

“Okay, then,” I said curtly. “Yes, sir!”

That got me punished with a 20 minute wait before a young, nervous, pre-warned doctor came in to visit with me. He had the absolute look of some young man just out of medical school who had been given the lowliest form of a job in the clinic – talking to patients like I about their gastrointestinal symptoms.

“This business of not being able to pee,” I said rather frankly, trying to sound as urgent as I could, “is really killing me. What can we do?”

He looked lost as I continued to describe the symptoms, which you do not want to read here.

“Well,” he began, “it happens sometimes, you know, when you get anesthetized and your system relaxes so much that things move around.”

The comment didn’t lift my confidence in the young man to any kind of acceptable level. He looked at me, dazed and wondering what to say next.

“Perhaps I should go to an urgent care facility,” I said, “to see if they can poke a catheter up there and get something out.”

“Yes,” he exploded with relief. “I think you should go to your urgent care facility and consult with a physician there. Perhaps they can catheterize you and get you some relief.”

“Thanks, doc,” I said with as much sarcasm as I could put into my voice.

He didn’t even shake hands as he kissed me off. I expect he had visions in his mind of my efforts to urinate and the simple dribbles I had only managed to create.

He was well out of ear-shot when I hissed out at him.

“Piss off, you little bastard.”

My wife, who had been lingering in the waiting room (well named), agreed with the doctor’s brilliant advice that we go to our clinic’s urgent care facility. We headed off for the other side of town. Even though we had no appointment, our wait was less than five minutes. Unfortunately, the doctor who interviewed me was a young woman and I didn’t much like talking to her about toilet matters. After much thought and discussion, she insisted she needed to examine my prostate.

“What?” I asked sharply. “How do you mean?”

She smiled and held up her index finger and waved it around with a smile on her face.

“Oh, no,” I moaned.

“Yup,” she said. “I’ll go get some lubricant.”

Enough said for one Sunday morning blog.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Eye Surgery

My blog will be unattended for a few days as I undergo a bit of eye surgery and recovery.
by Charlie Leck

No blog will be posted today. I was in for a little eye surgery yesterday (Friday). The doctors say I'll be able to work at the computer again on Sunday, so I plan on a light and casual blog on the 28th. I hope you'll return.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Check Out Trout & Caviar

Now this recipe for a Walleye Taco sounds fantastic!

Introduced by Charlie Leck

Around here, we wouldn't think of ever missing a new blog over at Trout & Caviar. I've become a faithful follower. Today's edition has left our mouth watering and is inspiring us to try some version of what Brett pulled off with a wonderful, fresh walleye. If you like to cook and want to try something unique, be sure to read about his walleye taco dinner.

In Sheepy Hollow

We're asked, from time to time, about Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm!
by Charlie Leck

Our recent visit to the the farmers market at Traditional Foods of MN brought lots of visitors by our booth. Many of them wanted to know about Sheepy Hollow and whether they could visit. We do allow visits by appointment in the summertime and autumn. There's too much snow and ice right now and humans have the wrong kind of hooves for navigating the ground cover. In spring there can be too much mud and visitors with nice shoes get angry at us (though it is an integral part of being a farmer).

Many of the visitors also asked about the name -- perhaps we should say, "the silly name" -- and how it came about. The story is not a long one.

Anne, who Brett Laidlaw recently called "the woman behind Sheepy Hollow lamb," came up with the name over 30 years ago. I thought it was a cute business name and sought to legally trademark it, only to find out there was already a trademark on Sheepy Hollow down under in Australia. It was a company that manufactured motorcycle seat-covers from sheep's wool. Darn! The company down there agreed, however, that we could use the name if we always combined it and connected it to Native Oaks Farm (our original farm name, which has its own story). Thus, Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm.

In addition to the lambs and the sheep, there are some other dwellers at Native Oaks Farm that might interest you, including a couple of llamas, a stout and friendly mule named Reba, a very loud donkey called Kelly, and a number of happy horses.

To find out more, you can visit Native Oaks Farm and Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm at our web site.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Do Americans Want Health Care Reform?

The Republican Party and their spokesmen in the press are saying the American people don't want heath care reform. Not true!
by Charlie Leck

To a man (and woman) the Republicans leaving the White House today were saying to the press -- and saying it loudly -- that Americans don't want health care reform.

The fact is they do, but this isn't the first time in the last couple of decades that the Republican Party was willing to fudge on the truth.

Most solid and trustworthy America polls show that over 50 percent do want health care refore. About 38 percent have no opinion. So it is a tiny percentage that actually oppose a change in our health care delivery system.

But, in this debate, let's not let the facts get in the way. In a Democracy, the minority is not supposed to get it's way; but, frankly, that is exactly what is happening in America today -- both in the U.S. Congress and in the general public. Politics don't work in America right now. The minority has too much power and can bully the majority around. How did this happen? That's a good subject for a blog another day.

Conservatives Respond to Health Care Reform

President Obama continues to seek a bi-partisan approach to health care reform. God love the man for being persistent, but can he really pull it off?
by Charlie Leck

Today, Thursday (25 February 2010) the Republicans have been invited by President Obama to join in a televised bipartisan discussion about Health Care Reform. The Republican leaders of Congress have been asked “to bring their best ideas for slowing the growth of health care expenditures and expanding the number of insured Americans.” [New York Times Opinion Page]

The Times published the statements of five conservative thinkers who expressed their opinions on what the Republican ideas should be. Bill Frist, Mark McClellan, James P. Pinkerton, Charles Kolb and Newt Gingrich responded.

If you care about the health care debate, you should read these comments (and they are brief) before the session on Thursday. Frankly, I don't expect what the Republicans bring to the table will be anywhere near as positive as these statements and, therefore, don't count on the discussion being very fructuous. The Republican strategy for the 2010 elections seems to involve creating a stalemate on every legislative action and then placing the blame for inaction on Democrats. If, however, the Republicans turn today's session into an imbroglio, trying to embarrass the President, I think they'll be making a serious strategic mistake.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tiger Woods as Reformed and Forgiven

I was impressed by Woods' statement of contrition and that hard look that he took deep inside himself!
by Charlie Leck

The news media generally did not like last week's Tiger Woods statement about his contrition and changed attitude. I did. Let me try to explain why this miserable bastard may come back a changed and new man who we might actually like personally as well admire as an athletic wonder.

I've got some experience in sitting across from a person who is owning up to his/her failings and expressing a desire to turn it around. I've been pretty successful in determining whether that person was jiving me or being straight.

First off, Woods looked and sounded like a man who has been in group therapy. He had that beaten down, exhausted appearance that comes from people crapping all over you and tearing you down so far that you are but groveling in the muck of truth. In a good therapy session, Woods' fellows wouldn't care in the tiniest little bit that he was a mega-multi-millionaire who is regarded as the most talented player ever in his chosen profession. To them he was a bag of smelly waste who needed to get an honest and good look at just how crummy he is.

I got the feeling, from the glazed look in his eyes, that Tiger had been successfully torn down. From that position -- that low-down, miserable place -- it is then possible to rebuild a decent, good and happy person.

Tiger was down. I could see that clearly. The good news is that he is not out! He announced that he was on his way back into "treatment." That was a good word to hear him use because it likely means he has accepted what's going on as something good and positive for him and his future.

Lots of writers have surmised that Tiger is doing this therapy JUST and ONLY to try to rebuild his public relations image and, perhaps, to save a relationship with his children. That's always possible, but my observations of him during the statement led me to believe there is something real and truly sincere going on with the man.

I believe he is genuinely sorry for having hurt so many people, from his wife and children to his friends and employees. He thought he could do what he did without it causing that kind of pain. Remember what he said? He "didn't think the rules applied" to him. Wealth and fame had placed him on a different level where he could reach out and grab whatever gratification he wanted -- and, as he said, he didn't have to reach very far!

Believe me, in a therapy group like that, when you really see yourself -- when you see yourself so much more clearly than you can in a mirror -- when you can look below the surface and see clearly what a total piece of crap you really are -- you tend to want to change dramatically because of the ugliness you've seen.

Tiger was a man in that mode and he pledged to return a different man, with a different attitude in both his personal and professional life. Can that save his marriage? Will that keep his wife from hauling the children to Sweden as a way to punish Tiger? Can that win back the hearts of his golf fans? Can he rebuild his business and his professional career? Yes, I think so.

It will depend on how real they perceive him to be over the next couple of years. If he's in a good therapy group with tough, honest and caring partners, he has an extremely good chance of coming out of these sessions a new and rebuilt man.

Tiger had developed into something of a narcissist. That's a very bad place where you drive the love of other people away from you and cling only to a sick self-love that destroys you. If he can arrive at a place where he understands that others (all others) are as good or even better than he, then the therapy will have worked and Tiger Woods is likely to be a changed and different human being.

At this very time, Tiger is going through an intense self-examination that some people cannot handle. From the look of him on the day of his statement, I got the strong feeling that he had seen himself clearly and did not like what he saw, and was determined to rebuild a better person.

Could I be wrong? Of course! Yet, I've had a reasonable amount of experience here. I think Tiger hit rock bottom in the weeks before that statement. He could have stayed there and groveled around in his own excrement. Or, realizing that it was something he couldn't do on his own, he could have accepted the helping, lifting hands that were extended to him and begun an exciting change in his life.

I also like his reference to a return to his Buddhist faith. I'm often suspicious when I hear a condemned man suddenly accept religion; yet it seemed different and more humble with Woods. Buddhism makes no promises of salvation and eternal rewards. Its benefits are more immediate. I wrote several weeks ago on this blog about the influence Buddhism could have on Woods and about how I hoped he'd turn to his faith [Tiger Woods, Buddhism and Forgiveness ].

If Woods is really a changed person, we'll see some of the evidence in his golf game. Will he be more accepting of his mistakes and mis-hits? Will he be more gracious to others around him? Will he both win and lose graciously? Will he see victory on a golf course as unimportant when measured against the really vital issues of life? We'll see!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Modern word usage sometimes leaves me confused as can be!
by Charlie Leck

I won’t bore you here today. I’ll strike and withdraw quickly.

I’m amazed at the way young people use the language these days, dude. I mean, like, you wouldn’t believe the things I hear that make my blood, like, curdle.

Like, man, like the word factoid!

I hear kids saying it all the time: “That’s a factoid, dude!” In translation I infer that they mean: “That’s a fact, Jack!”

In fact, it isn’t what they've said. I hope they might know that. The very “oid” appended to the end of the word means something resembling or having the appearance of….

A “factoid” is then something resembling or having the appearance of a fact. It is actually an unverified or even inaccurate piece of information that has been presented so often as factual that it begins to be accepted as so.

So, therefore, the following conversation leaves me confused.

“Obama, dude, is a brother, man!”

“That’s a factoid, bro!”

Are we meant to give up words and their real meaning to current and ignorant usage? I think that’s the way it works, dude, and that’s a factoid.

Dude [noun as dude; verb as duded or duding; e.g., "I am all duded out, dude!"]

(1) Man excessively concerned with his clothing, grooming and manners
(2) Slang: fellow or chap
(3) A person reared in a large city
(4) An urban person who vacations on a ranch.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Tiger, Obama and Burns

I'm terribly happy that African American children have such successful heroes to whom they can look up!
by Charlie Leck

I don't want to get into a little sniping contest with you right now about whether I should be using Tiger's name in this context given the current news about him, but I'm certain a new and better Tiger is going to be displaying himself to us all in about a year from now. And, you're going to be pleasantly surprised. I'll write about this in another few days. I was impressed with his statement the other day even though most of the press was not (and there's reasons for that having to do with the rather large ego much of the press carries around with itself).

Today, though, I want to say how happy I am that the NY Times, in its Sunday edition, introduced me to Ursula Burns. Since reading the Times article this morning, I've been roaming all over the Internet trying to find out more about the lady. So, I've read a great deal about her and I listened and watched her in action on a You-Tube Video produced at Oregon State University in 2008. If this blog makes you curious about her, you might want to back up to here again later and watch her speech. [click here to watch the hour long video].

If you've not met Mrs. Burns, it is with brio and pleasure that I provide the introduction.

Burns is African American. She is also one of America's most successful and watched business leaders. She heads the Xerox Corporation and its 130,000 employees. She's paid well over a million dollars a year for her talents. I find her as fascinating and inspiring, even as much as I found our current President during his national campaign all during 2008. Obviously, Obama is much more visible than Burns. Nevertheless, I hope children (especially African American children) are somehow being introduced to Mrs. Burns in their classrooms. She'll be quite a role model for them. That said, I should add that this extraordinary person could be an exemplary paragon for any of us to observe.

She grew up on the lower-eastside of Manhattan in a household held together by a single mom. That mother established a good example for her children. She worked tirelessly so her children could have what they needed and that they would have the time and energy to get good educations. She taught them about the importance of education and convinced them they could achieve great things in America. Burns attended Cathedral High School for Girls (on East 56th Street) and then went on to earn her B.S. from the Polytechnic Institute of NYU and a M.S. from Columbia University.

Burns' climb through the ranks at Xerox seems almost preternatural. She began her career as a summer, student intern. That's amazing! In September, 2009, she was name Chief Executive Officer of the company. She is also currently on the Board of Directors of both Boston Scientific and American Express. In between, she held Xerox positions at various levels in project development and planning. In 1990 she was given a position as a senior executive and as a Vice President of Global Manufacturing in 1999. She was made a senior vice president in 2000. In 2007 she was name President.

Today she is 51 years old and she has an amazing future in front of her. She’s deeply involved in community activities outside of her Xerox life. She’s on the boards of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, the National Academy Foundation, MIT Corporation, the U.S. Olympic Committee and the University of Rochester. This past November, she was also named by President Obama to lead the White House’s national program on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).

Xerox has had a tumultuous past decade. The company actually faced bankruptcy at the turn of the century. It’s downtown was “surprisingly fast” according to Burns. At the time, she worked feverishly with former Xerox C.E.O., Anne Mulcahy, to guide the company through troubled waters. The strategy was to rededicate itself to customer loyalty and service. Keeping the customer base became a primary motto at Xerox.

“It costs five times more money to get a new customer than to retain an old one,” Burns explained in her Oregon State University address.

Then the company addressed product quality and determined, in a time of vast cuts, to leave product research and development as it was. Though the company lost money for a few years, they were able to stave off bankruptcy by generating cash by giving up various assets.

Now the turn around is evident and Mulcahy and Burns get most of the praise for that.

It is remarkable to both watch Burns and listen to her carefully as she speaks about her company and her work. She is clearly African American in every way – from appearance to language. She is a real treat to the ear and the eye. Though various public relations consultants urged her to work on her speech pattern, she proudly declined. She explained that she might speak quickly and struggle with a word now and then, but she sensed that her audiences got the message both clear and straight. She’s correct about that.

Though there’s a distinct Manhattan accent and the words come quickly with an occasional, “if you ax me…,” she is an inspiring and very coherent speaker. She’s loaded with confidence and carries herself proudly.

I’m terribly happy I learned about her yesterday and I hope kids in schools all over America are being taught about her.

Traditional Foods of Minnesota

A local home-made brewers club held a little meeting right next door to our Sheepy Hollow booth. They were nice guys who had been taught to share.

Buyers and sellers all seemed ready with a friendly smile!

On some Saturdays they turn the big warehouse into a farmer's market.

Badinage is a part of the "schtick" of Warren Burgess, one of the volunteers at Traditional Foods of Minnesota

This market is a wonderful idea by some very nice and cheery people. I wish them luck and hope the whole idea really works!
by Charlie Leck

We spent a full day yesterday showing off my wife's wonderful meat product. It was tiring, but it was also fun because the people who run Traditional Foods of Minnesota make it fun, led by Warren Burgess, a jocose guy who seems able to be in dozens of places at once without seeming overly busy. This is clearly a labor of love for Warren, whose business card informs us he has a B.Sc, B.E., Ph.D, and also a post doctoral degree.

The neat thing about a day like this is that it enables you to make lots of new friends, and that we did.

The lamb stew we spent so much time on went over extremely well and our business was brisk.

For those of you who don't know about Traditional Foods of Minnesota, we urge you to visit its web site and get out to visit the warehouse at 302 61st St W, just off Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis.

Tyler (left) stopped by our booth to try some of our lamb stew!

Some home made Italian style breads!

Products of all kinds and types were packed into the roomy warehouse!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to the Market

This little piggy doesn't get to stay home this time. I've been ordered to go to the Market!
by Charlie Leck

Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm is going to try a new market today. It's an indoor Farmers Market that has been open in Minneapolis -- way over on the south side of the city -- and the boss wants to see how it functions. So we're heading over there to show our products off. We'll serve samples of a lamb stew that I worked all day yesterday on (Julia Child style).

I'm telling you because this has kept me away from my blog the last two days, but I'll return with a vengeance on Sunday. Don't forget me while I gone, baby!

Today we'll hand out the recipe for the lamb stew and this little blurb to introduce people to the farm and my wife's work.

Sheepy Hollow is at Native Oaks Farm, which is in both Independence and Minnetrista, Minnesota, is 25 miles straight west from downtown Minneapolis. You can learn more about the farm by going to our web site (simply google us). The farm is owned and operated by Anne W. Leck, a life-long resident of Minnesota and this part of the state.

The most important thing for you to know is that all the lamb we sell comes from our own farm. All the food fed to our sheep and lambs is raised by us on our own farm. We are able to keep track of what they eat. If you would like to know more about how our sheep and lambs are raised, we’d be happy to talk to you about those

During the summer, we offer our lamb for sale every Saturday at the Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis, and every Thursday at the Excelsior Farmers Market in Lyman Park in Excelsior. During the winter, we also offer our lamb for sale at the warehouse of Traditional Foods of Minnesota (302 W. 61st St, Minneapois). Again, you can google this organization to find out more about them and the store

We also sell whole lamb and lamb by the side. If you are a devoted lamb eater, this is indeed the budget conscious way to purchase lamb. The cost of purchasing lamb in volume like this is approximately 50% of the cost of cut by cut prices.

Please call us if you would like any additional information. We’d be happy to answer your questions.

“Anne Leck is the woman behind Sheepy Hollow, which produces the best lamb around in my opinion.”[Brett Laidlaw, on his web site, Trout & Caviar]

“Tell Anne the lamb was wonderful, and the butchering was perfect.”[Lynne Alpert, founder and owner of The New French Café]

Sheepy Hollow at Native Oaks Farm
15 Copeland Road
Independence, MN 55359

952-955-3180 (farm) 612-298-9293 (cell)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

What Obama Should Do

Is America ungovernable? The center will not hold and it is time we recognize it because that time is running out!
by Charlie Leck

Jack Krugman begins a commentary in the 8 February 2010 NY Times this way:

“We’ve always known that America’s reign as the world’s greatest nation would eventually end. But most of us imagined that our downfall, when it came, would be something grand and tragic.

“What we’re getting instead is less a tragedy than a deadly farce. Instead of fraying under the strain of imperial overstretch, we’re paralyzed by procedure….”
The Senate and House of Representatives in the United States of America is in total wreckage and disrepair. I don’t know how it is going to be fixed or who in the land has the courage to provide the leadership to right this sinking ship of state. If you think this is an over-statement, you just aren’t paying attention. The examples are in the hundreds and can be found by following any standard national newspaper or by reading leftist, rightwing or centrist blogs and news outlets on-line.

I’m not certain any President can address this problem, though I’ll suggest in a moment what the President might try to do – no I want to say that in a much stronger way – “I’ll suggest in a moment what the President must do to begin a fix of this problem.”

Only the people can fix this problem
In fact, however, only the American people can fix this problem and it will take a great awakening of the moderates and centrists in America to do it. The recipe is simple. (1) Before you vote for anyone for the Congress of the United States (House or Senate), secure from them a pledge that they will vote in a bi-partisan way to fix the nation. The people must never forget that there are three great divisions of government in our nation – the executive, the legislative and the judicial. Our work, from this day forward, must be to put in those positions people who care more for the health and welfare of the nation than the political party that endorses them. The need for a “super majority” in order for Congress to pass any bill leaves the legislative process paralyzed. Recently you watched six members of the opposing party in Congress work with the president in a bi-partisan way on a piece of legislation, arriving at an agreement on what needed to be done. Yet, when that bill reached the floor for a vote, all six voted against it under strict orders from their party leadership. I’m not blaming any one party here. This strict control of legislators by the party is applied by both Republicans and Democrats. (2) Before you vote for anyone for the Congress of the United States, secure from them a pledge that will not be influenced in any of their votes by the amount of campaign funds they have received from any individual, labor union or corporation! It takes huge amounts of funds to get elected in this modern era. If gaining reelection is more important than doing what is right and just to any Senator or Representative, we have got a problem. We need to elect legislators who are willing to serve only one term if it means doing exactly what is right for the people and the nation.

I am making my own personal pledge here and today – at this moment – that I will no longer vote by party designation. I promise! I will only vote for men and women who will promise to cooperate across the aisle to do what is right and not allow themselves to be controlled by party caucus leaders. Sit down and shut up, Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi! And the same to you Mitch McConnell, Richard Durbin and John Boehner! We’ve had enough of your destructive actions and now we want people who will rebuild and return America to its greatness. Enough! Enough! Enough!

And Senator Shelby, too!
Krugman points out (in the commentary cited above) that Senator Richard Shelby (Alabama) has placed a personal hold on approximately 70 Obama appointments to high level government positions “until his state gets a tanker contract and a counterterrorism center.” Shame on Shelby and shame on a Senate that establishes rules that allow a Senator to do such a thing! Don’t you see why the system doesn’t work?

And now, President Obama!
Here’s what President Obama must do over the next eight months! He must hit the campaign trail again and he must hit it hard. He must go back out and rally those people who believed in his promise of change and he must explain to them why America is not changing and is instead, and indeed, going backwards. And, he must not blame it on Republicans or Democrats. He must blame it on politicians who are too tied to either of those parties and who take their orders from party bosses and big financial contributors. He must tell the people that this must end and end now. Tell them to vote against obstructionists and those who will not work with leaders across the great political divide to save America.

If there are good and cooperative Republicans out there, the President must not work against them. If they are bums who would not work with him and vote constantly on party-lines, identify them and work against them. Mr. President, if there are men and women of your own party who will not take the two pledges I have listed above, don’t support them even if they are of your own party.

Total party loyalty in America must end now! Our first loyalty must be to nation and that must start at the top with the President of the United States.

If not now, we are lost and so is America!
We must understand, as history shows us, that no nation retains its greatness and primary world position forever. Perhaps it is America’s time to decline. If so, that is sad. History will blame it on people like Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Michelle Bachman and all those crazies out there on the far left and far right.

The long and the short of what I am saying is that the great center of America must again rise up and take control. Now or never!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Some Fun in Retirement

I'm trying to find some creative things to do in retirement -- especially here in a Minnesota winter!
by Charlie Leck

I've created a line of postcards. I don't think I'll ever sell them. I don't have the tenacity to sit at some outdoor market or art fair, trying to hawk postcards that I print right here in my own comfy study. I don't have the nerve either. Yet, I do have one good customer -- c'est moi, as they say in Avignon (that place has been on my mind a lot lately).

My thought is that, if I produce a number of these postcard designs, I might begin writing more notes to family and friends by hand. The art and kindness of the hand-written note seems to be disappearing in this era of email. It's ineludible, I guess. Nevertheless, I urge you to fight this inevitability.

I'll tell you one of the secrets about nice postcard notes. It's nice postage stamps. Don't just put some very unsurprising and common flag stamp on your nice postcards. Go searching for something else that's appropriate either to your message or to the theme of the postcard itself.

Do I sound at all like Martha?

This afternoon I'm going out looking for a better weight, or thickness, of paper than I have here at home among my photo stock.

So, don't be surpised if you get a postcard from me one of these days just to let you know I'm thinking about you!

Change of Subject
By the way, the wonderful Trout & Caviar Blog I've sent you to a couple of times lately has a new post today with suggestions on making a Southeast Asian style chicken noodle soup. It sounds wonderful. You might want to give this one a try. I'm doing some short ribs tonight, but I'll try this soup very soon.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great Nation My Backside!

Is all hope fading that we can ever be a great nation?
by Charlie Leck

A friend wrote to me yesterday about how depressed he’s feeling about our nation. It kind of rocked me because he had been the one of the two of us who kept holding out hope. He still believed in Obama and thought we were going to see real change.

“It’s time to focus in on our own problems,” he wrote, “infrastructure, education and the economy… and we need new leadership… I so thought we were gonna get it with Obama… and it seems like we’re going in circles… it’s so disappointing. Charlie, I’m depressed. We could be such a great nation!”

Everything around me went deadly silent and I could hear my heart thumping. This guy had slashed at the stuff I’ve been writing and contended that Obama was still our hope. I rode on his enthusiasm and optimism. Now he was bailing out! I trembled a bit. I didn’t want to be believed. I didn’t want to be correct. Was I just bleating out a self-fulfilling prophesy?

I felt glum and things around me were stalling out. I sent back a reply.
I didn’t want you to do that. One of us has got to keep the faith – to keep hope alive.

I don’t want you to be disappointed. We could be a great nation! Indeed. Write out for me… just in a jotting fashion… what it would mean to be a great nation… I would like to see what you think on a piece of paper so I can print it out and think about it also and perhaps refine and add to it.

Perhaps we could all buy a place in a rural area in the south of France and go home to civilization… or a spot in eastern Canada would not be so far away… but I like the sound of France better… perhaps outside Avignon… nothing fancy… we’ll learn to speak and read French at last and all 3 of us will wear des berét and walk into town and drink café au lait and eat good French pastries and not worry about du merde. I could do it, my friend. Yes, I could really do it. Anne? Close, but I don’t think she could leave the children behind. I couldn’t do it without her.

If you listen to the alternatives to Obama, my friend, there is no hope – no hope at all that we will ever learn what it means to be a great nation.

Abe Lincoln had it figured out. He had a reconstruction plan and an extraordinary dream. And then some [expletive deleted] went and shot him.

Your email made everything go very quiet here in the house. I can hear and feel my heart thumping.

We should be a great nation, but someone keeps [expletive deleted] it up.

Have you ever been in the south of France, my friend? Oh, my God it is lovely. There is, of course (mais oui) a train straight to Paris. There’s another to Cannes and Nice and the sea. Wouldn’t need a car! Just a lot of bookshelves (and your iPods). The hell with [expletive deleted] computers. We’ll make sure there is a big, spare room for when friends or family wants to visit from the U.S.. We’ll make them pretend they are civilized people from a civilized nation. We’ll dig three holes right away, so that when one of us dies the other two can drag the body and drop it in the hole and then cover it and say “Bon huit, mon ami!

Tell me what it takes to be a great nation. Why can the French do it and we can not?

It’s too quiet right now. It frightens me that you are losing hope.

My friend wrote back. If you've got the guts, read it and tremble!

What does a great nation look like? To me?

First I’ll say that I cannot separate my present ideas from my childhood memories... and I don't want to. A child's mind is so much cleaner and clearer. It lacks the greed and envy that comes later and corrupts us. America, the way it was to us as kids, never really existed outside of our minds; yet that could be our guide to greatness.

Imagine America as part of a great world. Think of Americans as having pride, not at the expense of the weak, not pride in being the best or strongest nation, but pride in our generosity, our willingness to share, to teach, to experiment for the benefit of our brothers and sisters.

Our borders are our ruination. We've been so busy being better, stronger, wealthier, that we've become poorer, weaker and angrier.

I don't know when it became more important to be an American than a human – when our little part of one continent became more important than our planet – or how we got to be okay with dumping our waste out of sight in the ocean or over the border; behind a wall.

When did it become acceptable to buy our freedom with the lives of the less eloquent, the less powerful? And how did we not notice the cheap cloth we were using for our flag? Or the hollow words we were making our anthem?

Can any nation be great in a hungry world? Can a child grow into a leader of men on a planet where most children lack breakfast, let alone the opportunity to prosper, to invent, to reach out to another?

We've become a nation of the frightened, angry and greedy. We hide in the guise of a religious morality that is a sham. We are people who buy off our guilt with a twenty dollar donation to Haiti or Africa, but won't share the same sidewalk with a stranger after dark.

We need to sacrifice. We need to consume less, to give more, to help more... No, I need to do that... I need to contribute to the life of another human – the way you did fifty years ago in Mississippi.

As a nation, as a people, we've got to give it away. We can't have freedom built on greed. We can't starve the kids because we fear the parents. The wall that separates North and South America is the same wall that imprisons our spirit.

Charlie, we need a guide. We need an epiphany – maybe some spirit will land in a ship from the universe – that will be big and bright enough for us to trust and follow. Jesus reborn isn't gonna’ do it and neither is Moses or Mohammed. They aren’t large enough for modern America and people don’t understand them anyway.

Maybe America needs to lose its freedom and its confidence to relearn humility. 9/11 didn't do that – not yet it didn't. I can't imagine what it would take. I want to think we can change, that we can follow a humanitarian principle or a few simple commandments -- 10?


Monday, February 15, 2010

The Jalopy

Trying to remember that old vehicle causes me to strain and grimace, but, with the help of an old photo, I remember it!
by Charlie Leck

Lots of news is bombarding us today from Afghanistan and Washington, and I've gone through the Sunday NY Times pretty thoroughly, but I'm not in the mood for analyzing the news this morning. I was flipping through some old photos that one of my brothers sent me and they bring back faint memories. Maybe this is something all old men do; that is, trying to remember their boyhood days. I do this regularly here, but not for myself, but to leave a record of growing up in America. Can you imagine the treasure trove future historians are going to have when, a hundred years from now, they can look back on the blogs written by the world's very common people. I do not pretend to do it for important historians. I do it for my grandchildren and their grandchildren, so they will have, when I am among the stars, a more personal record than a historic one of their funny, old grandpa.

The photo above is the only one I've come acrosss of the crazy vehicle and it (the photo) was really in bad shape -- faded, and filled with scratches, chips, creases and stains. It took some patience, working with good, old Photoshop (perhaps, itself, a nearly forgotten item of history when you are old enough to read this) to get the snapshot into some kind of reasonable condition. As you look at it, the vehicle is behind my father's old, general store in Chester, New Jersey, in an alleyway between the store and an old storage barn just fifteen feet behind it. That old barn was off limits. We were not supposed to go into it because it was in such bad condition and really wasn't included in the lease arrangements that my father had with the owner of the buildings and the property. You can probably guess that we went in there anyway and climbed around in the rafters and curiously looked through all the old, old junk that was stored in there. Just being boys, you know!

Out ahead of the old Ford is Main Street, running to the left (west) and right (east). Across the way is an old building where one of my best pals lived (Buddy). The town library was also housed in that building for a portion of my growing up years. The very back end of the automobile that sits across the street indicates to me that the photo had to be taken after 1946 or '47. By the '50s, I think this old, decrepit car was gone.

Today I'm trying to remember everything I can about the jalopy. That's what we called the old Ford when we were little. It was a hybrid before it's time -- half car and half pickup. Other folks pointed to us when we drove down the road -- especially when we were in the big city -- and we'd wave to them and simply enjoy their reaction.

The Model A Ford in that photo was built with a rear passenger compartment called a rumble seat. Someone – my old man or someone else – removed the seat and installed a box back there to convert the vehicle into a pickup truck. The box wasn’t any more than 3’x4’ but it held a couple of milk cans or a couple of kids on a hot, summer afternoon.

So my memories of it come from when I was no more than 10 years old and, likely, younger. It's not easy to remember things in very great detail from those years in one's life; yet there are memories of this beat up old auto that come back to me in strange detail. If I try really hard, I can even remember the old, musty smell of it when I was riding up there in the front seat while my dad was driving down the street toward the Borough Hall. We were hauling a couple of our old, empty milk cans to the town pump, to get drinking water. In those years when I was little, before I was 10, we didn't have running water in our home. There was an old pump in our kitchen, from which we could get water of a sort, but not anything we would want to drink or do our cooking in. So, we'd fill the milk pails right up to the top from the town's public well. I remember how icy cold the water was and how I’d gather a bowl full in my cupped hands and try to drink it down before it spilled or leaked away between my fingers.

There weren't many people in town who didn't have plumbing and running water in their homes, but there were a few of us.

I remember mainly the drive all the way into the Bronx in that old beater of a car. We’d get more and more toots and hoots as we got closer and closer to the urban, sophisticated regions, nearing the George Washington Bridge. The Ford kept humming along (chugging in a way) and it was thrilling to go bouncing across the Hudson River, so high above it. I was little enough that I had to lift myself up and strain to see out the window. It was spectacular to see the mighty river so far down below us.

I remember we hauled my Grandpa Svejda with us on the return trip back out to Jersey. I got tucked in the middle of the front seat with the two big and old men on either side of me. The gear shift handle was between my legs and my old man warned me not to kick it. It was only about 45 miles from my Grandpa’s place out to our place in Jersey, but the drive took a couple of hours. My grandpa couldn’t make the whole trip without stopping to “see a man about a horse.” I wasn’t allowed to join them on these stops. I had to stay in the car and protect the luggage left out in the open truck box in the back. Grandpa and Dad went into a bar across a busy street, to go to the toilet they said; but I could smell the liquor on my Grandpa’s breath when he returned and slapped me on the knee and laughed at me. They’d brought back a bottle of Yoo-Hoo Chocolate Drink for me.

My dad shook me awake when we were on the North Road, close to entering the Borough of Chester.

“Almost home,” he said.

It had grown dark outside and the weak headlights of the jalopy were bouncing up and down as we rolled up Main Street toward the old, old general store that was our home. I was hungry and thirsty and had to get to a toilet quickly.

Life was going to be good for a while. My grandpa was here and we were going to listen to Dodger games together on the radio. He’d tell me about every batter that came to the plate and explain how the pitcher was going to place the ball and how the infield had curled around toward right field or was playing him tight at the corners. My grandpa loved his Dodgers more than any man on earth and he understood baseball better than anyone in the world. He’d get worse than angry when Stan Musial banged one over the right field fence against his Dodgers and I thought he was going to kick the big radio. He’d let out a mighty string of swear words, but they were in another language – Bohunk, I think – so they didn’t count with my mother as did the nasty cuss words I’d get my mouth washed out for saying.

“Go get me a Schaefer,” my Grandpa would tell me, “before they get this new pitcher warmed up. Take it from the back of the cooler so it’ll be colder.” While my Grandpa visited we kept a case of his beloved Schaefer beer tucked in the bottom of the milk cooler out in the store.

My brothers and sister all learned to drive behind the wheel of the old jalopy. I remember my sister taking it off to a dance one time. She came home aggravated about how the boys had made fun of her old car. She’d beg my parents to go out and get a respectable vehicle.

One day, after we’d installed running water and joined the semi-civilized world, my old man did go out and buy a real car. I think it was around 1951 and my mother hadn’t turned real sick yet and money was okay, so he bought a big, maroon 1947 Desoto Deluxe. It was a pretty slick looking automobile compared to the old jalopy. The Desoto was a “previously driven automobile” as they nowadays refer to used cars. It seemed in pretty good shape, but one rear fender began to lose its color a month or so after we got it and faded to a misty gray tone instead of maroon. One of my big brothers, both of whom knew everything in the world, told me it had been in an accident and the cheat-salesman hadn’t told my old man that it had been repainted. It wasn’t as much fun as the jalopy because it had big huge seats and I couldn’t see out the window when I sat in the car. It also had a back seat, I didn’t get to sit up front between my grandpa and my old man. Times had changed, however, and we weren’t hauling milk cans full of water from the town hall pump anymore. We had a bathtub now with hot and cold water and a toilet that flushed, and I was combing my own hair now.

I missed the jalopy and thought about it lots for a year or two after we got the Desoto. It sure was more fun to go down the street and see the people pointing at us and laughing at the sight of that beat up, old car.

I never stop being amazed at what hard work writing well is. I keep trying, though, and I keep trying to get better and better. I’ve got some dreams I’d like to fulfill, but it sure is hard work.

“Style, in its finest sense, is the last acquirement of the educated mind; it is also the most useful” [Alfred North Whitehead]

Sunday, February 14, 2010

War in a Time of Cholera

Why doesn’t a nation feel it more? Why does it seem so comfortable and normal at home while the troops are always in harm’s way?
by Charlie Leck

During World War II, people thought about and talked about the war every single day. When you sat down to dinner in the evening, your family said grace and prayed for the boys at war.

I was just a little boy, yet I remember the mood and the atmosphere. Sure, life went on. People had jobs that had to be done. Kids had to go to school. Children had to be cared for and watched over. There were still dances and movies and ballgames. Yet, the war pervaded every moment of every day. On the East Coast, we went through regular air-raid drills and had black-out exercises, when all the lights in the community would go off, and we'd spend time in utter darkness.

Starting in Korea, that seemed to change. I don’t know why. I won’t pretend I do. It just changed. It was that way in Vietnam, too. Maybe it’s because these weren’t real wars. What was it they called the war in Korea, a police action?

Congress didn’t declare war in Korea and it didn't declare war on Vietnam. It didn’t declare war on Iraq or Afghanistan either.

But, folks, there’s a war going on -- two wars actually. Real young men and women are going to those wars. Some are dying. Others are coming home severely damaged. Their lives are being disrupted and, perhaps, that disruption will last forever for them.

Why don’t I feel it? Why don’t I hang near the radio, as my parents did, waiting for some announcement of victory on the battlefield? For some movement up Hill J409? The placement of our flag atop some mountain?

Again, as I said a few paragraphs ago, I’m not going to guess. I don’t know; yet I keep thinking about it and wonder why we don’t understand that it is some perverse entanglement of the Industrial-Military Complex. Remember, President Eisenhower warned us against it? Is it possible that war keeps the economy moving? And now, in this terrible time of unemployment and economic catastrophe for so many people, we pour more billions into the machinery of war.

In a remarkable article in yesterday’s (13 Feb 2010) NY Times, C.J. Chivers takes his readers into an intense battlefield movement by U.S. Troops in Afghanistan: Afghan Attack Gives Marines a Taste of War. It is an extremely well done piece that enables you to feel the war and the fears of the men and women who fight it.
“The Taliban let the Marines walk into an open field and approach a tall stand of dried grass. Then they opened fire in a hasty ambush. The Marines dropped. They fired back, exposed. Gunfire rose to a crescendo.

"Corporal Drake shouted over the noise to the team in front, 'You got everyone?' He shouted to the team behind him, which was pressed flat in the field. 'Everyone O.K.?'

The Taliban firing subsided. 'We’re moving!' the corporal shouted. The patrol stood and sprinted toward the withdrawing Taliban, and then ran across irrigation dikes and poppy fields and entered the compound that had been struck.”
Maybe all of us back home should be forced to read such stuff every day. I don’t want to forget there is a war going on; yet, I need to remind myself that these guys are fighting so we can be free and go on with our lives. Nevertheless, it doesn’t seem fair.

I keep thinking that we would push the war to an end if we felt the pain more. We should be forced to pay war taxes as long as the boys are away fighting. The war should be paid for in cold, hard cash pulled from every citizen's pocket. We should all do some kind of volunteer work to assist in the war effort. We should gather in a park each month to hear the names of the dead read off to us one by one; and then we should pray God their souls to keep.

It seems so wrong to have American young people off dying and getting seriously mangled and injured while we just go on dining out, going to the theater and playing in the backyard with the dog.

I’ve just finished reading a couple of enormous works about the Civil War. It was the ugliest, costliest and most painful war in our history. More men died there than in all our other wars combined. Yet, while troops were falling in and around Richmond, near Gettysburg and all through the south to Atlanta, Mobile and Vicksburg, life went on peacefully in Minnesota and Illinois and Vermont.

War is perverse! It seems we should be bright enough to figure out ways to avoid it. Yet, human beings are vain, covetous and cruel, and they send young people off to fight old people’s wars. Old people should go fight their own wars and the young should be allowed to grow and mature in a healthy, sane environment.

War is too easy in America. We went to Vietnam too easily. We sprang upon Granada for absurd and scandalous reasons. We created a big lie so we could invade Iraq. Now we are entangled in Afghanistan, trying to stay on mission and putting young people’s lives at risk each and every day.

War is a disease in our land. It is too quickly the answer when there might be other approaches. I’m no peacenik and I’m not a pacifist, but I know there may often be other answers when the wolves are crying “war.”

If you have sympathy for my words, you are likely familiar with the Non-Violent Peace Force; and if you are not, you should be. I’m a member and I like what they do.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lincoln's Birthday

We don't make much of it these days, now that we've mushed things into Presidents Day.
by Charlie Leck

February 12th was a day that meant something to me when I was a boy! It was old Abe's birthday! In grade school, it would be a day that we spent some important time talking about Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America. As I remember it, only George Washington and Lincoln were singled out for special recognition on their birthdays each year. One, of course, would expect it about George Washington because of his stature as our very first President and his heroic role as a General in the Revolutionary War (or war of independence).

No single kid in those school days was left to wonder about why the 16th President was given such important recognition. We were not to forget, you see, that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest President and our most important one. Historians pretty well agree on that even today.

We were told, each year, the story of Abraham Lincoln's ascendancy to the office of President -- his rise from rail splitter to leader of the nation in its most perilous time. The stories that teachers told of Abe when I was a grade-schooler were inspiring and meaningful; yet the better and finer stories were told about him by the old men who would come to my dad's general store in the wintry month of February and sit around the old, warming stove in the center of the store. They'd reel off grand and fascinating stores about their hero, Abe Lincoln. Many of them had been born less than three decades after Abe's frightful assassination. Their own parents had been contemporary's of Abe Lincoln and had lived through the desperate times of the Civil War. When these old guys spoke of Abe, their talk was so intimate it was almost as if they had known him. They favored most the tales of Abe's commonness and how he liked a good yarn and enjoyed recounting them for anyone who wanted to listen.

"Yes, sir," they'd often repeat, "old Abe saved the Union at a terrible time and it cost him his life, don't yuh know!"

I fell in love with reading about Abe. I do believe it is what turned me into a decent student and an above average reader. I began tackling more complex books about Abraham Lincoln and Civil War History at an age before most kids were ready for such reading. The woman who tended the town library, just across the street, would called me when something new about Abe Lincoln came in. In order to promptly read it, I'd often neglect that boring business about fractions and their conversions into decimal numbers.

There was the oft' told tale of Abe walking many, many miles to return, with his apologies, a few pennies to a woman who had paid too much for an item she purchased from him. As a boy, I marveled at such honesty every single time I heard the story. There are hundreds and hundreds of such apocrypha in children's literature about Lincoln and maybe as many in adult works about him, too. Still, there is enough solid, historical fact to make Abe one of the extraordinary figures of American history -- if not its most extraordinary figure. A reading of Doris Kearns Goodwin's opus grandé about Lincoln's presidency (Team of Rivals) captures the real man, Lincoln, and yet does not, by one wit reduce the wonder and enormity of the man.

"Now that reminds me of a story...," Abe would often sit back and say -- perhaps in a Cabinet meeting or perhaps sitting before a campfire with a group of union soldiers. It became a trademark with Abe and he'd follow that up with tales that drew laughter or awe from his listeners. He had hundreds of them and he held his listeners spellbound in his telling of them.

It was probably this enormous sense of humor -- dry as it was -- that enabled Abe to make it through the darkest of those dark, dark days.

A report was brought to him one day about the loss of life of several brigadier-generals and their horses in some Virginia valley. "Too bad about the horses," Abe muttered quite softly, "I can make brigadier-generals."

A Lincoln contemporary, the Reverend Theodore L. Cuyler, Pastor of the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, perhaps, said it best: "If Washington is the most revered, Lincoln is the best loved man that ever trod this continent."

And if you get the impression that it is only in history that Lincoln is held in such admiration, you need then to examine the feelings of those who were closest to him to find the truth. For instance, his own, personal first-secretary, John Hay said quite spectacularly of his boss: "Lincoln, with all his foibles, is the greatest character since Christ."

More than one scholar has referred to Lincoln as the "psychotherapist" to the nation during the awful years of the Civil War. Even in the darkest moments, Lincoln could say a soft thing or tell a humorous tale; and these things seemed to keep the country sane.

“Gentlemen, why don’t you laugh?" Lincoln said to his Cabinet one day when they failed to laugh at one of his stories, thinking it might be inappropriate to do so in such a hard time. "With the fearful strain that is upon me night and day, if I did not laugh I should die, and you need this medicine as much as I do.”

I close my rambling about President Lincoln with these words that were written by the poet, Walt Whitman:
“As is well known, story-telling was often with President Lincoln a weapon which he employ’d with great skill. Very often he could not give a point-blank reply or comment—and these indirections, (sometimes funny, but not always so,) were probably the best responses possible. In the gloomiest period of the war, he had a call from a large delegation of bank presidents. In the talk after business was settled, one of the big Dons asked Mr. Lincoln if his confidence in the permanency of the Union was not beginning to be shaken—whereupon the homely President told a little story: “When I was a young man in Illinois,” said he, “I boarded for a time with a deacon of the Presbyterian church. One night I was roused from my sleep by a rap at the door, and I heard the deacon’s voice exclaiming, ‘Arise, Abraham! the day of judgment has come!’ I sprang from my bed and rushed to the window, and saw the stars falling in great showers; but looking back of them in the heavens I saw the grand old constellations, with which I was so well acquainted, fixed and true in their places. Gentlemen, the world did not come to an end then, nor will the Union now.”
I have no quarrel with the general assumption of historians that Abraham Lincoln was our greatest President.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Faithful Friends

Faithful friends who are dear to us!
by Charlie Leck

This is one of my favorite photos among all the thousands of photographs we have posted in photo albums, stashed in drawers, crushed into boxes and hung on the walls of our home and other buildings around the farm. I have wanted to write about this photograph for a long time, but I'd lost track of it and I've been unable to scan it and download it for you. Strange how we stumble on to things, isn't it. I was searching for another photo this morning (posted at the end of this blog) because a friend wanted a copy of it to frame and hang in his home. While looking, I stumbled upon this dear photograph and my entire morning and my whole spirit was lifted to the joyous level.

I've always called the photograph "Faithful Friends." The two lovely ladies are Elise and Lisa. That will do for names, but many of my readers will recognize these two girls and will be able to paste more information about them into this blog. I count them among the kindest, loveliest and most faithful friends that we have ever had and we will be forever grateful to them for being so loyal and committed to our friendship.

In the little play act we conducted so many times over a number of years they fulfilled the role of servants and staff to us. In our hearts they were never that, however. They were just buds along for the ride and we had so much fun and so many laughs with them. Had it not been for them we would not have been able to go off on very many of the great adventures we pursued.

To make us sparkle and look splendid and dashing when the curtain rose, these two worked feverishly and, often, from before sunrise to long after sunset. To them, the princess and her carriage and horses needed to be as perfect as humanly possible. I was often dazzled by their performances in supporting roles and knew in my heart that they were stars of each and every one of our little plays.

The photograph at the head of this blog shows them sitting on the groom's seat of our wonderful Park Drag carriage. We're on the driveway leading from Newport Country Club, out along the Atlantic Ocean in Rhode Island. They took us to places like this for well over twenty years.

They'd drive trucks, muck out horse stalls, polish leather and turnout horses as beautifully as anyone ever has. It never seemed like a chore to them and I never heard them gripe about their schedules and responsibilities, as the workers in other parties always seemed to be doing. They often slept in uncomfortable beds in less than splendid rooms. When they did, they'd laugh and joke about it.

At the end of each of our little voyages and make believe adventures, they'd always be exhausted; and so they should have been considering the effort they had put forth so that we could reap the praise and rewards. What we paid them was a pittance compared to what they deserved. What they gave us was far more treasured by us than they will ever know.

We love them dearly -- even as members of our own family -- and we count them among the most beautiful people we have ever met.

Dear and faithful friends, after so many wonderful years, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

The two photos below were taken by Bob Mischka, an extraordinary photographer of carriages and horse drawn activities.
See Bob Mischka Sports Photography!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Unwritten Thank You Notes

Why am I spending so much time writing my near-daily blogs when I haven’t even written a single thank you note for my Christmas gifts yet?
by Charlie Leck

This past autumn, while doing some Christmas shopping, I was in a neat little book store very near my home town; and I saw a little gift book called The Art of the Thank You Note. Having been sent out to do a few chores for Santa, I thought it would make a neat stuffer for some one of the 18 stockings that hung from the mantel and a dozen other places in the living room during Christimas-time. Once at home, before hiding the little gifts for Santa’s later retrieval, I decided to read through the little volume about writing thank you notes. Frankly, no one needs it more than I. It’s kind of sad, too, because I really am appreciative of all the gifts I get. It’s just that I find it difficult to take pen in hand anymore because of all the hours and hours I spend at a keyboard. If one does not keep up with writing by hand, one’s handwriting can certainly deteriorate.

Well, it was a good little book. It had some neat things to say about how to make a thank you note sincere and meaningful. I didn’t want to then, after finishing it, just shove the book away, so I included it in one of the stockings. On Christmas morning that person, of course, took the gift as a backhanded way of saying that she didn’t write very good thank you notes. I abdicated myself from all blame and placed it squarely on the shoulders of Santa. Whew! That was a close one.

We are steaming along, well into February now, and I still haven’t put pen to paper to write my own thank you notes. I received a host of wonderful gifts. My dear wife gave me a number of shirts and the v-neck sweaters that I love to wear autumn, winter and spring. Santa chipped in some really neat slippers and one of the dear kids put together my traditional Italian deli box from
a fantastic shop way across the city. It’s stuffed with far more goodies than I could ever consume before it goes stale, yet I refuse to share any of it and hide it away so no one else can get into it. This year it included a container of Tuscan Paté that is made at that marvelous deli. It’s the first time I had ever tasted it and it is spectacular. The same kid, and her husband, gave me a stack of books that would keep the normal guy busy for the year. I would have finished them all by now, but there is one I just can’t get enthused about (The Downhill Lie by Carel Hiaasen) and another (Good Book by David Plotz)that I’ve just put over on "someday pile' on my "someday table." The hit of that stack of books was Death of a Writer by Michael Collins. It was really a creative and captivating murder mystery that I highly recommend. Soldier’s Heart by Elizabeth Samet was a really creative work by an English professor at West Point. If there was a central question in the book it was likely a matter of how one teaches great literature to soldiers who will be going off to war. How does it prepare them? How does it help in making it all sensible? How does the experience change her – she who teaches this literature? Her students often write back to her about their reactions to some of their readings now that they are hunkered down in Iraq or Afghanistan.

“Unlike many soldiers in Iraq, Andy had no email access, and our correspondence had a distinctly old-fashioned feel. Anticipating a shortage of paper, he planned ahead by taking a lot of blank notebooks to Iraq. Writing, short stories but especially poetry, provided an escape and ‘something to fuss over’ whenever he was not conducting police patrols and raids, building desks for schoolchildren, or defusing land mines. Andy’s letters are funny and finely crafted, just as his essays had been: ‘The Fertile Crescent,’ he reports in one, ‘is fertile compared to the desert, but not compared to say, France or Ohio. In this way, I think it is a misnomer.’"
There’s a long section in the book about her correspondence with Andy. It’s pretty remarkable stuff. The reader is drawn into a friendship with both the soldier and the professor. And the soldier is not always Andy. It might be Tom or Phil or Joel or a number of other surprisingly touching relationships the professor builds with her students. Believe me, this one is worth the read. It’s a really neat book.

What the World Eats
My grandkids in Chicago, who have very bookish parents (one’s an English professor and the other a librarian), sent me a couple of books, too. Both of them are worth telling you about and they’re probably books you may want to look at.

The first is a photographic essay written by Faith D’Aluisio and photographed by Peter Menzel. It’s title is:
What the World Eats. By clicking on that link, you can take a look at a dozen or so pages from the book and get an idea about how this very creative work was put together. The author and photographer paid visits to 21 countries around the world and spent time with families in each nation and report back to us about the things that each of these families eat. The families are photographed and so are their meals. It's a brilliant work in all respects and I’ve spent hours and hours going through the book, learning about the vast differences in diets and menu in various nations. For instance, an Australian eats approximately 247 pounds of meat each year. A person in Butan eats less than 7 pounds. Try this on for size: In Chad only 42 percent of the population has access to clean drinking water. The life expectancy in Chad is 47 years. It’s 78 in the United States and 81 in France.

There are a couple of dozen very unusual recipes in
What the World Eats and you’ll find them fun to read through and some you may want to try. For instance, how about Hubert’s Knuckle from Poland. The authors picked it up on a visit to the Sobczynscy family in Konstancin-Jeziorna. Next time you want to cook Pig’s Knuckles, let me know and I’ll send along this recipe. My old man loved this dish and my mom would frequently cook it for him. As a kid I wasn’t attracted. Now, as an adult (or somewhat an adult) I’ve tried the meal and really like it. While we’re looking at the Poland section of the book, I’ll report to you that that nation has a 100 percent literacy rate. Not even the United States has that.

I definitely keep this book on the coffee table and I find myself picking it up a few times each week and leafing through it to another country and family. I loved meeting the Madsens in Greenland, where I tried seal stew, and the Cabañas in the Philippines, where we had a Karaoke lunch of chicken, crab and spring rolls. Our visit in the United States is with the Revis family in North Carolina. We paid a visit to the neighborhood Subway shop and we tried Mrs. Revis’ stuffed green peppers.

Within the Frame
Now another gift that came in from Chicago was a book I had hinted about because I’d heard so many good things about it. Don’t turn away when I tell you it’s a photography book, because it’s really so much more than that. David duChemin is the author/photographer of this very, very special book called Within the Frame. It is not about how to take photographs. It is about trying to put soul and feeling in your photographs – the soul of the subject, but also the feelings of the photographer and his subject. Joe McNally, one of my favorite photographers and a highly recognized photographic artist, says the following about the book in his foreword:
“This book is like a great photograph. It is seamless, intuitive, and filled with minor details blended with larger themes. It has impact – the color play is so strong it’s like a hard, fast punch to the visual gut. Still, there is nuance and subtlety that shimmer like a catchlight.”
I agree. Above, in the title section of this blog, without the permission I’ve tried to secure, I’ve included one of duChemin’s photographs to try to provide an example of his work. I hope he’ll forgive me and consider it a promotion of his extraordinary book.

Mr. du Chemin tries to help the photographer understand that the frame must be filled with more than just a photograph. It needs to be filled with feeling, drama, soul, spirit and a story. Take the time, he urges us, to do more than snap a shot. Take the time to capture a moment in real life. Many photographs we take have been taken hundreds of times by other people. Why not search for that special photograph – that special moment, or that look in someone’s face, or that place that no one else would think to photograph. It’s powerful stuff that duChemin writes and his photographs are even more powerful.
“I need to both hang on to my wonder and explore it from every angle until I’ve found the one that best allows me to communicate my vision.”
If you like to take photographs and would like them to have a more original and satisfying look, this would be a book with which you should spend some time.

Original Artwork Arrived from Portland
The grandkids in Portland (Oregon) did up something original for us. They put together frames and canvasses of bright and differing colors and then set their hands in paint and pressed them upon the textile. There they left beautiful images of beautiful little hands. We cherish the pretty works and have hung them in our kitchen, where they brighten things up and remind us so often of little loved ones we wish we saw more often.

Oh, to all of this I can add the snow shovel, the bottles of wine, the new socks, the tie rack, the photographs, accessories for my camera, and dozens of little tasty looking items that were put away in the pantry.

It was a remarkable Christmas morning and I’m filled with gratitude. It’s just that I haven’t spent the time to write to each of these dearly loved ones to thank them for their gifts. What a lout am I!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tighter Financial Regulations

Who doesn’t think we need tighter financial regulations?
by Charlie Leck

Doesn’t everyone in the entire friggin’ country think we need tighter financial regulation after the banking disasters of 2008? After watching the way the banking industry conducted itself for the last decade, don’t you believe Congress should move to more strictly regulate the financial industry? Doesn’t everyone?

Well, not the banking and financial industry itself. It doesn’t. With the aid of a recent Supreme Court decision that lifts restrictions on the donation of money by corporations to political campaigns, there comes a flood of cash streaming from the big banks into the coffers of very conservative Republican candidates. Is anyone surprised?

Right now, on Wall Street, there is an immense backlash against President Obama. He’s just been too hard on them. Let’s see, first he managed to get them billions and billions of dollars to bail themselves out of deep, deep trouble. Then he suggested that Congress look into reinstating strong regulations that would prevent the financial industry from getting into this kind of trouble again.

The NY Times quotes Thomas Nides, an executive at Morgan Stanley and Chairman of the Securities and Financial Markets Association as saying: “I am a big fan of the president, but even if you are a big fan, when you are the piñata at the party, it doesn’t feel good.” [read entire NY Times story]

JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Chase are just a few of the dozens of big banking companies that will be sending lots of money to the Republican National Committee this year, to assist them in their election efforts.

Here’s what it means!
It means the little guys are going to be asked again to give and give and give, in order to off-set the mega millions spent by the big guys. We’ll have to join together and send in whatever we can afford to provide the funds for Democratic Party candidates to stand up to the giant interests of big money. If people – if all of us – will open up and give a little bit, we can match the insane spending of the big financial interests that want to stop regulation.

Let’s just hope our money gets spent wisely.